Feeling very mellow, I lay on the sun-dappled grass waiting for the awards presentation following the Cobourg Olympic Triathlon. I absentmindedly started doing some yoga as I often do after races. Nothing strenuous or pretzel-like, just some basic seated stretches and spinal twists. I wouldn’t dare bust out the big moves in public. After a while I became aware that I had an audience. A middle-aged guy was staring intently at me.
“That looks hard,” he remarked.
“Not at all,” I said, “it’s actually really relaxing.”
I continued to bend and twist. He was still watching.
“Is that yoga or something?” he asked, his eyes narrowing.
“Um, yeah I guess,” I replied. “But it’s my own bastardized form, like flow yoga for triathletes. It would probably make yoga purists cringe.”
He grunted, his thoughts written plainly on his face: I knew there was something abnormal here. This guy is one of those new age wackos.
Women of all ages, shapes and sizes have flocked to yoga and its various offshoots drawn equally by the promise of toned tummies and inner peace. But, for some reason, many guys remain dubious or close-minded. Preconceptions and insecurities abound: “Yoga is for girls. You have to wear spandex. I’m too hairy. Yoga is a front for cult indoctrination. It’s a wimpy workout. Yoga is touchy-feely. I’m not flexible enough.”
While I’m no hardcore yogi, yoga has been a part of my life for years. I’m not going to extol the many benefits of yoga; you can do your own googling. What I will say is that I credit yoga with staying completely injury-free and recovering rapidly. It has also helped me cope with stress and insomnia, although I’ve barely scratched the surface of yoga’s psychological benefits.
If you’re self-conscious, busy, cheap, anti-social, hairy or whatever, you don’t even have to go classes. I haven’t gone in ages. Instead, I’ve developed my own practice tailored to my specific requirements, strengths and limitations. The last thing toasted legs need after a hard run or ride is a hour-long sequence of deep lunges (that class sucked).
For the inflexible, a local studio has a class called “Yoga for Stiff Guys”, a blatant double entendre since the female instructor looks like a supermodel. Given the low dude-to-chick ratio at yoga classes, astute men should recognize an opportunity.
Regarding the perception that yoga is wimpy, I have witnessed bulked-up gym rats strut into classes only to be reduced to quivering blobs of protoplasm. Their egos deflate like a lifter off his roids when the lithe soccer mom on the next mat scarcely breaks a sweat. And I’m a pseudo-pro triathlete, but my dad can still school me with his scorpion. And if you’re not into spirituality or mysticism, it’s easy to find a balls-out, cut-the-crap class.
Plus, there’s growing evidence that static stretching and the resulting flexibility can hurt running economy. These days, savvy athletes and coaches are using dynamic stretching. Call it what you will, but it sure looks like yoga to me.
So yoga is just glorified stretching? No. Yoga improves balance and body awareness, a boon for klutzy triathletes. And the asanas, or body postures, are only one aspect of yoga. Yoga enhances concentration, pain tolerance and stress management, providing an edge in competition.
Finally, yoga can expose you to people, experiences and culture that you will never find in the overprivileged, Type A, white-bread world of triathlon. During my family’s visits to a yoga ashram in the Laurentian Mountains, I shared Indian food with a Brazilian while speaking French, I (tried to) meditate in a frozen moonlit forest, I chanted in Sanskrit accompanied by harmonium and I sat cross-legged until my hip flexors screamed. My nouveau-hippy sister can’t get enough and is out ashram hopping on the west coast. But I still can’t keep a straight face when they start the strange pranayama breathing exercises.
So guys, open your mind to yoga. Just imagine all the attention you’ll get with moves like this: