Men and Yoga, Part 3: Starting a Yoga Practice

If you’re a guy and you’re thinking about beginning a yoga practice, it’s helpful to know the answers to a few key questions, so you can walk into a class feeling certain that you’re in the right place, doing the right thing. While we encourage a home practice, if you’re new to yoga, checking out a class might be the best place to begin. (And if you’re in the Triangle area in North Carolina, you can take classes with me and Sage at Carolina Yoga!)

Why should I do yoga?

Yoga is a form of movement, exercise, and meditation all in one. It’s generally low-impact and it’s easily adaptable to any injuries you may have. Having a regular yoga practice now means that you’ll still be playing sports with your kids (and grandkids) later. Yoga helps you build strength, flexibility, and stamina. It’s also abundantly helpful for less-physical but just as important things: stress relief, for instance. Research shows again and again that yoga helps with ailments like back pain and depression. Movement is powerful: having a regular movement practice keeps you fit, well, and happy.

What if I can’t do a pose?

The first time you do anything, there are parts you might skip, watch, or modify. Yoga is no different. If the instructor cues a pose that doesn’t work in your body, simply stand or rest seated on your mat. No one will stare at you or think it’s strange that you are opting out of a pose or movement: that’s part of the practice. In a smaller class, your instructor might come over and ask if you need modifications. You can choose to explain what’s going on or just say, “I’m good.”

A common concern I hear from guys is a fear that you’re not flexible enough for yoga. There’s no such thing: you’re there, in part, to get more flexible! Still, as you build flexibility, you might modify common poses to make them more accessible for you. If you have tight hamstrings, for instance, there may be certain poses you need to adapt to your body.  You can ask your instructor if you’re unsure what to do to make things work for you. Bottom line, though: if a pose doesn’t feel good or possible, don’t worry about it. Letting go of having to do everything (and letting go of your ego!) is a big part of the practice.

What if I don’t understand what’s going on?

If you’re in a class, you’re there to learn. Approach the practice with a beginner’s mindset, so when things occur that you don’t fully understand, you can access curiosity, not frustration. Depending on the class, the instructor might use Sanskrit words or chant. The instructor might touch you to offer assists. The instructor may burn incense or use essential oils. You can prepare yourself for what generally happens in a yoga class by reading blog posts (or purchasing our book, which offers a helpful overview) or calling the studio in advance to inquire about the type of class you’re attending. Regardless of preparation, you still might encounter new ways of moving, breathing, or being. Remember, that’s part of yoga: you get a chance to break out of what you’re used to and try things that may change you for the better. While it’s never easy to not know what’s going on, the experience of being new and a little confused won’t last long. After a class or two, you’ll have a good sense of how it all works. A few moments of psychic discomfort are worth years of physical health and comfort.

Men and yoga
Donnie B., 44, started practicing in 2012 as a way to complement his running and biking. This year, he became a certified yoga teacher. These days, men make up more than a quarter of all yoga practitioners—and male teachers are more and more common.

What do I wear? (And what else do I need?)

You can wear what you’d wear to any type of workout or outdoor activity. Sweatpants or gym shorts are fine, as are T-shirts. (Take a look at the guys from one of my recent yoga classes to see what’s typical.) If you have the inclination and the budget, you can get fancier with yoga-specific clothes for guys from an outfitter like PrAna.

In addition to comfortable clothes you can move in, you can bring a yoga mat if you have one. If you don’t, nearly every studio has mats available for use. You might choose to bring a water bottle, but you don’t need anything else.

And a bonus: many studios have “first class free” specials. Call ahead to check, but you may not even need your wallet!

What if I’m the only guy?

You probably won’t be. Even if you’re the only guy in a particular class, your female classmates won’t find your presence strange. These days, men make up more than a quarter of all yoga practitioners. Still, if this one concerns you, you could find a class specifically for men.

Keep in mind, though, that the ancient yogis were men, and the practice was largely male-dominated until the last hundred or so years. Yoga is by no means for one gender or the other.

One of my favorite guy yoga students told me that his biggest concern when he first started yoga was “being the dude that farted in yoga.” If this is a concern you share, rest assured that passing gas is common. (In fact, there’s even a pose called wind-relieving pose!) If it happens, it happens: no one is going to look horror-stricken, I promise, and it will probably be ignored. Certainly don’t let that hold you back from attending a class!

In my next post in my Men and Yoga series, we’ll look at some of the best poses for guys for long-term health.

—Alexandra

 

Practicing from the Sidelines, Part 4

In part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series, we look at ways injury will affect your practice and at strategies for coping. Let’s drill down further into ways to modify a few common poses to work around injury in the lower body. This could be anything from arthritis in the toes to sprained ankles to knee and hip problems. One of my favorite workarounds is to modify a pose’s relationship to gravity. This can alleviate much of the load in the pose while still addressing muscles, connective tissues, and joints in beneficial ways. Try these only if they feel good; defer to your health care team if you are in immediate recovery from an acute injury or post surgery.

If it hurts to lunge:

Half happy baby

Try a half happy baby. Lie on your back and bend one knee in. Depending on what feels best, you can hug your shin, or point the sole of your foot toward the ceiling. By pulling your bent leg more toward center or the side, you can stretch your inner thigh and outer hip with no pressure on the knee, ankle, and foot, and less strain on the hip. As a bonus, this stretches the front of the base leg, too.

If it hurts to squat:

Full happy baby

Try a full happy baby. As in half happy baby, you’ll rest on your back with your knees bent, holding your shins, backs or your knees, or feet as feels good.

If it hurts to kneel:

Side-lying quad stretch Gentler side-lying quad stretch

Lie on your side and either hold your foot in your hand or, if that hurts, place your top knee facing up and that foot on the floor. You’ll stretch your quads and hip flexors gently without bringing your knee into deep flexion.

—Sage

P.S. We’ve got a final cover for Lifelong Yoga! You can now preorder it at your favorite bookstore—links are here.