“Do you even yoga, bro?” said, like, no man ever…or so you thought. But all the Instagram stars are doing it, and so are celebrities, fitness experts, your neighbors, and even your favorite professional athletes. Over 20 million Americans are practicing yoga, so it might make you feel like an outcast if you’re not doing it.
So maybe you’ve been thinking about getting on board the yoga train. But yoga is for women and folks who are into the woo-woo meditation stuff, right? After all, why would you want the increased flexibility and strength, mental clarity, better immune system, improved athletic ability, better balance, faster muscular recovery, stress relief, alleviation of depression, and great sexual benefits that can come with practicing yoga?
The truth is that men might actually benefit more from yoga than women because men have larger muscles that can get overstressed from all the heavy lifting and physical activities. So before you think that you’re too macho for yoga, read on to find out what it can do for you.
Types of Yoga
Yoga doesn’t consist of just one type of exercise; it’s actually a group of ancient Indian practices or disciplines that combine physical, spiritual, and mental well-being. There are a wide variety of yoga styles, and here are just a few:
This is the most basic type of yoga, and the one that you’ll most likely find being taught at your local gym or recreation center. It provides a gentle introduction for beginners with slow, basic postures. A hatha yoga instructor will teach you the principles of breathing (pranayama), meditation (dhyama), and physical postures (asanas). While you won’t be sweating by the end of a hatha yoga class, you should come out feeling looser and more relaxed.
Vinyasa yoga is a more movement-intensive, but still beginner-friendly type of yoga where students are taught to move from one pose to the next in a fluid motion while focusing on their mind-breath connection. You’ll push and contort your body to the limit with lots of aggressive stretching, but with consistent practice, you’ll notice increased flexibility, strength, and stamina. It is also great for those who love variety since no vinyasa yoga class is the same.
If you’re recovering from an illness or injury, this is the yoga for you. Iyengar yoga focuses on finding the proper anatomical alignment for each posture by using props like blankets, chairs, and blocks. Poses in Iyengar yoga are held for a long time, so you won’t get a cardio workout, but you’ll find the pain relief, increased flexibility, calmer mind, and toned muscles to be worth the challenge.
If you want to break a sweat, then an Ashtanga yoga class might suit you better than the previous three types mentioned. However, if you’re an absolute beginner at yoga, this is not for you. Ashtanga can be called the “hardcore yoga” due to its rigorous style that combines dynamic, physically-demanding movements that flow through a set sequence with little time to adapt. Like Vinyasa, each movement will be connected to a breath. If you can get through an Ashtanga yoga class, you’ll build a stronger core and a better toned body.
Prepare to sweat like never before. Bikram classes are held in heated rooms, where you will work through 26 poses and 2 breathing techniques per session. Like ashtanga, the poses will always follow the same sequence. Besides nausea, you’ll benefit from improved flexibility and weight loss from all the sweating. Don’t forget to take a water bottle!
A spin-off of Ashtanga, power yoga takes a fitness-based approach to the vinyasa style. Fast-paced and vigorous, power yoga requires a lot of athleticism, strength, and flexibility. You’ll benefit from a variety of routines since teachers build their own sequences of movements, as well as increased flexibility and strength, and reduced stress.
Benefits of Yoga
There are many benefits of yoga besides stress relief and flexibility. Yoga is a great addition to your weightlifting regimen if you want to prevent workout injuries. Well-stretched muscles will heal faster, and your mind will also be trained to be more aware of your body’s needs and limits. The ability to self-assess will be crucial for preventing or reducing the risk of injury.
Still not convinced? Then consider this: Yoga can actually help increase your muscle mass and endurance. Yup, you read that right. Most yoga practices only use body weight, so while it will not get you bulky, it will activate slow twitch muscle fibers, which aren’t normally accessible with weightlifting. Yoga is a more balanced approach that can lengthen, tone, and strengthen all of your muscles. So show all of those neglected muscle fibers some love and make yoga a part of your workout regimen.
While this article won’t go into all of the other benefits of yoga, there are many online resources and books available to help get you started on your journey. So grab a mat and some yoga pants, and get ready because you’re about to get hooked.
Now that you know some of the types of yoga and its benefits, it’s time to move on to 3 basic poses.
All types of exercise start with building a good foundation, and yoga is no exception. The Mountain pose is a simple move that builds a stable foundation for other standing yoga poses. It can strengthen your thighs and knees, improve posture, and work your core.
Directions: Stand with your big toes touching and heels separated slightly. Lift your toes and spread them wide to balance your weight and establish a solid base. Engage your thigh muscles to lift your kneecaps slightly. Imagine a line going all the way up from your inner thighs to the top of your head. Turn the upper thighs inward and lengthen your tailbone, maintaining the natural curve of your spine. Draw your belly in and lift your sternum. Roll your shoulders back to broaden your collarbones. Hang your arms loosely by your side. Remain in this pose for about 1 minute.
Warrior I (Virabhadrasana)
This is another beginner-level pose that improves your posture, stamina, and balance. It also strengthens your thighs, abdomens, ankles, and areas around the knees. If you do high-impact sports, the Warrior I is not something you want to skip.
Directions: Start from the Mountain pose. Step forward about 3.5 to 4 feet, and turn your right foot outward 90 degrees, and left foot inward at 45-60 degrees. Press into your left heel and exhale as you bend your right knee until it is over your ankle. Arch your back slightly, lift your chest up, and reach up through your arms. Keep your palms facing each other and tilt your head back to look at your thumbs. Hold the pose for 1 minute. To release, return to the Mountain pose.
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svansana)
This beginner pose improves blood circulation to your brain and works just about every one of your muscles. It may look simple, but it requires a lot of strength, so you’ll feel its effects all over your body.
Directions: Start with your knees directly beneath your hips and your hands just in front of your shoulders. Spread your palms out and press firmly on the floor. As you exhale, raise your knees off the floor, keeping them slightly bent at first. Stretch your tailbone in the direction of the ceiling. Then exhale and point your heels toward the floor, pushing your thighs back to straighten your legs and knees without locking them. Press the base of your index fingers on the floor. Lift along your inner arms and draw your shoulders blades back, keeping your head between your upper arms the entire time. Hold for 1-3 minutes. To release, simply drop your knees.
At this point, you should consider yoga your best friend – with benefits. There are so many mental, physical, and emotional benefits that it’s no wonder two billion people practice yoga around the world. Try to incorporate some of the poses into your warm-up or cool-down routine. With consistent practice, you’ll see benefits in no time, and you may soon find yourself signing up for a local yoga class.