By Andrea J
Yoga combines physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and a distinct philosophy in numerous different styles and intensities. The most common style practiced in the United States is Hatha yoga: emphasizing postures, breathing, and meditation. The combination of these practices strengthens the mind-body connection. I had the opportunity to try a yoga class last year and thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and benefits it presented. For a few years, I have had friends and family who have gone to classes and liked them. I have never found a time that fit my schedule or knew what to expect. This term, there was a class offered at UREC and I decided to try it.
Yoga has been proven to build strength, increase flexibility, and improve balance, stability, sleep and relaxation. It is truly a full-body workout that focuses on the mind-body connection as one pushes further into a pose or a specific muscle or group of muscles. Practicing yoga in addition to other forms of exercise has been suggested by studies to reduce heart rate and blood pressure as well as anxiety and depression.
Over 20 million people practice yoga, of which only 18% are men (Freytag, 2014). Yoga is thought to have originated over 5000 years ago in India to be performed by men. In the North American culture, yoga evolved from its origins to suit the needs of Hollywood celebrities and middle-class women. The practice became a more meditative style that deviated from the original practice of developing the strong minds and bodies of men (Tilin, 2012). Due to stereotypes and the evolution of yoga in the 21st century, the practice is viewed as feminine and too touchy-feely for men (Tilin, 2012). These changes lead to the stereotypes that yoga was only for women and companies utilised this to their advantage through advertising and clothing. Today, many yoga studios are trying to defeat this stereotype and show that yoga can benefit everyone through creating men-only classes or more demanding classes that emphasize what men are typically looking for in exercise and bring the practice back to its roots (Tilin, 2012).
The increasing number of males showing up in yoga classes, in recent years, is due to the new studios and classes that focus on integration and mobility of the muscles that most men build in the gym through their focus on individual muscles (Tilin, 2012). These classes are structured more around the origins of yoga and less on how the Western world has interpreted it, with a focus on the more vigorous and no non-sense styles. The most common reason for men, or anyone, not practicing yoga is that they are not flexible. Just as one goes to a gym to build strength and endurance, one can go to yoga to improve their flexibility.
There have been several pro-athletes in recent years that have begun to practice yoga for various reasons and now speak to how it has helped them improve their game. Keith Mitchell is a former NFL linebacker who now is a certified yoga instructor. With one hit, he was down and suffered a spinal contusion. Yoga was suggested as a therapy to help him regain some function and may have been the reason he was able to get back in the game. I am including the link to a video down below about his story. Other pro-athletes such as LeBron James and Tim Thomas also practice yoga in addition to their playing.
What is an athlete? An athlete is someone who surrenders himself to a greater purpose by sacrificing day in and day out in order to attain a dream. Having role models in pro-athletes that speak of the benefits of establishing a mind-body connection to improve their athletic skill has played a part in increasing the number of people and especially men who have taken up yoga. I think this is a good way to increase participation rates and promotion of a sport without the use of sexualisation. It shows that two things that are so very different can work together to create an athlete and give more meaning to their lives. Men and women have very distinct gender roles in society that dictate how they move, work, eat, and connect with others. Yoga is one example of how these roles are blurring together so that anyone can benefit from participating.
Tilin, A. (2012). “The Man Factor” from the Yoga Journal. Retrieved from http://www.yogajournal.com/article/health/man-factor/
Freytag, C. (2014). Why dudes should do yoga. Retrieved from http://greatist.com/fitness/men-