When it comes to yoga, students typically start with either more flexibility and less strength, or more strength and less flexibility. Guys tend to have the strength component, but are often lacking the flexibility to access certain yoga poses right away.
That’s why many yoga poses can be particularly challenging for guys, but keeping at it and committing to trying can do wonders for your body and mind.
Anatomically speaking, men can face many struggles on the yoga mat. But luckily, there are ways to overcome these challenges and truly benefit (and enjoy) your yoga practice.
As a dude who might not be so bendy, there are ways you can still rock your Down Dog and keep your damn dignity. Read on to learn more!
Here Are 5 Struggles Men Commonly Face on the Yoga Mat:
Read on for five common challenges men face on the yoga mat, along with advice on how to overcome them from a male yogi.
1. Forward Folds
Forward folds can be a real eye opener as to just how stiff your hamstrings are. In the beginning of your yoga practice, there’s a chance you won’t be able touch your toes, or even your knees – and that’s ok.
Old weightlifting dogma tells us a tight muscle is a strong muscle, which is why stretching is overlooked by many in the gym (don’t let this be you!).
It wasn’t until I started spending 10 minutes a day – focused purely on stretching my hamstrings – that I started making real progress.
How to overcome the struggle: Practice stretching your hamstrings in isolation before attempting more advanced movements.
Reclining Big Toe Pose with the help of a yoga strap or belt around the foot is great for isolating the hamstrings from the lower back, allowing for a safe, deep stretch. Make sure to keep your knee bent when you bring it towards your chest before attempting to straighten it.
2. Hip Openers
Men naturally have narrower hips than our female counterparts, which is why we typically have much less external hip rotation. What that means for us fellas, is a fundamentally reduced range of motion in the hip area.
I have found Yin Yoga to be particularly helpful. The longer time spent in poses allows you to comfortably reach a deeper stretch that can penetrate into the many layers of tissue.
How to overcome the struggle: Child’s Pose is a great way to ease yourself into hip openers if Pigeon Pose isn’t yet accessible for you. You can determine the intensity of Child’s Pose by how wide you spread your knees (the wider your knees, the deeper the hip opener).
Use yoga blocks to rest your arms or head on and gradually remove the props overtime so that you can one day rest fully on the floor.
Backbends like Wheel Pose always looks impressive, but those childhood throwbacks to walking like a crab along the floor might make you think it’s easier than it actually is.
The key to a good backbend is not having a flexible back, but rather an open chest and shoulders, along with a strong core. By focusing your efforts on the front side of the body and taking time to build up to Wheel Pose and other backbends, you may find that it isn’t as intimidating after all.
How to overcome the struggle: Focus on opening up your front side through easy backbends that prepare you for Wheel Pose – such as Cobra Pose and Extended Puppy Pose. These will introduce a gentle stretch into the lower back and help open up your shoulders for more advanced backbends.
Twists are the perfect tonic for a tight core and stiff spine. This is great if you can effectively execute a twist, but gym junkies often have a hard time looking over their shoulder – let alone executing a full spinal twist.
How to overcome the struggle: When practicing any form of a twist, start with a supine twist (meaning you’re laying on your back) and be sure to keep both shoulders on the floor during.
If you allow your opposite shoulder to lift off the floor, you’ll negate the effect of the twist and risk straining both your neck and spine. To protect your lower back in the twist, you can try squeezing a yoga block between your knees.
So you can comfortably run a half marathon and bench 200lbs – you must be fit, right? While that may be true, yoga is an entirely different challenge. So many of us guys come into our first yoga class expecting an easy ride and end up getting our asses kicked – this is also the most effective way to make that the first and last class we try.
In yoga, we have to leave our egos at the door. On the mat there’s no place for competition – against ourselves or others. We explore our limits but we also respect them because forcing ourselves into yoga poses we’re not ready for or foregoing proper alignment to keep up will only result in injury.
How to overcome the struggle: It takes time to build up the endurance to complete fast-paced Vinyasa flows. If you find yourself falling behind, there’s no shame in taking a resting pose to catch your breath.
This is your practice after all – nobody will judge you for taking Child’s Pose or a sip of water. Join in when you’re ready and maintain a positive attitude.
Men Face Specific Challenges on the Yoga Mat, But Here’s the Bottom Line
The important message to take from this isn’t the spotlight on the struggles or even the helpful tips to overcome them, but rather the mindset that it’s absolutely okay to struggle with these things.
It’s okay to not be great at everything yoga presents us with. The value is in the journey, not the destination.