Not long ago, I thought yoga was for girls. Striking an awkward pose on a mat looked geeky — something a big 6’6″ competitive guy like me would have nothing in common with. When my wife bought a yoga mat and an instructional DVD and tried following along at home, it all looked even more boring. Was I missing something?
The mat went to the back of the closet. Still, something about it I wanted. I wanted the flexibility, the ease of motion these yogis displayed so fluently. Throughout my late teens, I grew quickly; somehow, my sciatica nerve was pinched during the growth spurts. If I sat too long, the pain became sharp, shooting down my legs. Over time, my quads tensed up to bear the pain. To relax while sitting, my muscles learned to automatically tense up. In my 20s, I made some dietary changes to bring the inflammation down, eliminating inflammatory dairy products and welcoming in anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric. Even though the pain had subsided, the tenseness remained, restricting my flexibility and range of movement.
Honoring where I am
At just the right time, my wife and I met a friend who happened to teach yoga locally. We went to one of her classes. I quickly found out that the best way to start learning yoga is to do it live, with a teacher right in front of you. The teacher made it look so easy. Being the competitive guy that I was, I fought to stretch as far as I could at first. I quickly learned my limitations, and instead of competing, I learned to honor where my body was. Instead of straining, I learned to start slow, work with my breath, and inch my way forward. In those first yoga sessions, my mind became aware of my body movements, why I was tense in certain areas. I had to then make a decision to change or stay the same.
Making mind-body connections
My decision to change led me to making conscious mind-body connections. After yoga at night, when I went to relax and sleep, my mind became aware of my muscle contractions in my legs. I could literally feel my spine and hips “waking up.” I practiced a relaxing, circular low spinal movement at night and became aware of where my body automatically became tense from past learned pain response. Weeks later, my mind alerted me to the unconscious retracting of my bones that moved inward around my buttocks just before I went to sleep. They would tense up in response to pain I used to feel. I learned to consciously shift these bones back out, telling my lower body to relax — telling myself the pain is gone. It’s these interesting mind-body connections that are beginning to increase the quality of my relaxing state, opening up pathways for healing energy where I once learned to be tense.
Conscious control of breathing
The next lesson I’ve learned is how to consciously control my breathing. Yoga is excellent for restoring one’s breath, bringing more oxygen to the blood and brain. While I was being non-competitive on the yoga mat, I learned to use yoga’s principles of deep breathing while playing competitive sports. When I’m out of breath on the playing field, I now know how to “find my center” and regain control over my breathing. This now allows me to regain a tremendous amount of focus in the most crucial moments of playing any competitive sport.
Enhancing sleep and relaxation quality
I also applied the breathing techniques in my sleep. I learned how to match my breathing with the rhythm of the rest of my body right before and during sleep. This allowed me to breathe strongly through my nose and upper sinuses, instead of relying on just my mouth to breathe. My wife started noticing less snoring and I had less throat hack in the morning.
Even though I have a long way to go before I can stretch and move like the more advanced yogis, I have found incredible personal growth regardless, and I am thankful for that. After every yoga session, I truly do feel a sense of inner calm. Not only does practicing yoga take your mind off the pressures of life, but it also puts you back in the moment, as you become one with your inner spirit. I highly recommend that all men give it a try. You may just get addicted to the infinite challenges that yoga has to offer.