First things first, you don’t need to be stretchy to start practising yoga.
Anyone, regardless of age, ability, fitness and, yes, how flexible you are, can feel the benefits of yoga.
A study by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal showed that men doing yoga increased by 150% over a four year period. And this is only set to increase as the likes of David Beckham, Justin Timberlake, and Robert Downey Jr. have all become fully-fledged ‘yogis’.
So why so many guys are rolling out their rubber mats? Let's find out.
What Is Yoga?
Yoga is a practice that blends physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation. This combination helps you achieve a state of balance and harmony between your body, mind and spirit. It's something that guys need just as much as anybody else, even if it isn't always comfortable for us.
"It requires a little internal male calibration and letting go. Yoga is all about getting you in your comfort zone. But for guys, that often entails getting out of their comfort zone first," explains Roy Parvin, fiction writer and author of Yoga For The Inflexible Male.
Yoga isn't about going as hard as possible or racing to the finish line. It's about slowing down. "We guys tend to be competitive in everything, and yoga isn't about competition. It's a physical activity you do yourself that's often performed in a room full of people," he says.
What Are The Benefits Of Yoga?
From relaxation to recovery, yoga can give the body a boost in so many ways. Here are just a few of its health-promoting benefits:
You'll Become More Flexible
Yoga helps by slowly increasing your range of motion. It works because many yoga poses involve stretching and gradual lengthening of your muscles. Hold poses for a few breaths or longer, and you’ll start to release muscle tension and restriction. It’s an incremental process, and it does take time. But incorporating yoga techniques into your routine is a surefire way to improve both your posture and flexibility.
You'll Become Stronger
Many yoga poses require you to hold your body in challenging positions, which can function as resistance training for your muscles, helping to build strength and endurance. Much like swimming, yoga simultaneously activates multiple muscle groups. More unique to yoga, though, is that you’ll develop strength, stamina and balance all at once.
It Can Reduce Pain
Studies have shown the positive impact of yoga on pain and inflammation; it may even have the potential to reduce the symptoms of chronic conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia as it blends relaxation techniques and traditional exercise, helping to reduce your body's stress response. Just a note to say that if you have any health concerns, always chat with a medical professional who can advise whether yoga could work for you.
Less Stress And Anxiety
Yoga is well-known for its calming effect on the body and mind. In fact, research has shown that regular yoga can significantly reduce high blood pressure in a matter of weeks. But not only does yoga increase your blood circulation, it can also encourage you to forget any worries for a while. Just focus on each breath, calm your mind and stay mindful of the present.
Better Focus And Sleep
The good thing is that even after your session has finished, yoga’s calming effects will often continue. That ‘blissed out’ feeling you’ll get from its unique blend of movement and mindfulness helps quiet the mind so you can concentrate during the day. And when your head does hit the pillow, this mix of mellowed-out exercise and mild meditation can help you switch off faster and sleep more soundly.
“It’s great for people with a temporary sleep problem due to stress or modern life in general. It slows everything down, and, if you do it right, the rest of the world goes away for an hour,” says Parvin, who tried yoga after experiencing long-term sleep problems.
Best Types Of Yoga For Beginners
There are many types of yoga out there, and finding a style that suits your needs can feel daunting. It doesn't need to be. Here's what to look for when picking your first class or tutorial.
Perfect for beginners, this gentle form of yoga is the ideal introduction to the practice. It teaches the basic poses at a steady pace, holding each for a few breaths at a time, gradually helping you build strength and flexibility.
A flowing form of yoga that links movement with breath. It can be more challenging than Hatha yoga, but it's still an accessible entry point to help you get started.
Restorative yoga is great for reducing muscle soreness after a workout or prolonged exercise. This relaxing form of yoga involves holding poses for extended periods of time with props, e.g. blankets or blocks. On top of that, it's also a good option for beginners - especially those who want to focus on relaxation and stress relief over exertion.
This is another slower, more rejuvenating form of yoga that involves holding poses for several minutes at a time. It can be a good option for those who want to focus on improving flexibility and reducing stress.
Looking for more of a challenge? Power yoga is a good choice for people who are used to a more rigorous workout, as it focuses on strength and endurance. That makes it a perfect fit alongside other types of strength-building or cardiovascular exercises, such as mindful running and higher-intensity workouts. Perhaps something to work towards if you're feeling confident to progress.
How To Start Practising Yoga
There are plenty of ways you can start practising yoga. And that’s why it’s such a healthy option for everyone. Take ten minutes out of your day to try a beginner video at home or sit in the back row of a class to get a feel for things. Then remember the following.
Yoga is all about slowing down. In fact, this is the one exercise where progress is supposed to take time. So take it steady and concentrate fully on the moment.
Focus On Breathing
Breathing is a big part of yoga and will help your body in many ways. One physical benefit is that it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering cortisone levels (the hormone that forces our bodies to hold on to belly fat). Not only that, this type of deep abdominal breathing helps you synchronise your movements and puts you into a relaxed and meditative state.
Listen To Your Body
Yoga requires consistent practice and dedication. But It's important to listen to your body and not push yourself beyond its limits. So if a pose feels uncomfortable or painful, ease off and try something else. Remember: yoga's an exercise in being patient and kind to yourself. So keep practising and give it time. Your body will soon feel the benefits - on and off the mat.