It's hard to think of yoga in the United States without imagining a room of Gwyneth Paltrow-esque women in tight fitting clothes contorting their bodies on Lululemon yoga mats. This image, most likely a result of targeted marketing, couldn't be further from resembling the practice's origins. "[Yoga] first began as a way for young boys in India to expend some of their excess energy," says Dootsie Risch, owner of Blissful Buddha Yoga & Barre in Mendham, New Jersey.
Despite the demographic for which yoga was originally intended, the practice has become synonymous with women. According to Mediamark Research and Intelligence, 77% of US yoga practitioners are women. That means there are a whole lot of men out there who aren't doing yoga, so we talked with Risch to answers some of the questions that a guy about to take the plunge into yoga would need to know.
What are the benefits of yoga?
"Yoga is the only discipline that encompasses the mind, body and soul. It involves controlling and utilizing your breath so that you may maximize oxygen in your body. It uses stretching to create flexibility and length in your muscles as well as tone the existing muscle. Best of all, yoga provides a platform in which we can still our minds and quiet our thoughts."
What will I need?
"Wear comfortable loose fitting clothing that you can move freely in. You don’t have to go out and spend a fortune on high-end lycra leggings and tops, leaving your credit card with stretch marks." Additionally, bring a towel, bottle of water to stay hydrated and a yoga mat. "No worries if you don’t own [a mat], any good studio will either rent them or let you borrow one."
What type of yoga should I start out with?
"Beginners would most likely feel comfortable in a Hatha or Anusara yoga class which tend to move slightly slower and are more alignment based, giving you adequate time to get into the posture before moving into the next one. Vinyasa flow is just that: it flows smoothly from one pose to another, almost like a fluid dance."
Do I have to be flexible?
"No, we all do yoga to become flexible. Our muscles are like rubber bands and when we sit too long, sleep, or stop using them, they tighten up and resist stretching. With patience and a regular practice (at least 3 times a week) you WILL see a difference in your flexibility."
Is all yoga spiritual?
Many of the yoga classes you can sign up for at gyms and fitness centers focus on the physical component of yoga, skipping any chanting or meditation and using yoga poses and fast music to create a challenging and strictly physical workout. However,"keep in mind that practicing yoga in a studio setting which may have meditation and even some chanting will not taint or challenge your religion. Yogic teachings are spiritual, uplifting and enlightening. What you take or don’t take away with you from a spiritual class is completely up to you." So go with whatever makes you feel most comfortable.
Should I start with a beginner class if I'm already fit?
"Yes! Why not build your foundation from the ground up? One of the best qualities of leading a yogic lifestyle is leaving your ego home and approaching this new adventure with a free and open mind. If you do have the misfortune to wander into a less than friendly yoga studio that doesn’t give you a welcoming vibe, walk out. There are plenty of amazing and inviting studios around that will be your bliss."