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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.
Since 1992, April has been recognized as Stress Awareness Month. It was established to help shed light on the issues behind stress, teach us how to fight it, and create methods to overcome it. While this initiative has existed just shy of three decades, this year it seems particularly important.
With a year under our belts in pandemic mode—a lot of us had to get creative when it came to keeping our cool. On top of that, everyday stresses didn’t just magically disappear during this time either. Just think about it—have you ever been in a situation that was overwhelming? Maybe you’ve had a looming deadline or a to-do list that seems, well...totally un-doable? If you’ve ever felt you were in over your head, please know you’re not alone—you never are. At one time or another, we’ve all been affected by stress—although each person may manifest it differently. Me? I'm definitely a frequent rider on the "hot mess stress express."
There are many ways to help combat stress—some of us seek out support from friends and family, while others find solace in taking up meditation or unwinding with a relaxing yoga class. Whatever helps you find peace, just keep doing you. But also know we have some resources to help you overcome stress whenever the need arises.
Here are some blog posts that are always available to you when you feel a little stressed out:
When in doubt, breathwork expert and sound healer, Shanila Sattar, always has tips to help ground yourself—especially in times of need. In this blog post, she gives you the recipe for incorporating self-love into your daily routine by encouraging us to ask ourselves these questions: How do we treat ourselves? How do we talk to ourselves? What foods are we putting into our bodies? How are we thinking about our overall well-being when practicing self-love? As we all know, self-love defines and redefines itself for everyone over the years, here are a few foundational tips to think about when easing into your self-love journey.
Yoga Nidra, or “yogic sleep,” is a practice that has been around for thousands of years and it aims to restore the mind, body, and soul through deep, guided meditation. The way it works is like the way a power nap helps one feel refreshed during a particularly exhausting day, except you aren’t technically sleeping. I describe it as a long-form of savasana—anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour. (Real talk: savasana is one of the best parts of practicing yoga, am I right?)
TLDR: I learned that I could conquer stress in a matter of minutes with Yoga Nidra.
Are we safe in saying this last year brought up a ton of emotions the likes of which we did not plan for? The good, the bad, the “unprecedented”—our hearts and minds have been taken on a wild rollercoaster ride, and for many of us, our mental health is suffering. With our minds running in thousands of directions, it’s hard to notice our own needs. Yes, our attention to the goings-on of last year is vital but caring for ourselves is as important as ever. Here are some tips from our favorite yoga instructor, Dani Schenone.
Have you been feeling it? The big emotion floating around the last year is the Big Anxiety. Coupled with the stress of what the COVID-19 pandemic has bought for millions of people, disturbed wellness routines, and worry, we have a recipe to create massive damage to ourselves. Adjusting to the new normal, with social distancing practices in place and adapting to precautions and routines, may be the root of even more anxiousness for many as we’re navigating uncharted territories.
If you've got those familiar feelings of stress and anxiety coursing through your body right now, you're definitely not alone. We get it. Times are uncertain, our mental health is taxed, we're doing what we can to reduce stress and anxiety in general, and relaxation has taken a back seat. It’s no secret that stress is proven to weaken our immunity, so now more than ever, it's important to relax, deal with what's happening, and find the coping mechanisms to help you reclaim your mental health and reduce your involvement in stressed moments. Let's deal with stress and anxiety together and see what we can do to reduce them.
Meditation will change your life if you let it. The pace of our modern life is at least ten times what it was just 10 years ago. Technology improved our lives but also created a more frenetic and stressful pace. If we decided to stop, breathe, and become more mindful, we would reduce stress and experience much more enjoyment in each moment of our everyday lives.
There’s always something to worry about. Whether it’s our career, relationships, dating, or trauma, we go through moments that bombard us with negative thoughts that can make us feel anxious and stressed. Our worries may often define our choices, our view of the world, or ourselves. This doesn’t mean they are faults, flaws, or downfalls—we just need to practice managing them in a healthy way, placing deserved value on self-care. Yoga is only one connection. Check out these seven yoga poses that can help your mind and body when you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or overall stress.
We’re all guilty of our routines and habits running our lives at one point or another. We’re all guilty of being attached to our schedules and our to-do list. We’re all guilty of running on a loop every now and then. As the energies of 2021 continue to shift, we get to ask ourselves the intentions of why and how we are participating in the places we are participating in, the thoughts we are thinking, the habits we are cultivating, and the communities that we are a part of. This intention and mindfulness process can not only shift our own experiences but of those around us as well.
If you have found meditation to be useful in trying times, right now is an incredible time to also try virtual sound baths to receive the deep sound healing benefits. As many of us are processing a variety of emotions as a collective—stress, worry, fear, anxiety, uncertainty—we can start to cause long-term damage to our bodies, especially to our immune and nervous systems. Giving ourselves self-care in a way that is easy, non-intrusive, and simple, can be the perfect way to help your body restore.
These resources aren’t the only thing we have to help you deal with stress—they’re just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, there are tons of classes available to you on the Mindbody app and through Mindbody Flex to help you reignite your calm whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed. And always remember, at the end of the day, your best is always good enough.