Yoga has a long history of being beneficial physically, mentally and spiritually. On top of that, at one time yoga was also only taught to men. Interesting as that is, yoga today seems to be perceived as a woman’s domain. That small obstacle aside, what are the benefits that interest men today? How can yoga help me in today’s world where I don’t have the time or inclination to sit on the top of a hill all day, live in a cave at night and survive on nothing but meditation, the dew from a leaf and the energy of the universe? I’ve put together my top 10 benefits modern men get from yoga.
In a world where we sit all day, every day in front of computers and in meetings, muscles tighten up and physically we lose range of motion in the hips, shoulders and back. Mentally, all that staring and concentrated focus leads to mental stiffness where we lose the ability to see things from other perspectives or points of view, diminishing creativity and problem solving. Flexibility from a yoga practice can counteract these effects.
- It pushes us out of our comfort zone
Physically yoga makes us stronger, more flexible and helps to keep us healthy. When paired with a structured breathing practice, yoga can also open up emotional locks. Growing up, boys are often taught that emotions are for girls and that the best way to deal with them is to stomp them down and lock them away. It’s how I grew up. Through my meditation and yoga practice, I learned how to let go of that control. I can now experience my emotions but not be ruled by them.
- It teaches humility
Standing or sitting in a class and listening to the instructor guide the class into a posture and think “you want me to put my >body part< where??????” Emotionally and mentally I find humility comes to me in the form of little life lessons. Something as simple as remembering to breath during stressful times, or something more profound, such as releasing resistance to change in my life.
- It teaches us to laugh at ourselves
There can never be too much laughter in the world. Laughter is contagious and an instant mood changer. Don’t believe me, try not to laugh or at least smile when a baby starts laughing. It just can’t be done. Learning to laugh at ourselves relieves stress, tension and things like fear, failure or embarrassment.
- It gets us away from everything electronic
Ironic, I know as I sit here writing this on my computer. However the benefits of disconnecting are numerous. Putting aside the gizmos opens up space for our friends, family and ourselves to come center stage in our awareness. Without the distractions of the next ping-like-tweet, insta-pin-snap-ring-whatever, allows for our brains to stop being digi-distracted.
- It shows us it’s okay to take care of ourselves too
As men we spend a lot of time taking care of others, especially our family. A very wise friend of mine once gave me some advice; don’t forget to take care of yourself. The point he made was that if I did nothing but give of my time, my energy, myself, I would very quickly burn out and have nothing left. At that point, I wouldn’t be able to be helpful to others. Instead, taking some time for myself, to take care of myself, would allow me the ability to stay charged and be able to continue helping family and friends.
- Strengthens muscles we didn’t remember we had
Take enough yoga classes, and no matter how fit you are, there will eventually be some class that either modifies a known posture, or introduces a new one that finds some muscle or muscle group we didn’t know we had. I don’t always realize it that day, but the next day, I feel it.
- It can help us be more patient (eventually)
Standing or sitting still is tough. With technology that keeps everyone connected all the time, instant gratification just isn’t fast enough anymore. Sustaining a posture, a breathing technique (or both) allows us to move past the point of struggle and resistance to a point of acceptance. Not acceptance of things which are not good for us, but acceptance of change, acceptance of others and most importantly, acceptance of ourselves. That acceptance breeds a humble, strong mind.
- It can reduce stress
Feeling stressed or overwhelmed? Sweat and distraction are great cures for that. Getting the body moving opens up the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Fresh blood gets circulated throughout the whole body. Putting your entire focus onto the workout at hand opens up mental space to clear out preconceptions and allow for new points of view to be evaluated. I’ve solved more than one tough problem while on a yoga mat or out for a run.
- It teaches us to breathe
In, out, repeat. Breathing is automatic and happens without conscious thought. However, when we think about it, focus on it and guide it, breathing becomes much more than something that “just happens.” Breathing becomes a tool to unlocking our potential. Through breathing we can calm our body and mind. We can also use breath to energize ourselves and create focus and clarity.
Yoga is beneficial for pretty much everyone. I think the viewpoint that yoga isn’t for men or excludes men is very limited for both yoga and men. I believe a male perspective on yoga, the sutras and the like adds flavor and a unique view that might otherwise be missed.
With this list in mind, I encourage all the guys out there to try out a yoga class. I’ve posted before on ways to approach yoga classes and some translations for what gets said in those classes to make the introduction a little easier. Find a yoga class and if nothing else, just breathe.