Written By: Jonathan Wish
I have always been an athlete, and therefore have always had an interest in fitness. However, growing up in the South in the 90s meant that my exposure to fitness activities was sports, and the training for those consisted of bench press, squats, and a lot of running. We may have known about yoga, but it was more likely to be thought of as some sort of California hippie thing to do rather than a serious physical or mental exercise.
I never tried yoga until I was in my late 20s, and my first exposure to it was through P90X. You may or may not consider that real yoga, but it was definitely something new and challenging. After joining a gym and creating my own routine, I made sure to include a regular yoga practice to ensure a well-rounded exercise regimen. I believe that you should design your workouts with real life goals in mind. Sure, a guy may be able to deadlift 500 pounds, but what does that matter if he’s too inflexible to bend over and touch his toes? It didn’t take long for me to realize that yoga was going to be a key part of allowing me to do anything I wanted to do physically, especially in the coming decades.
As a man it could be a little intimidating going into a yoga class. If you haven’t been, you might expect to be the only male there. While it is true that most classes will be made up mostly of women, there are plenty of men who regularly practice with varying degrees of success. You’ll see guys in some classes who can do every pose with seeming ease, and you’ll also see some that struggle to balance in the basic poses. Regardless, it is easy to see the small number of men and think that you wouldn’t belong in a class.
However, there is very little judgment in a yoga class. People fall. They come out of a pose to rest. When this happens, no one looks at them as a failure. We are all there for our own reasons, and we all have our own goals and abilities. This helps to create an empathy for each other that you don’t necessarily get with a bunch of guys doing bicep curls. When you don’t feel that judgment, your fears will evaporate and you’ll be more comfortable no matter who is behind you in downward dog.
While the physical aspect of yoga is great, there is more to it than that. Yoga developed out of Eastern religions as a way of attaining peace. People have been practicing yoga in Buddhism and Hinduism for thousands of years, and it could even go all the way back to the Stone Age. Whatever your religious leanings, though, yoga has some important benefits that go past the physical. It helps you live more in the moment, without worrying about the past or the future. You can spend an hour in meditation learning both about your own body and how your mind works. These are lessons that can be taken and applied to every day life that can help to live more fully and happily.
My personal practice has helped me in many ways. I’m much more flexible now, and I can do things that only months ago I thought I’d never come close to doing. As a bigger guy, I never thought I’d be able to balance upside down on my forearms. It took a few weeks of practice and a lot of falling, but now I can do that along with other types of balance poses. While I don’t have any particularly favorite poses, I love pushing myself. It has been a reminder that what I think of as my limits and what are actually my limits are not the same.
I would definitely recommend everyone try a class. Don’t let your preconceptions stop you. You may use it as part of a fitness routine, or it may be a mental health exercise. Either way, there are many benefits, and what is the worst that could happen?
– Jonathan W