Even today, some men are hesitant about doing yoga. As a result, they’re missing out on its incredible benefits, including increased flexibility, balance and lung capacity. Yoga also helps people reduce stress, in and out of class.
Yoga is valuable for both women and men of all skill levels and abilities, says Gwen Saint Romain, wellness instructor and registered yoga teacher at Rex Wellness Center of Raleigh.
We asked Saint Romain about men and yoga.
Generally speaking, is yoga different for men than women?
Any individual person, regardless of gender, is going to have a different experience in taking a yoga class or having a yoga practice. That being said, I do see some generalities. Guys often seem to have that “no pain, no gain” mentality more so than women I’ve taught. A lot of times, men seem to be coming to class looking for a more hardcore workout, focusing on strength and flexibility. And maybe some stress relief.
Women generally come for all of those things as well. But women also seem to enjoy the social aspect of yoga classes. Women also seem to have more of an interest in the breath work we do and the relaxing components of yoga.
Do you think some men have a misconception about what yoga is all about?
Yes, many men have misconceptions about yoga. I think that one of the misconceptions is that yoga is always very gentle, meditative and mindful, that there aren’t physical benefits.
It’s definitely not just meditating. Some yoga classes, like power yoga, are extremely rigorous, sweaty workouts.
In fact, a lot of guys only come to a yoga class for the first time because they are invited by a friend, spouse or girlfriend. They find out quickly that yoga can be a very intense workout.
Which classes are the most physically demanding?
If you see class titles with words like “power yoga” or “yoga for runners” or “for athletes” or even just “vinyasa flow,” you are looking at classes that allow you to get a challenging and intense workout. At the same time, you get all of the benefits of breath work, flexibility and range of motion, balance and stress relief.
What kind of health benefits does breath work have?
Breath work is calming to the central nervous system. It helps to lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, decrease stress and improve circulation. If you get winded easily, yoga will increase your lung capacity, and you’ll get winded less easily.
Is yoga good for sleep?
Taking a yoga class, whether the class is challenging or more restorative, can definitely help your sleep pattern.
In a gentle class, you are calming the body. You’re decreasing some of those stressors in your mind so that at bedtime, your mind is quieter.
In a challenging class, you still have that component of breath work throughout the entire class and a final relaxation at the end. This quiets your mind. And the strenuousness of the physically challenging class leaves your body more relaxed and ready for sleep at bedtime.
Sometimes stressed-out men do dumb things. Can yoga help men be a little bit cooler?
When you are practicing yoga, you can always draw a parallel to an experience in life.
So when you are in a challenging pose—maybe that’s Warrior II—and you’re holding it for a period of time and your legs are trembling and you want to get out of that pose, that’s when you take a moment to say, “OK, what is it in my life that I’m struggling with?”
Taking your mental focus to your breath and really lengthening out those breaths allows you to fully explore what the pose feels like without just running away from the discomfort. Leaning into the discomfort with a sense of curiosity, helping yourself work through the stress with nice, long, calm breaths—these things can work wonders. Later in the day, when you’re in a stressful situation at work or at home, you may find yourself able to breathe through the stress, staying calm.
You realize that you can’t control what other people say or do, but you can control your behavior, and this really opens up a path to self-love and peace.
Yoga sounds like boot camp for gracefully handling stressful situations.
Yes, that’s a good analogy.
Sometimes people are carrying a lot with them into class, whether it’s work stress or family stress or having a loved one who is ill and in the hospital. But usually everyone at the end of class is saying, “I feel so much better.” They tell me they feel looser or lengthened or stronger or that their back or neck doesn’t hurt anymore, just from taking this one class.
Is yoga something that people with a range of abilities can do?
Yes, absolutely, it’s for everyone, from kids to elderly adults; we have a variety of levels of classes in all of the Wellness Centers. We have gentle assisted yoga, yoga for strong bones, beginning and continuing yoga. If you use a wheelchair, we have chair yoga. There are many different levels. We can help you find the right fit for you.
Don’t stay away because you are a total beginner. There is always an option for every pose to adjust or modify to suit your skill level, and no one will judge. Your practice is individual to you.