Wednesday, 17 November 2010

So why don't more 'blokes' do yoga?

So I thought that given the name of my blog it was about time I got around to considering why it might be that more guys don't practice yoga. I've seen a fair few articles and blog posts on this subject already so I'll do my best to add a fresh perspective...

1. They think it's just for girls

This might seem an obvious place to start but it happens to be true that yoga is considered to be quite 'girly' (at least by most people in the UK). As an example, I was out celebrating a friend's birthday the other week when the conversation turned to 'exercise' - and in course of that discussion the fact that I practice yoga cropped up. My friends of course know this but my mate's father in law looked at me in genuine bewilderment. With an expression so perplexed you'd think I'd just announced that I was pregnant, he spluttered "But isn't that just for women??". It was a funny moment but unfortunately it's representative of a wider misperception.

2. They don't think it'll be enough of a challenge

Most guys still genuinely believe that a yoga class involves nothing more than sitting around doing a bit of gentle stretching (that would be a stretching class...). Consequently, they don't think that doing yoga is going to present their egos with enough of a challenge (and it's true that perhaps yoga practice won't give them the bragging rights of training for a marathon or scoring a hat trick). To these people I would just say...try taking a led Ashtanga full primary series, take every vinyasa...and then tell me how you're feeling the next day! 

3. The fear of embarrassment

It's a fact that most men hate to look like they don't know what they're doing. Especially in front of women. So the thought of going to a yoga class where they definitely WON'T know what they're doing (at least at first) and where the room is likely to be full of women who DO know what they're doing is possibly none too appealing...

In addition, the pride and ego of a man trying out yoga for the first time can most definitely take a severe battering...I think that seeing fellow classmates twisting themselves into all sorts of unbelievable contortions while they themselves feel ridiculous, exposed and are struggling with the most rudimentary of postures convinces most guys who have overcome their initial reservations not to repeat the mistake!

4. It won't get you 'stacked' or 'pumped'

Fuelled by media propagated images of actors and celebs with 'perfect' bodies, a lot of guys use the gym because they want to look like The Hulk (muscly, not green). Now yoga certainly won't give you a body like Arnie in his pomp but it's benefits are obviously manifest...both physically and psychologically. And to my mind the sleek, flexible and lean muscled body of a regular yoga practitioner is preferable in any case. Unfortunately I'm not sure that's an opinion that is likely to be shared by the majority of guys in the near future so I guess they'll stick to benching and squats without realising how much they're missing out on (I used to be the same...).

5. The lack of 'markers' and a competitive edge

Men in particular respond well to short term measurable signs of improvement (e.g. "I lifted 10kg more today than last week") and competition. Yoga obviously doesn't (or shouldn't) provide either of these, instead requiring patience and the pursuit of less tangible goals. I think that perhaps this could go a long way to explaining why some guys don't quite 'get' yoga - and why football is so popular instead! And there's less banter in yoga as well...

6. The whiff of association with offbeat weirdness

For whatever reason, it's a fairly common perception that in order to practice yoga, you have to be...well a bit of a 'weirdo' (could be the chanting...?). Just consider this comnment a friend posted on my facebook page when he noticed I'd joined a few yoga related groups:

"Hi mate. You appear to be getting very New Age. I'm glad we've already had your stag do or I fear it would now have been a naked drumming session in the New Forest".

Not sure I need to say much else... :)

So these are the top 6 reasons why I think that more 'blokes' don't practice yoga. Let me know what you think...


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Yoga travelling mat

I'm writing this blog piece from a hotel restaurant in Dubai while I wait for my somewhat uninspiring dinner to arrive (pasta napolitano...the best I could find on the menu).

I have to travel quite a lot for work and to be honest it's not something I particularly relish for a number of reasons. Firstly, I'm a bit of a homebody and prefer to spend my time at home amongst creature comforts than in far flung corners of the globe (well, at least when it's for work - not so when it's for pleasure).

Also when I'm travelling I often find it difficult to eat healthily - boredom, jetlag and not cooking for yourself all conspire to kill the best of intentions with regards to diet.

And finally I don't like that my travel obligations often interrupt my yoga routine. It's pretty difficult to squeeze practice in when you spend a whole day travelling and although  you can sometimes work around it by making that particular day your rest day, it's not always possible.

It is always interesting to see what the hotel room will be like though and how conducive to practice it will be (my first question when I checked in last night - "how big is the room?")! I don't like to practice in hotel gyms with other people around as I find it distracting, so I always opt to work around whatever layout the bedroom has to offer. This can involve having to spend the first 30 minutes of my stay in a hotel completely rearranging the furniture to accommodate my mat...and wandering around the room wafting my arms about to check for 'clearance'.

I just finished a practice session wedged between the end of my bed and a floor to ceiling window - unfortunately it only overlooks a highway as otherwise it could have been quite inspirational, but alas no. It was an ok session although certain postures - such as supta padangusthasana - were completely out of the question. I also struggled for concentration a bit as a nightclub or bar in the near vicinity insisted on playing a succession of 70s funk/soul disco tunes which were nigh on impossible to ignore...but I managed to push on through and am glad now that I did so.

Despite these trials and tribulations I'll always try my best to ensure I fit some yoga practice into my work trips - even if it's not perfect, some practice is better than none after all. And as my wife quite rightly says - what better way to bring a little piece of home with me on my travels?


Monday, 25 October 2010

First steps (Part II)...

After my first incredible experiences of yoga in India I was really keen to continue practicing on my return to the UK. My gym ran a number of classes at weekends and I tried out both Hatha and Iyengar - I enjoyed these classes a lot and attended both sporadically. Then one Sunday morning my girlfriend went to an Ashtanga class (it was too early on a Sunday for me) and came back absolutely raving about it...she couldn't stop telling me how tough it had been, how challenging, how exhilarating and so I resolved to go along with her the following week.

Well all I can is she wasn't lying! To this day my memories of this class are crystal clear. Firstly I remember feeling completely bewildered as the rest of the class moved seamlessly through their sun salutations and the standing sequence whilst I floundered about like someone in the early stages of a fit - I just couldn't work out what was going on. Thankfully the teacher was an extremely patient chap and he coached me through each posture to ensure I just about kept pace with the others.

My second memory is that come the end of the sun salutations my shoulders felt like they’d turned to mush. At the time I was visiting the gym to lift weights 3 or 4 times a week but even so I was in complete agony as I trembled my way through the last few rounds of surya namaskara b.

And my legs and hips! 20 years of playing sport with scant regard for stretching had left me with hamstrings and hips that had roughly the elastic qualities of a lump of granite. Touch my toes? I could barely reach my knee caps.

The biggest surprise was still to come however. We moved into the primary series and the teacher instructed us to perform something called a 'vinyasa' between postures. As he talked me through the requirements of this movement I just could not understand how it was physically possible to get anywhere even close to performing was ridiculous and to my mind an impossible ask (incidentally I often use that memory as incentive and encouragement when I'm struggling with a particular asana...and I struggle with a lot of them!).

Despite (or perhaps because of!) these challenges I thoroughly enjoyed the class and over the next months I became something of a regular. At first I attended once a week and that was pretty much the extent of my practice – understandably my progress was limited but I was still hooked on going to the gym and just couldn’t find time for both.

However a year or so in my attitude gradually started to change. I introduced self-practice to the mix and started switching out some of my gym sessions for yoga practice instead. About 6 months later the gym membership had pretty much become surplus to requirements and these days (2 years into my yoga journey) I try to practice 6 days a week…including weekly led classes with the same teacher.

So that really concludes the background to my yoga story – moving forward my posts will be less about me and more about my thoughts and observations on yoga…probably a relief to hear.

I think though that I should just conclude by saying how lucky I feel to have found yoga and for it to have become such an important part of my life. At first the draw was purely physical but as I progress further, the esoteric and spiritual qualities of yoga are becoming equally important, if not more so. I’m obviously just at the start of my yoga journey and I’m incredibly excited (and somewhat overawed at times) by just how much there is to learn…it’s going to be great fun and I look forward to sharing it on this blog.


Saturday, 23 October 2010

First steps...

To whomsoever may happen upon this page...I thought that for my first post it would be a good idea to briefly recount how I first came to practice yoga.

I've always had a real interest in exercise and health, and I'd considered giving yoga a go for some years, but something had always held me back from taking the plunge and actually going to a yoga class. I think that something was probably the fear of my friends finding out, coupled with the prospect of completely humiliating myself in front of a room full of women.

I was also labouring under a serious misapprehension. I'd been a bit of a gym addict for years and my perception was that yoga classes would mainly consist of a lot of old women sitting around stretching. Although I did incorporate a few yoga poses given to me by a fitness instructor into my gym routines, I arrogantly thought that yoga wouldn't present enough of a challenge to someone who regularly lifted weights (how could I be so, so wrong?) and so I never got round to giving yoga a try I regret now that I didn't try it years earlier!!

All this changed when I went on holiday to Goa with my girlfriend of the time (now my wife!). She had been practising yoga for some years and had often encouraged me to give it a try, but I never did. However, when we found ourselves in Goa with no gyms around and plenty of time on our hands I agreed to accompany her to a yoga class one morning.

To be honest, just getting to the yoga class was enough of a trial. On the short walk from the place where we were staying we were accosted by a terrifyingly aggressive dog that seemed hell bent on savaging us. I'd like to say I did the manly thing and stood firm to defend my woman but as it ran towards us bearing it's teeth I set off down the road at full tilt past a bemused cow and a nervous looking pig (I never have been a dog person) . It wasn't exactly the most relaxing of starts.

Anyway, eventually we made it to the class and it was to be something of a watershed moment for me. It didn't start off so well. As the teacher, bedecked head to toe in orange robes, opened the class with some chants I rather childishly got the giggles as I thought about what my friends would say if they could see me. This situation was exacerbated a few minutes later when he took us through a series of pranayama exercises - the expression on the face of the woman next to me threatened to tip me over the edge and I struggled manfully to stifle my laughter.
But then we moved into asana practice - and I stopped laughing. The postures that the yogi contorted himself into left me astounded - he'd been practising in the Himalayas since the age of 5 and he was nothing short of amazing - and as I struggled in vain to keep up it was possibly the most painful and challenging hour and a half of my life. But something clicked in me (metaphorically and physically)...I absolutely loved it and come the end of the class when he took us into relaxation it felt like my whole body was alive with energy. I was hooked.

The next morning was excruciating - I could barely move as I crawled out of bed, but armed with a stick and a bottle of water to fend off the hound from hell (running on this occasion was out of the question) I shuffled along to take on another fact I think we went back almost every day for the rest of our holiday. It was to be the start of a very interesting and rewarding journey that I am yet but a few steps into.