Experts say yoga is good for everybody. It’s true that what benefits women and children will also benefit men. But there are certain anatomical traits that you guys share that make certain poses more helpful than others.
Your broad shoulders and natural upper body strength mean you may be able to do arm balances more easily than your female counterparts — but your stronger muscle-bound shoulders may also be tighter and less flexible. With a more narrow pelvis and smaller hips than women, you might breeze through a handstand or low push-up but your tight hamstrings will bring you up short — literally — in a forward bend.
We’ve reached out to the best yoga teachers in America to explore poses that are particularly good for guys. For starters, try these three:
1. Downward Dog Does it All
This classic pose hits all the right spots for men, says Baxter Bell, M.D., a physician and yoga teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. The inverted V demands attention from every part of your body and will gradually loosen tight shoulders, hips, hamstrings, and pelvis while lengthening and strengthening the deltoids, triceps, biceps, and lats.
Downward Dog also may also improve cardio health. Regular yoga practice has well-known cardiovascular benefits, including making the heart beat steadier under stress — in as little as eight weeks. Downward dog is a good pose for these benefits. “It can help lower your heart rate,” says Dr. Bell. It also can activate a sluggish digestive system, and deepen your breathing by exercising your diaphragm more intensely, he says. Better still, having your head lower than your heart, as it is in Downward Dog, can shift your nervous system from “fight or flight” mode to “rest and digest,” says Bell.
As if all that weren’t enough, this miracle pose also juices up hip, shoulder, and wrist joints, and spikes your concentration. As Bell puts it, “You gotta be right there or you’ll fall on your face.” Learn more about how to do the pose here.
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2. Cobra: Chest Pump
Modern man’s natural posture is hunched, thanks to hours in front of a computer or behind the wheel of a car. “Your chest is closed and your shoulders are up near your ears,” says Joe Kita, a yoga teacher in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, recommends Cobra as an antidote.
Lie on a mat with your legs extended behind you and your palms flat on the mat near your pecs. With your fingers spread wide for stability, press your chest off the mat and up to a point that is comfortable. “Pinch the collarbones behind you and pull the shoulder blades together as you feel that chest open,” says Kita.
Be careful not to push too far or you could compress your lower back. “Breathe deeply and imagine that your ribs are separating and that you’re creating space,” says Kita. Or, picture a wire coat hanger with the ends folded in toward each other — “that’s you after a day of driving or working in front of a computer,” says Kita. Cobra pose slowly straightens those wire ends by encouraging the shoulders apart and lengthening your collarbones across the top. (See it here.)
3. Seated Twist: Good for the Gut
Take your pick of the seated twists and your gut will thank you, says Kita. “Any twisting pose works the torso and the intestinal area,” he says. “You’re encouraging more blood flow and moving things around; any type of twisting pose is going to help speed along digestion.”
Be sure to breathe deeply in the pose and focus on turning from the hips — not the back — and keeping your torso long. “Don’t sacrifice the spine for the twist,” cautions Kita, who adds that practicing twists after a weekend of eating and drinking may motivate you to get back on track. “You’ll feel your belly pooching out. That’s a little reminder that you need to get back to watching your diet again.” See it here.
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- A Man’s Guide to Losing Weight: 8 Ways to Start Now
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Health writer and editor Mary Bolster, the former Executive Editor of Yoga Journal, lives in Connecticut.