Yoga can help you become a better man – physically, mentally, spiritually, and sexually. Yep, it’s true. Learn why you need it in your fitness routine.
Yoga as Part of Your Fitness Routine?
Free weights. Cardio. Plyometrics. HIIT. There are a few disciplines that are associated with building strength, endurance, and muscle mass. Regular, weight-bearing exercise has several demonstrable benefits backed by science – improving bone health, boosting testosterone levels, burning more calories at rest, and more. Those may be one of the many reasons why you and your buddies are among the 45 million American adults who have a gym membership. Even if you’re not a gym rat, you may keep your midnight snacking habit in check with track workouts, pickup basketball games, or your Bowflex.
Let’s be fair, though. Keeping in shape is great for your health, but it’s also part of your street cred. A recent survey of 2,000 gym-goers found that they go to their gyms to meet friends or get a date. Research also shows that men differ from women when it comes to their fitness. Men, for example, are more likely to work out to bulk up and enjoy looking like they’ve come straight from the weights (the sweatier, the better).
Men aren’t biologically wired to pull out, say, their yoga mats. It’s not in their genes – or their Lululemons. But, if you think that yoga is just for ladies trying to execute the perfect tree pose for the ‘Gram, you’re missing out on some valuable opportunity. Yoga can – and should – be a part of your fitness routine (no spandex required).
Namaste Away From That
You broach the subject of yoga to most dudes, and you’re met with some pretty heavy resistance. Despite yoga being a historically male practice (the first female yogi wasn’t accepted into training until 1937), the idea of downward-facing dogging and child posing is enough to make even the most progressive of men balk. Walk into your average yoga class, and you’ll probably find that it’s dominated by women. Men’s attitudes toward yoga, particularly when approached by a significant other about joining class, are pretty universal: “‘namaste away, thanks though.”
If you knew the benefits that yoga could have on your body (gainz, bruh), mind, and well-being, you might change your mind.
5 Benefits Of Yoga – Even For The Manliest of Men
The truth is that yoga can benefit any person, man or woman. Here are a few ways it can promote wellness and help you smash your fitness goals.
It Improves Flexibility
If you’re looking for a way to increase your athletic performance, yoga is a good way to start. Those “flows” that your SO is always raving about lengthen your muscles and make it easier for you to move. As an added benefit, yoga also improves your range of motion. Most men know after working out that they have a tight muscle or two – most commonly the glutes, pectorals, and hamstrings (you know, the ones that get the most action from all those squats, deadlifts, and box jumps you’ve been doing).
If you could improve the range of motion of these muscle groups, you could actually build more muscle mass and strength, since you’re getting more from each repetition. Conversely, continuing to limit your reps to the range of motion you have currently can be a detriment to your efforts.
A yoga class will take you through movements that open up all of your muscles for increased flexibility and range of motion. The benefits extend through – erm – many areas of your life.
It Promotes Muscle Recovery
If you’ve ever trained for an event – whether it’s a CrossFit competition or a triathlon – you might come across the term “active recovery” as an essential part of your training regime. Most seasoned athletes know that this does not mean calculating fantasy stats from your couch while you cruise through a six-pack and a bag of Cheetos. Your body needs time to heal and recover from the previous days’ workouts, but it’s still a good idea to include low impact activity that can keep your muscles guessing.
Yoga serves as a perfect option for active recovery, and you might even find it more challenging than you were expecting. When you perform a new exercise that utilizes your muscles in a new way, expect to be sore, at least the first few times. As you progress through your training, you might find that your active recovery days are something you (gasp!) look forward to.
It Relieves Stress
Yoga has documented physical benefits, but it is, at its core, a discipline centered in present-moment awareness and mental discipline. The benefits of mindful meditation practices like yoga are backed by science. For example, yoga can increase the brain’s production of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which is a chemical that helps regulate the activity of the nerves. In people suffering from anxiety or high levels of stress, GABA activity can be lower than average.
It’s also worth noting that men and women experience stress differently. Men, for example, are less adept at handling stress than women and are more likely to respond to stressors with anger, depression, or social isolation. Yoga can be an essential part of your stress management plan, as it promotes nervous system calmness and increased mental awareness.
Stress relief, as it turns out, has a synergistic effect. Men who practice yoga can also experience other mental health benefits from reduced stress to improved sleep quality. When you hit the hay with better nervous system regulation, it stands to reason that you’ll be able to fall asleep faster.
If you’re one of those guys who is quick to anger, yoga can help with that, too. During your yoga sessions, you will practice breathing techniques and learn how to calm the external stimuli around you. You might find that these techniques provide benefits far from the mat like, for example, when you’re dealing with an obnoxious coworker or sitting through another lecture from your passive-aggressive boss. Some classes are even geared toward mindful meditation that can help reverse anger issues.
Yoga has so many documented mental health benefits; it is often touted as an important part of a holistic addiction treatment plan. Stress, anxiety, and depression can be triggers for relapse, so men in recovery often include yoga in their daily lives to keep their emotions in check and maintain mental clarity and purpose.
It Improves Your Strength
Most men work out with what’s referred to as the “Home Depot” approach – you have a blueprint of what you want from your workouts, and you’re there to get it done. Yoga rarely makes it into that blueprint, but it should. One yoga instructor confessed that she loved seeing when men come into her class with their SOs with an air of arrogance, but were sweating profusely and had a “deer in headlights look” 45 minutes into class while their significant others were breezing through the flow.
The reality is that yoga classes, particularly powerful ones, are really tough. They’re also really scalable, as a good yoga instructor will offer modifications that make each movement either easier or more challenging. Don’t go into class thinking that you’re going to be breezing through inversions on your first day. Even if you’ve been working on your sick lats, you will likely find that that strength does not immediately translate to the type required to execute fluid movements in a Vinyasa.
It Makes You a Better Athlete and Person
A lofty claim? Yes. Backed by evidence? Also, yes. A recent study of endurance athletes found significant improvements in running times when races were preceded by brief yoga interventions. Another study involving basketball players found that yoga yielded statistically significant improvements in the vertical jump, free throw, three-pointers, tactical execution, and retention of equilibrium.
As for the better person part – a recent study from the Journal of Holistic Nursing found practicing yoga makes people more patient, which improves people’s perception of you. If that were not enough to get you to try it, consider this last little factoid – a study from the International Society of Sexual Medicine found that two hours of yoga a week makes for better sex.
How to Get Started
Hopefully, that is enough evidence to show you that yoga has physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. As a discipline demanding both mental and physical fitness, it is definitely not just for people vying for Instagram approval. How, though, to get started?
Most advanced yoga practitioners will tell you to work your way up and not to expect too much from your first few weeks. Just like getting into lifting or running, focusing on your form, in the beginning, is much more important than nailing the advanced moves your first few sessions. It is important to set a good foundation from which you will learn to control your breathing and execute movements, slowly advancing to more technically challenging flows.
Your local gym can be a great way to get started. Gyms tend to offer classes that cater to beginners and will focus on form more than ability. As you become more familiar with the flows and how to do them, you can move onto more technically advanced classes available at studios.
If you’re not comfortable with honing your skills in public, you can also find a YouTube channel and follow along at home until you’re more confident in your abilities.
A Beginners Guide to Terminology
One of the most intimidating things about starting yoga is the terminology. Here is what you need to know to get started:
- A “flow” is a series of structured movements.
- Some instructors will use the “Americanized” names for poses (child’s pose, tree pose, etc). Other will use the original Sanskrit. Either way, you can follow along visually with the instructor as they go through the poses. Don’t be intimidated by the language! Relax and go along as best as you can – you will become familiar with it all over time.
- Hatha, Vinyasa, Yoga, Power, Bikram. These are all different names for classes that you might encounter, and they can vary depending on the instructor. When it doubt, ask. Yoga labeled “restorative” or “mindful” will focus more on breathing than physical movement.
Yoga is a technically difficult discipline that can improve your physical strength, patience, stress, mental fortitude, and athleticism. Gents, you shouldn’t be afraid to try it out and reap the rewards. You might just find that you enjoy filling your active recovery days with its strengthening benefits – and those benefits will carry over into multiple other aspects of your life and wellbeing.
About the Author:
Matthew Poteet, Pharm.D. and COO of Compounding RX USA, lives in Knoxville with his wife, Chris. Dr. Poteet graduated with Honors from Lee University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Biological Science and is Tennessee’s first Board Certified Anti-Aging Pharmacist by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.