There’s a common misconception that yoga benefits women more than men. Speaking to Laura Devonshire, expert yogi at BUA FIT, we found out that this isn’t the only myth surrounding the practice.
With the confinements of lockdown and the rise of online yoga classes, there have been more downward dogs than ever before. This is something that Laura, expert yoga instructor at BUA FIT, says, “can only be a good thing”.
There are plenty of reasons why you might be hesitant about practising yoga. It can be especially intimidating for a man entering a class packed with flexible women. But with a plethora of different yoga styles and classes that are taught by men, there are few reasons not to go. Yoga isn't just about strength and flexibility, with surprising benefits that include improved mental health and sexual stamina. As Laura puts it: “Yoga is for everybody and every body.”
I asked her about her experience with men practising yoga. “It’s definitely not for women only. While there tends to be a smaller number of men in a class, you do get men joining.
“I think a lot of men (and women) are put off because they think you have to be flexible to do the practice. This has to be one of the biggest myths of yoga. It is absolutely not the case. Your body will move at a rate that feels comfortable and safe for it to move in. There’s a really lovely quote: yoga isn’t about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down. If you become a bit more flexible over time, cool. If you don’t, also cool. There is so much more to yoga than just a physical practice."
Laura points out that yoga has a surprising number of benefits:
- Breathing: “Breath is so important and fundamental to the practice. Working with the breath has so many benefits on the mind and body and can help regulate the nervous system. It helps us to feel grounded and calm.”
- Strengthening: “A regular yoga practice will help to build strength and stability in the body."
- Stretching: “It’s so important to work the tissues in your body. Stretching regularly will support posture and maintain a healthy range of movement and mobility."
- Alignment: “Yoga helps with posture and alignment. The practice tends to focus on the way that you hold your body. Having feedback from your teacher to modify and adjust will help to gradually improve this.”
- Being Present: “A lot of the time our minds are busy and we’re thinking into the future or the past. Yoga helps us to be in the present moment, being aware of our body and breath, and observing the fluctuations of our mind."
“All these elements have become particularly important over lockdown,” Laura explains. “There’s a lot of people working from home at the moment so they might be working from sofas or beds. If we move around less and are sat down more, our muscles tighten and shrink. The upper body and hip flexors are curling forward. Correcting that posture alignment is more important than ever right now.
“The pandemic has had a huge impact on mental health and I’ve seen how helpful yoga has been for people who are struggling with the stress of lockdown. By the end of the class, it’s great to see everyone relaxed and peaceful.
“The good thing about taking up yoga is that you feel the benefits really quickly. It’s not just about the physical practice, it’s about meditation and breathing as well. So even if it’s just a case of 10 minutes a day, that in itself can have huge benefits."
With the range of styles, choosing the right yoga practice can be confusing. Laura sheds light on how to map out your perfect yoga journey. "It’s important to think about what you want to get out of it and then find a practice that will meet those needs.
“If you’re dealing with a lot of stress, it might feel more frustrating, but perhaps opting for something a bit slower and more meditative may help on that particular day. A high-intensity class could exacerbate the stress in the body."
Yoga is made up of several different styles, each with its own set of benefits. Laura explains what they are:
“Hatha yoga is the oldest traditional style of yoga. It can be a bit of a flow (meaning energetic movement) but it generally tends to be slower, gradually working into one position (called asanas in yoga terms) holding it for a number of breaths and then you come out of it and move into another asana.”
“Astanga is a dynamic style of yoga There are six series that each focus on a specific sequence. It’s good for people who like structure and discipline as you’ll always follow the same sequence.”
“Vinyasa has a number of different styles within it and links the breath to the movement. It can be more dynamic and fast-paced, with more of a focus on strength. In this case, it might be called Power Yoga or Rocket Yoga. It can also be more of a Slow Flow moving at a more meditative pace. Check the class description to see how it will be paced.”
“Yin yoga is a very slow more meditative style. Holding the postures for several minutes - anywhere between a minute and even 20 minutes! The other practices tend to be quite warming on the body, actively working the muscles, whereas yin is more cooling and goes more into the deeper connective tissues.”
“A very relaxing and restorative style. Also holding the asanas for a longer period of time but with a different intention to Yin. Yin yoga will focus on the deeper connective tissues whereas restorative yoga is for deep rest and relaxation. You can use lots of props to make yourself really comfortable."
“Kundalini yoga classes don’t look the same as the other physical practices. There’s a greater emphasis on kriyas, which are cleansing processes for the energetic body. It’s all about clearing energetic blockages so there’s a lot more breathwork, chanting and mantras to support this.”
“BKS Iyengar, who’s the grandfather role of Iyengar, had a number of physical conditions, so there is a big emphasis on supporting alignment, working with props and assisting rehabilitation. It is really supportive for people with injuries that need to work at a slower and more methodical pace.”
“A vinyasa style yoga class where the room is at a higher temperature.”
“As I said before, there really is something for everyone. The way that yoga is marketed makes it look quite gendered and it really isn’t like that. Try not to be dissuaded by the general perception of what yoga should be because there’s really so much more to it than that. It’s not just a physical practice either. Give it a go and try it with different teachers because different teachers have different styles. You’ll find something that works for you.”
Not convinced yet?
With increasingly inventive classes, there are new, exciting ways to enjoy yoga:
- Candlelit yoga (date night?)
- Sleep yoga
- Broadway show tunes yoga
You can book a yoga class online, or outdoors via the BUA FIT website.
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