Back in the day (aka traditionally) physical Yoga was primarily practiced by men. There were always women practitioners, of course, but Yoga asana was mostly engaged in by serious acetic men who would renounce a normal, worldly life in favor of a spiritual quest for enlightenment. It often involved living in a cave or under a tree, which is as uncomfortable as it sounds.
But as Yoga has made its way to the West the applications of this ancient art, and the type of people who practice it, have expanded dramatically. Today, the vast majority of Yoga practitioners are women, and there are classes catering to a wide variety of interests, skill levels, and body types.
At its core, Yoga has something to offer everyone. The practice can be adapted to suit the needs of people of all ages, mobility levels, and walks of life. Here are a few ways Yoga can support anyone yes, even men.
1. Stress Relief
The stress-relieving benefits of Yoga are still being studied, but the initial clinical results are quite positive. And anyone who has been to enough classes to get past the what the heck are we doing? phase can tell you that they feel calmer after Yoga.
While intense classes can give a kind of worn-out tired sense of relaxation, it is really Yogas effect on the nervous system that relieves stress, not physical exhaustion. The work of breathing deeply, concentrating on the moment, stretching, and being still all help balance the autonomic nervous system, turning off the flight-or-fight mode and turning on the rest-and-digest program. Reducing our stress levels is important for health in so many ways, including allowing us to sleep better, digest our food better, have increased fertility and productivity, and simply enjoy life more.
2. Increased Flexibility
Some people think they cannot go to Yoga because they are not flexible enough. But that is like thinking that you cannot take a shower because you are too dirty. Yoga works with us wherever we are. It is not about already being flexible when you show up to class, but rather being present and attentive, and slowly increasing your range of motion (safely) over time.
3. Immune Support
A regular Yoga practice supports the health and proper functioning of the immune system. The nervous system balancing is part of that, because when we are in stressed-out fight-or-flight mode, the immune system is suppressed.
In addition, Yoga supports the thymus gland, which is a crucial component of the production of T-cells the immune systems warriors. All the twisting and inverting also aids the functioning of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system keeps the fluids of the body healthy and moves toxins out, resulting in increased immunity. And Yoga has been shown to alter gene expression in immune system cells, which is probably the base reason for the increased health of Yoga practitioners.
4. Mental Focus
Beyond all the stretching and moving, Yoga is about paying attention. Cultivating presence, which means bringing all of your attention into this moment and fully focusing on the now. Spending an hour a day, a few times a week completely concentrating on the present moment trains the mind to be more focused at all times.
Yoga practitioners still think about the past and future, of course, but are less likely to get so caught up in either that we miss the beauty of the moment. When the mind is trained to remain focused on the present, we have increased access to our creativity, critical thinking skills, and decision-making skills. When we learn how to turn off the mental chatter, we can be more focused on the task at hand and be more productive and relaxed.
5. Weight Loss
Yoga can support finding and maintaining a healthy weight, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. While a strong class does provide some calorie burn, toxin removal, and toning, it is really the increased mindfulness that gives Yoga its weight managing benefits.
The deep breathing and awareness cultivation of Yoga increases the mind-body connection. This self-awareness helps us discern the difference between actual hunger and the desire to eat for emotional comfort or out of habit. Yoga helps us pause in the midst of mindless eating patterns and wake up to what we are really doing to our bodies.
When we are centered and present, we are more likely to make healthy choices. Since I started practicing Yoga regularly, I also exercise more and eat food that is healthier for my body than I did before. Not everyone will lose weight when they practice Yoga, but it can help make the process easier.
Believe it or not, Yoga really is for everyone. Man or woman, young or old, Yoga offers benefits that can contribute to everyones health. The key is to find a studio and teacher that fits your skill level, body type, and makes you feel comfortable and welcomed. You may be surprised at how good Yoga can make you feel.