A LOT OF YOGA IS ABOUT increasing flexibility. But even in yoga, it’s helpful to warm up. This is especially important for men, who tend to be tighter and need ample time to prep their bodies for class. Flexibility is the ability to stretch a muscle when it’s needed. This can challenging because guys also need to be careful not to force themselves into deep stretches before they are ready.
While some teachers might include a progressive sequence as part of the class, here are the poses that I always practice beforehand or incorporate on my own at home.[
Why: Men generally have tighter hamstrings, which also contributes to a long list of other problems including a stiff low-back. In down dog, you set your thighs into their hip sockets evenly, which helps you achieve a healthy arch in your low-back. This posture also helps with tight shoulders because your arms are reaching overhead and your shoulders are rotating out while you are bearing weight on your hands. Because of these benefits, practicing down dog is a very efficient way to help you move more easefully throughout sun-salutations in the beginning of class.
How: Start off in a plank position, with your legs straight and your wrists under your shoulders and parallel with the front edge of your mat. Without moving your hands or feet, lift your hips up and back in an upside-down “V-shape.” Make sure your feet are inner-hip wide, about 3 to 4 inches apart and straight forward. Flatten your hands, work your arms straight and lengthen your spine. Bend your knees as much as you need to in order to create a slight arch in your low-back. Hold for ten full breaths and come out of the pose.[
Why: Side angle opens your shoulders, neck and low and mid-back while building strength in your legs. It lengthens the sides of your torso and helps maintain a neutral pelvis and back. This is crucial for poses like cobra, locust and up-dog, where men are most likely to compress their low-back early on in class.
How: Start with your right leg forward in warrior two. From warrior two, make sure your front knee bends over your ankle and your front thigh is parallel with the floor. Your front foot points straight forward and your back foot is parallel with the back edge of the mat. If you were to draw a line from your front heel straight back, it should intersect the center of the in-step of your back foot. Rest your right forearm on your right thigh, and stretch your left arm alongside your ear. Square your hips and chest towards the wall you’re facing. Create a diagonal line from your left outer-ankle all the way up through your left fingertips. Hold for five breaths and switch sides.[
Wide-Angle Forward Fold
Why: For men, a wide stance in forward-folds offers more stability, which helps to keep them balanced and eases them into the stretch. It also affords them more space to create a slightly arched low-back. Guys should modify this pose by bending their knees as much as they need to avoid rounding their back. It will prepare them for uttanasana, a deep hamstring stretch, usually offered in the opening minutes of class. This pose, in its traditional form with your feet together and legs straight, does not provide enough space for most guys to protect their low-back.
How: Face the long edge of your mat and step your feet wide enough that when you extend your arms straight out to the side, your feet are directly under your wrists. Point your feet straight forward and even with one another. Bow straight down the middle and touch the floor in front of you. Bend your knees as much as you need to in order to touch the floor and release your low-back. As much as you feel release, straighten your legs out as straight as they will go. Keep your weight even in your heels and the tops of your feet – so you stack your hips over your knees and ankles in a straight line. As your hamstrings open, walk your hands towards your feet. Breathe here for five rounds and bend your knees as much as you need to come up to stand comfortably.
Pigeon Thigh Stretch
Why: Two of the tightest muscles for men are usually their hips and quads. Most poses that are taught at the beginning of class require both strength and mobility in these areas. In this position, you get a good hip-opener on your front leg while stretching your quad on the back leg. When your legs are tight, it creates more torque on your knees, ankles, thighs, hips and IT bands. Add this posture to your warm-up so you can move more fluidly and avoid pain.
How: From down dog, bring your right knee to the right edge of your mat and angle your right shin across your mat. Lower your right leg and your back leg to the floor gently straight behind you. Square your hips and rest on your forearms. Point your front foot and engage your foot. Press your forearms against the floor to create a slightly rounded mid-back. Hollow your belly and allow your hips to settle back and down towards the floor. As your hips open, slide your back leg and hips further back. Only go so far as you can maintain level hips. Take ten full breaths and repeat on the left side.[
Why: Pyramid stretches all of your hamstrings evenly. The asymmetrical quality of this forward-fold, also provides a slight twist, which opens your hips. It focuses on each leg separately to go deeper into the stretch. Often, men will have discrepancies between legs, and this will help balance them by isolating each side.
How: Start with your right foot forward and your left foot back about 3.5 feet. Root your left heel to the floor with your foot angled towards the front of your mat. Square your hips and straighten your legs. Bow over your right leg and place your hands to the floor on either side of your right foot. Set the in-seam of your left leg back to maintain square hips and twist to the right to bow over your front leg. Lengthen your low back and create an even rate of rounded-quality in your upper and mid-back. Hold for five breaths and move onto the second side.
Why: Nearly every guy comes to yoga with a slouched posture. Whether it’s from sitting at a desk, looking at your phone, manual labor or a lack of confidence. When you slouch, it leads to injuries like neck pain, shoulder impingement and an immobile back. Camel lengthens your spine, while opening your shoulders, chest and upper-back. This achieves good posture to start your practice – and maintain in general. It enables you to stand tall, with your chin lifted, chest forward and your shoulders back. This position helps you breathe more easily, and it’s a stance that inspires a sense of strength.
How: Lower both of your knees to the mat, with knees even and hip-width apart and your toes tucked under. Kneel tall with your arms at your side and your palms pointing up. Take a big breath in to lengthen your back. And then, only as much as you can without compressing your low-back, arch your upper back and reach for your heels. Broaden your chest and shift your hips forward. Breathe here for five breaths.
6 Yoga Poses Every Guy Needs to Do was originally published on U.S. Health News & World Report.
Article written by Jake Panasevich, US News. Practice with Jake Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30am and Wednesdays at 5pm. Register here!
Jake is a yoga teacher in Philly specializing in yoga for men and office workers. He is also a yoga trainer for professional athletes. Listen to Jake’s recent interview on NPR. You could also learn more about Jake in his featured articles in Men’s Health, Huffington Post and US News. Visit Jake’s website at yogawithjake.com.