Whenever I go to a yoga class, there are still predominantly more women than men. Yes, there are about four guys out of a class of 30 which is more than there was s few years ago, but yoga is still largely seen as a woman's practice. I do teach more and more men now through classes and private yoga, and they all make such huge improvements after only a few weeks of practise.
If you're a guy, it's easy to find a class full of women in brightly coloured leggings and sports bras really intimidating, especially as they're busting out some crazy yoga moves. In this article, I'm going to explain why yoga can benefit men in more ways than your regular heavy lifting session, and what the key beginner yoga poses are, so you can step on to your mat and start where you're at.
These 5 yoga poses will hit the key muscle groups in your body that are usually the tightest in men. Simple is highly effective, so don't be put off if these poses look easy at first glance. They'll work wonders for your strength building as well as for your flexibility, helping to create more space in your body and ease any tightness.
1) Child's Pose / Bālāsana
A deceptively "simple" looking pose that strenches the hips, spine and shoulders as well as easing lower back and knee pain.
Kneel with your knees open wider than shoulder-distance, alost as wide as your mat, with your toes touching. Place your forehead on the floor. Walk your hands forward with your fingers spread wide apart and stay in this pose for 20 deep breaths through the nose.
2) High Lunge / Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana
This is a great pose for runners, cyclists, weight lifters and the like. It stretches out the hip flexors (the muscle that starts from the crease of your hip and extends to your thigh), the quadriceps, the feet and toes.
Come into a plank position. Step one leg forward and place the foot in between your hands, toes pointing forwards. Alignment is key here - keep your front knee tracking directly on top of the ankle, and in line with your second toe. Come on to your fingertips. Keep the back leg as straight as you can and come high on to the ball of the back foot. Draw the belly button in to stabilise the core to support your spine. Reach the chest forward keeping your neck long. Stay here for 10 deep breaths through the nose, reaching your chest forwards to lengthen your spine, sinking into the front hip flexor.
3) Crescent Lunge / Anjaneyasana
Crescent Lunge is similar to high lunge, however it challenges your strength, balance and core stability even more because your arms are in the air. This pose is fantastic for runners, cyclists, gym-goers and anyone who sits at a desk most of the day.
Come into High Lunge as above, but reach your arms to the sky. Draw your tailbone down towards the floor (i.e. don't lean your chest forwards), come on to the ball of the back foot, and keep your arms shoulder width apart. Hug your belly button tightly to your spine to engage your abdominal muscles. Take 20 deep breaths in through the nose.
4) Downward Facing Dog / Urdvha Mukka Svanasana
Ahhh, downdog! Surely the most well known yoga pose there is? It's not as simple as it looks, and when done correctly will build incredible arm strength, shoulder flexibility and will lengthen your spine. There are a few pitfalls here, so I'll briefly tell you what NOT to do in this pose as well.
Come into a child's pose as above, with arms shoulder width apart. Tuck your toes and slowly start to lift your hips off the ground, bringing the head in between the arms. Look at your fingers and check they're all pointing forwards and are in line with the sides of your mat. Look at your arms and start to turn the inner elbows up towards the ceiling, so that the shoulder blades draw downwards. Now look down towards the floor or to your feet, keeping your neck relaxed. Keep a bend in your knees and press the chest towards the floor. Draw the belly button into the spine to engage the core and empty the belly of breath with each exhalation. Slowly start to draw the hips up to the ceiling and gently draw the heels down. Stay here for up to a minute for a great strength building pose.
5) Yogic Squat / Malasana
You're probably looking at this pose thinking "nope, not going to happen." Don't worry - if you don't think your hips will allow you to get this low, I have some solutions!
Most men have really tight hips, especially due to cycling, running and sitting down on chairs, which shortens the hip flexors and hamstrings. This pose works wonders for relieving tight hips and restoring flexibility in the legs and the knees. Oh, it also gets rid of wind, so if you've got the bloat after that burger / pizza, then this pose is for you!
Standing, your feet should be shoulders width apart. Start to bend the knees and lower into a squat position, getting your butt as low as it can get without hitting the floor. Try and get your heels down to the floor. If this isn't possible due to tight hips, either place a soft flat yoga block or rolled up a blanket under each heel, or widen your feet slightly. If this still isn't possible, it's ok to stay on the balls of the feet and work with this! Bring your palms together into prayer in between your knees and push the elbows into your knees to ease them open. Think of lifting the chest higher to get out of that slump, and gaze forwards. Stay here for up to a minute and breathe deeply.
I hope these yoga poses help, let me know if they do by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org!