Recently, I sat down to talk about “yoga and men” with Jen Murphy. She’s the author of the great new book The Yoga Man(ual) and the widely-read Wall Street Journal column “What’s Your Workout?” She’s also written numerous OlderBeast-relevant things in publications like Men’s Journal and Men’s Health.
Here are excerpts from our conversation. I think this is really useful reading for guys currently in the Fall 2017 Yoga Challenge AND guys who are not.
Jen, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with OlderBeast readers. Having just studied “yoga and men” intensively, how do you see 45+ guys fitting into today’s state-of-yoga?
Guys of this age are a disproportionately large percent of the men I see doing yoga nowadays. They’re realizing they’re not invincible.
Often, they’re reevaluating what fitness means to them. As in “Gee, maybe instead of doing CrossFit four times this week, my body would benefit from doing three CrossFit workouts and adding in a yoga practice instead.”
Many guys in their 40s and beyond are also thinking of their family. They have other people to stay healthy for, over the long term. They see yoga as part of that.
Also, there are an increasing number of highly-visible pro athletes who are not only “not washed up yet” as they enter their 40s, but who are in fact delivering peak-level performances. Think of Tom Brady or the NHL’s Zdeno Chara. These guys use fitness approaches that go well beyond the old-fashioned “lift and run.” And their regimens include things like yoga. Other guys see this. It’s inspirational for maintaining fitness over time, and using yoga as a tool to do that.
You had me at “not invincible.” But, given everything you described, why do you think there aren’t MORE guys (of any age, actually) doing yoga?
I think there are a few big reasons. First off, some guys perceive that “yoga’s for women.” Yoga’s the rare fitness-related activity where women are dominant in terms of the number of participants. They’re often seen as “better” at yoga – a perception fed by Instagram and fitness industry media like Yoga Journal, with pictures of women bending into pretzel-like shapes. If you’re an athlete, male or female, your body isn’t going to bend like that, at least not right away. That kind of extreme flexibility isn’t the “point” of yoga. But I think a lot of guys see this type of yoga imagery and get intimidated or turned off.
Yoga is also a challenge to how people – especially men – think about sports and working out. Fitness doesn’t always have to be about “faster, farther, harder.” A non-quantified, do-just-for-yourself thing like yoga is hard for some people to approach. Yoga isn’t a “sport,” it’s a “practice.” And that takes some getting used to.
So if more guys see yoga as a gender-neutral activity, and one where being less performance-measurement-driven is a good thing…do you think we’d see a big influx of men into yoga?
I think it would help. But there’s another barrier I came to see in a big way as I researched and wrote my book. This one hits both men and women: a mis-perception of the time commitment required to benefit from yoga.
People are so busy, and they know in general they should exercise more (and eat better) than they currently do. Then they hear about yoga and think “now I need to do THIS, too?”
But I hope people realize, yoga doesn’t need to be every day of the week, or 90 minutes at a time. A lot of men I interviewed for the book succeeded at using yoga because they were willing to integrate yoga elements into workouts they do anyway. Including a few yoga poses or breathing exercises during your post-run or cycle stretch – that’s still beneficial. One guy I profile in the book, an ultra-marathon runner, took a Yoga for Runners class and now uses just three yoga poses – lizard pose, standing forward fold, and legs up the wall. He says they’ve had a major impact on his ability to stay injury-free.
Yeah – this “where to find the time?” question is huge. I see it impacting all kinds of new-habit adoption across the fitness landscape. For guys who have overcome this and tried yoga, what helped them make that mental breakthrough?
I’d say a huge portion – probably 90% – of guys first try yoga because of a woman. Maybe their wife, or in the case of single guys, a woman they want to spend time with and often impress.
Either way, women are most often the “yoga gateway” for men.
Yoga’s also starting to pop up in unexpected places that make it both easier and more accessible for guys to try it. You see yoga at more and more music festivals, for example, and even breweries. And in urban/corporate office settings, yoga classes are being offered by on-site gyms and as part of workplace Wellness programs.
There’s also one other thing happening among younger guys who are athletes. Yoga is getting incorporated into team training regimens. If Coach says to do it and all the other guys are doing it, too…then it feels OK.
So even though it’s still minority behavior, we’ve got guys at least trying yoga from various starting points. And a lot of them are 45+ guys. Once they’ve tried it, what’s your take on what a “typical” experience looks like after that?
Well, the first motivation is usually the desire to become more flexible, and dealing with problem body parts like the low back. I’ve heard such a wide range of guys acknowledge – from CEOs to all different ages and lifestyles – that yoga helps their bodies feel more limber and mobile.
But many guys discover there’s more. They came for the flexibility, but they find out yoga can greatly contribute to strength, too.
Those college athletes trying yoga within a training program often talk about how a yoga practice unexpectedly “kicked their ass” strength and muscular-endurance-wise. And 45+ guys find the same. Figuring out that yoga keeps you strong, too, is a key evolution of perspective that keeps guys doing yoga, from what I’ve seen.
Finally, on top of flexibility and strength, some guys come to appreciate the mindfulness and meditation-like benefits that come along with yoga. Meditation is a topic of its own (and by the way, virtually every successful CEO I’ve interviewed for my Wall Street Journal column, man or woman, meditates). But yoga’s meditation-like attributes are a real bonus, from its emphasis on deep rhythmic breathing to its cultivation of focus and tuning out distractions while on the mat.
So with all these benefits – and I admit I’m asking as a cheerleader for guys doing yoga – do you think that once guys have tried yoga and experienced benefits, they tend to stick with it?
Kind of. Guys of all types tell me they know they feel better after they practice yoga. But they also often say they don’t practice yoga as often as they feel they “should.” For a lot of guys, I think it’s hard to prioritize yoga equally with endurance or strength-and-conditioning activities. One of the reasons for the ongoing female-majority situation is that women tend to prioritize fitness benefits differently than men. Yoga’s benefits are higher on their list.
So there’s very often a gap between guys’ actual dedication to yoga and what they’d aspire to. This brings me back to two points from earlier in the conversation, which I think might be good things to leave your readers with.
First, avoid the all-or-nothing trap. Bring yoga into your fitness routine 10 or 15 minutes at a time, if needed. Don’t just think of a one-hour-plus practice at a studio, or nothing.
And, as you’re going through your 40s and into your 50s or 60s, think of yoga’s benefits as becoming more and more relevant to your definition of “fitness.” I mean this both in terms of what yoga can directly do for you, but also how it helps keep you out on the road running or cycling, hitting the gym or pool, or whatever else you like to do.
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More about The Yoga Man(ual) by Jen Murphy.
With The Yoga Man(ual), you’ll have everything you need to step on the mat with confidence.
Are you curious about yoga but don’t know how to get started? Intimidated by all the chanting and breath work, or worried that you can’t even touch your toes? Let The Yoga Man(ual) be your guide. This approachable book covers everything from the basics and benefits of yoga to how to master a handstand, and includes dozens of essential poses you need to develop your own practice―whether at the studio, at home, or on the road. Throughout the book are tips from top instructors, professional athletes, and executives, as well as stories from regular guys who have gone from yoga-averse to yoga-obsessed.