When I reluctantly gave yoga a try several years ago at Lailan’s insistence, I absolutely felt like the Tin Man. I’m pretty sure I muttered “This is bullshit” out loud more than once. I easily violated every written and unwritten rule of yoga ever published. My fellow practitioners had valid reasons for slapping a lifetime ban on my practice. Then a funny thing happened. As I found my shoes and packed up my stuff, I was swarmed with encouragement ranging from, “You did great!” to “Keep it up, you’ll love it.” On top of the positive feedback, I was surprised at how great I felt mentally and physically. I could tell I got a complete body workout. I didn’t expect that.
Before giving yoga a try, I was pretty skeptical and I’m guessing other guys might feel this way. I grew up playing about every sport possible and considered myself to be fairly athletic. I know what a solid workout is and yoga just didn’t seem to fit that definition in my mind. And while I may not be politically correct here, yoga seemed to be something just for women. I would see a handful of guys in those early classes I attended, but women clad in perfectly matched yoga gear mostly attended the classes. I didn’t fit in with my hairy legs and mismatched gym shorts and t-shirt.
After doing a little homework, I’ve learned that the “yoga is only for women” myth is clearly just that – a huge myth. For some reason, it seems that some guys still can’t get over the hump in trying yoga, so I’ll share the results of my homework. If these guys can practice yoga, then so can I:
LeBron James (enough said, but I’ll go on), Tony Gonzalez, Tyreek Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Gosling, Colin Farrell, Sting, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Love and the entire New Zealand All Blacks rugby team.
So, while yoga hasn’t landed me a contract with the Cleveland Cavs or a starring role in a movie next to Emma Stone, I’m going to keep practicing. For me, it comes down to three main benefits of the many offered by yoga:
- Flexbility – I can’t speak for every guy out there, but of all the dudes I know who practice yoga, this is what we all talk about. “I am so inflexible!” “My hamstrings are so tight, when did that happen?” “I used to be able to touch my toes.” I love the stretching and twisting poses because I know I’m not getting that movement during the day and my overall flexibility just seems to be getting worse over time. Yoga is helping me with that. It also helps to remember that my body is not built like anyone else. I just have to do what I can do and not get too frustrated when I can do the quadruple one-legged twist with a full headstand that the pretty little yogi next to me is performing with ease. Focus, Phil, focus!
- Balance/Posture/Bone Strength – OK, so maybe those are three more reasons, but I recognize in myself that I tend to sloop my shoulders – maybe as a result of hunching over a computer too often. We can probably all relate to that. Yoga reminds be to stand tall, to seek alignment, and to elongate as much as possible. Yoga also benefits overall bone strength that certainly helps for aging bodies.
- Mental Focus – Yoga is the single biggest thing that has helped me with mental focus. In a world where we are all sucked into hyper-activity and multi-tasking at all times of the day, concentration and the ability to focus on a key task is a rarity. Devoting one hour to yoga really does create space, peace and focus. What did you say, Lailan? I wasn’t listening. Oops, I don’t have that excuse any more!
In summary, it took some time and a bit of perseverance, but I’ve turned the corner from the Tin Man skeptic to a regular yoga practitioner. My practice is still not pretty, and it probably never will be, that’s OK, because as a “middle aged” empty nester, I subscribe to Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw’s school of thought:
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.”