Yoga is a centuries-old discipline that has been embraced by the West for many years now. While many women have attended yoga classes on a regular basis for a long time, men are increasingly beginning to practice yoga too. Read on to find out more about the benefits of yoga for men, not only for physical health but also for mental and emotional wellbeing.
Jan Denecke is a yoga teacher who has been teaching yoga for the last 9 years. He runs his own yoga practice as well as teaching in studios across Sydney. He dispels the common misconceptions men may have when it comes to practising yoga, the rewards men can reap from yoga, and shares his tips on how men can start incorporating yoga as part of their health and fitness regimes.
In his time as a yoga teacher, Jan notes that a common misconception men might have about yoga is that they are not flexible enough to practice. In fact, according to Jan, “flexibility is not necessary to do yoga” – one of the benefits is that it actually helps men to strengthen their bodies as they move through the postures. Compared to going to the gym and strengthening only specific parts of the body (which can lead to tightness in the muscles of those areas), “yoga distributes strength all over the body,” Jan says. Flexibility can certainly be improved through yoga, but men will also notice improved overall physical strength through continued practice.
Another misconception men may have about yoga is that it is just an activity that uses difficult-looking postures. Not so, Jan assures – yoga also helps improve the breath through deepening and lengthening. The effect of this, Jan says, is that it can reduce levels of stress and has a positive impact on your nervous system. Research has shown that yoga helps alleviate your mood by increasing the level of serotonin in the gut (a neurotransmitter associated with happiness) while also reducing stress hormones and neurochemicals associated with depression. As a result, Jan suggests that continued yoga practice may help men deal better with stressful situations, as well as promote improved emotional responses to stress.
Speaking of emotions and stress, “men in general [often] have a harder time opening up their heart,” Jan observes, while women tend to be more open and vocal about what they’re feeling. As yoga practice promotes mindfulness and calms the body, mind and breath, it can benefit men as they become more introspective and self-inquiring. This can help men become more open and better at dealing with stress in their relationships with others or at work.
If you’re interested in learning more about yoga or attending a class, Jan recommends finding a good studio or yoga teacher who “can help bring you back to a more distributed, energetic, physical alignment.” What this means, Jan explains, is that we’re conditioned to gravitate with what we’re most comfortable with, which may lead to not addressing issues such as tightness in your body, bad posture, any mental difficulties, or problems with breathing. Yoga helps you step out of this comfort zone into a more natural and sustainable balance, and a good studio or teacher will help you find proper alignment of both your body and mind.
There are also different styles of yoga that men can do, depending on what they want to achieve. A more physical practice, such as power vinyasa, focuses on finding that alignment in your body and giving you a new awareness of it as you move and stretch in different directions and postures. Besides power vinyasa, Jan also practises and teaches yin yoga. He explains that in this style of yoga “poses are held for 2-10 minutes, which brings the body into deeper stretches of connective tissues, ligaments and joints, [and because] this is a different mental and physical challenge [it] gives you insights and teaches you to soften physical, mental, and emotional sensations.” It helps you to move, stay and accept discomfort without stress or resistance. As with all types of yoga, you obtain a deeper knowledge of yourself and awareness of your responses to emotions and life.
Finally, when you decide to practise yoga, Jan says be realistic – make it fit into your life. Look for a studio near work or home so you can practice after a day at the office or during a lunch break; if you’re a morning person, practice then. Yoga isn’t all serious, Jan also points out – it is also a fun practice that you can do with friends, girlfriends or partners. Start doing yoga in a way that you feel is manageable so that you stay enthusiastic, curious and eager to learn more about yourself and your body, otherwise you won’t have the motivation to continue. (If you’re new to yoga, it may also be a good idea to check with your doctor beforehand to get the green light and embark on a new exercise routine.)
Incorporating yoga in your life not only reaps benefits physically, but it is also proven to have marked positive effects on your mental and emotional health. Start practicing today for a stronger, calmer, more mindful you!