this article first appeared in canfitpro magazine Sept/Oct 2013 issue
I have been teaching Yoga based classes (BodyFlow/Yoga/YogaFit) for nearly 12 years in the downtown Toronto core. What I have been noticing over the last year is more and more men coming into these classes. At times I have had more men then women, and more often than not I have an equal split between men and women, specifically in my YogaFit Sweat class. Why this sudden surge? And I believe it truly goes far beyond the tiny clothing often adorned by hot yoga practitioners. Yoga offers the perfect compliment to any (if any) current sport, workout, or training regime. In the 80’s footballers were asked to take ballet – now they all do Yoga and are proud of it too. One of my favourite Yoga YouTube clips is Novak Djokovic doing Yoga for Adidas, and I have had a crush on him ever since.
Since my very first class I ever taught, I have had my one token male – front right corner and probably everybody who teaches at GoodLife in the downtown core/west end of Toronto knows Jim. Jim has not only been a champion for GroupEx but also Yoga and BodyFlow since the beginning. When now I have my brother-in-law, who even a year ago wouldn’t step foot in a yoga studio even if you paid him to go, wanting to take up Yoga to help him with his back issues and core strength – something is definitely shifting.
Dan Johnson, currently training for upcoming Toronto based marathons with Anne’s Team (voted best charity training program in Get Out There’s 2012 Readers Choice Awards) says: “Yoga challenges me both physically and mentally, just like training for a marathon or working out at the gym. I think practicing yoga truly does make me stronger both inside and out.”
Thousands of years ago when Yoga was first practiced, it was only practiced by men. Women were in fact not allowed to practice yoga as it was thought to make them infertile, or subject to evil spirits. Yoga was even brought to the western world by a man – Swami Vivekananda. Indra Devi, the first known female yoga student/teacher had to literally beg for years to be taught under Krishnamacharya, her studies finally began in 1937. Less then 80 years later, women have been dominating the Yoga industry, as we know it in Canada. A sure feat for women of course – but it’s long overdue to bring back balance between genders in all areas of fitness, as more women turn up for cross-fit and tough mudder obstacle courses, more men are also turning up yoga mat in hand to stretch it all out.
YogaFit Sweat or Hot Yoga seems to be a favourite among most men as the added heat allows flexibility in poses to become more accessible, but isn’t necessary for the full benefits of Yoga. A safe yoga class will give your body (and mind) time to warm-up at the beginning of the practice and will encourage you to listen to your body.
Over the last few years I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Rod Macdonald, VP of canfitpro, through both business dealings and YogaFit trainings. After nicknaming him the “gentle giant” post Level 1 training he wrote this as part of his editors letter November 2011 edition of canfitpro magazine: “When adapted, yoga can be appropriate for anyone, including sedentary older adults as well as challenging enough for the most hardcore athlete. Since I fall somewhere in between those two extremes, I appreciated it all the more. Will I become a yoga instructor any time soon? For now, I am happy being a yoga student; learning and embracing a practice that is giving me exactly what I need at this stage of my life. If you’ve never tried yoga before, I encourage you to do so; it might be just what you are looking for too.”
FIVE Reasons WHY Men should practice Yoga:
- Flexibility Training! This one is a given, but it’s no secret that the majority of us (men and women) do not stretch enough after working out. 1-2 yoga classes/week will be enough to keep our body limber and feeling great. Plus the bonus is we may also learn some new stretches along the way.
- Stress Relief We are all susceptible to stress these days, and the idea of just dealing with it is no longer working. On the mat, Yoga teaches us stay present through the most challenging of poses by using out breath, specifically breathing in and out through our nose, which taps into our parasympathetic nervous system responsible for calming us. Learning to breathe and stay present through stress on our mats more importantly teaches us to do the same off of our mats as well.
- Core strength: The strength of every Yoga pose comes from the core. Whether standing poses like Warrior 1, Twisted Lunge or Downward Dog, emphasis is placed on engaging the muscles of the pelvic floor and teaching us to always move and breathe from our core centers throughout the entire class. The stronger our core the stronger our posture, resulting in a decrease of back pain and strain and no more need for a weight belt (outside of body building).
- Better Performance: Because of the many different poses taught in every class, through muscle memory our bodies begin to adapt and build strength outside of traditional movements. This offers a broader training base, creating both strength and mobility resulting in better performance in any sport.
- Cardiovascular Training: Did you know that Yogi’s have the same VO2 max as marathon runners? It’s from all that deep diaphragmatic breathing throughout class. Known as the Three Part Yoga Breath, it’s as simple as placing your hands on your stomach and moving your breath deep in to the lower lobes of your lungs. First breathing in deeply so that our diaphragm presses down, expanding our belly. Then letting the breath move laterally through the rib cage and intercostal muscles. Finally taking the last sips of air into the upper chest. On the exhale breathing back out from the nose from belly, ribs then chest. When this type of breath work is done consistently, not only is lung function improved so is our entire cardiovascular system including a lowered resting heart rate.
Jason Fournier, a Group Ex (and YogaFit trained) Instructor with GoodLife says: “Men love to build tension muscles, myself included. But too much tension breaks bodies (myself included). It balances other workouts. It also brings incredible peace to my mind and breath – I’m able to handle life and kids easier . . .” As more and more men start to get this, and the stigma that Yoga is just for girls goes away, a huge shift will happen. Not only inside our fitness clubs, community centres and Yoga Studios, but everywhere! Yoga teaches us to live in the present moment, to have patience in the process and keeps us healthy inside and out. It is said to have world peace we must first have inner peace, imagine what a different world we will live in once EVERYBODY is practicing yoga!