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The Guy's Guide to Starting a Yoga Practice

The Guy's Guide to Starting a Yoga Practice

For whatever reason, yoga is still a bit of a taboo for men who often give it an irrational reputation as a women-only practice. We’re here to say that’s just silly.

Yoga is incredibly relevant to men’s lives because it’s not only an excellent way to build muscle, but it’s also a great way to provenly reduce stress, prevent workout-related injuries, have better sex (duh), and help maintain focus.

We’ll admit, however, that the yoga scene can be a bit… Much. There’s usually a lot of talk about kumbaya hippie stuff, vegan diets, clean living, inner peace, blah blah blah. We don’t mind the peace and love talk, but we understand that it can be kind-of-a-little cringe-worthy for a lot of guys out there.

Luckily, that’s why you have us. We know firsthand the benefits of doing yoga regularly, just like we know how awesome eating bacon and smoking cigars can be. The two are far from mutually exclusive, and we’d like to prove it to you.

Here’s the guy’s guide to beginning a solid yoga practice

Understanding the Basics of Yoga

Before we get into building and maintaining a steady yoga routine, we think it’s only fair that we explain a little bit of the history behind this incredibly interesting art form, and talk about why you shouldn’t just chalk it up to the Zumba spin-class stuff your significant other won’t stop raving about.

To start, yoga as we know it was first practiced in ancient India (roughly 600 or 700 BCE). It’s an art form steeped in tradition and heritage, and it’s practiced heavily in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Most importantly, in Eastern culture, yoga isn’t just about strength training or stretching; it’s about mental conditioning, meditation, and even spiritual enlightenment.

While yoga was big in the East for centuries, it didn’t gain traction in the West until the 20th Century, exploding in popularity in the ‘80s here in the States.

For millions of people in many parts of the world, yoga is an irreplaceable part of everyday life.

Types of Yoga to Try

It seems like a new yoga trend is popping up every other week, and while it’s full of nuance, the art of yoga, at its base, is pretty simple and mostly straightforward. While there are a ton of specific disciplines, there are a few common ones that you should get familiar with:

Hatha:
Hatha is an excellent style for beginners because it’s not so physically demanding or complicated, and is really a term used to describe the general practice of doing yoga.

Hatha is a style characterized by its slow pace and focus on proper breathing techniques. If you can find a class specifically for Hatha, you’ll get to learn a lot of basic poses and how to properly breathe (seriously, we know it sounds silly, but breathing is a huge component of yoga), without having to really take any kind of plunge. It’s the “dip your toes in the water” of yoga styles.

Bikram:
We’re going to use the term “hot yoga” and “Bikram yoga” interchangeably here, but we’d like to note that Bikram and hot yoga aren’t technically the same. Bikram is a type of hot yoga, but Bikram is known more colloquially as hot yoga.

Bikram is a very intense and sweaty variation of yoga that isn’t easy and isn’t for the faint of heart. But it’s more than worth it once you get it down. Performed in a humid room that’s generally between 95 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, Bikram focuses on stretching. In fact, the warmth is believed to loosen up the muscles and help them stretch, and that’s really the point of it all: Really stretch your muscles and test limits.

There are 26 postures to Bikram yoga, which makes it simple to learn, but not necessarily easy to do. It’s done at a more rapid pace and is based on breathing (vinyasa). So, every breath in and out is a new pose. Once you work your way through Hatha and you’re looking to kick things up a notch, this might be a good place to start.

Ashtanga:
Another advanced yoga style, Ashtanga isn’t something we’d necessarily recommend for people who aren’t already physically fit or are entirely unfamiliar with yoga. That said, it’s an incredibly rewarding style characterized by its intense depth and breadth, but also by its slow pace.

It’s a very patient style those who practice are encouraged to go through independently and at their own pace, partly because it’s just really tough to work through. For instance, it’s split up into six separate sequences, and each sequence is dedicated to different aspects of your body. One sequence alone can take a couple hours to move through and consists of something like 75 individual poses.

In other words, it’s the real deal.

Vinyasa:
Technically a sub-style of Ashtanga, Vinyasa is a very popular and quick-paced style of yoga that is built around the body’s relationship to breathing.

Also called Power yoga, it’s excellent for people who dislike routine because every class will be completely different, seeing as Vinyasa doesn’t follow any one particular sequence of poses or pace. Every class is different, depending on the individual instructor.

Iyengar:
This is integral for novices and experienced yogis alike because it’s a style that focuses more on form and breathing. A lot of emphasis is placed on things like posture and body alignment, and how it all relates to the way we breathe.

This isn’t a great “do it at home” style of yoga because it most commonly involves everything from yoga blocks and straps to harnesses, blankets, ropes, mats, and everything in between. It sounds more like something out of a 50 Shades of Grey novel than yoga, but we promise, it’s a worthwhile endeavor (not that sex dungeons aren’t, of course).

Basic Yoga Poses to Learn

Before you take the time to head out to your local studio and take a class, it might be a good idea to start small and see what you can do at home. Perhaps the best thing about yoga is that it doesn’t take a lot of space or fancy equipment to learn, so you can do it pretty much anywhere—the living room, backyard, park, etc.

Mountain Pose

Probably the most basic pose of all the basic yoga poses, mountain pose starts with you standing upright, feet together, shoulders relaxed, and arms to your side with palms facing forward. The idea with this pose is making sure your weight is distributed evenly down to the soles of your feet and your achieving optimal body alignment. 

Downward Dog

Another of the most basic yoga poses, Downward Dog is an excellent stretch that’ll help with your spinal alignment, as well as help you work on your breathing. Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. Slowly “walk” your hands forward a few inches until your back becomes straight. Spread your fingers wide, plant your palms, and make sure both feet are solid on the ground. Hold this pose for three full breaths, and then rest.

Triangle Pose

We love Triangle Pose because not only is it pretty easy, but it also feels really great. It thoroughly stretches out your back and spine, as well as your legs. You’re going to hold your arms out to the side, and then bend over your right knee. From there you’re going to take your right foot and point it straight ahead at a 90-degree angle, then place your right arm on your ankle. From there, you’re going to take your back foot, place it about three feet directly behind the front, and point your foot at a 45-degree angle. From there, bending over with your right hand either on the floor or grabbing your right foot, you’re going to look at the ceiling, and take your left hand and point it straight up toward the sky.

Tree Pose

This is one of those elementary yoga poses that’ll show you just how intense this stuff can be. It’s simple to get into, but the idea here, as with most yoga, is about control and breathing.

Start by standing upright with your arms at your sides. Shift your weight onto your left leg, and then take your right leg, bend at the knee, and place your right foot as far up on the inside of your left thigh as you can, heal pointing toward groin and toes pointing down toward the floor. Once you have that sorted, bring your hands up to your chest in prayer position. Inhale slowly and deeply while bringing your arms above your head until they are fully extended, apart, with fingers pointed toward the sky. Then stay like that for 30 seconds. Yes, 30 seconds. Shift onto your right leg and repeat.

There are tons of free videos on YouTube for instructions and you can also check out DoYogaWithMe which is a community of yoga practitioners providing streaming video classes. Your best move is to just start so you can start enjoying all of the benefits yoga has to offer.