How Newbies Can Get Started With Yoga
If you think you’re too manly for a downward dog, think again. While some men might think yoga is strictly for the ladies, the very first yogis were actually exclusively men.
Part of the reason yoga has become so popular in western society is for its physical and mental health benefits. Dr. Blum states, “There is a lot of new research coming out to support the benefits of yoga on overall wellbeing, happiness, and health” and she reminds us that the benefits are “not gender specific”.
Yoga is perfect especially in the current moment, for men working from home and missing the gym. You’d be surprised how much hitting the mat can invigorate your body and mind. While there are many varieties of yoga to choose from (Bikram, restorative, vinyasa, to name a few), the research is clear: they can all do good.
Expect a few specific benefits when you start adding yoga to your workout routines including:
Increased Mobility and Flexibility
Men typically focus their fitness on strength training and/or endurance training, such as running, weight lifting, or biking. While these workouts are great for muscle, bone, and heart health, the repetitive movements can lead to muscle, fascial, and nerve tightness. Yoga can be a great way to incorporate mobility work and flexibility into your fitness routine so that you are able to access your full range of motion at the gym.
Increased Body Awareness
Improving body awareness can go a long way in helping prevent injuries. Yoga classes emphasize the importance of correct form when practicing different poses. This attention to movement builds your proprioception, or knowing where your body is in space. By sharpening your proprioceptive skills, you improve your weight lifting form and balance, which decreases the likelihood of injury to your body.
Strengthens Deep Stabilising Muscles
A big part of the typical gym routine includes using exercise machines and dumbbells to focus on building strength in the bigger, more visible muscle groups. Unfortunately, this often leaves out the deeper stabilizing muscles. This muscle imbalance can put your body at risk for injury. Yoga poses include a lot of core and trunk stabilizing movements that can strengthen the deeper muscles that are not addressed by many exercise machines.
Improves Heart Health
While you might think you have a good heart, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in men in the United States. The breathwork and meditation practices found in yoga have been shown to decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels in your body which all contribute to a healthy heart.
How to do it: Start sitting upright on the floor with knees bent. Make sure your spine is lengthened here and not slouching, especially at your lower spine. Begin to lift your legs off the ground with legs straight, feet extended away from you and balance. If you have tight hamstrings, you will need to keep your knees slightly bent in order to prevent your lower back from rounding. As you stay in this pose, allow your spine to continuously lengthen, as the tendency is to round the back as you fatigue. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths and then slowly release.
Benefits: This pose is great for strengthening your core while actively stretching your hamstrings. In addition, it teaches you body awareness and how to dissociate the hips from the spine, which is important for spine health.
Upward facing dog
How to do it: Begin on your stomach. Place your hands on the ground in line with your chest. Draw your elbows close to your trunk. Point your toes away from you, allowing your weight to be on the tops of your feet. Lift your body up by straightening your elbows. Your weight should be on the tops of your feet and your hands. Your thighs should not be touching the floor. Draw your shoulder blades down and back, allowing your chest to stretch. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths, then slowly return back to your stomach.
Benefits: This pose actively strengthens the shoulders and upper back muscles while stretching the chest muscles. This combination of strengthening and stretching is needed to combat the slouched position most of us take on during our 8-hour work days. In addition to improving posture, this post is also great for stretching the abdominals and improving core strength and stability.
How to do it: Begin on hands and knees in a quadruped position, with knees under hips and shoulders in line with wrists. Inhale as you drop your stomach towards the ground and arch your lower back, looking upwards. Pause. Exhale as you round your back up towards the ceiling, allowing your neck to drop down. Repeat 5 to 10 times allowing breath to lead the movement.
Benefits: By mobilizing the spine and surrounding tissues, this move promotes blood flow which can aid in healing. Focusing on segmental movement of the spine (moving each vertebra individually as you go between cat and cow poses) can help free up or loosen stiff areas of the spine.
Be consistent practicing these poses every day and see how your body improves in how it looks AND feels.