Intrigued? You should be. Unsure where to start? You’re not alone. Here’s everything you need to know
Yoga — everyone’s doing it, so why aren’t you? When it comes to your fitness and ‘future-proofing’ your body, it’s all about making things functional. If you’ve spent years (and years) tearing dumbbells from the floor, pressing barbells and swinging kettlebells, your body can takes the brunt of things. It can get tighter — and not in a good way — less flexible and significantly more injury-prone. Which is where regular flexibility work — yoga, more specifically — can come in handy. Welcome to the beginner’s guide to yoga.
Thousands of men are, somehow, still missing a trick with the art of getting bendy. Even when armed with the power to fight lower-back pain, boost your lifts and cull stress, yoga has been glacially slow on the uptake when it comes to its male followers. If this rings true with you, then it’s important to know that yoga isn’t about humming along to whale music and repeating intentions.
Perhaps, then, in a time where the country (the majority of the planet, in fact) is dealing with self-isolation and social distancing to help ‘flatten the curve’ of coronavirus, it’s more important than ever to practise something that encourages
Yoga really can give you a leg-up when it comes to your fitness and training goals. Here, we explore everything you need to know about the practice of yoga (or broga, if that makes you feel better), which style of yoga would work for you, what the science says, the benefits, the best home routines, yoga kit for men and how you can start. You’ll want to namaste around. (Sorry.)
What Is Yoga?
Colloquially, ‘yoga’ is thought to mean ‘union’, referring to the striking and flowing of poses to unify body and mind. Once synonymous with eccentric hippie types, it’s now practised by the likes of NFL players, Premier League Teams, CrossFit Athletes and many more. Even Special Forces soldiers swear by the benefits of hitting the mat.
It’s not exactly a secret that men want to get more flexible, either — a common gripe from both Men’s Health readers and staff members. Waning levels of flexibility can lead to problems from the boardroom to the weights room. In fact, it can affect you in the bedroom, too — but there’s more on that later.
Specifically, yoga focuses on matching breathing patterns with poses that take your body through a full range of motion, to help promote flexibility, mobility and a sense of calm. Working on your breathing, for example, will help you combat depression, anxiety and stress, while having the power to cull insomnia.
“Yoga was made by men for men…it was also used to train the military”
So why are men avoiding it? It’s hard to pin-point an exact reason, but there are a few theories as to why we’re being slow on the uptake. “I think that yoga used to carry a stigma or stereotype that sometimes stopped men from trying,” explains Michael James Wong, founder of Boys of Yoga and Mindfulness app Just Breathe. “We’ve seen over the years, as the practice became more westernised in the 90s and early 2000s, that it had a strong connection to women.
“But that way of thinking is long gone, and the way that yoga is represented now in our current day and age is something that is openly of value and benefit for men and women equally. For those men who are still living in the past, they’re missing out, and my hope is there continues to be a positive shift to the present and future that shows that yoga is valuable for all.”
Practising Yoga at Home During Coronavirus Lockdown, Self-Isolation or ‘Quarantine’
Thankfully, to start yoga at home, you need very little equipment. In fact, you could work through most beginner yoga flows with just a towel. As the UK government urges everyone to #stayhome and limit time spent outdoors to one period a day, popularity in home workouts has surged. So if you’re still keen to get some exercise in, without going balls-to-wall every session, yoga could be the perfect antidote.
The Different Types of Yoga
As any yogi will attest, no two yoga practices are the same — as with many wellness trends and movements, there are myriad ways you can tweak the methods of yoga to suit your body and the effects you’re after. Below, we help you flow through some of the best disciplines to try. Grab a mat and some space, won’t you?
Ideal for going with the flow (literally), Vinyasa yoga is one of the most popular types of yoga and one that you’re likely to have already tried at least once. As with all yoga, skill and flexibility levels in Vinyasa aren’t as important as you’d think. Instead, it’s all about linking sequences to eventually increase strength, flexibility and stamina — think downward dogs, warrior two, baby cobra, sun salutations and more, joined together into a cohesive sequence.
“Honestly, the best practice for those who lift, is slower more subtle practices, like Yin yoga,” explains Wong. “These classes are about longer, slower, deeper holds that re-lengthen muscles and create space back in the body.”
In Yin Yoga, there are less postures to work through — especially when compared with Vinyasa — with most taking place on the floor and being held for several minutes at a time. Theoretically, the idea is to spend these minutes in a state of meditation, helping shift your session and your mind to a more passive state. “When we lift, we’re often shortening and building mass, and yoga is a practice to balance that,” says Wong.
Jessica Skye, a Nike Yoga Trainer, agrees. “Lifting weights can be very yang, so this needs to be balanced. Lifting weights will reduce your flexibility a lot on two folds – increased muscle mass can restrict your range of movement, and the very process of building muscle will make you tense and tight,” she says. “Yin Yoga targets the fascia and deep muscle. It consists of holding passive positions on the floor for up to five minutes.”
Hot. Heavy. Sweaty. Bikram yoga converts will be flowing in 37C temperatures in tight(ish) clothes, as Bikram’s founder, Bikram Choudhury, believes that tight clothes stop sweat from being uncomfortable. Well, as much as it can be. If you sign up to a local Bikram session, don’t be put off by the queasy feeling you’ll get from the raised temperature. Ride the wave and you’ll soon enjoy improved flexibility and, as you’re sweating so much, a welcome bit of weightloss — just be sure to keep sipping on water during and after your session.
During your Bikram yoga session, you’ll sweat through around 26 different ‘hatha asanas’ — that’s ‘postures’ or ‘poses’ in yogi — and a handful of different breathing techniques.
This really is the mother of all yoga. Hatha forms the all-encompassing practice of yoga, featuring slow and gradual exercises to work your body through a full range of motion, without being physically or mentally torturous. Here, you’ll cover the basic moves and principles of yoga — pranayama (breathing), dhyana (meditation) and asanas (postures), to encourage a gentle challenge. A Hatha tutor worth their salt will offer easier and harder versions of each pose.
Essentially yoga with added accessories, Iyengar yoga is ideal for those on the comeback from injury or other ailments. Blocks, belts walls and chairs all feature in the asanas (you should know what this means by now) in order to create a both gentle and supportive flow that will ease you back into movement.
The Benefits of Yoga
There are plenty of benefits that come from arranging a bi-weekly date with the mat, but they even go further than just being able to squat deeper and press safer.
For example, by regularly building strength, working muscle and maintaining mass through various yoga poses, unifying with a vinyasa session or two could help begin to offset early signs of arthritis and osteoporosis.
Similarly, a University of Texas study found that just four days of flowing between downward dogs and sun salutations could be enough to safeguard your immune system against bugs and colds. There’s method behind it, too — an hour of stretching increases your lymphocyte content in your blood and helps treble gene expression, the process of building flu-busting cells.
It can also get be personal. “When I started practicing yoga, it was firstly physical. It was practical. I got stronger, more flexible, more dedicated. For those first few years it focused me and gave me a purpose that was more meaningful than my job,” explains Wong, who originally worked in a nightclub, before turning to yoga tutelage. “As the years progressed bigger shifts happened. Mostly in my attitude and ego, I realised I was acting out a lot in how I treated myself and other people, and it helped to quieten my ego.”
For Skye, the ‘yogi’s high’ was evident from her first session in 2010. “The first thing I noticed was how euphoric I felt after class and how connected I felt to my body. It really does strengthen that mind-body connection. I noticed how it lengthened my tight muscles, increased my upper body strength, gave me core strength and generally kept me trim and feeling good,” she explains.
Other benefits of yoga included increased lung capacity, increased focus, balance and proprioception. “I’m generally calmer and definitely a lot more mindful… it definitely increases your emotional and social intelligence.”
Your sex life can be ramped-up, too. “Because yoga helps people develop a sense of calmness, strength, stamina, agility, knowledge of their own bodies, and the ability to remain in the present moment, and make small adjustments, it can greatly enhance sexual performance and confidence, regardless of which asana (poses) are practiced,” says sex therapist Gracie Landes, LMFT, CST. Not too shabby for a few stretches, right?
Is Yoga Only for Women?
In a word? No. You’re way out-dated if you think so. The benefits of yoga go far beyond being suitable for a single gender. Instead, everyone benefits from a few uhms and ahhs on the mat. “It’s easy to believe stereotypes when they’re not first hand. I’ve heard it all about yoga; ‘it’s too easy’, ‘too slow’, ‘it’s only for women’, ‘it’s not a good use of my time’,” explains Wong. “Remember there are many styles and practices of yoga, there are strong and sweaty ones, there are slow and structured ones, there are gentle and kind ones. We have to find the flavour and taste that suits.”