A Helpful Guide for Those Who Think Yoga Is Just for Girls...

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“It’s just for girls, it’s not proper exercise”

The very real words spoken by my boyfriend when I suggested he tried Yoga. Due to widespread advertising that includes beautiful women smiling in yoga pants, hipster coffee shops/art galleries holding yoga mornings for mothers and babies and newly gentrified, artsy areas of trendy cities becoming hubs for yoga studios, the wide spread perception that Yoga is for yummy mummy's and nimble, young, 20 something indie females is one that you would be forgiven for believing. However, I am here to tell you that you are wrong. Yoga, in its many forms, is for everyone. In fact, I see more and more men join my classes every week!

When I started teaching I had a small client base that included mainly friends trying to help me out, I had a Friday evening class at a new studio in East London that was rent by the hour and bring your own students. My boyfriend begrudgingly agreed to come to a class, purely to support my new venture and make the studio look a little fuller. It was not what he thought. I teach a form of Vinyasa flow, a fast paced and powerful yoga that keeps you moving for the entire hour, with the exception of my 10 minute meditation at the end. He walked away with a new found respect for my art and for all those that practice it. 

There are many different types of Yoga, from a gentle Hatha Class which includes holding poses for a number of breaths before changing, this would be recommended to beginners who want to learn the poses before taking on a more challenging flow class, like Vinyasa, which is generally an hour long flow through different poses. I teach this kind of Yoga most frequently as I love that I can change the class each week. For those that want a challenge there is Bikram, practiced in a sauna setting, the class is 90 minutes of set poses while you sweat out every toxin in your body. This class is intense and also addictive, I used to do this everyday and my mindset went from “Ugh Why am I here" to “Oh god why do I do this to myself” to “ I can’t fucking breathe in this heat” to “Half way there yes!” to “I am a master” to “It’s done and I feel like a new woman, can’t wait for tomorrow”. Then there is Ashtanga, which is fast paced, and in my opinion the most elitist type of Yoga, Ashtanga is practiced in series and is generally for the more experienced Yogi, I see a lot of men practicing Ashtanga, it takes a lot of control and energy and each class is, again, 90 minutes long. For those who simply want to relax with light stretching there is Restorative Yoga, for a more spiritual, meditative, chanting and breath based Yoga try Kundalini… there are now many new forms of Yoga that incorporate other forms of fitness: Boxing Yoga, HIIT Yoga, Power Yoga, Yogilates, Yogafit, Loaded Yoga. I try everything new that comes up, with so many different options available it would be hard not to find one you love.

If, like my other half, you think Yoga is just for girls, you can’t see how it would benefit you, and you aren’t sure if it is indeed ‘proper exercise' I have written up a guide to help you decide. So, you should do Yoga if….

You Do A Lot Of Sport And Are Frequently Stiff.

In my group classes I am often joined by athletes of some sort, that have been told by their coach to do Yoga to loosen their stiff muscles after training. Yoga spends an hour or two lengthening the muscles and teaching your body how to align. It helps you learn how to push your stretches further, without hurting yourself, using your breath. Each week I see my students get a little less stiff with practice. Going to just one class every week will teach you how to help each muscle. There is no equipment required so it is easy to take what you have learnt and practice it at home, before or after training sessions.

You Do No Sport Or Exercise And Are Frequently Stiff.

Many people turn to Yoga as a way to gently exercise and improve joint flexibility. Stretching exercises in general help to benefit joint stiffness and I often have clients with arthritis and spinal stiffness that have been prescribed Yoga by their doctors. Gently twisting and lengthening your body helps with the release of tightness and tension in the muscles. If you feel you need a more specific approach I would recommend indulging in 1-2-1 yoga classes where you can explain what you want from the session and see faster results.

You Are Recovering From Injury.

Every single private client I have is in recovery from an injury. I have some in my group classes as well, but generally those in recovery need a more hands on approach to target the point of injury that needs strength rebuilt. One of my favourite students came to me after shoulder surgery, he was stiff and tight with not a huge amount of flexibility. We worked on building up the strength and movement in the shoulder girdle, including increasing his strength. He now flows through his class with ease and could do a headstand better than me within a couple of months. 

 Three months ago I tore the muscles in my left thigh while I was doing a show in Oslo, the pain was something I had never experienced before. When I returned to London and went back to teaching I realised I could not touch my toes, my flexibility on my left side was shot. I was in pain every day, I thought I would never be able to do the things I could do before. But I continued to teach and do Yoga everyday. Within a couple of weeks my flexibility, begrudgingly, slowly, returned, because each day I stretched the muscle a little more, only until it started to hurt, then I would stop. Knowing your bodies limits is SO important, but with Yoga you will learn how to change your body so that you can push those limits even further. WITHOUT doing yourself damage.

You Live A Stressful Lifestyle.

This is the MOST important one for me. This is why I started practicing Yoga. I travelled ALL the time for work, I was tired, I had a weird eating schedule, I had no regularity in anything I did, I was constantly agitated and stressed out. My mother suggested Yoga. I went once, I hated it. Then I went again, to a different class, and I fell in love. There is something so freeing, so satisfying and so RELAXING about an hour without your phone, an hour of ‘me time', the instructor talks for the entire class, so you concentrate on their words, explaining each pose and explaining how to breath. You have no time to worry about your deadlines, your next flight, what to make for dinner, your focus is solely on you. 

The icing on the cake is that after you have given your body the stretch and tone it deserves, you lay on your mat and you are talked through a guided meditation and relaxation. Your mind and body melt into a calm place and you leave your class feeling at peace and relaxed.

 Every time I feel overwhelmed and stressed I go to Yoga, every time I teach a class I feel at peace. Last year my boyfriend and I got a new puppy, we live in a tiny flat and already have a dog (I know, we are stupid) I didn’t expect this new energy to affect me like it did, so every evening, my boyfriend would drive me to my favourite Yoga studio, I would do my class and I would leave with sense of calm. I could take on this pooping, peeing, yapping, biting whirlwind, without going insane.

You Run.

This one is an interesting one. Yoga teaches you how to breath. Ok, we all know how to breath, but do we REALLY know how to breath? The answer is ‘No’. Yogic breath teaches us how to use our lungs to their fullest capacity, how to breath deeper and longer. It is perfect for correcting poor breathing technique, helping with relaxation, if I can’t sleep at night I practice yogic breath and it helps,  but the one thing I didn’t think of was my running! 

I have always loved running, and been weirdly good at it despite not really trying. I was probably the least sporty/athletic person EVER whilst at school. I was that girl that always ‘forgot’ her P.E. kit… oops… and the year that my school  timetable placed P.E. as the last 2 periods on a Friday afternoon meantime P.E. teacher didn’t even get to find out what I looked like… That being said, I was strangely good at running long distance, I ran cross country for my county, I came 1st in the 800 metres for the schools in my area and I ran 10k for charity with absolutely no training at all. But my lungs, oh how my lungs burnt, every time I ran, my breathing was the problem. My chest was on fire, when I was done I would have to lay on the floor in a ball to recover. 

I haven’t run for a good few years but this September I completed a full Tough Mudder, the thing that stood out to me most was that, out of my team of 20, all trainers, athletes and coaches, I was the only one not out of breath. I was also the only Yoga teacher. My chest didn’t hurt, my breathing was long and deep and if I ever felt like I was on the edge I simply remembered my breath and I was fine. It is INSANE what a difference this has made to my running, I now love running again and can approach it with an entirely new enthusiasm.

You Want To Improve Flexibility, Core Strength And Balance.

Probably the most obvious, Yoga is all about balance and flexibility. It is AMAZING for core strength, I had none before yoga and now I can do things I never thought were possible. I learn new poses and my body get more flexible and strong every single day. From the splits to head stands, I see men and women coming back to my classes each week and improving their posture, their poses, their flexibility and their alignment. I love it, I applaud every single human being that comes to my class and I LOVE seeing more and more men every day becoming part of the Yoga community. Will you be next?

Samantha Bentleyyoga