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Yoga & Men

By Gaiam Staff

"I want to teach men that it's good to come up against obstacles, it's good to be faced with what you see as your weaknesses."

We hear so much about yoga and women. What do you think yoga has to offer men?

First of all, more men take yoga than you think. My classes are about 30 to 50 percent men. I do think yoga has a lot to offer men. I just think it's harder for men to begin initially because of the male stereotypes in our society.

Men are supposed to be strong and goal oriented and to identify physically and mentally with sports. But what many men discover is that the stereotype of a strong, independent male is very isolating and doesn't really work. They begin to look inward and begin to move toward relationships with themselves and with others. Yoga is all about relationships between the body and the breath, the muscles and the skeletal structure, between your physical self and your emotions, your mind and your body, yourself and your community. It gives men permission to stop and listen to their inner voice.

Many men prefer the rigors of contact or competitive sports. Can a yoga practice help them perform their chosen sport better? How?

I think so. Every sport has a unique vocabulary and we often find it difficult to translate the kinesthetic language of one sport into another way of moving.

If we've trained for years to be a gymnast, for example, our body responds a certain way. Certain muscles are always contracted; others are loose. The body sets up particular neurological and neuromuscular patterns that stay the same and serve us in that sport. We breathe a certain way; we move a certain way. We often injure the same muscles or ligaments in the same way.

Yoga brings the body back into balance, into its natural alignment. Yoga, with its full spectrum of poses-prone, supine, backward bending, forward bending-can teach someone where imbalances and physical weaknesses are and can help strengthen the body. Yoga can help enhance an athlete's performance in his sport by teaching how to breathe properly, how to relax and how to gain flexibility.

What advice can you give men who may be interested in yoga but don't know how to begin?

Taking a yoga class in a health club is a good way to start. I'd also tell them not to get discouraged. Most men are very competitive and have used their bodies that way all their lives. Suddenly they come into a yoga class and everyone can do the poses so much better than they can. They begin to compare themselves to everyone else and it sometimes feels downright humiliating. Often their first inclination is to give up. Staying with it will not only be good for their body-giving strength, flexibility, and balance-but also good for balancing their mind and emotions.

I want to teach men that it's good to come up against obstacles, it's good to be faced with what you see as your weaknesses. By doing that, you not only begin to understand who you are, but you begin to develop a sense of compassion and acceptance.

Rodney Yee is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor and one of the world's foremost yoga authorities. He has been featured in many of the Yoga Journal Practice series and Gaiam Yoga for Beginners series programs. Co-director of the Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland since 1987, he teaches yoga worldwide.


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