Yoga was traditionally practiced primarily by men. From it’s early beginnings until the mid-20th century, yoga was passed along from male guru to male student. It wasn’t until Krisnamacharya accepted a couple of female students and B.K.S. Iyengar, as a young man, started teaching women’s classes, that yoga instruction became available to women. Since then, things have changed dramatically. Now, in many or most classes, there are only one or two male students for every dozen women.
Given the physical and mental benefits of yoga, many men would be wise to give it a try. With a number of football and other sports teams now including yoga as part of their regimen, it may be that the numbers of men in yoga classes will begin to increase. There are several direct ways that yoga and men’s health are a good match.
- Yoga and Cardiac Health: Even mainstream organizations like the American Heart Association are promoting yoga as a way to improve heart health. Blood pressure, respiratory rate, lung capacity and heart rate can all be improved through regular yoga practice. For men with a history of heart problems, yoga is a particularly safe and effective way to move toward a healthier lifestyle.
Yoga is known to reduce stress, one of the main factors in heart disease. For men that do not want to sit and meditate, performing the yoga asanas is still effective. Yoga poses are an active form of meditation; the mind and the body will both receive the benefits.
- Yoga and Prostate Health: There are a number of yoga asanas that target the pelvic region, including the pelvic floor. Practicing these poses can improve strength, circulation in the pelvis and the ability to relax. All of this is good for glands and organs; the prostate is sure to benefit. While there has been little direct research on yoga and the prostate, there have been numerous studies on yoga and cancer. For those undergoing cancer treatment, yoga has been shown to improve quality of life.
- Flexibility and Fitness: Many men may feel they are not flexible enough for yoga class. This is a popular, but not valid, excuse. There is no minimum flexibility requirement to begin yoga. Men may be surrounded by flexible women in class, but there are many poses that depend more on strength than flexibility. Men who practice yoga are sure to improve their flexibility and feel more balanced overall. Yoga is an effective way to work on muscles that aren’t used as much in jogging, biking or other forms of exercise.
Given the specific benefits for men’s health that yoga can provide, men should be careful not to let pride, fear of embarrassment or lack of perceived ability keep them away from yoga. Start with an introductory class or even a yoga for men class; some studios now have them. Traditional male yogis, many of whom lived into their 90s or 100s, showed that men can be both strong and flexible.