There’s an outdated stigma that says for some men yoga is a bit too… well, girly. But it’s a reputation that yoga is fast shaking off as the gender imbalance evens out. More men than ever are throwing (or rather, flowing) poses in yoga classes.
“I’ve been teaching for seven years now,” says yoga teacher Chris Magee. “The demographic you used to see was 95% women. In the last two or three years, it’s more like a 60/40 split. We’re getting a lot more men coming in and recognising the benefits from yoga practice.”
Those benefits are both mental and physical – as good for the ol’ zen as it is for cardiovascular health. And men might be surprised to find that yoga perfectly complements other sporting activities.
“Yoga helps to rebalance stuff,” says Chris. “If you’re doing a lot of weight training, or sports-specific training, your body is probably very tight. Yoga is an opportunity to bring back the flexibility, and work on joint health and longevity. A couple of years back, some footballers, including Ryan Giggs, said yoga helped them play an extra five years after they thought their careers were done.
“But it’s also about mindfulness and headspace. People enter that flow space and get into the zone. They’re not thinking about anything else, just their breathing and putting one foot in front of the other. They get the stretchy and sweaty part of the practice, but also feel the mental relief.”
So how does a novice get started with yoga? How do you tell your Vinyasas from Hathas? Or your pigeons from your downward facing dogs? And what are the specific benefits of each yoga practice? To find the best yoga class for your needs, our experts talk us through seven different styles for men to try. Grab your yoga pants.
What Is It? The clue’s in the name, though you might find these classes are called fundamental, foundation, or beginner’s flow. Either way, it’s an introduction class.
Who’s It For? Yoga newbies, of course. “It’s an opportunity to go with a group all on the same level,” says Chris Magee, who runs his own foundation classes. “Everyone’s at the beginning of their yoga journey.”
What Are The Benefits? This is about learning the basics so you can move onto an open level class, which is open to everyone from beginner to more experienced students.
“Open level classes still have the things from the beginner’s level class,” says Magee. “But the teacher will be giving different variations and modifications for the more experienced people – so you’ll get to see a bigger range of postures. Start with a foundation then work your way into an open level flow class.”
What Is It? Vinyasa Flow links a variety of postures and puts the emphasis on breathing. Poses are usually linked via a sequence of plank to low plank (Chaturanga Dandasana), upward facing dog to downward facing dog (a ‘Vinyasa’).
Who’s It For? It’s a dynamic practice and can be challenging. But studios host different level classes, from open level class to levels 1, 2, and 3.
What Are The Benefits? “These classes are great for general strengthening, toning, flexibility and balance of the body and mind,” says yoga instructor and author Hannah Barrett. “Linking movement to breath helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system – our ‘rest and digest’ system – meaning it’s not just a workout for the body but leaves you balanced and zen.
“The classes also involve mindfulness and meditation, which is proven to help reduce stress, aide concentration, and promote emotional health. The dynamic nature means Vinyasa classes help to develop cardiovascular fitness and endurance.”
What Is It? Ashtanga refers to the “eight limbs” of yoga. It’s a dynamic practice that synchronises movement – including popular poses like sun salutations and seating and standing postures – with breathing to strengthen the body and calm the mind. The sequences are called “series”, beginning with the primary series and going to intermediate and four stages of advanced series.
Who’s It For? “Complete beginners and people of all ages and levels can practice Ashtanga,” says Barrett. “You don’t need to be flexible or have strength to start. It takes on average 90 minutes to complete the full primary series. I would recommend some knowledge of the series and postures, unless you‘re joining a beginners class.”
What Are Benefits? “It will build internal heat, increase stamina, strength and flexibility,” says Barrett. “You will build focus and concentration and the set sequence will become a moving meditation the more you practice.”
What Is It? Hatha is a generic term given to classes that teach the physical postures. This may include an introduction to classic yoga poses. Poses are held for longer to focus on the postures and pairing breathing with movements.
Who’s It For? It’s especially good for anyone still learning the poses and trying to build flexibility. “As a practice it’s generally a lot of slower,” says Magee. “With Hatha you might do a triangle pose for 10, 15, or 20 breaths, so it’s not as rapid as other practices. It’s also gentler mentally if you’re trying to build knowledge of poses.”
What Are The Benefits? “A Hatha class will leave you feeling balanced, more flexible, stronger and more relaxed,” says Barrett. “As with Vinyasa, the mindfulness, breathing and meditation will help reduce stress, control anxiety and and improve sleep.”
What Is It? An offshoot of Ashtanga which links movement to breath and has strong sequences where one pose flows into another. This one gets hot, loud, and sweaty.
Who’s It For? “If you’re looking to move a lot and work up a sweat then this class is for you,” says Barrett. “Studios usually have beginner levels to more advanced so you can pick a class that’s right for you.”
What Are the Benefits? “Power yoga is a great way to build strength, flexibility, stamina, endurance and to burn calories,” says Barrett. “Moving with the breath will also help to balance the body and mind and relieve any stress.”
What Is It? Broga is a practice built especially for men (or bros, if you prefer). It puts the emphasis on strength and toning.
Who’s It For? If you’re one of those guys who’s put off going to yoga because of female-heavy classes, broga is the testosterone option. But it’s also a solid choice for newbies.
“This may be suited to those who have not done yoga before and are worried about not being flexible enough,” says Barrett. “But also for those who want to break a sweat. As a lot of the focus is on strength you may find it helps to complement other sports such as boxing or contact sports to help prevent injuries.”
What Are The Benefits? Strength, flexibility, cardiovascular health, and stress management.
What Is It? Yoga done in seriously hot and humid temperatures. Though it’s a general term for various styles done in searing heat, Bikram is the most common hot yoga practice.
Who’s It For? A decent knowledge of yoga practices and an endurance for intense workouts is required here. And whoever you are, make sure you stay hydrated. “Depending on the style,” says Magee, “it could be 30-35 degrees in an infrared studio, or up to a super sweaty 40-45 degrees with Bikram. With that comes a really intense level of sweat and dehydration. You have to put water breaks into the flow.”
What Are The Benefits? “It’s good for you in moderation,” says Magee. “The temperatures give you more flexibility. But you have to be careful because you can injure yourself if you’re not used to being in a certain pose – your body might extend further than it should. You have to earn that body space.”
Hannah Barrett’s book Strength Through Yoga is available for £39.99 at yogagirllondon.com