Yoga practitioners are seeing more men using yoga as an activity to balance out their cardio and strength training, and help them get better results – RISING investigates to find the three essential yoga moves for men…
The Yogic Shift Men used to be put off by yoga’s image of a sandal-wearing, chakra-aligning lifestyle but more of us are now realising it has more uses than as a signpost for being virtuously vegan. Sarah Highfield is a London-based yoga instructor who has seen this firsthand. ‘These guys have come to realise all their strength training and cardio needs to be balanced by something else. And that yoga’s not girly or all bout chanting – I’m a yoga teacher and I don’t like chanting either!’
Claimed Benefits Many claims are made about yoga but they all seem either far-fetched or a bit woolly – can you really get fitter or stronger with ‘glorified stretching’? The fact is that there are not that many randomised, long-term clinical studies into yoga. In terms of benefits to strength training one small study did find that eight weeks of three weekly bikram yoga sessions resulted in increased deadlift strength, and increased flexibility, but no increase in aerobic fitness. But you could just train your deadlift to increase it if that was your goal. The truth is that adaptation to any training is very specific – you get out what you put in. So what are the specific complementary benefits men can get from yoga?
Whether you’re commuting, at your desk or on the couch you’re hunched forwards like a humpback
Damage Control Highfield sees more sporty men coming for sessions, but it’s not for a workout, whereas in the past men would ask: ‘Well, why am I doing this? It’s about building muscle or burning calories and I don’t seem to be doing either when I am doing yoga.’ Part of the reason is that yoga counters the muscle stiffness caused by a sedentary lifestyle, combined with workouts which break muscle fibres down to build them up again, which can shorten them as a side-effect.
‘My clients do spend a lot of time at their desks and we do a lot of exercises that allow them to open up the front of their bodies – for instance using the yoga strap where you hold it wide overhead with arms straight, then then move the strap back and forth, in front of your body and behind. Whether you are commuting, at your desk or, sitting on the couch you are hunched forward and eventually you get a humpback,’ she says.
Stiff muscles can lead to injury if the exercise requires more mobility than you actually have
Back To Basics Another key area of body tension that can impair mobility is in the back. ‘We do a lot of back bends, not the hardcore ones on Instagram, but mild versions that open the front of your body and stretch the chest – that’s really good for guys who are working out and pumping iron,’ says Highfield who also sees a lot of super-strong men with stiff muscles who can barely touch their knees. Overly stiff muscles can lead to reductions in your range of motion, in a deadlift for instance, and this can lead to injury if the exercise requires more mobility than you actually have.
‘You need to have flexibility and strength in equal parts,’ says Highfield. There is some controversy around stretching but one review of studies found that all kinds of stretching can improve range of motion. It’s best to treat flexibility as a separate session, so yoga fits the bill there.
Mindful Men We’re told these days to work ‘mindful moments’ into our routines to avoid deep-frying our brains in the distractions of modern living. We could potentially do that lifting weights but we usually have our smartphones with us, and gyms are pretty distracting places anyway. ‘The mindful part of yoga is really important,’ says Highfield who points out that smartphone use is really bad etiquette in yoga. ‘If you put your smartphone away from an hour you can focus on yoga, on breathing, on being present, rather than work or what you’re doing later. But you do need to train yourself not to think about other things, and yoga gives you the chance – it’s relaxing.’
It’s Not About Advanced Moves You may have a story about going to a yoga class and being asked to do some limb-twisting, body warping pose you couldn’t even get into – turns out it’s not necessary. ‘People often want to go straight into the hard stuff but it’s often better to go to beginner’s classes because you still get the benefits – but if you are spending more time trying to get into a pose than being in it, then you don’t get those benefits,’ says Highfield.
So, read on for the essential yoga moves every man should do…
WHAT NEXT? Try these three yoga moves, from Sarah Highfield, as a separate session to your other workouts...
1. Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) ‘This pose is popular because it provides a rejuvenating full-body stretch, in particular the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches and hands. When in the pose, make sure you spread the weight evenly between the hands and the feet, work the heels down toward the ground, while keeping the legs strong and straight, and the hips lifted. Also, try to lengthen through the spine and relax the neck. Your palms should be flat on the floor, arms straight and try to rotate the shoulders so that the armpits face one another (this will broaden the upper back).’
2. Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana) ‘This pose stretches and strengthens the thighs, knees and ankles. It provides the hips, groin, hamstrings, calves, shoulder, chest and spine with a deep stretch. It also massages the internal organs and helps to relieve stress and anxiety. While in the pose, try to ground down through both feet, keep the legs strong and straight, open the hips up to the side and stretch from fingertip-to-fingertip across the chest. Also, think about creating space along both sides of the torso, especially the underside.’
3. High Lunge (Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana) ‘High lunge opens the hips and chest, stretches the groin and legs, lengthens the spine and strengthens the lower body. It requires strength, balance and flexibility. When in the pose, remember to keep the body strong, the back heel should be pushing away from you, the back leg is strong and straight, the hips are facing forward, the torso is lengthened, shoulders are down and the arms are straight up. If you want to deepen the pose, bend back a little more, while lifting the chest and drawing the arms back.’
Find out more about Sarah Highfield’s yoga practice
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.
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