The stereotypical view of a yoga class is anything but masculine.
Ethereal music, scented oils, gentle movements, softly spoken teachers, it’s little wonder that for the past few decades at least, yoga studios have been predominantly filled with ladies, whilst men have been more drawn to activities where they can exert their masculinity through more extreme tests of their body, like the Crossfit box or endurance running.
But not only are the original roots of yoga actually very much in the male domain, but there are a whole host of very real and powerful benefits men today can derive by spending more time on the yoga mat, as an ever growing new generation of male yogis are discovering:
1. Flexibility & Mobility
This may be an obvious place to start, but the dynamic movements and stretches in yoga help the body become more flexible and mobile – creating far-reaching benefits for whatever other physical activity you might want to be doing.
It’s why there’s a long-standing relationship between martial arts and yoga, and why everyone from professional footballers, basketball players and Olympic athletes, to soldiers on tour are increasingly factoring yoga into their lifestyle.
2. All over body strength & conditioning
Let’s bust myth number one – Yoga is not all gentle and easy. As with most types of exercise, you can find the intensity and duration that suits you, your level, and your mood.
In particular flow styles like Vinyasa will strengthen your body all over, can leave you dripping with sweat and feeling the positive effects for days. Maintain regular practice for even just a few weeks and you’ll see for yourself how the repetitive movements will lengthen your muscles and tone your physique.
Even Yin Yoga, in which participants rest in static poses for long periods of time, can leave your muscles feeling as fatigued as if you’d completed an intense gym workout.
3. Focus & full body awareness
Whilst with some forms of intense exercise the trick can be to divert your attention away from the pain and discomfort by thinking about something – anything – else, yoga really encourages you to place your full attention on every movement, giving you a greater appreciation of every muscle and joint in your body.
You’ll learn to understand how your whole magnificent machine works in unison, and begin to realise the importance of looking after often overlooked but critical muscles like those in your feet and neck. Therefore, reducing the risk of imbalances, aches, pains and joint trouble in later life.
4. Correct years of body imbalance & prevent injuries
If, like many men, you spent a lot of your youth playing sports like football, rugby, running or weight-training, chances are high you’ll have developed or stretched some muscles more than others, leaving you feeling quite inflexible in places.
Hip flexors and hamstrings in particular are two areas where men are often especially rigid.
Similarly, if you spend a lot of your working day sat hunched a desk, you’re unknowingly training your body to default to a certain position. Sure, your fingers might be very dexterous when it comes to typing, but your spine will be feeling unloved.
Whichever of these applies to you, yoga is your passport to addressing your imbalances, and leading you to feeling human again through head-to-toe attention and restorative movements like inversions.
5. Reduce Stress
Yoga can release mental and physical tension, which is of particular benefit to men who have a tendency to internalise stress and anxiety.
Yoga also helps to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Excess cortisol can suppress thyroid function, decrease muscle tissue, increase blood pressure, lower immunity, and increase inflammatory responses.
On top of that, yoga has been found to increase your body’s ability to respond to stress more effectively, by reducing heart rate, blood pressure, and easing respiration in stressful situations that typically increase these responses.
6. Improve Digestion
Yoga improves your digestive health too. The more you practice, the more you’ll learn the benefits for your body on the inside and out. For example, many postures, especially twists, massage the internal organs and keep food moving along nicely.
7. Enhance Brain Function
It’s been proven that focus, productivity, and creative insight are all improved thanks to time on the mat. A study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that 20 minutes of Hatha yoga stimulates brain function more than walking or jogging on the treadmill for the same amount of time.
Yoga moves the body, creating physical space and stirring up energy. Then, when we sit in meditation, we observe that energy settle so we feel deep stillness. This extra head space leads to better decisions, better work relationships, and increased productivity.
8. Get Better Sleep
A 2013 study found that older yogis reported fewer sleeping disturbances, required a shorter time to fall asleep, and scored higher on measures of sleep quality than those who didn’t do yoga.
The focus on breathing in yoga helps improve the strength of your respiratory muscles, which can help guard against sleep-interfering conditions like snoring or sleep apnea.
9. Enjoy Better Sex
If you weren’t convinced already, yoga really can improve your sex life, in a number of ways.
Firstly, it makes you stronger and more flexible.
Secondly, it helps reduce anxiety and increases body awareness and confidence.
Finally, on a physical level, it speeds the release of hormones that boost arousal and increases blood flow to the genital area, which is important for erections.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that men who practiced yoga for 12 weeks reported improved sexual function overall-including on measures of desire, satisfaction with sex, performance, ability to control their ejaculation, and their orgasm.
10. It feels REALLY good
If you love the feeling of ‘Runner’s High’, or the endorphin rush after an intense HIIT workout, then you’ll be pleased to know that Yoga prompts its own natural high or ‘Post Yoga Glow’, by triggering the release of the essential hormone oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’, flooding the body with feelings of well-being and happiness.
Other benefits of Oxytocin include relieved anxiety, increased sexual intimacy, increased desire for social interaction, and lower blood pressure.
So with so many benefits to yoga, what are you waiting for?
Start discovering the different forms of yoga and find the practice that fits your lifestyle.