It’s true, real men do practice yoga. Just ask Alec Baldwin. In fact, you stand to gain more than just flexibility and access to beautiful, fit women eager to press you into a pretzel pose.
To coax you onto the mat and share the perks of the practice, we talked to Jason Crandell, a vinyasa yoga instructor based in San Francisco, and Joe Kita, a teacher in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, who teaches on Crystal Cruises’ world tours.
Here is their no-nonsense take on getting started:
1. It’s Not What You Think.
Most people think yoga is either just stretching or that if you’re in good shape, you can do it, say Crandell and Kita. Wrong on both counts. Yoga is actually a complex system of poses designed to increase flexibility and mental and physical energy. And, being in super shape may make yoga even harder, especially if you’re muscle-bound, says Kita. You may have to work around bulging pecs or calf muscles just to get into a pose. Don’t worry about the body you bring to the mat. Just keep an open mind and stay curious about the process.
2. You’re Going to Suck At Yoga.
“We can’t do yoga as well as women because we aren’t built like them,” says Kita. Men have a different pelvic structure that tends to make their hips smaller. Many yoga poses favor wider hips, which women tend to have. That doesn’t mean you can’t do yoga, but certain poses will be more challenging because of your anatomy. Men also tend to be less flexible than women, especially in the hamstrings, so the ubiquitous forward bend will initially feel impossible. But it does get easier.
3. Your Ego Will Get Hammered.
A lot of 105-pound women will ease effortlessly into poses you can only dream about. “It’s devastating,” admits Kita. “You just feel deflated watching these women do all these poses you can’t even begin to try.” His advice? “Stop looking around. Yoga is not a competition, and it doesn’t matter if someone can do the pose better than you because no one can ever do it perfectly. There’s always somewhere else you can go with the pose.” Yoga forces you to confront your desire to always be the best. “Rather than pit yourself against who’s next to you, pit yourself against things like stress or your own psychology to be a perfectionist or to control things,” suggests Kita.
4. Embrace Your Inner Beginner.
Drop the ego, the competition, and the scorecard, and just accept your newbie status. And that means sticking to beginner classes. The pace is slower, there’s more detailed instruction, and the teacher demonstrates poses. If you try anything more advanced, you’ll get discouraged—or worse, injured.
There are a zillion styles of yoga. Some, like ashtanga, Bikram, and vinyasa, are more popular with men. But the most important connection is the one with the teacher, according to Crandell and Kita. So shop around. Many gyms and studios offer a free first class. Take one at a variety of studios (or sample the classes at your gym) until you find the style, vibe, and teacher that suit you.
6. Forget About “No Pain, No Gain”.
Wipe that mantra right out of your head, says Kita. “That advice may work in other sports but it’s dangerous on a yoga mat,” he says. Yoga engages body parts that have been neglected or misused for decades. Push too hard and you’ll pull ligaments, pop tendons, and otherwise injure yourself.
7. Strive for “Sweet Discomfort.”
If pain isn’t your guide, what is? Something one of Kita’s teachers calls “sweet discomfort.” “It’s that edge where it feels a little uncomfortable but it still feels good,” Kita explains. “Every pose has that point. You have to be mindful and keep your awareness front and center as you move toward that point because you don’t want to go beyond it.” That edge will be different every time you practice so measure it by how you feel—not by how far into the pose you are.
8. Commit Yourself to Yoga.
So far, you’re thinking, “I won’t be good at this, my ego will take a beating, it’s nothing like what I’m used to. Why should I do this?” Because you’ll love it, promise Crandell and Kita. “I was a very competitive athlete and worked out regularly but yoga had a different effect on me than the other sports,” says Crandell. “I felt better. And when I practiced yoga it never felt like an obligation. I wanted to do it.” Says Kita, “I’m addicted to the buzz I feel after class. And I think it’s something you can experience in your first class.” Give yoga a fair shake, say, twice a week for a month, suggests Crandell, and be open to its possibilities—a particularly exciting or challenging pose or a profound sense of calm.
9. You Need Yoga.
Most of what you do every day—working at a desk, channel surfing on the couch, even running and cycling—shortens and tightens your muscles. Yoga lengthens and loosens them. And it helps you lower stress and focus your mind. “In ways, we don’t fully understand, yoga can pull us out of the past or the future and put us in the present and that can be very, very nourishing,” says Kita. “You may never master a yoga pose but you can master your stress and that is a huge accomplishment.”
Read more about Yoga: Downward Facing Dog: Yoga Pose that Energizes like Espresso
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