More than a few eyebrows were raised the first time I walked into a yoga clothing store. As a former bodybuilder, I get a lot of surprised reactions when people learn I’m now a yoga instructor. What they don’t realize is that yoga is as much of a strength-training activity as weight lifting—only the strength it creates is different, much broader type.
Men typically shun yoga, believing it’s a woman’s activity, or that it’s too easy—or boring. But the biggest mistake in their thinking is that yoga won’t make them stronger, or “tough.” I like to point to a simple definition adapted from the Merriam-Webster dictionary: Tough: strong or firm, but flexible.
Physically, yoga isn’t going to make you buff. But what it can do is enhance strength in other highly beneficial ways. Take flexibility, for example. Without it, strength won’t take you far. Solid, strong muscle minus flexibility equals stiffness, locked joints, pain and potential injury. Keeping your body flexible with yoga will allow you to better utilize strength, and keep you safer in all of your physical pursuits—whether they’re in the gym, on the field or just in everyday life.
Many athletes and bodybuilders practice yoga not only for enhanced strength and flexibility, but for better body awareness. You can go, go, go with the machine of a body you’ve built, but if you’re not in touch with its workings, you put yourself at risk for both injury and decreased performance. One 10-year study of NFL players revealed 1,716 hamstring strains—these were just “reported” injuries. With better body awareness gained through yoga practice, they may have been avoided.
Another benefit of yoga most men don’t consider is increased stamina. I’ve taught classes where men have showed up, thinking they’d be in and out with some light morning exercise. An hour later, they dragged themselves out, exhausted—with a whole new perception of yoga. Regular, disciplined yoga practice trains you to endure—not just through physical activity, but through mental, emotional and social/relationship challenges as well.
And, as if all of this weren’t enough, yoga improves inner health, targeting many concerns that are specific to men. From easing back pain and reducing stress to supporting cardiovascular health, joint health and even and sexual health, yoga is an easy way to take control of your own body and stay strong internally.
For men with doubts? How tough is it to stay in your comfort zone? Look at yoga as a challenge, something that will take you outside that zone. Follow the lead of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took ballet to help him become a champion bodybuilder. Or Lebron James, an avid yoga practitioner.
Get tough. Do yoga.