This blog is for all of the hard men out there. Those with names like Moose, Macka, Barnesy, Mad Dog and anything with the prefix Big (Big Dave, Big Wow, Big Moose).
The stubby-wearing, footy-kicking, hole-digging, beer-swilling, hard-working blue-blooded mongrels.
You see I have a confession to make. I have recently fallen in love with yoga.
Thousands of blokes, like me, are challenging the outdated notion that yoga is for tree-hugging, happy-pant wearing hippies. Yep, yoga is mainstream.
Yoga and me
I've had an on again/off again relationship with yoga. I was first introduced to the stretchy stuff in my early twenties in Hobart when our running coach thought it'd be a good idea to get us to practice yoga. After a few months it did feel good, but I was too young to truly appreciate the benefits and after Bushy and Shagger had a farting competition in the middle of Shavasna, our serious instructor barked at us to "stop giggling like teenage boys" and to not bother coming back. Like, ever.
Take two: working with NSW Cricket a decade later I introduced yoga to the playing squad and was surprised to see how well it was taken up. Even Mark Waugh, who initially told me cricketers doing yoga was, well ... let's just say Junior didn't think it would work.
Take three: last year. Arriving in my forties and getting consumed by the corporate world, I started to feel stiff and tight all over. My good friend Paddy Farhart (physiotherapist to the Indian Cricket team) said "Mayhem, your body is getting old, champion. Time to do less cardio and bicep curls, and start stretching again".
Paddy was right. After 12 months of doing yoga my body (and brain) feel as good as they have for a decade. My injuries have evaporated, my range of movement has improved dramatically, and my mind is much calmer and more creative.
Every Tuesday night at 6pm I have a 'yoga date' at Neutral Bay with Keenan Crisp (former paratrooper and co-founder of Power Living). After sitting down and talking to Keenan and Ben Lucas (former professional rugby league player and owner of uber-cool Flow Athletic), we agreed on seven reasons why all blokes need to do yoga.
1. Better movement
So many men over 40 have injuries due to stiffness and poor range of movement (ROM). As we age, our muscles and connective tissue become tight and restrictive. "By practicing yoga on a regular basis, you improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury and joint pain," Lucas tells me. "Yoga also helps reduce pain in chronic conditions like arthritis and lower back pain, and takes a joint through its full range of motion, encouraging blood flow and fresh nutrients to the affected areas."
A study by the American Council on Exercise showed regular Hatha yoga significantly improved flexibility, muscular strength, endurance and balance. After eight weeks, the group improved their flexibility by 13 per cent to 35 per cent.
2. Better mood
In the corporate world we are rewarded for being busy and filling up every waking moment with 'stuff'. Yoga forces you to slow down, to be still, to breathe. Each week yoga provides me the opportunity to slow down and reflect, to get more in touch with my emotions and to make sense of the sometimes scatty thoughts dancing around inside my head.
I often hear Crisp say "If it all gets a bit too heavy just calm the mind, breathe and focus on the pose".
3. Better concentration
For many blokes yoga has unexpected benefits to workplace performance and productivity. Studies have shown that even one yoga session can substantially improve memory and concentration. Yoga teaches us to breathe deeply and be in the moment, transporting more oxygen to your brain as a bedrock for more creativity, productivity and improved memory.
4. Better breathing
I see more and more people have the lost the ability to perform slow, deep, relaxed breathing. Our 'Road Runner Lifestyles' encourage fast, shallow breaths, and yoga can help reverse this trend.
"As yoga is a holistic practice the breath will relax the mind, even opening some people up to what feels like a spiritual experience," says Crisp. "With breath the lower mind (manas) has a single task which is to create a quality breath, deep and slow, which keeps the mind occupied."
5. Better bodies
One thing I've really noticed is just how fit the majority of people in yoga classes are. "Yoga is the perfect blend between strength and flex, between hard and soft, between yin and yang," says Crisp. In Hatha yoga the combination of strengthening the muscles, joints and fascia; combined with lengthening of the muscle tissue is called 'diamond body'.
While traditional resistance training focuses on shortening a muscle through lots of repetitions for strength, yoga moves focus on isometric and eccentric strength. The variety of poses focus on strengthening and lengthening the entire body.
6. Better mates
This is the last thing I thought yoga would deliver – meeting a number of great people who now play an important part in my life. There is something about the yoga community. While it perhaps did have a reputation for attracting the spiritual hippies and broken birds, modern yoga attracts a diverse range of people.
"When you are around like-minded people who have a similar goal in mind, it is only natural to form connections with them.. I guess going through change together draws us together" says Lucas.
7. Better cognitive and sexual function
Researchers from Illinois assessed 108 adults between the ages of 55 and 79 years of age, who attended regular hatha yoga classes. The results? Yoga was shown to dramatically improve cognitive function after eight weeks. The participants were more accurate on tests of information recall, mental flexibility and decision making.
And, if you have skipped 1 to 6 altogether, a study showed 12 weeks of yoga improved male sexual functioning and satisfaction. Although the exact mechanism isn't fully understood, it's thought that the improved tone of pelvic floor muscles, endocrine function (sex hormones), reduced anxiety, and better mood is responsible.
And of course, that improved flexibility never hurt either.
Have you introduced yoga into your life? What benefits have you noticed? Let Andrew know in the comments section.
Workplace performance expert Andrew May is a Partner at KPMG Performance Clinic, a best-selling author and keynote speaker. He has spent the past 20 years helping business leaders and their teams improve performance, productivity and wellbeing.
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