For many guys, yoga is a no-go—especially with the weight room in their sights. Some view yoga as an esoteric pastime that’ll put you in embarrassing positions and questionable garb without packing any benefits. But that outlook isn’t just wrong, it’s walling you off from a flexibility-boosting, core-rushing, stress-busting discipline that’ll also help you tap into true Zen. (Yes, we promise you’ll feel calmer after every session.)
Yoga is a form of movement that teaches you how to breathe, recover quicker, improve your range of motion and use your core more effectively. The good news is that perceptions are changing, and it’s being spearheaded by top sportsmen, coaches and guys who just want to perform better. We’ve put the biggest (and most absurd) yoga myths under the microscope to cut through the BS to give you the real low down on yoga’s upsides:
Myth 1: Yoga Is Only for Women
The Truth: Yoga Actually holds more benefits for men
“The reluctance of men to try yoga is interesting, because for the greater part of yoga’s existence women were not allowed to practice it. Only since yoga was introduced to the Western world has it become popular among women,” says yoga instructor Misha Mostert. “But the fact that yoga is now thought of as a ‘women’s form of fitness’ makes men a lot more reluctant to take part.” According to research by yogajournal.com, less than 18% of yoga practioners are male – but that’s all changing thanks to the influence of men like Dylan Werner and international movements like Manflow Yoga.
Local studios like Tree Natural in Umhlanga are becoming more and more popular with progressive doctors, coaches and trainers, like Dr Alan Kourie, the Cell C Sharks team physician, and Paul Anthony, head coach for the under 19 Sharks rugby side. “I don’t think that yoga is for all men, but I do think it’s for real men,” explains Kourie. “I understand that one of the challenges men grapple with in getting themselves into a yoga studio is the pre-conceived idea that it’s a ‘women-only thing’, and it’s not. If Novak Djokovic, the New York Giants and the All Blacks don’t have any gender concerns in using yoga as a means to achieve success, then neither should any guy here in South Africa.”
When it comes to flexibility and range of motion, men are usually a lot more restricted than women – which means yoga can do more for us. “In my experience, I’ve found most men to be particularly less flexible than woman and, interestingly, tend to have weaker core strength too,” says Kourie.
“I believe that as we age, we tend to become more sedentary and our joints aren’t forced through the kind of ranges they used to be when on the school cricket pitch or during a game of beach touch rugby,” says Kourie. “Yoga moves the hips, shoulders, vertebrae and other joints through all their ranges of motion, thereby improving agility.
Myth 2: Yoga Isn’t Challenging
The Truth: You’ll be humbled as your weaknesses are highlighted.
“You’ll go to places you never knew existed during a practice,” says Brett Roux, MH cover model and Tree Natural’s founder. “I’ve seen top rugby players and CrossFit athletes break down in classes – men who can bench 200kg but can’t hold a yoga pose for 30 seconds,” says Roux. “Yoga will always give you what you need, but not always what you expect. A big misconception in yoga is that it’s only about stretching. I initially used it to increase my mobility and flexibility, but I had no idea how vigorous yoga could be and how completely blown I’d be after a class,” explains Roux.
Myth 3: There Are No Strength Benefits
The Truth: Done right, it can make you stronger.
“Perhaps the most surprising thing that happened was yoga made me stronger. The different activation of muscles and increased mobility translated across to Olympic and power lifting. After exchanging a strength training day for a yoga day, like magic, my power increased. Yoga unlocked untapped potential in my strength and all-round athleticism.”
Roux, with his athletic background, is the perfect case study for the strength benefits of yoga. “I enjoy variety, and the challenge presented by different sports and their training routines. My goal is complete athleticism – and my definition of that is a balance between raw strength, explosive power, agility, endurance, speed and control,” explains Roux.
“There’s huge benefits for sportsmen, especially those constantly involved in excessive muscle strengthening, as a means of muscle relaxation and recovery. The strengthening of muscles puts extra strain on the tendons, as they now become more taut at their bony attachments. This can result in a number of different biomechanical changes in the body, which, if not corrected, can predispose a player to injury,” says Kourie. But it doesn’t end there: yoga also offers another big benefit for Kourie and his own sporting life.
“Balance is another focus point of yoga, which I believe is hugely underestimated in its value in almost all sports. I’ve personally found that working on my balance, as well as my core strength has helped improve my surfing. Lunging and holding in the Warrior position has also improved my VMO (vastus medialis oblique) strength, which acts as a knee stabiliser, and this has helped my mountain biking,” says Kourie.
Myth 4: It’s a Form of Religion
The Truth: Yoga doesn’t require any kind of psychological change.
“We encounter extreme points of view around religion regularly, and some people think of yogis as a group of barefoot people wearing linen rolling around on a mat and chanting – it’s such a fractured perception of what yoga is,” explains Roux. “Yoga is not a religion. Guys should focus on its benefits, which are scientifically proven. For me, I want yoga to be readily accessible to everyone, regardless of age, sex, religion or level of fitness. Yoga does not ask you to be vegetarian, grow your hair or change who you are. It’s not some airy-fairy nonsense; it’s profound in what it can do for your body and what it can do for your mind. Yoga can make you a better athlete, a better human and yes, if you let it, even a better man.”
Myth 6: Men Know How to Breathe Already
The Truth: We really don’t. But yoga will help you to improve.
“Yoga is based around breathing, and when it’s controlled, deep and slow, you can reach extremely focused mental states that carry over into your day,” says Roux. “It has been scientifically proven to lower your heart rate, reduce stress and blood pressure, relieve anxiety and depression and help increase brain function, concentration and memory.”
This focus on breathing techniques (called pranayama) in yoga provides mental and physical benefits for everyone from athletes to overworked businessmen. “Freedivers are able to hold their breath for longer periods of time because they focus on pranayama in their yoga,” says Mostert. Roux has also benefited from it. “The lessons learnt have aided my running and endurance sports immensely, and whenever I feel stressed I revert back to my yoga breathing and things automatically calm down.” It doesn’t end there.
“Breathing properly is one of the best, most effective way to achieve clarity of mind – the kind of clarity a place kicker would need as he’s lining up a penalty, or that a Formula One driver could benefit from when negotiating a tricky corner,” says Kourie, who deals with pro sportsmen and their unique demands daily. “From a mental perspective, the quiet time experienced during a yoga class can afford the modern man a moment in his day to quieten the mind and allow his stress to move out of the body, instead of accumulating in the neck, shoulders, back and joints.” Kourie used yoga as an essential part of his own Ironman triathlon training. “I used it as a means to continually check in with my body that it was balanced, recovered and free from excessive tension as well as to focus on my breathing technique. Breathing is the ‘not so secret’ secret to success in any sport, and in daily life, for that matter.”
Myth 7: Yoga’s Benefits End with Flexibility
The Truth: It has a long list of extras
Yoga is done at your own pace, and the movements are self-limiting, so you won’t injure yourself if your ego gets ahead of your ability. “Yoga will also uncover any weaknesses in the body that you may never have been aware of, whether it’s hamstring flexibility, shoulder instability or strength imbalances in one knee relative to the other,” says Kourie.