I practice yoga because yoga enriches my life. I am a life long athlete, musician, spiritual seeker, and learner. I have found that yoga benefits not only the flexibility and function of the body, but also the strength and peace of the mind itself. A lot of men I meet have never considered trying yoga. Most of them don’t know much about it other than cultural references and off color jokes. Well, I am here to say from a man’s perspective that you should give yoga a shot.
Quite simply, the reason you should start a yoga practice is because it will change your life for the better. Yoga increases your mental and physical strength, flexibility, balance, and many other things. It helps with digestion and organ function, relieves back pain, improves blood flow, mental clarity, and many things too numerous to list here.
Like many men I suppose, my girlfriend took me to my first yoga class. I have always been athletic and played sports over the years, so when she asked me to take a class with her at the gym I thought sure, why not. That class was not at all what I expected and it changed my life.
I rented a mat and sat down just before class started. The teacher, a rather toned 20-something woman wearing more colorful than average gym attire asked if there were any first timers, and I raised my hand. She acknowledged me and moments later, standing at the front of my mat bare footed in anticipation, I began my first yoga class.
I found the flowing movements fairly easy to follow at first. We touched our toes, then something like a pushup, then a slight back bend followed by downward dog. Downward dog was a particularly popular pose as we repeatedly ended up in downward dog. Think of forming a triangle with the ground. Place your hands in front of you and your feet behind you with your butt in the air while looking back through your feet, that’s downward dog.
Throughout the class she kept using strange words I didn’t understand and the movements got more challenging. Then, we transitioned to some seated stretches similar to those I have done for years playing sports. At the end of the seated stretches we laid on our backs with our eyes closed and relaxed for a few minutes in shavasana (corpse pose). I finished my first yoga class sixty minutes after it began, and I was hooked.
As the years passed, I continued to attend classes and practice at home. It was often hard to make the time in my schedule each week to take a class, but I did my best. Then, as I was steadily progressing with small bouts of improvement, I had an experience that deepened my practice forever. I went to Thailand, and did yoga at the Yogarden on the island of Koh Samui. It is the most peaceful place you could ever imagine to take a yoga class.
We made our way past the front gate and through an Asian garden to the century old main house to sign in. The main house was once a residence that has since been turned into a shop, café, and seating area. The class took place in a nearby outdoor room open on three sides to let the cool breeze flow through the space. It was a calming and soothing place to spend our time on the mat. After class my travel partner and I ate exquisite salads and drank fresh juices on the front porch of the main house. It turns out that both the food, and the yoga at The Yogarden are fantastic.
I felt a caring, non-judgmental, universal, and radiant kind of love in that place. I was challenged, humbled, and inspired all at once on that paradise island. I took numerous classes in my few short days there. I did more yoga during that time than the entire month prior. I tried yin yoga for the first time. I found the long held poses that induce deep stretching of the connective tissue to be a fiercely intense challenge. As directed, I controlled my thoughts and used my breathing to make it through the 5 to 7 minute long poses with as little movement as possible. For the first time, I felt the higher connection and purpose of yoga reveal itself to me.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of yoga is what is does for your mind. Everyone is different, but for me overcoming challenges brings new confidence, courage, and peace of mind. Yoga is like a mental and physical meditation that connects your breath to your movements. Connecting the breath to movement increases mindfulness and awareness. So much of what we suffer as humans begins with our thoughts. Greater mindfulness and awareness in our life tends to lessen our suffering and increase our ability to face even greater challenges.
These days, nearly every city and town in America has a yoga studio. I would suggest starting with a beginner class at your local studio. Many places also have restorative classes if you need an easier option to start with. You can rent a mat at most studios so just wear comfortable clothes and take some water.
There are different kinds of yoga so don't be afraid to ask someone at your local studio. There are also good videos online, but as a beginner it helps to have someone to coach you into the poses. Yoga is not something that you master quickly, that is why they call it a practice. Don't be discouraged if you feel a little out of sorts at first, it will come with time.
Another great thing about yoga is the people that you meet. I’m not simply talking about meeting attractive women, although yoga classes tend to be full of them. I am talking about meeting other like-minded people who are enjoying a life journey. I have made many friends both male and female through yoga. They are some of the most insightful and awakened people I know.
Yoga is something you take with you wherever you go. It is something you can practice at home, on a beach, in a studio, or even in your chair at work. It is something that will improve any sports or training regiment. It is something that will enrich your life and may just lead you to places you never expected. Yoga is a practice, a physical and mental challenge, a community, a way of life, and an escape. If you take the time to try it you will be glad you did. Namaste.