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ARE MEN INTIMIDATED BY YOGA………..?

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Where are all the male yogis?

Yogasana is a practice that was designed by men, originally intended for men. But the undeniable absence of men in the yoga classes makes you wonder….. Why is it that in this new age, men share no interest in taking part in this amazing practice? Is it because, they identify emotions like aggression and competition with physical activity? Or is it because they simply haven’t understood the holistic nature of yoga practices? Are they not aware that these lessons stretch far beyond a body position — they transcend into life. Yoga has seven additional limbs, with asana as only one — the most popular. Are they not aware of the fact, some of the best athletes of today incorporate yoga into their everyday lives? Many celebrity men, not only from India but all over the world are following the path of yoga.

There have been many misrepresentations of yoga, especially now that it has been commercialized; many skinny women are seen advertising yoga. May be that is why, yoga is perceived to be a gentle form of physical activity for feminine, delicate bodies. These misconceptions are very common amongst those who don’t fully understand the practice.

For all men out here, let’s be clear… yoga does not make you dainty or feminine. It makes you strong and durable. It provides you with a constant challenge to become a better form of yourself, day in and day out. It teaches you how to find comfort and contentment in some of the most uncomfortable situations.

Is it not funny, when guys say, ‘I don’t think I should do yoga because I’m not flexible’? It’s like saying, ‘I’m too weak, so I can’t lift weights.’ Actually if one is not flexible, that’s the precise reason one should be stretching on the yoga mat.

Majority of the men, are naturally tight. Though boys and girls may be born equally flexible, by adolescence, boys generally lose flexibility faster than girls, and as boys become men, the differences in flexibility tend to grow. Researchers have noted this gap, although they can’t specifically link it to differences in hormones, musculature, or connective tissue. Whatever is to blame, the typical man’s pursuits and lifestyle, does not help them to retain the original flexibility.

While increasing your range of motion and flexibility, yoga postures enhance the aesthetic of the physique. It even enables you to lift heavier weight. Additionally, most yoga poses are held for longer durations than traditional exercises. This causes your muscles to have an isometric contraction which increases overall muscular endurance.

Lifting weights shortens muscle fibers, leading to reduced flexibility. Asanas like plank, cobra, up-dog and most inversions, help in building great scapular durability, which is a prerequisite for upper body strength training. Exercises like bench press, pull ups and seated row all depend on the serratus anterior, trapezius muscles, etc. in order to perform these exercises.

Most yoga classes begin with a reminder to honor your body’s particular needs and limits on that particular day. This basic ability to scan and assess yourself as you practice will help reduce the incidence of injury when running or playing other sports. Plus, flexible, well-stretched yoga muscles will heal and recover more quickly after working out or getting strained.

Men often suffer from tightness particularly in the hips, hamstrings, and shoulders that can lead to injury or weakness. Over-training in any one sport can cause repetitive stress and other more serious injuries.

Yoga is a full-body workout that creates both strength and flexibility. You need to have both. One without the other is a recipe for disaster. The yoga session for men should include the practices which stretch out guys’ tightest spots (like the shoulders, hips, and groin) and strengthen muscles that get no love during workouts (like the low back and knees).

Forward Bend : Padhastasana
Stretches hamstrings, calves, and hips; strengthens legs and knees
What’s good about it ? This is a great move to use as part of a warm-up for any workout.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know that buildup of tension in head, neck and shoulders, and can create headaches, insomnia, poor circulation and decreased lung capacity. If you practice slow, steady breathing along with this pose, it can lower your blood pressure over time.

Downward-Facing Dog : Adhomukh shwanasana
Stretches feet, shoulders, hamstrings, and calves; strengthens arms, legs, and core
What’s good about it? Men often experience back pain due to chronic tightness in the hamstrings and hips. It’s also common for them to have very tight shoulders. Down Dog releases those areas, while building upper body strength. If you can do only one pose a day, start with Downward Dog.

Chair : Utkatasana 

Stretches shoulders and chest; strengthens thighs, calves, spine, and ankles
What’s good about it?  No gym necessary! Chair pose torches abdominal fat while strengthening the thighs and legs.

Crescent Lunge : Anjaneyasana

Loosens tight hips by stretching the groin; strengthens arms and legs
What’s good about it? Tight hips can cause lower back pain, knee strain, and injury, which can keep you out of the game, out of the gym, and in pain at your desk. Add Crescent Lunge to your pre-workout routine to open the hips

 

Warrior I : Veerbhadrasana I
Stretches shoulders and hips; strengthens upper and lower body
What’s good about it? Warrior increases space and mobility in areas where men need it most—shoulders, hips, and knees. It’s another pose that generates great stability in and around the knee, so increases stability for high-impact workouts.

Bridge pose : Setubandhasana
Stretches chest, neck, spine, and hips
What’s good about it? Many men are tight in the intercostals muscles and connective tissue surrounding the rib cage, which can limit lung capacity. Bridge pose opens the chest and releases those tight muscles, allowing for fuller, easier breaths. Over time, practicing this pose can improve performance in all physical activities and is helpful for relieving upper respiratory issues.

Bow Pose : Dhanurasana
Stretches hips, shoulders, and thighs; strengthens back

What’s good about it? One of the best stress-busting poses, Bow opens the chest to allow you to take in more oxygen. Strong abs are great, but can lead to injury if you don’t strengthen the back, too. Bow pose takes care of this, reducing your risk of injury due to muscular imbalance.

 

Boat Pose : Naukasana
Strengthens abs, spine, arms and hip flexors

What’s good about it? In addition to strengthening the core and back muscles, Boat promotes healthy prostate gland function.

Hero Pose : Virasana
Stretches knees, ankles and thighs

What’s good about it? Hero pose stabilizes and strengthens the vulnerable knee joints while lubricating the connective tissues in and around the knee with blood, oxygen, and fluid, making it an essential pose for runners.

Reclining Big Toe : Supta Padangusthasana
Stretches hips, thighs, hamstrings, groins, and calves; strengthens the knees

What’s good about it? This pose stimulates the prostate gland and improves digestion. Runners may find it useful for relieving sciatica caused by a tight piriformis.

Bringing yoagsana practice in the routine will make a man realize that the mat offers him a place to calm his nerves and breathe deeply. He returns to the office rejuvenated and relaxed, ready to work with a purpose.

Although the primary mission of yoga is balance (in both body and mind), it seriously challenges your strength and flexibility. There are a fair share of poses that put people—particularly men—to the test. Advanced yoga positions that every guy should strive to achieve are Chakrasana, Shirshasana, Sarvangasana and Halasana.

Even though yoga practices are safe (if done under able guidance), men also have to be more mindful about injuries. As some yoga teachers observe, men also are more likely to push into a position rather than relax into it or avoid it completely. As with anything, the baby-step approach helps. Developing your practice from simple to advance postures, understanding the ways to approach a posture and the non-competitive attitude helps!

MEDITATION:

Meditation—the ability to quiet your mind—is probably the biggest challenge! The ability to obtain focus and clarity is a tremendous advantage for everyone. The practice can also teach a guy who’s overwhelmed by his many responsibilities that the best way to get things done is by being present—focusing on one thing at a time. Meditation has vast benefits from improving your mental focus, clarity, lowering stress levels, to kick starting your immune system. Practice every day to settle the mind.

The countless benefits of yoga extend far beyond gender. Open up to possibility and indulge in opportunity. Be well!

 

BY SUJATA NERURKAR

 

UPSIDE DOWN………………

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“−−On the first day he should remain [only] a little while in the headstand, with legs in the air. Increase the practice time a little each day. After six months gray hair and wrinkles disappear. He who practices three hours a day conquers death,” ….Hatha Pradipika claims. Is it tempting enough to bring inversion postures in our practice?  Unfortunately daily practice of three hours sounds a bit too difficult.  Lets keep aside the death conquer part, just tackling “gray hair” and “wrinkles” itself is good enough reason. Still not many students are willing to venture into this area of turning yourself upside down.

 

And what is so difficult about learning this? Purposely turning ourselves upside down is contrary to our human physical locomotion-nature. The transition from childhood to adulthood has taught us to be “upright”. We have forgotten the playful ways of experimenting. And probably it’s the fear in the mind which is restricting the body from turning upside down.

 

Just as yoga gently encourages us to move away from any unconscious habitual patterns, the invitation to invert is simply another way to step out of the comfort zone.

 

Inverted poses are an important group of asanas. Inverted asanas reverse the action of gravity on the body; instead of everything being pulled towards the feet, the orientation shifts towards the head. As you age, fat and skin sag, which physically and, perhaps emotionally, drags you down.

 

As gravity pulls your body down, tissues and fluids in your body pool towards the lower extremities — resulting, potentially, in varicose veins. Anatomist David Coulter, PhD explains in a Yoga Journal article that “when you turn upside down, the fluid in your lower body drains better to the veins and lymph vessels, helping to clear up congestion in all parts of your body. Blood goes quickly to the heart and circulation improves, which may help your body get rid of waste products more efficiently and enhance the flow of nutrients to working cells. Fluid and blood that tends to concentrate in the lower lungs due to gravity is distributed to the upper lungs during inversions and this may enhance the health of your lung tissue”

Continued practice of shoulder stand eradicates common colds and other nasal disturbances. Due to the soothing effect of the pose on the nerves, those suffering from irritation, shortness of temper, nervous breakdown and insomnia are relieved. The asana is recommended for urinary disorders and uterine displacement, menstrual trouble, and hernia. It also helps to relieve epilepsy, low vitality and anemia. It activates the abdominal organs and relieves people suffering from stomach and intestinal ulcers and severe pain in the abdomen.

By reversing the pull of gravity on the organs, especially the intestines, it helps to cleanse them and overcome problems of the liver, kidneys, stomach, intestines and reproductive system. Headstand increases gastric fire and produces heat in the body. When done properly, headstand helps the spine become properly aligned, improving posture, facilitating good breathing and reducing muscular stress. The weight of the abdominal organs on the diaphragm encourages deep breathing, which gently massages the internal organs. Sirsasana is used to treat asthma, hay fever, diabetes, headaches, anxiety and menopausal imbalance.

Inversions give you temporary relief from the pull of gravity. Similarly, on the emotional and psychic levels, inverted asanas turn everything upside down, throwing a new light on old patterns of behavior and being.

 

Inversion postures build the core strength as well as the strength of shoulders and arms—especially for women who tend to be stronger in the lower body, inversions create body balance by developing upper body strength.

Generally, these practices improve health, reduce anxiety and stress and increase self-confidence. They also increase mental power, concentration and stimulate the chakras. There are four major systems in the body that the practice of inversions positively influences: cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, and endocrine. The circulatory system is comprised of the heart, the lungs, and the entire system of vessels that feed oxygen and collect carbon dioxide and other waste products from the cells. Arteries fan out in an intricate tributary system from the heart, which pumps freshly oxygenated blood from the lungs outward. Veins return blood to the heart, and, unlike arteries, make up a low-pressure system that depends on muscular movement or gravity to move blood along. One-way valves at regular intervals prevent backwash and keep fluids moving towards the heart in a system known as “venous return.”

The lymphatic system is a key player in keeping the body healthy. As lymph moves through the body it picks up toxins and bacteria to be eliminated by the lymph nodes. Because lymph moves as a result of muscle contractions and gravity, getting upside down allows lymph to more easily travel into the respiratory system where much of the toxins enter the body.

 

Shirshasana (Headstand) and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) are seductive poses—physically challenging, visually dramatic, and exhilarating. Like all things in life, the suggestion to get upside down should not be universally prescribed. Unfortunately, however, beginning and veteran yoga students are seen seeking help of medical professionals with compression of the upper spine and impaired mobility in the neck, presumably from the practice of inversions. This indicates some students are clearly flinging themselves into inversions too soon.

So, to Invert or not to invert? How, then, do we evaluate and approach inversions, poses that are said to be invaluable and that possess distinct physiological benefits?

 

If you are new to yoga, take your time before inverting—Self-study or swadhyaya plays an important role here as self-awareness makes our practice safe. Even if you are inverting consistently now, there will be times when the practice is inappropriate. We practice yoga to decrease suffering and develop our capacity to be fully present in our lives. Why persist in practicing Headstand and Shoulderstand if it causes you pain?

 

When we think of inversions the postures which come to the mind are, head stand, shoulder stand, hand stand or forearm stand. But any pose that has you put your head below your heart is classified as an inversion. So, the gentler options like Adhomukhshwanasan, Setubandhasana are safer to start with. While the intense inversions (handstand & headstand) energize, inversions of the cooling type (Downward facing dog and bridge pose) work to calm the nervous system, thereby activating the parasympathetic nervous system and producing feelings of balance and calm.

 

Work closely with an observant and knowledgeable teacher. Attend class regularly. Learn the fundamentals: Find the extension of the spine first, open the shoulders with and develop balance, clarity, and strength by practicing appropriate postures.Structure a yoga practice that is balanced and wise. Practicing alone will help you purge the urge to perform your asanas for others and cultivate a deeper understanding of your body and its rhythms so that you can practice in ways that respond to your needs. With mindfulness, even a beginner can practice inversions without injury.

 

If you already invert, ask yourself how you do it. Do you use muscle to stay up? How much do you observe yourself in the pose, focusing on your alignment? If you wish to work towards longer poses, by all means do so. But do so intelligently, and be willing to progress slowly if you want a healthy neck in your old age. Observe the subtle changes in your neck and throat, and watch your breath. Stay up for short periods of time first—a minute or two. Back up on occasion. Always come down if there is pain.

 

There are certain contraindications that should be observed so as not to cause or aggravate previous injuries or illnesses: un-medicated high blood pressure, some heart conditions, neck injuries, recent stroke, detached retina, glaucoma, and epilepsy are common issues that should be addressed before inverting. Talk with your doctor and teacher if you are unsure about your status. Additionally, women on their “ladies holiday” should indeed take a vacation from inversions.

BLOG CREDIT-SUJATA NERURKAR

PHOTO CREDITS-ANAHATA YOGA ZONE