Thursday, April 30, 2015

Do You Even Yoga Bro? Bros doing yoga!

As I draw closer to finishing my year abroad in Australia, I grow sad about leaving this beautiful country, but also excited about the next step in my adventrue. In August I will be spending a month in Thailand getting my 200-hour yoga certification that will allow me to start teaching all over the world. It's been a long and interesting journey for me, as I've developed myself and my practice, and during that time I've come to discover one main thing, Yoga, is not just for women, in fact it may prove more beneficial to overall health to men. So before I embark on the next part of my journey I wanted to share with anyone interested some of the things I have learned. There are a lot of stereotypes that are attached to throwing down a lulu lemon, and getting your down dog on, and a lot of them are just plain wrong!

This is one of the major beliefs that keep men who are trying to get bigger through working out from hopping on a mat in the first place. The same reason many guys avoid cardio, or anything else they nievely think takes away from gaining. The truth is the best way to create an efficient workout regimine is through variation, and that can take a number of forms. What's not true however is the thought that doing yoga doesn't build muscle. Yoga, when done the right way is some of the heaviest, most stress inducing, muscle building workouts, you will ever encounter, they just aren't always done the right way. The stigma also is that yoga even if it does build muscle, only builds long, lean muscles... while this is true for many women who practice, the reason for that is because you take out what you put in, and it's true, most woman don't want to bulk up. Because yoga is primarily a women's fitness (at least according to popular census), classes and studios are tailored to this belief. But as with any fitness modality, you can tailor a program to fit anyones fitness goals, and when you start to understand the basics and principals of yoga, you can create your own system, that can not only assist is getting bigger, but actively assist you in achieving those goals. 

With the way fitness is now it seems every new "next best thing" is about bigger, better results, as fast as possible. Whether it was P90x in 90 days, or Insanity in 60 days or Super Insanity, or whatever they create next in just a week! The truth is for any realistic goals for the majority of people it takes time, and we are a culture of instant gratification that doesn't take kindly to "hard work pays off". Because of this many men seem to turn away from yoga. The reason, it takes time. Yes the basics are very simple but to continue to track and see your progress and see great results can take a lot longer than that new infomercial on TV. Many people may confuse this thinking that it's because yoga isn't hard enough, when the truth is, it takes time for you to even be "good enough" to get to the hard part. But with time and committment I can assure you, that the hardest yoga class you ever take will be on par or even harder than the hardest 10 minute cross-fit workout you've ever done, except with yoga you'll be doing it for 90 minutes in a 105 degree room. 

Men in America are a target, with high stress lives, high fat foods, and an overall health that pales in comparisson to American women. It's no wonder the average life expectancy of American women is almost ten years high than that of American men (according to We're targets for heart disease, high cholesterol, high stress, and obesity, but there's something we can do about it. Aside from being a great way to achieve a level of phsyical fitness, for centuries yoga has been praised for what it can provide for participants off the mat. Certain poses, specifically in Birkhram have shown direct links to reducing things like prostate and liver cancer, and also stomach ulcers and heart disease. Though there is no definitive scientific evidence to support these claims, you can see the results in the way people act and feel after they've made yoga a regular part of their life. Aside from the long term holistic benefits of a regular yoga practice there are real world applications from yoga that can be used in everyday life. Many of us, specifically those in high pressure jobs, feel the weight of stress on us throughout our daily lives, but with no real outlet to help curb these feelings as they are happening. But by learning to control our breathing when we face these challenges (an integral part of yoga practice referred to as Pranayama, or an extension of breath) we can learn to curb our stress levels in moments of importance. By learning and practicing Pranayama, you can practically and realitstically make a huge improvement in your day-to-day stress levels. When the feelings of stress start to overwhelm you, using the techniques practiced in yoga, you can reduce your heart rate, cholesterol and blood pressure, on the spot. There by allowing you to think more clearly and achieve whatever the task may be in front of you. 

 While it's true that a good weight lifting regimine is important to any workout routine, the belief that only by lifting weights can you achieve great fitness gains has become somewhat archaic. Elite sports trainers and most importantly, Elite Athletes, have discovered over the last few decades that the key to creating the perfect all-around workout regimine is variation. In the last ten years we've seen the meteoric rise of fitness modalities like cross-fit come to the forefront of fitness. By using non-traditional workout techniques, combined with Olympic lifting, cardio, and a variety of other things, guys like Rich Froning have become the new demi-gods of fitness. But what many top-tier level athletes are starting to realize is that Yoga is not only great for adding variety to your workout routine, it's imperative. The flexibility and muscle gained from a regular yoga practice has penetrated the sports ranks at all the main levels. For instance the World Champion Seattle Seahawks, have an in house yoga teacher and have made yoga practice and meditation mandatory for all their players, with the results obviously paying off. A few other notable yogis include, Two-time NBA Champions Lebron James, and Kevin Garnett, as well as Lebron's new double-double machine teammate Kevin Love. What these athletes have realized is that peak training alone can put a terrible amount of wear and tear on your body. By incorporating a regular yoga practice these athletes have been able to maintain an incredibly high level of play, and have achieved the durability to handle the punishment that comes with being a professional athlete in any sport. And anyone who participates in a rigorous training regimine can reap these benefits just the same as these top-tier athletes. 

This criticism usually applies to men who participate in high weight training. Whether it be Crossfit or Olympic lifting, there seems to be a stigma attached to being "too" flexible. While it's important for your body to be able to function within the range of a particular exercise, there is a risk involved when your joints have too much mobility and your lifting enormous amounts of weight. Anatomically speaking this is true. When you put a massive stress load on your joints, (for example doing the snatch) it's important to have a certain level of restrictiveness in your shoulders, so that the weight doesn't overload on the back end of joints and you risk a tear. The truth however is that by doing yoga, you are not simply increasing the elasticity of muscles, you are also increasing the load baring capabilities of those muscles when stressed past normal limits. To put this into simplier terms lets say you have two guys of similar build, one has natural shoulder flexibilty beyond the typical male. The other has normal to below average flexibility, but has been practicing yoga and improving the range of shoulder flexibility as well as the strength within that range. Out of these two athletes, the one who is naturally more flexibile will be at risk of sustaining an injury when increasing a work load on their shoulder joints. If the weight should get away from this person while doing a snatch, and go beyond the typical range of motion for that exercise, it could have serious consequences on their joints. However, our athlete who has worked on their flexibility with yoga will likely be much more susceptible to adjust to going outside of their normal zone. This is because the second athlete has not just improved flexibility but also what you could call "flexible strength". This is why yoga can be so important to weight training routine, those smaller flexible muscles are not usually taxed, and it helps to have them in shape should the moment arise. 

This one unfortunately can be very true, however, there are always exceptions to every rule. If starting a yoga practice is something you are really interested in, there are many great options to get you up and running. Firstly, most studios offer a beginners rate, when I first started I found a great hot yoga studio in town that offered a deal that was $10 for a month of unlimited yoga on Groupon. After that I decided I loved the studio so much I shelled out the $90 a month, but the most important thing is getting started. If you try a studio for a month and decide you want to keep going there's many other options you have as well. Most people (well most men) forget that their gyms offer group fitness classes. We see the old ladies doing Zumba, or the young chicks taking pilates and think that would be something we pay for in our monthly fees but will never partake in. If your gyms offers "group fitness", then they are almost guaranteed to offer yoga classes throughout the week. Find a time that works for you and pop in for a few classes. There are many great teachers who work at multiple studios and multiple gyms, to help fund their love of teaching, and some of the best classes I've ever taken have been in my gym. If you can't find an option like this that works to you, HAVE NO FEAR! There are hundreds of yoga apps, and thousands of yoga videos available to you, for a super low cost or nothing at all. After you've learned the basics you can decide how you will progress in your practice. Maybe you decide to join a private studio, maybe you simply make it something you do at home, but whatever you decide, just start! The only thing holding you back from your next great adventure in yoga, is you!

The bottom line is if your trying to get massive gains, yoga alone will not help you succeed where other programs have not. However, if what your after is a compliment to your current workout regimine or a new program you've been planning to try, then yoga can act as the catalyst to push you past your previous boundaries. As a long time gym fiend I truly believe in the healing power both mentally and physically of the gym. But where pumping iron is a great stress reliever, yoga is the ultimate "life" reliever. For 30, 60, or even 90 minutes, its simply you, your breath, your poses, and your mat. And the value you will gain from concentration, breathing techniques, and relaxation techniques will benefit you in every aspect of your life outside the studio. So I'll ask again... Do you even Yoga Bro?!

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