By Lindsay Smith, founder of Vibe Yoga
Men’s Health Month is designed to encourage men to eat well, exercise and work to prevent disease. Men on average die almost five years earlier than women, in part because they are reluctant to go to the doctor. The Cleveland Clinic found that 40% of men go to the doctor only when they have a serious health issue, and never go for routine checkups. Meanwhile, women go to the doctor twice as often as men.
Because of the numerous health benefits of practicing yoga, the United Nations General Assembly in 2014 declared June 21 International Day of Yoga. This year’s theme focuses on how yoga can help everyone achieve holistic health.
While more men are finding their way to yoga — 28% of yoga practitioners were men in 2016, up from 17.8% in 2012 — the focus on men’s health and yoga in June raises the question, “Why don’t more men do yoga?”
Myths about yoga may be the biggest obstacle to getting men on the mat, including that yoga is feminine and not a good workout.
Vibe Yoga instructor Grant Bell, a Coast Guard Veteran, decided to try yoga during an event at a brewery in Virginia in 2016. “Without that, I wouldn’t have gone at all because I didn’t really think it was a guy thing.”
It took just a few weeks of classes to become hooked, and he has been teaching now for three years. He finds that yoga is whatever you want to make of it. Because he works from home, he enjoys friendships and community from yoga. A bonus has been becoming stronger, more balanced and toned. He has also noticed better concentration, endurance and stamina.
The physical improvements for men from yoga help debunk the myth that it is not a good workout. Yoga can improve athletic performance, strength and conditioning, as professional athletes are increasingly embracing, including NBA All-Stars like LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Garnett, NHL All-Star goalie Sean Burke and tennis star John McEnroe.
Repetitive motions lengthen and tone muscles. Yoga’s weight-bearing, static poses build strength. Also, body awareness through yoga by contracting and holding multiple muscle groups at once can help correct body imbalances, prevent injuries and make the body more agile.
Research shows that some types of yoga can increase one-rep maximums which is the maximum amount of weight that a person can lift for one repetition of push and shoulder exercises.
In fact, men who are competitive can gain a distinct advantage over other athletes by practicing yoga. Golfers can improve their golf game with yoga, which has been shown to increase amplitude of the torso necessary for a great golf swing from 20 to 40%. Yoga has been cited by Phil Mickelson as one of the secrets of his success as an older golfer.
Watch this ABC-7 interview with Vibe Yoga co-owner, Major Dan Smith, and Vibe Yoga teacher, Jennifer Bednarz-Lohr, for a demo of a yoga pose that’s ideal for golfers!
When it comes to the Men’s Health Month goal of working to prevent disease, yoga provides many benefits for men specifically:
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death of men in the U.S., responsible for roughly one in four deaths. Yoga has been shown to help heart health by increasing fitness level and reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Excess cortisol can suppress thyroid function, decrease muscle tissue, increase blood pressure, lower immunity and increase inflammatory responses. Studies have found practicing yoga regularly can improve blood circulation, reduce blood pressure, lower heart rate and even improve an irregular heartbeat.
- Men are three times as likely as women to suffer from sleep apnea. Yoga improves sleep and reduces sleep disorders through mindfulness, which can increase melatonin levels, and breathing awareness and regulation.
- According to the CDC, men are more likely to receive a diagnosis of diabetes than women. A study in India showed yoga significantly lowered blood glucose levels among diabetic participants and recommend it as a diabetes preventative and management strategy. Controlling diabetes is critical for men because it raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as potentially leading to erectile dysfunction and other urological problems.
Another benefit for men? Improved sexual function and satisfaction by speeding the release of hormones that boost arousal, increasing blood flow to the genital area, improving mood and toning the pelvic muscle.
Beyond yoga’s physical improvements and disease prevention are mental health benefits. Men who are facing issues like depression often find it harder to get help, seeing it as a sign of weakness rather than a treatable illness.
Yoga can be very helpful in developing strong mental health habits, including increasing impulse control, awareness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation and flexibility.
Craig Smith found his way to Vibe’s trauma-informed yoga class seeking mental stability after his wife passed away over a year ago.
“It has helped me work through it and has calmed my mind when it races off,” he said. “It has really been helpful and very important.”
While he mainly seeks out restorative yoga, he has also noticed physical improvements in his balance and strength.
“I would tell men to give it a try,” he said. “Yoga has a reputation of being namby-pamby, and that real men don’t do yoga, but it has done a world of good for me. It’s good for the mind and the body, and everyone’s experience can be different.”
About the Author
Lindsay Smith is a 500-hour E-RYT and founder of Vibe Yoga in Fort Myers, vibeyogaswfl.com. Smith is certified in Trauma-Informed Yoga, SUP Yoga, Children’s Yoga, Breathwork and Meditation, Yoga Nidra, prenatal yoga, yoga for back pain and is one of few instructors south of Tampa certified by Warriors at Ease to lead trauma-informed sessions, which are free Service Members, Veterans, First Responders and their spouses.
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