The popularity of yoga has grown considerably in the 21st century. But while women have embraced yoga en masse, men have been more hesitant to do so.
A 2012 survey from Yoga Journal found that, among the 20 million yoga practitioners in the United States, only 18 percent were men. While those figures might have risen in recent years, anyone who has recently visited a yoga studio can attest that the participants in many classes remain overwhelmingly female. That's unfortunate for men, who could be benefitting from practicing yoga in myriad ways.
Yoga can protect against muscle imbalances. Yoga requires various muscle groups to work together to perform certain exercises. This can reduce the risk of muscle imbalances that can develop when men design workout routines that target specific muscle groups.
Yoga can improve flexibility. When performed correctly, various yoga exercises improve flexibility. For example, the big toe pose can help men and women lengthen and strengthen their hamstrings, while the downward facing dog pose stretches various areas of the body, including the shoulders, calves and arches. Yoga is not the only way for men to improve their flexibility, but it can be an effective supplement to exercise routines for men who routinely feel tight after traditional strength training sessions.
Yoga can improve stamina. Numerous studies have indicated the positive effects yoga can have on muscle endurance. In 2005, researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, found that the regular practice of Hatha yoga provided a significant boost to chest and abdominal strength and endurance. Such improved stamina can have a trickle-down effect on men who practice yoga and also adhere to strength training regimens and/or participate in competitive sports.
Yoga can help men maintain healthy weights. The Harvard Medical School notes that researchers discovered that people who practiced yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week for at least four years gained less weight during middle adulthood than those who did not. That might be linked to additional research that found people who practiced yoga were more mindful eaters than those who did not, making them less likely to overeat, eat when sad or stressed or eat in response to certain cues, including the smell of food.
Fewer men than women may practice yoga, but that does not mean men cannot benefit just as much from embracing this ancient practice.