Friday, 22 October 2010

Yoga - It's a Man Thing

Ever wondered why Ryan Giggs has maintained such a long goal-scoring career? The answer is yoga. Hear me out. Most sportsmen loose their mojo around their late twenties. They certainly don’t hold a consistent delivery of successful performances past this point. Unless, like Giggsy, they are privy to some mysterious secret.

It is one thing to train your arse off. It’s another thing to maintain your body in an optimum condition. The first takes sweat and tears, the second requires knowledge and patience.

As men we are likely to be put off by any mention of words like “mind,” and “energy” or “spirit.” We are further put off by the Hollywood, Madonna-on-the-beach crap that goes along with taking up yoga. If someone makes the suggestion to you to start a yoga class, you no doubt squirm at the thought of being the only male bending over among old grannies and single mums at you local church hall. And anyway, it probably clashes with 5-a-side football on a Tuesday, and we both know there’s no competition, right?

Still, there are many untold benefits for men taking yoga. Unfortunately, the self-help industry, and eastern medicine in general, has been largely marketed to women, meaning that simply expressing an interest alternative forms of health can mean social death among your mates. And like it or not, it damn well matters what those guys think. For one thing, the hours of piss-taking you are likely to endure means it is simply not worth the risk.

However, would it change anything if I told you that regular practice of yoga could make you better in the sack? Thought that might grab your attention.
How can it be? Yoga is for girls and pregnant women. What can it teach me about servicing my woman in the bedroom? Well, contrary to what you might believe, yoga was not invented by a millionaire self-help guru. It’s not a yuppy fad. It’s not some lame excuse for avoiding real exercise.

Yoga has been around for centuries. I mean millennia. It originated in India where the only people who were likely to have practiced it were men.

So, get rid of your assumptions. Yoga is not about toning your bum. It’s about toning your mind. It won’t replace weights, the gym, or a solid routine of cardio. But it WILL help you stay fit for longer, increase your stamina, and focus your mind during training. It’s a perfect accompaniment to regular sports. It can act as a warm up routine, too. Adding yoga will complement any fitness system, by aligning your posture, stretching your muscles and relaxing your mind.

Before I do any form of active training, I will spend an hour or more doing a thorough yoga session. So, that’s not half an hour bent over like a dog making stupid “ummmmmmmm…” sounds. That’s a concentrated amount of time conditioning my body and its posture so that it is more effective during my workout.

What follows are my recommended postures for men. This will strengthen your core, keep you flexible and guard you against the wear and tear of living like a warrior poet in the modern world.

1. The Corpse Pose

Ignore the macabre connotations of its name. This is your basic pose, and you should return to it between performing other postures. It’s very simple, almost ridiculously simple, but it is essential for your spine and your general alignment. All it involves is lying with your back straight on the floor. Turn your palms toward the ceiling, and keep your legs at a medium distance apart, not too much. Allow the breath to find a natural rhythm.
Despite its simplicity, you are guaranteed to find this the one of the most difficult poses at the beginning. Why? Because your mind will become impatient. You will struggle to let go enough to do this pose properly, but keep at it. You’ll feel the benefits almost immediately.

2. The Headstand

Another toughie, but an absolute belter if you are a bloke. The name says it all, but you should start off doing this against a wall or door, until you are ready to stand on your head freely. Be patient, for God’s sake. It’s not a competition. It took me six months, doing it every day, until I managed to do it without resting on my bedroom wall. For support, clasp hands behind your head, so that you are stabilising yourself on your forearms.
"How could I possibly benefit from by standing on my bloody head like a clown?" I hear you ask. Well, it will give you much more sexual control, it will tone your abs and it will boost your mental agility to boot. Don’t believe me? Do it every day for a week, and then come back to me.
As a side note, Jack Kerouac did this everyday, as part of his physical training. Kerouac was an athlete as well as a poet.

3. The Cobra

Cool name, cool posture. In fact, it is my favourite. Lie on your front and prop your upper body up with your arms. You can do a half-cobra to start, by resting on your forearms, or you can extend, resting on your hands. It’s like a press-up position, but your legs should remain on the floor, completely relaxed. Try to keep your shoulders loose and your head extended towards the ceiling. This posture is said to make you wise and good looking. Well, I’m not sure about that, but it is great for back troubles and posture. If you have spent a long day at your desk, you might want to do this before you get on the treadmill or do your bench presses.

4. The Warrior

The only standing pose I am recommending here. There are a number of variations on this one, but we will start with the most basic. Stand with your feet apart, so your legs form a triangle. You don’t have to do too much right away, just slightly wider than your shoulders is absolutely fun. I’m not trying to turn you into a ballet dancer.
So after allowing all your weight to relax into this position, feel your centre of balance. Gently turn your right foot outwards to the side and slowly bend your knees. Keep your torso facing the front, and lift both arms up to your shoulders, holding them out. Hold this position for as long as you see fit, and repeat on the left side. When you’re done make sure that pause, and allow your body to absorb the benefits before shaking off.
If you suffer from stress or anxiety, this is an ideal pose for dispelling nervous tension. It also stretches the groin and thigh muscles, and you might even feel a little burn, which means your getting some strength conditioning in too.

5. Forward Bend

No, there is nothing dodgy going on here, and you won’t look like too much of a daftie I promise. You can do a standing forward bend, but I prefer to do a sitting one. Sit with your legs stretched out in front of you, and your back straight. Feel your head stretching up to the ceiling. Slowly raise your hands and gently fall forward onto your legs. Make sure you keep your back straight at all times, stretching from your coccyx up through your spine. Drop your shoulders and relax. Hold for as long as is necessary. (Don’t worry about touching you toes. No one cares. Just make sure that you extend from the base of your spine and relax into the pose).
This is another good one for nervous tension. It will also align your spine, and really work the lower back. Another ideal pose for counteracting all that bad posture and hunching over the PC you have been doing all day. Importantly, it will also stretch your calve muscles, and keep you flexible. It is essential for avoiding the typical sporting injuries.

These poses are just suggestions. If you are interested in doing yoga, for heaven’s sake don’t use this article and do it on your own. Join a class. But look around. Find a bloke who teaches it. Not all yoga classes are for women in leotards.
And one key thing, before I finish. The central aspect of yoga is breath. In all postures, relax your breathing. Don’t force. Just be aware of how you breathe in relation to how you move your body. As you progress, your breath will become longer, slower and deeper. This will foster a calm mind and put less stress on your body. It will also give you a kind of zen-like grace as you go about the world, and the chicks dig that.

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