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What is it like to be a man starting yoga for the first time? Of course, every man who has started yoga has a different story of their first lesson and their relationship with yoga. Every man is starting from a different place physically, mentally and spiritually, and will, therefore, be looking for and valuing different things in their yoga practice.
That being said, if you’re a man and your first experience with yoga was through the physical practice of yoga asana, then you were probably stiff and inflexible like I was when I started. Learning the difficulty and inaccessibility of many poses was both humbling and exciting for me. Exciting because it showed how much room I had for improvement and the potential for a whole new realm of movement possibilities. I wanted to be more flexible, graceful, and capable of doing fun body movements–and of course stronger.
I know this isn’t everyone’s goal in yoga. I can imagine for some people, the limitations in strength and range of motion might be frustrating, and all the necessary work to improve might not be worth it. For those people, I recommend a yoga asana class that focuses on breath and mental mindset/intention setting.
It is important to start your yoga journey with the knowledge that easily touching your toes or balancing on your hands in handstand does not make you an experienced yogi. Yoga is the union between mind, body, and soul into the present moment. A practice of meditation, pray, singing, volunteer work, philosophical study, dance, craftsmanship, and much more can all be yoga. What matters most is the intention, frame of mind, and heart. That being said, here is a list of asanas that all men might benefit from.
Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
This is one of my favorite poses! When I started yoga my hamstrings were very tight, so Downward Facing Dog and flowing through Sun Salutation felt impossible. The tightness in my hamstrings gave a lot of resistance into my posterior chain (back body), putting limitations into my hips and pain in my lower back. So, improving my hamstring flexibility was priority number one. One of the benefits of Uttanasana is it inverts the head below the heart, which changes the flow of lymph in the upper body, promotes relaxation, and helps to stretch out the compression of the spine from gravity. I would always show up early to class to spend a few minutes in Uttanasana and loosen up my hamstrings for the rest of class.
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Muhka Svanasana)
This is the pose that you will spend the most time practicing in Vinyasa or Hatha yoga class. Downward-facing dog (downdog for short) requires length through many of the body’s main muscles. While requiring lengthening, it also builds strength in many of the same muscles. You can expect stretched out legs and torso, stronger arms, a more free and open shoulder girdle and more. Downdog is also an inverting pose with the head below the heart. Some refer to this pose as a “resting pose,” but unless you are very open and flexible, downdog is a pose you need to practice in maintaining the actions necessary to do the pose well.
Crescent lunge or high lunge is a variation of Warrior 1, where the back heel is lifted instead of rooted. I recommend crescent lunge for men because it is easier to align the hips and stretch the psoas and hip flexors compared to Warrior 1. Not only is crescent lunge a power stance that can stretch open the hips, but it is also a pose that generates a lot of lift and length through the torso and upper arms. Over time, one may even be able to find a backbend in the pose.
Extended Side Angle (Parsvakonasana)
I recommend this pose for men because it requires open hips and inner thighs, something men tend to lack. While many poses stretch the hips and thighs, extended side angle does so from a wide power stance. Extended side angle is a strong, rooted pose that requires opening at the same time. Finding the right balance between firmness and softening is a balance we all need to practice in our lives.
Camel is a “heart-opening” pose, meaning that a lot of space is opened up in the chest for energy to flow through the heart and lungs, creating a strong stimulation to the nervous system. Camel pose is not the deepest backbend, but it can be a real challenge for beginners. For me, when I started practicing yoga asana, camel pose would make my heart beat climb and I would often come out of the pose light-headed or dizzy. The action of controlling the pelvic tilt and pelvic floor/diaphragmatic lift, the lengthening of the spin, the external rotation of the upper arms, and the bending backward from the mid and upper back are all quite challenging but worth the time and discipline for deeper backbends. Above all, camel pose taught me how to control my breath and diaphragm (bandhas) to keep my heart rate down; a very useful tool.
Chair pose is a power stance. It requires flexibility and focus. Aptly named “chair”, if a teacher holds you in chair pose, it will test your ability to “sit” with discomfort. But patience will reward a strong back and legs.
A pose most men could really benefit from, Goddess is a highly functional post that requires hip mobility. The ability to squat our butts onto our heels is something that many people in the East, Middle East, and Africa can practice throughout their lives. A Western lifestyle leads to the ever-decreasing ability to squat down. This will, in time, lead to the inability to easily get up and down from the ground, which is highly important for the elderly who need to be prepared in case they ever fall down. Goddess pose is a pose I’d recommend doing every day. Goddess is a calming yin pose to balance out the heating and energetic pose that is chair pose.
This is the pose I see practiced poorly, most of the time. Chaturanga is a difficult pose to do correctly, even for men with strong upper bodies. There is much more detail that goes into chaturanga than a simple pushup. Not quite like a pushup that requires the elbows to be opened wide, It the pose has the elbows drawn near the rib cage. In chaturanga, you need back –and chest–engagement. The key is to prevent your shoulders from pronating forward in the pose, creating a little retraction of the shoulder blades, which helps to build rotator cuff strength. Chaturanga is a difficult pose to master, but one that will lead to a solid foundation for sun salutations and more advanced arm balances.
This fun arm balance requires, focus, pelvic floor engagement, and a sense of play. Since crow is an entry-level arm balance, it is one students spend a lot of time with on their journey to more advanced arm balances. It is fun to watch students perfect this pose, as they start to become more compact and achieve more lift and levity while on their hands. The floating sensation you can achieve in crow pose will leave you feeling light and wanting to practice more. true yoga practice should engender that sense of play, lightness, curiosity, and desire to try again in all poses. These are attributes and characteristics to nurture for a happy life on–and off–the mat.
Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
One of the more eye-catching poses, handstand requires a lot of focus. Once you start learning, you will fall, again and again, so with this pose; courage is necessary. Handstands require you to confront your fear and move on anyway. Handstands teach that patience pays off. Nothing spells discipline and commitment like a straight inverted line. With plenty of details to focus on and become aware of, the handstand is a truly advanced pose, but can be fun to work on. There are many different ways to enter a handstand, as well as many different shapes to create while upside down. Handstand can lead to high levels of concentration and expressions of creativity.
Seated Twist (Ardha Matseyandrasana)
No practice is complete without several twists. There’s a saying that you are only as young as your back is flexible. Twists are necessary for keeping that youth. Every day, it is beneficial to twist and bend the spine, as that helps the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, as well as to help the organs detoxify and fulfill their functions. I recommend a seated twist because then the focus can be on creating length in the spine first, a solid position of the hips and shoulders, and a deepening of the breath which increases the benefit of the pose. These are all harder to achieve in a standing twist.
I still find great joy in practicing these poses. It’s important to remember that it’s less a matter of what poses you practice, and more about how you practice. For me, one of the biggest joys of yoga is pratyahara, or sensory withdrawal. Pratyahara is withdrawing from the external distractions and focusing on the sensations within the body. Drawing into the body and listening to it during yoga practice can be an act of moving meditation. In this state of mind, the benefits of a physical yoga practice can be better reached and enjoyed; on and off the mat. I encourage all men to give yoga, and its many different styles and approaches, a try.
To say the last year and a half was tough would be an understatement. In fact, it will probably go down as one of the most difficult times for our modern generation. In one of the many social polls we conducted during the pandemic, some of you described this time as a sheer “dumpster fire” or “like stepping on a Lego.” And to be honest, I couldn’t agree more.
Luckily, we’ve been able to get back to some form of normalcy in our lives and wellness routines over the last several months. As vaccines became available to the public, wellness businesses welcomed fitness fanatics, haircut seekers, and massage lovers back to in-person wellness experiences. And thank goodness for that—my roots and horrible posture from working from my bed were both getting wildly out of control. This girl needed a good massage and cupping session stat.
If there’s one thing we learned from the pandemic, it’s that our wellness routines are as personal as they are important. During shelter-at-home, those routines looked a bit different. For many, it meant taking a new approach to the “typical” wellness services we count on—I’m looking at you DIY haircuts, at-home waxing sessions (ouch!), and virtual swerking classes.
Now that we can leave our humble abodes to take advantage of in-person experiences again, the word “wellness” has seemingly taken on a new meaning.
Recently, we conducted another one of our famous social polls to see what wellness means to you, our Mindbody community, now that we're slowly but surely getting back to our regularly scheduled programming. We also tapped some of our most influential Mindbody business owners about the ever-evolving wellness landscape.
Here’s what you all had to say.
According to our annual Mindbody Wellness Index, 60% of Americans say they’re more focused on their health and wellness since COVID. Consumers are now realizing they need to take greater care of themselves to optimize and preserve their health. When we asked you on Instagram how important wellness is, a whopping 98% said it was more important than ever. When it comes to how you’re practicing wellness, though, the answers were all over the board. Many of you pointed to journaling, practicing breathwork, and daily workout routines (cycling and yoga topped the list) as being the activities that help you keep your chill throughout the week.
I’m also happy to report that over 50% said you tend to feel more blessed than stressed on a daily basis—which is more than likely a big improvement. Let’s be honest, a year ago I would’ve bet a billion dollars that 99.9% of us knew no other feeling than anxiety—am I right? But even with the stress in our lives dwindling, many of you are still experiencing burnout at the end of a long work week (guilty!). But instead of succumbing to a bottle of wine for relief (please, that was so 2020), you’re unwinding by going to your favorite workout classes—with hot yoga, barre, and Pilates as your faves.
Let’s be honest, we should credit the business owners in this space for helping us reignite our spark when it comes to our wellness routines, right? Thanks to them, we’ve been inspired to prioritize the activities that help us feel our best. In turn, we thought it’d be interesting to learn what wellness means to them—and how that definition has changed over the past eighteen months.
Here’s what they had to say.
“Wellness is living in balance—mind, body, spirit. Highs and lows. It all ebbs and flows and we can navigate it a bit better when we take time to move, breath and remember who we are, and how we are connected to this big, beautiful world.” - Jess Pierno, Founder, Owner, and Chief Inspiration Officer of Yoga Heights
“Wellness is a true balancing of the mental, physical, and spiritual. It has definitely evolved over the years for me—from something that I just thought was about exercising and eating a healthy diet—to also incorporating balancing and healing internally and spiritually.” - Stefanie Patterson, Owner, Indianapolis Salt Cave and Halotherapy Center
“My sense of wellness has evolved from staying healthy and motivated, mind/body/spirit... to being more gentle with myself, less demanding. Accepting my limitations, taking time for resting, and gaining real clarity about what's important. I care less about what people think of me—difficult as a performer and as a business owner with so many demands on me—and more about getting quiet and tapping into the divine source inside of me that helps me discern my next move. In this way, I know my motives are as pure as possible and I'm not getting distracted—not that I don't make mistakes! Those are necessary, that's how we learn!” - Johanna Krynytzky, Owner, Hip Expressions Belly Dance Studio
“My studio name reminds us that we are constantly evolving. The past 18 months have certainly shown us that! Wellness to me means doing your best on any given day to make sure that you are taking care of yourself as best you can. It leads to resilience. Diet, exercise, sleep, a sense of community, and some form of faith. It all matters. Setbacks happen all the time, and every day is a chance to start again. We strive to be 'cheerleaders' for our clients when we sense that things are coming out of balance in their lives. So many have been with us for 18 years and are friends—they are our community and we all watch out for each other.” - Mo Wolfe, Owner and Founder, Evolution Pilates
I think we can all agree that there isn’t one true definition of wellness anymore. To some of us, it means getting that hot yoga sesh in daily, and to others, it means carving out time to treat ourselves to a massage or manicure. As long as you’re actively pursuing wellness—whatever that means to you—you're on the right track.
Our MO has always been about connecting the world to wellness—a term that's seen a lot of change lately. Whether you’re fully embracing the in-person experience or still delighted by the convenience of practicing at-home wellness, the Mindbody app makes it easy for you to book experiences that help you feel like YOU again.