I'm not your typical yoga person. In fact, I don't even come close to fitting the profile of a yoga person. First of all, I'm a dude. I'm tall (6'7" to be exact). Yes, is the answer to your next question: I played basketball. I played for four years in college at Columbia, in New York City. I also was president of my fraternity.
After college, I worked on Wall Street as an equities trader for five years. Did I even mention the injuries I have? Dislocated shoulders, separated shoulders, stress fractures, bone spurs and disc problems. I'll stop there because I'm totally fine -- have absolutely no pain -- partly due to yoga. I practiced yoga weekly for two years, was just starting to get the hang of it, before work travel took over. The discs in my lower back derailed (literally) and I was off my yoga train. I'm only about three months back into my practice, but I'm back on board the yoga train, full-speed ahead.
So how does a tall-ex-wall-street-trading-fraternity-boy-jock end up practicing yoga? Well, it just sorta happened.
Competitive sports are rough on the body.
I'm 35 and playing pick-up basketball just really isn't an option, as I'm always just one rebound (or I'd still like to think one dunk) away from my shoulder popping out. Not fun.
The gym lacks camaraderie and community.
Since I turned 15, I've been hitting the gym an average of three to five times a week, lifting weights, doing the elliptical (or the 'perpetual motion' machine as my good friend, Michael Taylor likes to call it). Granted, lifting weights in the gym was a lot more fun in college when our whole team would lift together in the off-season or before practice. But since then, it just isn't the same.
I got married.
Yes, another benefit of marriage other than love and tax benefits, is finding an activity that's good for the body that you can do together. Since we both work a ton, finding 'date' time is sometimes difficult. So what better date than a fitness date? Lifting weights together isn't a viable option for us and neither is running (not so good on my knees).
I found a class that was a fit for me.
For a tall dude who is looking for a workout, finding the right class is key. Quick movements with my body curled up scare me, but long and gentle movements where I feel a stretch and my quads or triceps burning is something that my body can handle. God bless Tara Stiles and Michael Taylor.
So, for me it was a blend of finding a replacement for my ex-athletic, gym-going, yet-injured body, that my wife and I could enjoy together. But enough about me. Let's talk about all the other dudes out there who are sitting on the perpetual yoga-fence. Here are five reasons why other dudes should practice yoga.
1. Your upper body will get stronger. I feel stronger, I'm more defined, and I haven't lifted a weight in the past two months. This is all due to yoga. Just working plank pose in a basic yoga series will provide an upper body workout. I'm not even talking about handstands, crow pose and all those poses that require a lot of strength (and concentration), which strong yogis can make look easy. They are hard.
2. Your core will thank you. Sit-ups and crunches and all those other fun exercises only take you so far, as they become repetitive and your body becomes familiar with the movement. I'm not saying that you won't get some sort of results doing these exercises. But yoga will help you use and develop your core in relation to your other muscles and body parts. Hello six-pack abs and Speedo season. Well, maybe not Speedo season.
3. You'll alleviate stress. Unlike our female counterparts, who often deal with stress outwardly, most dudes (I'm guilty too) often hold stress in, and don't necessarily deal with it in a healthy way. The result is often sleep deprivation, lack of focus, unreflective eating or a little too much Happy Hour. Go to a yoga class that's challenging and you'll be 100 percent focused on your pose and breath. Your stress will most likely be left at the door. You'll be more mindful. You know that concept called "mindfulness" that seems to be all the rage these days? You know, being present? Paying attention to all the little things, concentrating on your breath and focusing on the moment. You'll do all that better, too.
4. It's a cheap date. Dinner and/or movie, or drinks can't compete with $10 yoga. You get a workout, don't have to talk (sometimes guys just don't have a lot to say), and your female companion will be happy. Priceless.
5. The women. Yes, the women -- probably the most important reason for dudes on why they should practice yoga. If you're single, there's no better place to meet a woman. First of all, the girl-to-guy ratio is heavily in your favor. Odds are that the women will be in-shape, smart and probably run deep as opposed to superficial. It beats the hell out of Happy Hour :)
Convinced? Sorta convinced? So what to do? As a fellow dude I'd hate to embarrass myself in class (wait, I've already done that), I'd suggest a few things:
First, take a look at some of the key beginner yoga poses so you know what's coming your way. Just getting familiar with how they look will prove to be tremendously helpful.
Second, ask around, poke around and find the right class for you. There's no one-size-fits all approach for yoga, and it might take a while to find your class or instructor. Just like love, you'll know when you "know." And when you "know," you'll be on your way.
Last, yoga is a marathon, not a sprint. I'm not doing handstands or anything fancy yet, and I don't know when I'll be ready for that challenge. What I do know is what's right for my body and I try to take my practice one class at a time. (Kathryn Budig and Elena Brower, I'll be bringing my extra-long mat to your classes soon.)
(That's me pictured in a Tree Pose. And that's Michael Taylor sitting).