With sub-zero temperatures and a pandemic that makes exercising outside the home uncomfortable or even risky, many are turning to indoor, in-home workouts. Perhaps one of the easiest, most rewarding types of exercise you can do in your living space is yoga.
Yoga has been a key practice and philosophy of South Asian culture for over 5,000 years. While specific translations of the word “yoga” vary, almost all have themes of unification – uniting different parts of the body as well as uniting the body and mind. Yoga also draws connections between physical movement, breath control, meditation and spiritual balance.
Yoga, as far as things go, is easy! All you need is a mat (or even a towel or sheet). Free classes are readily available on YouTube. And while your first practices may present challenges to your balance and strength, these elements improve with time. Even if there are poses your body simply doesn’t allow, most yoga instructors readily suggest variations in postures for all abilities and needs.
And the benefits are legion: flexibility, strength and balance all stand to be augmented through regular yoga practice. It can alleviate back pain, arthritis and even improve heart health. Just as significantly, it reduces stress and offers time to meditate, thereby improving mental health.
Being that it’s so simple and salubrious, it’s no wonder that almost 30 million Americans regularly practice yoga – myself included. Seemingly more anomalous, however, is that over 80% of yoga practitioners, or “yogis,” are women. Somewhere along the way, American culture decided that yoga is incompatible with its standards of masculinity.
There are many reasons why this may be the case. One of the most likely is that the spiritual elements of yogic traditions do not mesh with idylls of mechanic, emotionless men. In other words, men are not supposed to spend time in introspection toward the ends of self-comprehension and self-control. Rather, men are expected to strive to control others and their surroundings, as opposed to controlling their inner-beings.
Another common reason men name for not doing yoga is that men aren’t naturally flexible (nor are they supposed to be) – so why try? While it may be true that women are anatomically a little more flexible than men, this objection is falsely placed. Indeed, the notion that yoga is purely about being flexible is a common misconception, and it is not as if some biological difference means yoga is for non-males. Instead, arguments about flexibility are rooted in perceptions of what men should be (muscular) and shouldn’t be (flexible).
Furthermore, geographically and historically speaking, yoga isn’t necessarily reserved for those who are not men. On the contrary, in India, some forms of yoga have been male-dominated, and women who entered those spaces were actually subject to sexist oppression and exclusion. In fact, the domination of women in yoga is a relatively new phenomenon.
Despite these patriarchal objections, yoga is healthy for most who practice it, regardless of gender – or experience. Just take it from me. I am not flexible at all, and many positions that are easy for my yogi friends are insurmountable for me, and that’s okay. Neither am I a savant in the realm of yogic practice and history. But I still find significant meaning and joy in doing and learning about it.
Yoga also aids me in my life outside of yoga – when I run, my body feels looser and more responsive. As I do schoolwork, my previous yoga practice keeps me calm and level-headed. In addition to this external value, yoga certainly has intrinsic merit. The more I practice, the easier it gets. And I greatly enjoy the physical and mental challenges it poses. Overcoming those challenges creates feelings of elation and self-confidence.
The bottom line is that more men should practice yoga. Indeed, many men could benefit from its flowing physicality and reflective spirituality. And, believe it or not, now is a great time to start; practicing yoga alone is fun! It allows you to make mistakes and experiment with what feels good for you. All this means that if you’re cold and not interested in working out publicly during the pandemic, trying yoga in your home is absolutely worth a shot!
Sam Smith is a senior studying geography at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Sam know by tweeting him @sambobsmith_.