Yoga tends to carry a stigma in the West that it is just for women. It’s interesting because in the East, yoga was originally just for men. There is a lot of speculation as to why more men don’t practice yoga. While doing research for this article one common concern I discovered was that some males fear they will be perceived as a pervert by going to a mostly female yoga class. The men, on one particular forum, felt that women would feel they came to class just to stare at their Lululemon enhanced behinds. If this belief is holding you back from trying yoga, fear not. Unless you blatantly stare at another being in the class, no one will think you are there to ogle. It is okay to look around in order to better understand the poses, just avoid awkwardly gawking at someone. This article will offer many reasons you should be practicing yoga and give you tips on how to be comfortable during your first class.
Yoga increases your performance abilities in other sports. Many professional sports teams have brought in yoga teachers to enhance physical training. Ricky Williams and Keith Mitchell, both former pro football players are now yoga teachers. The Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants and other teams practice yoga as part of their regular training. Yoga makes injuries less likely and when they do occur, recovery is quicker.
Flexibility - Many men claim that yoga will make them too flexible and they will lose muscle. This isn’t true. Yoga will indeed increase flexibility, increase strength and introduce you to muscles other than the ones you are typically using. I have also had men tell me that they can’t do yoga because they aren’t flexible enough…(hand to face) That is WHY you do yoga!
Strength - In yoga you use your own body weight to help build strength. Holding poses for long periods is another way yoga builds muscles. Warrior I works your quads, your core and your arms if you are doing it properly. Give Warrior I a try, paying close attention to your alignment and you should feel the areas mentioned above working. Stand with your feet hip width apart and about a legs length apart. Your front foot is facing directly forward while your back foot is angled at 45 degrees. Your feet are both grounding into the floor. Bend your front knee to a 90-degree angle. Your knee should be right over the ankle and not going past it. If you are having a hard time getting your knee over the ankle, you might need to step your back foot just a little closer to the front foot, decreasing only the length, not the width. Stand in front of a mirror if possible to double-check this alignment. Once you have the feet and legs figured out, contract your core, gently drawing the belly button in towards your spine. Reach your arms up towards the ceiling. The arms should be straight and strong. The muscles in your arms should be engaged. If your elbows are bent and the arms are not active you are not doing it right. To help draw the arms closer to the ears, the serratus anterior needs to be engaged helping you draw in and up. This brings the shoulders into play as well. Now, soften your shoulder so that they are not shrugging up next to the ears. Hopefully through all of this, you have been able to keep your front leg bent at 90 degrees and haven’t straightened it. Hold this pose for 5-10 deep breaths. You will feel your quad starting to burn as it holds the pose, muscles firing. The arms will start to get tired from the engagement of the biceps, triceps and serratus. I hope you are still gently drawing that belly button in to the spine as well. Keep it engaged.
Builds a solid foundation for weight training - Yoga helps to strengthen the muscles around the joints to help you find proper alignment for lifting and other weight training.
Injury prevention - By gaining flexibility, and better alignment, you reduce your risk for injury and are able to heal faster when an injury does occur.
Weight loss - You may find that you lose weight when practicing yoga. You may gain muscle as well. Yoga works the entire body and you will find that it helps you to be healthier in all body systems.
Heart health - Yoga helps strengthen the cardiovascular system and improves heart health.
Calm mind - Yoga helps you calm the mind and get rid of the restless and random thoughts that often bombard us throughout the day.
Poses where the body twists help to detox the body - As you practice more and more of these types of poses you will begin to find that your natural odor is much nicer. This is due to the release of toxins over time.
Improved sex life - Just another one of those natural side effects of yoga. As you learn to clear the mind, you are able to be more present in each moment. In addition it can improve stamina. It helps you prolong the best moments.
One pose offers multiples benefits vs. a machine that helps you train one muscle or group of muscles - In Downward Dog for example; you are stretching the hamstrings, calves and feet. At the same time, your shoulders are active and helping to push the torso towards the legs. Hands are grounded into the mat and the arms are externally rotating. The core is engaged. The whole body is working to complete this pose.
Don’t obsess over the poses that look super challenging - There are many basic poses that offer great benefits. Arm balances and inversions may intrigue you and they can be a goal to look forward to ultimately, but they should not be rushed into. Develop the supporting muscles first and gain flexibility where needed, then work towards these “fancy” poses if you so desire.
What to wear to be comfortable - Many companies are coming out with yoga clothes for men. You want shorts or pants that are not restricting. If you are choosing loose or short shorts, you may want to consider wearing some kind of tight short underneath to help keep everything in place. A tank style shirt or t-shirt is fine on top, whatever you feel comfortable in. I don’t recommend going shirtless. You will sweat in yoga and if you are not wearing a shirt, sweat will more easily travel from your body to your neighbors mat. In addition, many teachers offer hands on adjustments during class to help you find the proper alignment in a pose. Shirtless men may get passed over on a needed adjustment as some teachers may prefer not to touch the skin directly, especially sweaty skin.
What you need: an open mind and a mat.
This month we will focus on some poses that allow your children to be involved in yoga with you. I will focus on two different age groups, babies and children. If you have a toddler, decide which practice is more appropriate or mesh the two together to get something that works well for your little terror. A child who has a longer attention span and can stay focused and copy mom or a video on T.V. will probably not be interested in the poses that I am sharing here.
Mommy and Me (baby) Yoga
Plank: Lay baby on their back on the floor or on your yoga mat. Come into plank position hovering over baby. Lower yourself down to the floor (chaturanga or a standard push-up) and give baby a kiss. Push yourself back up. Repeat 5-10 times.
Downward Dog: Push up and back with the hips high and head between the arms coming into downward dog. You may do this from hands or from the forearms. Start to rock your body weight forward until you reach babies belly and give baby a big raspberry. Repeat 5-10 times.
Warrior I: From downward dog, step your right foot forward next to the right hand. Bring your left foot forward about a half a step and point your left toes toward the top left corner of your mat (about a 45 degree angle). Bend your right knee to 90 degrees (or close to it) and keep the right knee over the right ankle, don’t let it go past. Pick up baby, and lift to the sky. Bring baby back down toward the floor but don’t let go. Inhale lift baby to the sky, exhale lower toward floor; repeat 5-10 times. Lay baby back on floor, step back to downward dog and repeat with the left foot forward.
Rock & Roll Knees: After completing both sides, lay baby down, come back to downward dog and take a brief child’s pose. Then gently roll the spine up to seated, sit with your knees bent in front of you and feet flat on the floor. Place baby on your knees and gently roll your spine down to the floor. Holding baby, gently start to make little circles with your knees in one direction and then the other. Try lifting your feet off the floor and repeating the circles in both directions. If baby is ready to relax, take savasana together. Otherwise, finish by giving baby a big kiss!
Mommy and Me (child) Yoga
Keeping yoga fun and playful can keep the little ones more interested in practicing with you. Think of fun names for the poses and mimicking the animals of the poses namesake. You can continue to repeat these poses and make an ongoing story where the characters (The dog, the child, the snake and the tree) keep coming back through the story and the child has to act out that character as you tell the story.
Dog on Hydrant: Start in downward facing dog, lift your right leg, bend the knee and reach the right heel back towards the left sits bone. Tell your little one to pretend he/she is a dog peeing on a fire hydrant. Come back to downward dog, and repeat on the left side. Go back and forth a few times like you are both dogs walking down the street and marking your territory. In between lifting your legs you can peddle the feet back and forth to “walk down the street” this will help to stretch the back muscles of the legs.
Child’s Pose: Next, lower your hips to your heels and rest in child’s pose. Let your child know this is a pose that represents them, in their quietest times. This pose is safe and comfortable. It allows us to go inside and tune into our spirit or soul. Ask them to listen to what their spirit is telling them.
Cobra: Now, shift your weight forward so that you are lying on your abdomen. Bring your forehead to the mat and your hands next to the chest. On an inhalation, lengthen through your spine and lift the head and chest coming into cobra. While in cobra pose, begin to hiss and stick out your tongue like a snake. Lower your head back down, and then lift like a snake and hiss again. Repeat a few times and then return to child’s pose.
Tree: From child’s pose, gently roll the spine up, one vertebra at a time. Then work your way up to standing. The next pose is tree pose. Ground down through one foot and imagine that your toes are roots digging deep into the Earth. Place your second foot on the grounded leg; you can keep the toes on the floor for balance or bring the foot up to the calf or the thigh (avoid placing the foot on the knee). Start with your hands together at the center of the heart, for children who are a little bit older and can balance well, offer them a challenge to reach their arms up high or out to the sides to become the branches of the tree. For an even bigger challenge, have them imagine there is a windstorm and the wind is blowing their tree side to side. Ask them to try to come out of the pose with control, gently setting their foot back to the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Skeleton: When your story is finished, ask your child to lay down and be as still as a skeleton. No talking, no moving, complete stillness. Obviously this will be difficult for a lot of children. It can be helpful if you gently guide them and ask them to let their legs relax, let their arms relax, let their head relax, guide them through as many body parts as you feel and let them rest.
“My mat is the canvas and yoga is my art.”
One of the great things about practicing yoga is that there is really very little that you need to practice. Ultimately all you need is your body and the will to practice. However, when practicing in a studio, on a hard wood floor, it is nice to have a mat to cushion your body from the floor and prevent slipping and sliding.
Most studios will have mats available for students to use during class. Some studios charge a rental/cleaning fee while others just ask that you clean the mat after use. It can be nice to have mats and props available to use, especially when you’re just starting out with a practice and unsure of what type of mat you might like.
Eventually you may decide to purchase your own mat. Owning your own mat has its benefits; you know that your feet are the only ones that have touched it, if it starts to smell you know it’s from you and aren’t wondering who else has dripped sweat and tears all over it. Cleanliness aside, your own mat can be a reflection of your personality. You are able to choose a color that energizes or calms you. With your own mat you can also choose how much grip you want it to have, how thick you want it, and how long you want it. I have compiled a list below to help you choose your perfect mat.
Eco-friendliness is a concern for many in this day and age. Getting a mat made from natural rubber is a great way to be earth friendly. Rubber mats are biodegradable and after a couple years of consistent use you will find them starting to wear out. I practice and teach regularly and my rubber mat has lasted two years. How long your rubber mat will last really depends on how often you practice. There are lots of options for your rubber mats when they become too worn out for your yoga practice. You can find a reuse purpose for them on your own, look for a company that will repurpose/recycle them for you, donate to your local animal shelter as they can create some warmth from the cold shelter floor for animals awaiting their forever homes. Natural rubber mats are available at WON, we have them in two different colors, red and aqua.
Cost- For some, cost may be the main thing separating them between the mat of their dreams and that borrowed, sweaty studio mat. In this case a PVC mat may be the best option. PVC is well known as a toxic plastic material. Gaiam’s mats are 6P free meaning that these mats are free of the plasticizers typically used when making plastic products. These mats hold up for years. When they get dirty they start to get slippery, just give them a good cleaning and they will return to their natural grippy state. We have a variety of PVC mats here at WON in different colors, patterns, lengths, and thicknesses. They range from $21.99-$29.99, the price varies based on the thickness of the mat.
Length- Most mats are 5’8” long. If you are tall, you may want to invest in an extra long mat. A good way to determine if you need a longer mat is to lie on your mat facedown. Put your forehead at the top of the mat and with the tops of your feet down, see if the toes extend off of your mat. If so, you may want to look into longer mat options. At WON we have the Gaiam Athletic Duramat, which adds an additional 10” to the length of the mat and 2” to the width. This is a reversible mat with one sticky side and one textured side giving you options based on your practice. This mat is built to last and is available in a variety of colors.
Thickness- mats typically come in thicknesses from 3mm to 5mm. Some travel mats are just 2mm to keep the weight down for air travel. Travel mats are not recommended for regular practice. A 3mm mat will allow you to feel stable in balancing postures keeping you more grounded into the floor. A 5mm thickness will comfort and support your whole body (especially the hands and knees) giving you added protection from the hard floor. In addition, with a thicker mat if you are having trouble balancing, you can always step off of your mat and ground your feet directly into the floor. For reference, if you have been to our Tuesday/Thursday evening yoga classes here at World of Nutrition, the mats we have for you to borrow are 4mm thick.
Personality- Mats are available in many different styles, colors, textures, patterns, prints, lengths, and weights. When you are ready to purchase a mat of your own, come see us! We are here to help you find the mat that will best suit your needs.
Once you have purchased a new mat, you may want to let it air out for a few days before practicing on it. The smell of a new mat can be pretty potent, but fear not, the odor goes away quickly. I recommend laying it out over a patio chair. However, it is important to keep your mat out of the sun, so find a shady spot to let it vent.
“My mat is a safe place. I’ll go into child’s pose or I’ll simply sit on it and cry. It’s my rock. Yoga has made a big difference.”
March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, in celebration of the end of winter and start of spring we will harness our inner lions and lionesses with Lion’s Breath, then move into a guided meditation to calm our minds and tune in to the gentle subtleness of our inner lamb.
For those of you who have had the opportunity to attend the Tuesday/Thursday night yoga classes at World of Nutrition, you are very familiar with Lion’s breath even though you may not realize it. In class we practice it right before heading into Savasana, when you open your eyes wide and touch your chin with your tongue. It always gets a few laughs in class but this breath is so great for relaxing the jaw, a place where many of us hold tension.
Traditionally, Lion’s breath should be practiced from hero’s pose. Come on to your shins and lower your hips to your heels. You may have the toes tucked to allow a stretch in the bottoms of the feet, but this can be very uncomfortable for many people. If you find discomfort with the toes tucked, then just allow the tops of the feet to rest directly on your yoga mat. Sitting in this position, allow the hands to rest on the thighs with the palms down. Then take a deep breath in through the nose and as you prepare to exhale through the mouth, you are going to open your eyes as wide as you can and look up towards the ceiling. At the same time, stick your tongue out as far as you can, trying to touch your chin with your tongue. Exhale strongly through the mouth making a HHHHAAAAAAA sound. Practice Lion’s breath 3 times then move through your home practice.
The asana portion (movement/pose/exercise portion) of yoga is designed to help prepare the body to be open so that you may sit comfortably, for longer periods during meditation. Use whatever home practice you like, using a few poses from classes you have taken, or following a DVD such as the AM/PM DVD available at WON. When you finish your practice and feel the body has been opened sufficiently, you are ready to sit for meditation.
You want to be comfortable during meditation. It can help to bring a folded blanket or cushion under the hips; you may also sit in a chair. Whatever seated position you choose, it’s important to sit up tall and keep the spine straight. Make sure you are in a quiet area where you will not be disturbed for the duration of your meditation.
Here is a short, guided meditation. This can be very helpful if you are new to meditation as it can be very difficult to still the mind in the beginning. As you sit and listen be aware that the mind may start to wander off, that’s okay, just gently draw your awareness back to the breath once you notice the mind has drifted. Do this as many times as necessary. Just like anything else, meditation gets easier with practice. Don’t get discouraged if you are not able to sit for the full, guided track on your first or second try. Just allow yourself to continue to come back to it and eventually you will find yourself sitting for longer and longer.
The month of February is typically the time where we decide to stick with our New Year's resolutions or let them go. While the weather is still cold out we can work on keeping our resolutions by partnering up. Finding a workout that allows you to be close to a loved one will help you find a new excitement for your workout and keep you motivated to push through.
Yoga is typically known as a practice to be done alone. However, practicing partner yoga can help you to bond with a close friend or loved one. Partner yoga can be done in the comfort of your own home. You can use two yoga mats set up side by side, but if you are practicing on carpet you may choose to go without the mats.
Partner Pranayama Practice:
Start your practice by sitting up tall, back-to-back, with the backs just lightly touching each other. Close your eyes and relax the face. Begin to find a steady even breath, not just focusing on your own breath but also tuning into your partners breath and working to match it. It may take several breaths for the two of you to find a steady flow as one. Sit here for 3-5 minutes and allow your mind to let go. Really take some time to just be present with the other person.
Try to keep your breath flowing together throughout this practice. It should be slow and steady. It’s not a race but rather a bonding opportunity. Communication will also be key throughout this practice. Be sure to check in with each other to make sure you both feel okay in the poses and that one person isn’t pushing the other beyond their comfort level.
On an inhalation both partners should reach their arms towards the ceiling. As you exhale both partner's twist to their right and reach for the opposite persons knee, so your left hand will be on your own knee and your right hand will be on your partner's knee or thigh. To initiate the movement one partner can say something like, inhale reach up, exhale twist. On the next inhalation reach up again and on the exhale twist to the left. Your right hand will be on your own right knee or thigh and your left hand will reach for your partner's left knee or thigh. It should feel very natural and comfortable. Go back and forth two or three times on each side and then do it once more but once you get into the twist, close your eyes, relax and breath with your partner for several breaths, repeat on the second side. To finish the pose, inhale reach your arms up and exhale bring your hands together at the heart.
Sitting with your partner, bend your knees bringing your feet flat onto the floor. Push into each other’s backs with equal pressure and try to stand up together, slowly.
Once standing, face each other. Hold hands (palm to palm) and step away from each other the distance of your arms. Continue to hold hands and fold your upper body forward so that the spine is long and the back forms a 90-degree angle with the legs. Allow the hands to reach towards the ceiling. Hold for a couple of breaths and then roll the spine up and face your partner. Practice this pose three times, holding it for several breaths each time. On the final one, roll up and pause for a moment, keeping the breath relaxed and looking into your partners eyes (this isn’t to be cheesy, there is a gazing meditation that allows us to bond with another human when we gently gaze at their eyes for several breaths, it might feel silly at first but if you practice this regularly you will strengthen your bond).
Partner Tree Pose:
Now stand side by side. Both partners will ground through the foot closest to their partner (the inside foot). The outside foot will be the one that lifts up for tree. Your outside hand can start by resting on your hip while your inside hand will reach up to meet your partners hand (palm to palm again) in a comfortable position. The palm-to-palm position of the hands should give each partner extra balance and stability to come into tree. Now lift your outer leg up bending the knee to the outside and allowing the foot to rest on your shin or thigh. Hold for several breaths and build trust supporting each other. Release when you both feel ready, gently bringing the outside foot down. To switch sides in this pose, you can either switch sides, or just turn where you are and face the opposite direction.
*Alternate option: put your arms around each others waist for mutual support.
Partner Forward Fold Seesaw:
Sit facing your partner with the legs spread wide and the feet touching, the legs form a diamond shape. Then hold hands with your partner. Communication is key here. One partner will gently start to lean back pulling the other partner into a forward fold. Be sure to communicate how far forward feels comfortable, and when it becomes too much. Breathe together. Then the forward folding partner will slowly start to pull up and back bringing the other partner forward. Alternate back and forth a few times, nice and slow, moving with the breath.
Take a few moments at the end of your practice to relax together. Move your mats a little further apart so that you have some space. Lay down on your mats allowing the body to completely relax and reach your hand out to connect with your partner. Breathe deep and allow the mind to clear. Focus on your breath. Try to stay here for 10 minutes.
Happy New Year!!! In celebration of the New Year’s Baby, this month we will learn about Happy Baby Pose known in Sanskrit as Ananda Balasana.
Happy Baby Pose is a really nice pose to come into after a big backbend or at the end of a yoga practice just before heading into Savasana. In this pose the spine is lengthened and able to realign, the hips and inner groins are stretched, the arms and shoulders are strengthened and the mind is calmed helping to relieve stress.
To come into Happy Baby, lie on your back. Hug the knees into the chest and gently rock the spine in small circles in one direction and then the other. Then, release your legs slightly from the chest and allow the soles of the feet to reach towards the ceiling. You should still have a bend in the knees. Reach your arms up to hold onto either the outer edges of the feet or the inner arches. Use the arms to help draw the feet closer to your body, the knees come towards the armpits, but not into them. You should feel the hips opening and the spine lengthening. Once in the pose take a moment to just listen to your body. How would it feel to roll the spine out again, or maybe just gently rock from side to side? Maybe it’s enough to just hold the pose and let the hips open. Remain in the pose for several breaths, until you feel it’s time to extend the body back out and relax into Savasana.
Happy Baby Pose is named such because if you think of a baby playing on the floor or in a crib, they will often grab their feet and roll around. In this pose we are mimicking those happy playful babies.
Remember, to have a successful home yoga practice you don’t need to find an hour or two during the day, 5-10 minutes each morning and/or before bed will make a world of difference. If you find time throughout your day to add in an extra pose or two that’s even better. Keep it simple and enjoy the practice!