Why Is Yoga So Important for Men? by Kevin Taggart
arrived and joined the 15 or so women already seated on their mats. We were only in our first pose, sukhasana, or easy pose and back, hips and neck were already throbbing. And I was wondering why the women in the room sat so comfortably with relaxed expressions on their faces. I decided that I was going to force myself to get relaxed, even if I ended up passing out. My teacher Lisa kindly noticed my distress and suggested that I sit on a bolster and use blocks to support my knees. She said this would allow me to lengthen my lower spine and alleviate stress on the hips. I soon began to relax and feel lighter.
There was a reason for this shift in my experience. Men have shorter hamstrings and tighter hips than women; so many poses are simply more challenging. “It’s a question of physiology, center of gravity and hormones,” says yogini and physical therapist M. Elsa Bui, PT, MPT, of Austin’s Blossom Physical Therapy. “Men build muscle faster due to their higher levels of testosterone, but women tend to be more flexible because estrogen relaxes the body. Anatomically, a woman’s pelvis structurally is angular, allowing for easier rotation, which makes sukhasana more available to women.”
Studies also suggest that there is substantial evidence of gender difference in the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, which is composed of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic nervous system raises the heart rate, increases blood pressure, and releases adrenaline. The parasympathetic nervous system regulates calmer actions in the body, When faced with stress, a man’s sympathetic nervous system is more likely to kick in and heighten the fight or flight response.1
Constant stress and demands on the body can cause a complete breakdown over time, physically, mentally and to the immune system. Engaging in a regular yoga practice includes both stimulating and calming events that help balance the autonomic nervous response.2 The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the main texts founding yoga philosophy, suggests that it is important to balance both strength and stability (sthira) with comfort and ease (sukka) (Sutra 2.46). A regular yoga practice allows you do that while also building strength, gaining flexibility, repairing and correcting structural problems and reducing stress.
Want to know where to start? Starting July 14, Steven Ross and I will be teaching a 3-Saturday workshop series called Yoga for Guys at East Side Yoga. Learn more on our Events page.
1 J.M. Evans, M.G Ziegler, C.S. Kim, A.R. Patwardhan, J. B. Ott,. F.M. Leonetti. C.F. Knapp. Gender differences in autonomic cardiovascular regulation: spectral, hormonal, and hemodynamic indexes.” Journal of Applied Physiology, 9 August 2001.
2 C.C. Streeter, P.L. Gerbarg, R.B. Saper, D.A. Ciraulo, R.P. Brown. “Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.” Medical Hypotheses, 24 February 2012.
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