With the widespread proliferation of yoga studios across the U.S. over the past two decades, you’ve no doubt seen an outpost near you. You may have even thought about taking a class, once or twice. But, perhaps the idea of stepping outside of your comfort zone, or fear of the unknown, has kept you from venturing into the studio. Totally understandable.
There was a time when many men, especially those who’d weight trained to some extent, may have perceived this multiple millennia-old practice of mind-body connection to be solely beneficial on its flexibility merits. And while it’s true that many yoga poses will, no doubt, make you more limber -- its benefits go far beyond just getting a good stretch on.
With men’s health month now in full swing, there’s no better time than the present to usher in the benefits that come with incorporating yoga into your fitness regimen. On that note, grab yourself a yoga mat and check out five that you can begin reaping today.
1. It relieves lower back pain.
Whether you’re reading this from your desk, couch, kitchen table or bed, take a look around. How’s your posture? The modern workplace, be it your office, kitchen, living or bedroom, is rife with ergonomic challenges -- and slouching over a machine all day can wreak absolute havoc on your lower back. Yoga can help.
By making it a point to stretch hamstrings and hip flexors, you won’t have to rely as much on your lower back muscles for support, which, over time, may lead to chronic lower back pain. Low and crescent lunges, as well as heron and big toe poses are great options to loosen up those hammies and flexors so you can keep back pain on the back burner.
2. It helps you to chill out.
Let’s face it, in an increasingly more connected world, at times it seems we end up spending more time tethered to our devices -- working longer, staying up later, being generally overstimulated -- than not. If you’re feeling the digital overwhelm, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
In Pranayama, one focuses on the practice of controlling the breath, which is the source of our “prana,” or life-giving force; and when diligently practiced, it can deliver you to a state of deep focus and calm. By concentrating on its varied breathing and meditative techniques, you’ll be slowing respiration, lowering your blood pressure and mindfully doing your part to unplug (both literally and figuratively) from life’s daily stressors.
3. It improves your circulation.
Yoga and its deep breathing and relaxation techniques have long been known to promote healthy blood flow. And, for that reason, it’s a great Rx for those that may just be getting back into an exercise regimen and/or have circulation issues. Specific yoga poses, or asanas, can be particularly efficient in delivering oxygenated blood flow to the extremities. Challenging poses of the inverted sort, such as handstands and shoulder stands are not only exhilarating when mastered, but purposefully direct blood flow back toward the heart -- where it can be refreshed and pumped anew.
4. Promotes better sleep
There’s almost nothing worse than waking up for work without a nice, restorative 8 hours of shuteye under your belt, yet so many suffer with sleep disturbances. A recent study published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health concluded that “long-term practice of yoga exercises by elderly people is associated with less sleep disturbances and good sleep quality.”
The study also indicated “that older adults practicing yoga regularly had better overall sleep quality, less episodes of disturbed sleep, took less time to fall asleep, less daytime dysfunction, less use of sleep medications and also felt more rested and energetic in the morning.”
5. Boosts your strength
Bringing us full circle, if you’re training already -- adding the flexibility component of yoga to your workout can be a boon for your muscles. Beyond its therapeutic benefits, it can both build and maintain existing muscle mass, which can in turn help fend off conditions like osteoporosis and arthritis. Additionally, the aforementioned improvement to blood flow can assist in quicker muscle recovery and repair.
Just as with any form of exercise, be sure to do your research and seek out the right type of yoga that aligns with your priorities and personal fitness goals. There’s no doubt that introducing yoga as part of a comprehensive diet and fitness program, today, will have you on the fast track to mindfulness and overall wellness.