Driving to teach yoga one early Fathers' Day morning I was thinking of my father. He had been a sailor in the Royal Australian Navy. He died young - 61. Dad took great care of his family but did not know how to take care of himself.
Is this true for men in general?
Out of all my students, there are only a handful of men. But the number is growing.
The origins of yoga are controversial. Some say it was birthed from early rituals over 5000 years ago. Others claim it was more like one to two thousand years ago; patriarchal and boring. Men sitting in caves or the forest for long hours every day, year after year. That was it. All the poses (asanas) were sitting poses, to help sitting be more comfortable. The focus of attention for the yogis was the breath. In and out, twenty thousand times per day. Hardly anyone was interested in this tedium.
*Fast forward to the nineteenth century and Madam Blavatski brought Yoga to the west and to women. Yet Yoga was hardly known outside of India. It was all but dead. It needed beefing up if it was to survive. Deep in the heart of India exercises were added to a boy’s Physical Education curriculum. These exercises came from Western Gymnastics and Indian wrestling. It was the rebirth of Hatha Yoga. The modern asanas, as we know them, were born. Yoga went viral over the next few decades.
Many powerful women teachers emerged in the 1970’s. Yoga went super viral amongst women. Soon Yoga became synonymous with flexibility and women. Men disappeared from the yoga mats.
The twenty first century is starting to scientifically confirm what seemed mythical benefits of yoga. Scientific studies link the elements of yoga - mind, body and breath - to well-being, happiness, mental focus, stress management and more. I have worked in schools, colleges, with vets, lawyers, dentists, executives sharing the fruit of yoga. Even jails and the military are incorporating yoga, meditation and breathing into their routines. The impact of yoga on mental and physical health is significant. Try it for yourself and see.
Who knows the changes we will see if more men embrace yoga. Perhaps it will help fathers find peace and balance in their lives. Something we will all benefit from.
On this fast approaching International Yoga Day (June 24th) I will be leading a free yoga class on the Great Lawn at Canyon Ranch (check my schedule). Perhaps a few men could come along and taste yoga. Maybe they'd like it!?
Here are Five Tips for Men you can share with men.
Many men declare they cannot do yoga because they are too inflexible. I liken this too a man not drinking water because he is too thirsty.
Tip 1 - LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: Women should work in the pain free range of motion. Men need to work in the grimace free range of motion. Men need to let go of such ideas as “No pain, no gain” or “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Approach yoga with a milder attitude and use relaxation, not force, as a way to stretch. When you feel sensation use this as a guide line for the depth of the stretch. Too much sensation will create muscle resistance. Too little sensation is non-beneficial. Look for that Goldilocks (just right) sensation.
Tip 2 - DON’T COMPARE: Every body is different. Some bodies are not designed to do the splits because of the shape and size of the femur bone. When ever you come to the mat to do yoga, keep your attention on how your body feels. Do not compare with anyone else, because no one else has your body or has lived your life.
Tip 3 - HISTORY OF YOGA: Three thousand years ago until quite recently yoga was a patriarchal practice. It was designed by men to improve posture. The goal of meditation was to help people meditate for long periods of time without being distracted by bodily discomfort. I am noting more men are starting to return to the yoga studios. Canyon Ranch has three male yoga instructors.
Tip 4 - YOGA IS MORE THAN STRETCHING: Yoga incorporates breathing techniques (more than 37), meditation, strengthening, balance, co-ordination and range of motion. This means that some aspects of yoga will be easier for men than women.
Tip 5 - YOGA DECREASES STRESS AND IMPROVES BACK HEALTH: Two major causes of lost work productivity include stress (mental fatigue) and back pain. Our sedentary lifestyles sitting for hours at work has coined the new phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” Yoga improves back health and enhances stress management.
*(The history of yoga I have depicted above is loose at best. I apologize for any inaccuracies and suggest you read Elizabeth de Michelis’s A History of Modern Yoga (Continuum, 2004) for a fuller account.)
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