Real Men Do Yoga
by Vivien Skuodas
When I first met my husband he was tall, muscular and as stiff as a board. His hamstrings were like steel girders, more useful as bridge supports and his shoulders, although beautifully toned, had very little movement, apart from the repetitive movement needed to lift weights in a gym to build strength. His hips were as locked as a clam’s shell and his feet, toes and calves were as tight as a drum. Years of training and working as an elite athlete had taught him how to use his body for optimum strength and resilience, and although he knew how to stretch his body after training he knew there was something he was missing out on.
When we met we made a deal. He would teach me how to run properly, (I ran like Bambi on ice) and I would teach him some yoga. Slowly, very slowly, his body began to open up. As it did, we would talk through exactly what was happening. How it felt and how, if faced with a room full of men, could I facilitate the change that is sometimes needed in a man’s body, as opposed to a woman’s. I would talk through the science and anatomy of the posture and he would talk through the science and anatomy of strength and conditioning exercises that might create a doorway into the posture from a man’s point of view.
Over the years I have watched many, (not all) men struggle in women heavy classes, unintentionally competing with implausibly bendy ladies and not doing themselves any favours at all. Backs out of alignment, necks crunched, hamstrings screaming out for mercy as the woman on the mat next to him effortlessly (or so it seems), does the splits or seems to put her toes in her ears!
Many men, not all, but many have the ability to harness their upper body strength and take on arm balances that many women struggle with, so in our Yoga for Men classes I try to engage the natural strength in that area and use specific kramas (steps) to facilitate greater range of motion. In the classes, we challenge the body, stretch the breath, stretch the mind and, at the end of it all, have a well-deserved lie down. We challenge those areas of resistance, the hips and lower back, and we build essential core strength.
As for my husband, well, he is never going to be an International gymnast but his alignment and flexibility have improved beyond recognition and he sees and feels the benefits of weaving yoga into his life. As for my running, I’m taking part in the Great North Run Half Marathon in September. When we met, he couldn’t touch his toes, now he can. I couldn’t run a mile, now I’m up to 5, and counting.
So there you have it – real men do yoga! It seems fitting to finish this with a quote from the great Pattabhi Jois:
“Yoga is good for man because the physical body improves, the nervous system improves, the mind improves, the intellect improves—so, how can yoga not be good?”