There was a time when yoga studios were dominated by women, and men would feel entirely out of place surrounded by flexible feminine figures in tight clothing. But we’re mature, progressive 21st century guys, right? So that time is long gone. Yet we’re not experiencing the benefits of yoga to the extent we should be, primarily because we don’t really know what they are.
“Isn’t it just a bunch of stretching? Meditation? A combination of the two?” you say, “I want to look like The Rock, not Mahatma Gandhi!” I get where you’re coming from, I really do. But before you write it off, check out these five benefits of yoga and see if you’re not convinced to at least give it a go:
1. Improved flexibility
Starting with the obvious, yoga involves plenty of stretching and twisting to loosen up your joints and muscles. I’ve written about the importance of flexibility before, but suffice to say it improves your posture, helps you get better at your favourite sports, and can even fend off conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis. Yoga also improves your range of motion, which leads to better results in the gym as you can train your muscles to their fullest extent.
2. Muscle building
While you’re not likely to see any heavy weights in a yoga studio, there’s no doubt it can help you build muscle. It’s basically a form of bodyweight exercise where you’re holding positions that you’d normally associate with strength training, like pushups and squats. Crucially, yoga also trains the smaller stabilizer muscles that are often neglected in the gym. This will make you stronger overall and, in turn, improve your performance on the heavier movements.
3. Stress relief
One of the most profound benefits of yoga is the potential improvement to your mental and emotional wellbeing. In fact, this is reason enough to take it up if you’re not particularly interested in getting fitter. Contrary to the pumped-up atmosphere of the gym or running track, yoga uses proven relaxation techniques that can make you calmer and more centred with regular practice. It’s great if you have a stressful job or anxiety issues.
4. Injury prevention
As mentioned, yoga strengthens your stabilizer muscles while improving your flexibility. It also helps develop your balance, and under the tutelage of an experienced yoga instructor you will learn to understand your body’s capabilities and limits. All of this goes a long way to helping you avoid injury, both at the gym and in general, as you develop a better awareness of your muscles and how they move.
5. Improved overall health
Deep, rhythmic breathing is a huge part of yoga, and something you learn very early on. It’s one of the relaxation techniques that can help with stress by reducing levels of the hormone cortisol in your body. It also lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, which is great news for your cardiovascular system and overall health.
Q: Do you practice yoga? If not, have I convinced you to try it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.