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Ultimate Guide to Yoga for Men
Namaste! It’s ironic that so many guys think yoga is just for girls, but in fact yoga was created by a bunch of dudes, or to be more specific Vedic priests from the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. The exact origins of yoga are patchy, it’s hard to find specifics on something that’s 5000 years old, but what we do know is that Yoga used to be an exclusively male pursuit.
First originating in India, it was intrinsically linked with spirituality, mental clarity, and physical well-being, essential exercise for the mind, body and soul. Women weren’t allowed to practice yoga for millennia and it wasn’t until 1937 that the first female, an Indian actress called Indra Devi, convinced a yoga guru to teach her. After learning the ropes she moved to Hollywood and helped export yoga to the Western world.
Yoga wasn’t adopted as readily by men as it was by women during the early days of expansion, but things change. Now there’s a yoga school aimed exclusively at men called Broga, men’s yoga clothing brands are sprouting up, and more men are joining in classes with women every day. Surf pioneer Gerry Lopez has been into yoga ever since he took a class just to get chatting to the chicks. He figured out straight away that yoga had the potential to make him surf better, and now he’s known as Mr. Pipeline. Don’t take our word for it, just listen to him…
So, if you’ve been secretly busting out the odd sun crescent lunge or downward dog it’s time to take it to the next level.
What Type of Yogi Will You Be?
Yoga is often talked about like it’s just one thing, but it’s more complicated than that. There are many different offshoots of yoga, different schools of thought, training and practice just like in martial arts. Before you get started it’s worth getting to know more about different yoga styles.
Let’s start from the top, with the most demanding type of yoga that’s a favorite among athletes. It’s nicknamed power yoga and requires you to move smoothly through six tough yoga poses in a specific sequence. You need to do this quickly and precisely, so a high level of fitness is required. Ashtanga isn’t for beginners, it’s the most challenging type of yoga out there.
Iyengar was created by B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the best-known yoga gurus in the world. It’s a well-developed and detailed form of yoga that introduces props into the mix. You could say it’s a geeks form of yoga because there is so much to learn, but Iyengar enables you to target specific areas of your body and extend your range of motion. It’s perhaps the most comprehensive form of yoga available to the masses.
Yoga that makes you sweat. A Bikram session takes place in a room that’s heated to around 105 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity of roughly 40 percent. Go to any session in the world and it will be a similar temperature and humidity, the same 90-minute sequence, the same poses. The sequence consists of 26 different poses combined with two breathing exercises, and this style of yoga is great if you want to burn some extra calories and detox.
The continuous flow of Vinyasa works great as a total body workout without putting yourself under too much strain. You move at a steady pace through a series of poses that create a sequence. This type of yoga requires practicing the poses and the ability to move your body from one pose to another seamlessly. It works wonders for your flexibility and stamina.
A spiritual and philosophical type of yoga, if you’re a hippy at heart then Kundalini is for you. It involves performing kriyas, which are sequences combining specific poses, breathing exercises and sounds (think singing and chanting). There are different kriyas that are believed to improve things like spine flexibility or liver function. Kundalini involves meditation too, and the is the embodiment of the idea that yoga can bring together the energy of the body, mind, and spirit.
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Perhaps the easiest of all the types of yoga, and great for beginners to get started with, Hatha takes things a bit slower than all the rest. It focuses simply on the physical postures of yoga, giving you time to perform a pose properly and hold it before moving onto another one. It’s easy-going and helps you to improve your technique at your own pace. Hatha is the foundation of all types of yoga and gives you a good basic knowledge of this ancient practice.
There are a few other types of yoga too, like Restorative yoga, that helps you recover from an injury, and Yin yoga, which is designed to stretch connective tissue. There’s even Yoga Beats, a new-age practice that infuses a modified style of yoga with rhythmic world music. While yoga will keep evolving, its roots will always stay the same. Once you get started you’ll need to know these three words… pranayama refers to breathing exercises, asanas are the name for yoga poses, and dhyana is the control of thought for meditation.
How Good is Yoga For You?
Now if you need some rock solid reasons for why you should start practicing yoga then let’s ask WebMD, who put together a compelling video detailing all the potentially life-changing benefits that yoga can have on the human body…
As if that wasn’t enough to convince you that a performing Sun Salutation each day is a wise move, the improved strength and flexibility you’ll enjoy should certainly be enough to sway you. Yoga isn’t designed to build muscle, but it will tone and strengthen your muscles. Different poses target different muscle groups, whether it’s your core, your lower back or your legs. A thorough and balanced yoga session will stretch and engage multiple muscle groups and improve overall body strength. It’s no secret that yoga can do wonders for your posture.
For all the good yoga can do, what it doesn’t do is get your heart pumping fast or stimulate your nervous system. While practicing yoga you go into a parasympathetic state, which involves your blood pressure going down along with your heart rate slowing. This doesn’t help you burn many calories, so it’s still important to perform cardiovascular exercises like swimming, cycling or running alongside your yoga routine.
The Bare Necessities of Yoga
So here’s what you’re going to need to get started. Your number one piece of kit for yoga is going to be a yoga mat, and it’s worth picking one up from the get-go. Turn up at a class without a mat and you’ll have to use one of the worn out mats still sticky with sweat from the last person who used it. If you don’t get a mat for your first class, you’ll sure as hell have one before your second. Having your own mat will also mean you can practice poses at home, in your garden, or wherever you like really. Check out the range of yoga mats at Manduka.
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To really get into your yoga stride you might want to pick yourself up some new threads designed specifically for unhindered movement and comfort. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be lycra. OHMME is one of the few progressive companies out there that specialize solely in men’s yoga clothing, creating stylish garments with quick drying fabrics. They also do their bit through Yoga Gives Back, a non-profit working to help poverty-stricken people build sustainable livelihoods in India.
You’ve got the mat, you’ve got the outfit, now it’s time to start your path to enlightenment. We don’t mean selling your worldly possessions and spending the rest of your days in an ashram. No, just buy a book called ‘The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice’ written by T.K.V Desikachar, the son of one of the greatest yogis to ever live, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. A man who devoted his life to yoga, Krishnamacharya lived to over 100 years old so he must have been doing something right, and all his yoga knowledge is right here in these pages.
Essential Yoga Poses for Men
You’ve got to know your asanas unless you want to be the guy always asking questions at your first yoga class, so here are four to get you started. Impress your beginner buddies by knowing exactly how to do each of these poses and precisely what good they do for your body.
Adho Mukha Svanasana – The Downward Dog
The most widely known asana has to be the downward dog, it’s also one of the most basic but strangely doesn’t get taught in classes that much. This asana stretches out your entire body and should be performed before moving onto an asana where you’re sitting.
- Get on your hands and knees with your wrists slightly in front of your shoulders.
- Push your weight into your palms and slowly lift your knees off the floor.
- Bend at the hips so your body forms a V and your butt points to the sky.
- Straighten your legs and move your chest inwards towards your legs.
- Keep your head in line with your arms, keep pushing pressure through your wrists.
- Hold the position for a minute before lying back down on your mat.
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Baddha Konasana – The Cobbler
Another classic yoga pose that also goes by the names butterfly and bound angle pose. This asana opens out your hips, stretching your groin, thighs, and knees, helping to make you feel reenergized. It’s also thought to stimulate your reproductive system…
- Sit down on your backside with your back straight.
- Pull your feet up towards you and let your legs relax, each falling to either side.
- Push the soles of your feet together and rest your hands on your ankles.
- Lean forward over your legs until your flexibility limits you.
- Hold this position for half a minute and then lift yourself back up so your back is straight.
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Vriksasana – The Tree
You might think the Tree asana is all about balance, but concentration plays just as big a part. When done properly it strengthens your spine and ankles while stretching your shoulder and thorax.
- Stand up straight with your feet in line with your hips.
- Move your weight onto your right foot and bend your left knee.
- Bring your left foot up, use you left hand if necessary, and position it on the inside of your right thigh.
- Hold your balance and place the palms of your hands together in front of your chest.
- Stay in the pose for half a minute or more, and then repeat the pose on the opposite side.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – The Bridge
When it comes to learning a back bending pose to get you started with yoga, there’s none better than the Bridge. This asana stretches and strengthens your back and neck, which can only be a good thing right? It’s also believed to be a pose that promotes rejuvenation.
- Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and in line with your hips.
- Bring your heels up to your butt and lift your hips directly upwards.
- Push as far as you can and keep your arms flat by your sides or hold your ankles.
- Hold the pose for at least a minute and then relax.
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That should be plenty to get you started, but if you’re ready for more check out this video from Do You Yoga. Yogi Raghunath runs you through five poses, including demonstrations of the Plank, the Sphinx, and the Chaturanga…
Indispensable Yoga Resources for Men
To endow you with even more Yoga know-how here are three awesome online resources that you can turn to. Put these in your bookmarks and you’ll be all set.
Do Yoga With Me
Do Yoga With Me was created by a Canadian yoga instructor called David Procyshyn, who has been videotaping and posting his lessons online for years. Now there is a huge library of yoga lessons to watch and it won’t cost you a cent! It’s a great alternative to expensive yoga classes.
Does exactly what it says on the tin. If something has got you confused then head straight over to Yoga Basics, an online encyclopedia of all things yoga. If you can’t find the answer here you won’t find it anywhere. You can dig deep into the philosophy of yoga and will find an indispensable list of poses and sequences.
Picture this, you’re on holiday in a place you’ve never been before and want to take a yoga class but have no idea where to go. Just visit Yoga Trail and type in your location to find all the local classes, the times they are held, and the price. You can filter results by yoga styles and ability, along with reading profiles of the teachers. Even when you’re at home Yoga Trail is a great way to find classes.
Featured image: Pennakyp ‘Yoga Man’ via Pixabay
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