Guys have the world to gain by practising yoga. So what's holding them back?
According to a recent study, 77% of the yoga practitioners are female - which always leaves me wondering how to get more guys into class. It's not that they don't know what they're missing. Nowadays, there seem to be yoga classes everywhere; their girlfriends and wives are living testimonies to the practice. At home they watch them rushing out the front door, brows furrowed only to return standing tall with big tranquil smiles on their faces and compassion in their eyes.
If you're a man who's hesitated to try yoga - or you know a man you'd like to introduce to the practice, read on.
Social obstacles - Yoga takes a brave man
Sure enough, the first thing many men notice on entering a yoga studio is the gender bias. Pensive women readying for class sets as strong a tone as a locker room of guys snapping towels. "Men walk in needing a challenge," says Judith Lasater who has authored six yoga books during her 35 years as a teacher. "Women often come to the mat seeking refuge."
Michael Lechonczak who consulted on the book Real Men Do Yoga sympathises with such concerns and thinks more men might be willing to try yoga if they perceived it as yet another test; albeit a unique one. "They have to have a heart. A guy's first act of yogic bravery," Lechonczak says, "is to introduce himself to the teacher. Find out if the class is appropriate" he advises. "Admit any fears or anxieties." Once the line of communication is open, a good instructor will tailor a class for individual students - male or female. Don't worry about who's in the room, or that others are nailing poses that you can't. "I don't feel like I'm doing 10% of something being done by a woman next to me," he says. "I'm doing 100% of what I'm able to do."
Physical hurdles: Overcoming groins and grey matter
Get a man past his reservations about yoga time with the ladies and he'll still have a well-founded reason to drag his feet to a studio: Yoga can be painful. Men it seems are naturally tight.
Investment manager Ron Bernstein (age 37) was certainly ambivalent about stretching until his 80-hour workweeks caught up with him. Back in 1998, Bernstein (a former competitive high school golfer who's a managing director for an investment firm) realised that "everything hurt", as he says. "My wife was doing some yoga and suggested that stretching might help." He went to a yoga class and muddled through. "On my walk home my back felt so much better. All those Upward and Downward Dogs really worked."
Today a more limber Bernstein is religious about his one-day-a-week private sessions. He attributes his daily vitality and still-strong golf game to Warrior Pose variations that open his shoulders hips and back. "My handicap was 10 as a kid and I'm still at about 13," he says. "Not bad for a guy who works all the time."
Elasticity also helps men who are determined to play all day - which is why most AFL teams incorporate yoga as an important component of their training as requested by the team's high-performance coaches and conditioning staff. As well as the benefits of mental relaxation, focus and stress management - the physical benefits to the players include building core strength, rehabilitation, post-game recovery, injury prevention and increased flexibility.
A man's perspective: 4 reasons why blokes should do yoga
- Your upper body will get stronger. You will feel stronger and more defined without lifting weights. This is all due to yoga. Just working plank pose in a basic yoga sequence will provide an upper body and core workout. I'm not even talking about handstands, crow pose, and all those poses that require a lot of strength (and concentration) which strong yogis can make look easy. They are hard.
- Your core will thank you. Sit-ups and crunches and all those other monotonous exercises only take you so far as they become repetitive and your body becomes familiar with the movement - not to mention they're not really functional. I'm not saying that you won't get some sort of results doing these exercises. But yoga will help you use and develop your core in relation to your other muscles and body parts... Hello, six-pack abs.
- You'll alleviate stress. Some blokes hold stress in and don't necessarily deal with it in a healthy way. The result is often sleep deprivation, lack of focus, unreflective eating or hitting the booze. Go to a yoga class that's challenging and you'll be 100 per cent focused on your pose and breath. Your stress will most likely be left at the door.
- It's a cheap date. Dinner and/or movie or drinks can't compete with $20 yoga. You get a workout and your female companion will be happy. Gold!
Curious? So what next?
First, take a look at some of the online beginner information out there so you know what you're in for. Just getting familiar with how they look will prove really helpful.
Second, ask around and find the right class for you. There's no one-size-fits-all approach for yoga and it might take a while to find your class or instructor. Just like love, you'll know when you "know." And when you "know" you'll be on your way.
Lastly, yoga is a marathon, not a sprint. I'm not doing handstands or anything fancy yet and I don't know when I'll be ready for that challenge. What I do know is what's right for my body and I try to take my practice one class at a time.
Written by Mitch Gibson, Yoga Expert and instructor at Yogabowl