Saturday, April 27, 2013

Is Weightlifting Incompatible with Yoga?

Is Weightlifting Incompatible with Yoga?

I remember a number of years ago; I journeyed to FEDEX Field to watch the Washington Redskins take on my beloved Miami Dolphins in an NFL regular season game.  During one of the TV timeouts, the players on the field were trying to keep loose and I saw one of my heroes Zach Thomas who played middle linebacker for the Dolphins do something that completely surprised me.  Zach Thomas went into Pigeon Pose, right there in the middle of field, fully dressed in pads, uniform and with a helmet on.  Holy crap!  I couldn't believe it, a man who can bench press God only knows what and regularly takes on 300 pound lineman to then have the privilege of tackling a 240 pound running back was in full Pigeon Pose. 

This reason that this was so incredible to me is that it seems as though for men, weightlifting and yoga exists in two completely different and incompatible universes.  My self personally, I had lifted weights for twenty years but once I started my yoga practice my interest in weightlifting fell by the wayside and I really haven’t been back since.  I notice that within my community when I practiced yoga in a local gym that the male participation was roughly the same as any other yoga class which is twenty percent.  So clearly the large majority of men in the weight room did not feel the urge to come to a yoga class as part of their routine and I had little interest in going back to weight room as part of my routine.

You can "Google" the term, “pro athletes yoga” and you will come up with a myriad of hits.  One in particular that I pulled was this link, that has a list of ten pro athletes that incorporate yoga into their routine.  Clearly professional athletes don’t have a problem integrating a weight lifting program along with a yoga exercise.  This then leads me to wonder:  what’s the difference between the state of mind with pro athletes and us the rest of us in our workout routine?

To start with, I think one of misconceptions that men have about yoga is that it just involves stretching.  While it is true that yoga heavily involves stretching, a well rounded yoga practice will involve many physical and mental facets which benefit all athletes.  These facets include balancing though standing postures, upper body strength through arm balances and inversions and lower body strength through lunges, chair pose and warrior poses.

Myself personally I feel that my yoga practice is enough of a strength workout.  In my yoga practice when I am doing an inversion or an arm balance with a body weight of 175 pounds that to me is quite a workout.  There are some yoga classes that I attend where I can feel a certain amount of muscle soreness the next morning.  The soreness isn't as intense as with a good weightlifting session but still sore none-the-less.

I do have to admit though that my yoga practice has been helped by all those years of weight training.  Weight training does a great job of targeting specific muscle groups and developing and strengthening them.  I feel having strong shoulder, triceps and pectoral muscles is a real benefit to performing some of the various inversions and arm balances.  

Physical aspects of yoga aside, I think the mental aspect of yoga is the most appealing aspect to a professional athlete whereas an amateur doesn't think that much about it.  The practice of calming the mind and scanning the body helps the athlete to maximize his potential while helping to avoid injury.  The calm mind helps give greater focus towards reaching competition goals while at the same time teaching us to slow down and listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us.  This helps define that point when the body has had enough and effort and struggle cross over to pain and injury.   

Maybe the answer is just purely that amateur jocks just don’t have the time to do a mixed weightlifting yoga routine as part of a practice.  Women like to talk about their busy schedules but truth-of-the-matter is that we men are pretty stressed with our schedules as well.  Maybe we feel that we only have so many hours in a week to devote to exercise and so those that like yoga stick with yoga and those of us who like weights stick with weights.

So is weightlifting incompatible with yoga?  One thing that I have learned from my practice is that whatever you do, balance is required.  This is something the professional athletes all know.  In order to hit peak performance you need to draw from multiple disciplined routines.  Weightlifting develops the individual muscles and yoga teaches how to make those individual muscles work together.  All yogis could benefit from sometime in the weight room and all the people in the weight room could benefit from sometime in the yoga studio.  I think all of us benefit from a balanced approach in everything we do.

So to be the best you can be, get off the mat and into the weight room and get out of the weight room and get onto the mat. 


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Yoga and the Male Ego

Yoga and the Male Ego

I wanted to start this article with one of my favorite lines from the movie “Top Gun”.  The line is at the beginning of the movie when Maverick is being chewed out by his CO who tells Maverick, “Son your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash.” 

There are so many ways that the male ego can get us in to trouble.  From spending too much time at work because we are being driven to outperform our coworkers, to spending too much money to buy that bigger car or that bigger house.  In the gym we push ourselves too far too fast which leads to injuries.  The drive to perform to be number one can be a tremendous asset if we can control it and if we can’t it can lead to our destruction. 

The society that men live in tells us that bigger is better, we need to be able to last longer and crush the competition.

Our existence is dictated with an outward focus because the ego demands that we constantly compare ourselves to our competition.   This outward focus can lead us to insecurity, anxiety and worse of all, overcompensation.

A dedicated yoga practice teaches us to look inward instead of purely focusing outward.  One of the most difficult lessons I learned was the concept of not being afraid to be a “C” student.  When the focus is inward we learn to concentrate on how our effort makes us feel in and of itself instead of an outward focus that concentrates on how we look.  Our mind and spirit only feel good if we think our pose is better than our fellow yogi. 

When we try to perform an arm balance or a challenging inversion we have been working on for a couple of weeks it’s easy to become frustrated if we still can’t perform the pose.  Our ego dictates that we should of mastered that arm balance by now, the girl on my left can do it, why can’t I. 

The concept of being a “C” student doesn’t mean that we accept mediocrity and give up on trying to improve our practice and thus improve ourselves.  It means that we acknowledge and appreciate the difficulty of the pose.  In the acknowledgement of this difficulty we understand that our yoga practice, just like life is a journey and not a destination. 

It is the journey that we go on in our yoga practice that gives us meaning, not the culmination of the effort and the perfect, “Grade A”, performance of the pose.  The ego says you should already be there and pushes you into a place you are not ready for.  In our yoga practice when we learn to control the ego, the body communicates this is where I am at in the pose, the spirit accepts this and the mind envisions where we will one day go in the pose. 

When we can practice in this calm accepting frame of mind, our minds become free from the ego.  When we are free from the male ego, we reduce our anxiety, we become more secure and confident and we avoid overcompensation. 

And with this secure, confident frame of mind always remember, “You can be my wingman anytime.”

Friday, April 12, 2013

Sex and Yoga

Sex and Yoga

I wanted to start this article with one of my favorite lines from the movie, “Enlighten Up”   The main character Nick goes to California to practice yoga with former wrestler Dallas Diamond Paige whose philosophy about yoga is summed up by the statement, “You say Namaste, I say more T and A”.  So much of what we men see in society today bombards us with images of overt and superficial sexuality.  In this intense environment, it becomes difficult to overcome that appeal to our base male desire instead of developing a deeper relationship with a lover that can lead us to greater sense of peace, calm and yes, sexual satisfaction. 

One of the benefits that I find in my practice is the concept of being nonjudgmental.  Being able to observe and acknowledge what exists without judging it.  So much of what society feeds the male mind is exactly the opposite.  The clothes are flashy and revealing, the bras push up, the magazines air brush and so on and so on.  All of this done in the name of providing men with what is judged to be the perfect image of sexuality. 

Now, a man going to yoga class to counteract this can seem a little confusing these days.  Society’s overt marketing of sexuality is steadily making its way into the world of yoga.  The most popular video on is the Playboy video of a very attractive all nude women performing yoga.  I will admit I watched the whole video but only for the purpose of research for this article.  Believe what you want. 

We also recently had the humorous incident with Lulemon and the see-through yoga pants.  Quite a lot of comments were generated with the Toesox adds in Yoga Journal featuring nude photos of Kathryn Buding wearing  nothing but Toesox while performing some very impressive yoga poses.  Of course the photos of Kathryn are at camera angle that don’t reveal too much but the viewer is aware that she is nude.  The photographer of those ads is Jasper Johal who does take fully nude photos of women in pilates and yoga poses that are a lot more revealing than the Toesox ads.  And of course, there are some women in yoga class that are very revealing in what they wear.  Yoga women are definitely not wearing baggy sweatpants and tee-shirts to class.

So as I said, this bombardment of imagery can be confusing to the male mind.  For me, the practice of being nonjudgmental has helped calm my mind.  So much about sex in today’s society is about judging.  We learn to place value and make judgments on certain physical aspects of a woman’s body. 

The practice of yoga is one in which we turn our minds inward and focus on ourselves within our yoga mat.  With this inward focus, our practice teaches us that thoughts will come and when they do, we acknowledge that they exist but we resist the urge to pass judgment.  We learn to accept and love ourselves for who we are and all that we are instead of expecting perfection. 

As we begin to experience freedom from the expectation of perfection in the performance of our poses.  We can then appreciate how the pose makes us feel instead of how it looks to others.  Once we have mastered this in our yoga practice, we can then start to translate this deeper appreciation of ourselves and other people to different parts of our lives.   Our new-found appreciation helps us to stop judging and stop finding value in women for only how they look.  If we can continue this practice it leads to a calmer mind which makes it easier to master self-control and thus we cannot be easily manipulated by society’s marketing of sex.

When our minds experience freedom from manipulation we become more in tuned to a deeper value in ourselves and a deeper value in what a women has to offer us in a relationship.  This is our path to achieving a deeper satisfaction within ourselves and with our partners.                

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Rutgers Coach Mike Rice is Why Men Need Yoga

I’m sure everybody has seen the video of former Rutgers Coach Mike Rice utilizing his various techniques to motivate his players. 

I don’t really know if you can call it motivation.  I don’t consider using fear, physical intimidation and homophobic slurs as motivation.  Mike Rice wasn’t motivating; he was just out-of-control.  I think we see way too much of this in the hyper-competitive world of men’s sports and I’m not surprised at the line up of people defending Mike Rice.  We live in a society that places an extremely high value on male competiveness which easily morphs into a win-at-all costs mentality.  This win-at-all-costs mentality becomes to overtake us, clouds our judgment and before we know what has happened we have lost our balance. 

My favorite defense of Mike Rice is that they say he is “passionate” about winning.  If you truly think about the word “passion” you realize that Mike Rice is not passionate.  Passion is not mindlessly flailing about screaming obscenities and physically assaulting people.  Coach Rice is just simply living a life out of balance.  Physical competitiveness without discipline of the mind and the spirit will only take you so far and what I saw on that video was a man who has no discipline over himself. 

This example more than any thing demonstrates why men need yoga.  One of my favorite yoga sutras that I take from my yoga practice and continually apply to other areas of my life is the concept of “effortless effort”.  Effortless effort is the exact opposite of struggling or forcing the effort.  My yoga practice has taught me that you can not struggle to overcome your difficulties for entering into a pose and you certainly cannot struggle to overcome your difficulty in maintaining the pose.  In trying to master an inversion or sit for extended periods of time in lotus, screaming a homophobic slur and throwing a block is not going to get the job done. 

Yoga teaches that when we reach the point of struggle we recognize it and back off.  We learn to recognize it by focusing on the breath.  We start breathing heavily through the mouth instead of steadily breathing through the nose.  Once we have identified this, we can then say with the pose, “Not today, but maybe tomorrow.”  The physical body has reached a limit, the mind recognizes the limit and the spirit accepts the limit.  When these three things come together a man has mastered himself and therefore can accomplish great things. 

This is unfortunately where I think men loose their interest in yoga.  So much of male mystique is built around the macho idea that men power their way through challenges.  If you can’t drive the nail you get a bigger hammer.  What Coach Rice shows us is that men need to learn a better way.  We need to learn to control and calm our mind, body and spirit by accepting what our limits are.  Now this doesn’t mean that you are giving up on accomplishing a goal.  Instead you are recognizing that a limit exists.  When you recognize and accept your limit your spirit is calm and you mind is free to develop a strategy for either one day overcoming the limit or choosing another path to lead to your success. 

If you think I don’t make a compelling argument, consider the career of Phil Jackson.  Phil Jackson represents the opposite of Mike Rice.  During his career as a coach, Phil Jackson had earned the nickname, “Zen Master” for his following of eastern philosophy.  Phil Jackson had said that one of his biggest influences on his life and coaching was the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”.  Now I know that Coach Jackson was surrounded by talent but when things went wrong did you ever see Phil Jackson screaming obscenities and throwing objects.  Of course you didn’t, and Phil Jackson won 11 NBA titles as a head coach. 

Which man would you rather emulate, Coach Mike Rice or Coach Phil Jackson?  If you want to be a great man, get on your yoga mat and learn to master yourself before you attempt to master the competition. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Why Don't More Men Practice Yoga

This is a topic that you always seem to hear the same amount of chatter about.  Why don’t more men practice yoga?  I have been practicing yoga now for about six years and the percentage of men in the classes has remained about the same.   In a typical class 20% of the yogis are men.
With yoga being a multibillion dollar business I’m actually surprised there isn’t more push by some of the companies that are in the yoga business.  It seems as though the market for women has tapped out and the prime area for growth are men.   Even with this gold mine that we men represent however, I don’t really see anything changing within the industry.  When I look at the fitness/workout industry as a whole, there are magazines that cater to men’s fitness exclusively and there are magazines that cater to women’s fitness only.  Considering this it’s surprising to me that some savvy investor doesn’t start Yoga Men’s Journal.
You have fitness clubs, Curves for example, that cater exclusively to women.  Some gyms, like Gold’s for example, have a harder edge that caters more towards men’s exercise interest.  Within a mixed patronage gym like World Gym, there are rooms with more machine and pulley weight lifting devices that women tend to favor and then there are free-weight-rooms that men tend to favor.  The weightlifting/fitness industry seems to have figured out that men and women have different interests when it comes to pursuing their fitness goals.
For all the articles I have read about this subject of men and yoga this simple point gets missed.  Men and women have different goals and different approaches when it comes to  exercise  and yoga is no different.  After practicing yoga for six years, my impression is that yoga is about 80% dominated by female interests which not surprisingly is the percentage of women is a yoga class.
Now, let me say, this is not a blog post about bashing women in the yoga industry.  I remember attending a workplace training class on diversity and the instructor said something very interesting.  His quote was, “Diversity in higher levels of workplace management is very important because ducks tend to favor ducks”.   So that if you are Caucasian, you will subconsciously favor Caucasians over other races, if you are male you will subconsciously favor other males over females.  You are not a bad person for doing this, but it is within our nature to favor those that resemble us.  And that brings me to my point about yoga, the vast majority of yoga instructors are women and therefore subconsciously the yoga classes with the various routines are going to favor, guess who, women.  Everything from yoga clothing, to the design and decoration of the studios to the music picked for the class is subconsciously dominated by women and therefore favors women. 
 So if you want more men performing yoga, yoga is going to have to introduce some type of affirmative action program to introduce more of a male presence into the industry.  I think this has to start with more local yoga studios training male yoga teachers.  Male yoga teachers will start teaching classes that will tend to favor male interests.  In my mind it would be a class in which we didn’t do quite so many lunging poses like Warrior One, Warrior Two, Peaceful Warrior.  Seriously male yogis don’t care about developing “yoga butt” to show off in a pair of $120 Lulemon see-through-yoga pants.   As a male yogi my driver has always been poses like arm balances and inversions that develop upper-body strength.  Finding a yoga class that focuses on arm balances and inversions is tough to come by.  If you want an awesome male centered yoga workout then look to see if you can attend an arm balance and inversion workshop with Simon Park.  That guy is awesome.   I personally go to for a lot of classes that I think favor male interests more with work on the upper body involving some very tough physical poses.
In conclusion, for you men reading my blog, if you want more of what you care about in a yoga practice, don’t be afraid to speak up when the teacher asks, “What does everybody want to work on today”.  Get interested in teacher training so that in the future more men are leading yoga classes.  For you women reading my blog, I know it’s very difficult to go against our nature as people, but try to think about a man’s perspective when you are choosing your routines.  Try to think about what a man wants to get out of a yoga practice.  I’ve spoken a lot about the differences between men and women here but putting things in perspective there is really not that much of a gulf between male and female yogis.  We just need to get that 80/20 split closer to 50/50 and the yoga world will be much better for it.