Somewhere along the voyage from ancient India to modern America, yoga transformed from spiritual discipline dominated by male practitioners to a billion dollar industry catering predominantly to women. How did that happen? And why? It’s great to see Western women discovering yoga, but where are all the dudes? Maybe we feel boxed out by the pretty purple mats, the stylish outfits or the general air of sisterhood that seems to permeate the yoga culture. But the truth is, guys should be doing yoga. Unfortunately, the numbers tell the story: with roughly 21 million people in America currently practicing yoga, only 18% of them are men. It may be time to change that.
Here are 10 great reasons for guys to take up yoga.
1. It’s Just Stretching
For as long as anyone can remember, professional athletes have warmed up for all types of macho sports like football and wrestling and curling by doing stretches. You see them on the sidelines before every NFL game or in the middle of the court during basketball warm-ups. But the minute you slap a name like pigeon-pose on to a bent-leg stretch, it suddenly becomes uncool. Don’t let the animal names of the postures distract you. Sure there are some other major components to yoga like meditation, breathing and chanting, but at the core it’s about stretching your muscles.
2. You Don’t Have To Take A Class
Look, there’s no denying that walking into a yoga studio is a bit like walking into a baby shower, but nobody says you have to start by taking a class. Order a video like this one and get started in your bedroom. Learn some basic moves like downward and upward dog, triangle pose and child’s pose until you feel acclimated enough try out a class. Once you see how much gas you let out from your first forward bend, you’ll be glad you started in the privacy of your own home.
3. Protect Your Creaking Bones
Between work and family life, the opportunities to hit the gym are becoming few and far between. If you’ve become a weekend athlete, sedentary all week, then diving into softball and basketball on Saturday and Sunday, you’re putting yourself at serious risk. And unlike the soccer players at the World Cup, you could get a real, actual injury. Fifteen minutes of yoga a day during the week will keep your body limber and flexible so when you go out on the weekends to crush your friends, you don’t wind up on the Injured Reserve list.
4. Better Sex
Here’s a great story. During the 1983 American Urological Association meeting in Las Vegas, Dr. Giles Brindley injected his penis with the drug phentolamine, then walked on stage and dropped his pants to display one of the first drug-induced erections to a stunned audience of urologists. What did the phentolamine do? It relaxed a muscle, so that blood could flow down below. What does Viagra do? Same thing. And you probably see where this headed, but what does yoga do? Same thing. Relaxes your muscles. Increases blood flow. You do the math.
5. Chill Out
Learning how to keep your cool in the face of work, kids and marriage is a major theme for most fathers (check out this article for tips on keeping cool with your kids). Yoga can help with that. Big time. By stretching 10 to 15 minutes a day you’ll slowly find your mind relaxing into a natural meditation, as mind tends to follow body and vice versa. Close your office door at work or take a break from the kids at home and squeeze in a quick yoga session for instant stress relief.
6. Kids Love It
There’s something about bending and stretching into all kinds of poses with cute animal names that kids just love. So why not share that with them? Yoga is like an extra activity you can keep in your back pocket that you can whip out whenever the kids are bored. You don’t have to remember the football or Frisbee, you don’t have to drive somewhere and pay admission. You could be in the family room and start an impromptu yoga session, or you could be at the beach. It’s a fun, healthy, physical activity that almost always results in giggles and laughs as the little ones topple over trying tricky moves.
7. Bond With Your Wife
You see that couple above? Look how much fun they’re having. Okay, so maybe you won’t be high flying like Cirque De Soleil acrobats the first time out, but don’t sell short the positive aspects doing yoga with your wife can have on your relationship. Lots of married couples spend the evening sinking into the couch, catching up on the craziness of their lives and watching TV. After a couple hours, you may start to feel a little restless. Put your show on pause, hop up and stretch it out. Get the blood flowing. Do poses side-by-side with your wife or try out some more intimate two-person poses with awesome names like “double sandwich” and “double dog bow”. You’ll find a little couples’ yoga every now and then is a great way to connect with each other.
8. Go Deep
Stuck in life? Wondering how you get here? Where all your time went, your youth? If you’re starting to ask yourself some of the bigger questions, or you just miss the experimental drug years of college, you might be interested in some of the deeply spiritual aspects of yoga. Granted, instead of “tuning in and turning on”, this is where a lot of men “tune out and turn off”. But deep, transcendental meditation can help expand your mind, and concepts such as karma, mindfulness and even reincarnation can provide answers outside of what you were taught in Sunday school.
Although Western docs are reticent to agree, and the hard science has yet to prove it, Eastern practitioners have long claimed that yoga is beneficial at cleansing toxins from the body. Such moves as spinal twists are said to have a calming effect on the digestive system as they allow toxins stored in the organs to be released. And abdominal strengthening poses can help alleviate excess cramping, bloating and gas in the colon. In the New York times, Dr. Debbe L. Cohen, a kidney specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, studied the effects that yoga had on her patients and concluded that it definitely “reduces stress and has health benefits.” So if the aspirin, greasy omelette and 24 oz coffee aren’t doing the trick, try a few stretches, bends and deep breaths to help ease your next hangover.
10. Sleep Like A Baby
It’s crazy how many biological and mental functions are linked to poor sleep: from anxiety and depression to high-blood pressure and obesity, the list goes on and on. If you have trouble turning off your mind at the end of a busy day, yoga can help. In 2012, researchers at The Harvard Medical School investigated how a daily yoga practice affects sleep for people with insomnia and found broad improvements to measurements of sleep quality and quantity. Just 10-15 minutes of practice before climbing into bed can do wonders for increasing sleep quality and duration.
The benefits of yoga are endless. From improved sleep and sex life, to protecting your body as you get older, to helping you calm down as you balance work and family life. Yet for some reason, men have been reluctant to jump on board in Western societies. Maybe it’s the chanting. Or the animal names of the poses. Or the tight pants. But you don’t have to do any of those things to enjoy yoga. Just try out a few stretches in a peaceful quiet setting for 15-20 minutes a day, and watch the quality of your life increase. And if you find yourself thinking that “real men don’t do yoga”, just remember the picture above, taken from a yoga class at a U.S. Army base in Iraq. Yoga… even soldiers are doing it. What’s more manly that that?