In Canada, as many as 27.7% of yoga practitioners today are men and the trend is growing. Studio owners are seeing an increase in the number of men rolling out their mats to join in a practice that is making them stronger, more flexible and less prone to injury. Once deemed the domain of their wives and girlfriends, men, too, are becoming aware of the many benefits of yoga practice. Male athletes are turning to yoga to give them a competitive edge in sports, to prevent injury and create muscular balance, and regular folks see yoga as a way to build a little Zen in a busy, over stimulated “vida loca.”
Men have typically shied away from yoga classes, most likely intimidated by the flowery metaphors, use of Sanskrit language to describe postures and the slower, meditative pace of the classes. Today, many studios are catering more to men by offering Power Yoga, Men Only, and Bikram (hot yoga) style classes that offer a more intense cardiovascular workout or bigger sweat. And there’s no doubt that reaching out to men is good for business in an industry that is booming and continues to grow. In 2008, Americans spent $5.7 billion on yoga products, equipment and clothing, an 87% increase over 2004, according to a study from Yoga Journal Magazine. Nearly 14 million Americans report that a doctor or therapist has recommended they practice yoga, excellent advice for many type-A, workaholic men needing a little Yin in their lives.
Yoga has become the new form of cross-training for men who are active in other sports and want to improve their mental stamina, flexibility and overall muscular balance. Jocks are discovering that yoga is the secret to avoiding injury in their regular sports and activities. Many sports teams that have traditionally taken their training to the gym are rolling out their mats to discover that yoga can alleviate tightness, and prevent injuries and structural imbalances that plague their game. Yoga can also give them the mental focus that translates to a better head-game, and breathing techniques that help them find calm in the chaos of a competitive game scenario.
Craig Donovan, Head Coach of the Junior “A” Stouffville Spirit hockey team attests to the fact that yoga improved his players’ game. Last year, the team attended yoga class every second Wednesday at The Fitness Institute as part of their training. “No doubt, it improved their overall fitness,” says Donovan. “They weren’t sure what they were getting into at first, but then they looked forward to it,” he says. “The guys’ reaction initially was that it was going to be easy, but when they did the workout, they found it to be very intense. They were exhausted by the end of it.”
Yoga’s focus on core training and flexibility is what athletic coaches like Donovan are recognizing to be essential for their players’ game. In the past, hockey players focused more on traditional gym workouts, doing exercises simply for strength such as bench presses and biceps curls. “Twenty-five years ago, it was all about being big and strong,” says Donovan. “Training has changed a lot. Now the focus is on core and joint strength,” he adds. That is why this year, the team also incorporated functional training into their program, using medicine balls, resistance and agility training exercises through the Gary Roberts High Performance Training Program. Today, it’s not about being big and strong, but instead about being light and strong. That is why trainers and coaches like Donovan recognize yoga and functional fitness as an integral part of training high performance athletes.
Fitstudios Wellness Center in Markham, which specializes in functional, integrated training for its’ clients through group “Boot Camp” sessions and one-on-one personal training recently hired two qualified instructors to teach yoga classes. Fitstudios owner and President, Adam Theodorou, is an ex-bodybuilder and is at first glance not a guy that you would guess is practicing yoga.
The truth is that Theodorou built his training business on what he defines as the three pillars of fitness: stability (core strength), strength and mobility. He defines mobility as “maintaining or improving range of motion and mechanical function of our body parts.” Theodorou feels flexibility training is highly important, which is why he promotes yoga and flexibility training for his clients. “The majority of people spend most of their day in a seated position and have tight medial glutes, hips and hamstring muscles,” says Theodorou.
For his clients who are regularly doing intense boot camp workouts, yoga is also a nice compliment to their training to help increase blood circulation and to relieve sore, tight muscles. Theodorou recommends practicing yoga once a week minimum and adding a 15 minute cool down mobility component to each workout. So, for those of you who skip the stretch component of your workout, think again! You are missing a key component of your fitness that promises to keep you mobile and injury-free over time.
Lorne King, trainer with Advantage for Athletes, an 8,800 square foot modern training facility in Markham, with 30 qualified personal trainers, agrees that yoga training is excellent for his male clientele, 50% of which are athletes. Advantage for Athletes, which specializes in “three-dimensional training,” a training method that encourages an integration of muscle movement on multiple planes, now offers yoga classes twice per week. Unlike working on machines which works only one muscle group, three dimensional training works the whole body, much like yoga. He’s found that there is an increasing demand from his athletes for yoga for this reason. His male clients are much more interested in yoga than they used to be. “What’s great about yoga, is that it’s portable, low-tech and can adapt to any fitness level. My clients like how it can improve their focus, flexibility, and even improve their game,” he says. King says that for most men, it really is an eye-opener. “They are surprised as to how hard it is!”
For A-type, desk-bound guys, the yoga studio offers a retreat from stress and anxiety related to work. Jeff Carew, a Stouffville resident and president of one of Canada’s largest call centers has discovered not only how great a workout yoga can be, but also how excellent a stress reliever it is. “I had an enormous amount of stress in my life last year with work. When I started yoga, the first few classes were foreign to me, but I started to really enjoy it and felt calmer,” says Carew.
Jeff started attending yoga classes on the suggestion of his wife, Jackie, who kept telling him how intense yoga is. More at ease at the gym with his routine mix of cardio machines, spinning and weight lifting, Jeff was sceptical at first. His impression was that yoga was just a stretch class, but after one class he says he was proven wrong.
Today, Jeff says that he still goes to the gym, but has shifted his schedule from one to three yoga classes per week and spends less time at the gym. “When you go to the gym, you’re looking to get bigger biceps, but in yoga, it’s more about how your whole body feels and less about how you look. And the gym was not a stress-buster for me, not like yoga.”
For Jeff, yoga has had multiple benefits, including better self-awareness, greater stamina and focus, less stress, more energy and a greater sense of calm. Jeff says when he leaves a class, he feels like he’s worked his entire body. He loves how his yoga practice is a combination of strength, flexibility and balance and that it really challenges his core stabilizer muscles. But what he really finds refreshing about yoga is that there is no ego. “It’s just me and my mat,” he says. “No one is judging you at yoga. It doesn’t matter if the person beside you is 17 or 70,” he says. Jeff’s advice to other men is to try a five class pass and experience different instructors and classes before passing judgement that it’s not for “real men.” Most importantly, he advises to put ego aside and enjoy the ride!
Every year after the age of 35, we lose 1 percent of our flexibility. By age 65, this translates to our bodies being 30 percent less limber unless we practice flexibility training. According to Tony Horton, creator of the P90X series, which has sold over 20 million DVD’s to date, “flexibility is the fountain of youth.” When asked if he could only do one form of exercise for the rest of his life, what it would be, Tony answers, “yoga.” “You can be strong and you can be fast and you can look good in your clothes, but if you want to get your mind, your spirit and your body in a place that is going to take you to the end of time, you have to do yoga,” says Horton. At 50 years old, he says, “I’m Gumby.” “If you want to be the Tin Man in 20 years, go right ahead. Because if you don’t do yoga and you keep exercising, something is going to break; your elbow, your knee or your back,” he says.
Lisa Moine, owner of Moksha Yoga in Stouffville has witnessed a 20% increase in male attendance to her studio since she opened her doors two and a half years ago. Usually, guys come to try a class because it’s been recommended by their doctor, she says, or by their girlfriend or spouse, who raves about its benefits. Lisa highly recommends yoga for men. “It is a distressing process. Once you implement yoga into your everyday life, you’re happier, you have more energy and less stress,” says Moine. Flexibility for guys is terrible, she admits, which makes yoga great because the poses are challenging for men and gives them something to work towards. “The really nice thing about yoga is that the ego seems to disappear, “she adds.
A women’s only studio in Toronto, called Vital Steps, with a primary focus on customized training for women, now too offers a male only yoga class on Wednesday nights. Certified personal trainer and programming and marketing manager, Michelle Gillis-Saltzman says that pro-athletes credit yoga with improved performance and less injuries and that she is seeing a major shift in men’s interest in yoga. “Yoga forces men to slow down and breathe and to focus. It is a compliment to everything else they are doing,” says Michelle. “A lot of men don’t want to spend time stretching. Yoga is great because simultaneously you are doing functional training, working core, upper body and leg strength and stretching.”
So guys, do you think you are man enough to try yoga? Certainly, we are seeing the trend towards more men discovering the amazing benefits of yoga, including improved mental stamina, reduced stress, improved flexibility and reduced injuries. With more and more men rolling out their mats, yoga can no longer be deemed your girlfriend’s workout! It’s for real guys, wanting to get real about being flexible, having amazing core strength and a balanced state of mind.
Tiffany Moffatt is a certified Personal Trainer Specialist, Fitness Instructor Specialist, Pre and Postnatal Specialist (Canfitpro certified) and freelance writer who has worked in the fitenss industry for 25 years. tiffanysbeyourbest.blogspot.com