It almost always starts the same way: There’s a new guy in yoga class, not there of his own accord, but because he’s been dragged there by some girl he’s trying to date. No doubt he’s enjoying the scenery: cute, fit women in tights and skin-tight pants, showing off their assets in the downward dog pose.
Chances are, however, that he’s also pretty skeptical about the workout element of the equation. He may have assumed that yoga was just a lot of stretching and breathing; which it is. But he soon finds that there’s a serious component of strength required to hold those poses, still and steady, breathing deeply and consistently, with a peaceful, non-reactive expression on his face. Within minutes, there’s a growing pool of sweat puddling underneath him on his mat. He’s amazed at how hard this is. And he’s equally amazed at how good it feels. Chances are, he’ll be back, girl or not.
Interestingly, although women seem to have cornered the market so far on yoga here in the West, that’s far from the case in India, its birthplace. Krishnamacharya, one of the fathers of what we consider “modern yoga,” developed his physically demanding poses at a school for boys, and many of the moves incorporated into today’s yoga sequences remain elusive for women, because they lack the upper-body strength to fully attain them.
By now most of us have heard about the health benefits of yoga. Certainly the “yoga body” is desirable for both men and women alike. Lean, toned, symmetrical, and well-proportioned, it’s sexy because it’s flexible, not bound or tight. What you might not know is that yoga also super-charges and regulates the metabolism and digestive system and invigorates the nervous, respiratory, and circulatory systems.
Study after study has linked yoga to healing of various chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, MS, and Parkinson’s. And for those among us who seem to be growing older every day... it takes the kinks out of every nook and cranny of the body, leaving us deliciously renewed, open and fluid, and—when practiced correctly and with an experienced instructor—wonderfully pain-free.
There are many different forms of yoga, all of which have gained varying levels of popularity in the West. One of the most widely practiced is a form of vigorous Vinyasa or “flow” yoga, also called “power” yoga. The Bikram, or “hot” method, utilizes a heated room to up the sweat factor and increase flexibility in muscles, while Hatha and Iyengar emphasize perfecting body alignment, symmetry, and form. Ashtanga yoga is a set series, akin to a martial art form. There are four levels of series; most students won’t fully complete the first, or “primary” series, in a lifetime of practice, and there are currently only a handful of people in the world who have advanced to the fourth series.
In addition to breath, a central tenet of this form of yoga is the idea of the Bandhas, or the “locks,” which focus energy into the core and quickly develop a strong and lean stomach and abdomen. The Bandhas are continually lifted and engaged throughout the practice, bringing a lightness and strength into the Asanas, or poses, which combine flexibility with strength, alignment, and symmetry to create pleasingly lengthened, toned muscles.