Though it can be hard for anyone to overcome their initial discomfort and start doing yoga, it seems especially difficult for some men. There is one man I know who talks to me about trying yoga every time I see him but can’t quite make himself do it. There are a few factors that make it hard for guys to show up to their first yoga class, despite their underlying feeling that it would be really good for them. If this sounds familiar to you, one of the best ways to start to feel more comfortable is to practice some postures on your own at home. While I always encourage beginners to go to class as much as possible, there’s also a lot to be said for learning a few poses beforehand and starting to feel the benefits of a regular practice.
A Word About Props
Props like blocks and blankets can really make a big difference in a beginner’s yoga practice. Using props helps you get into the correct alignment to help your body stretch in a safe way. If you don’t have official props, you can try our prop hacks. Blocks are especially useful. You can use thick books, boxes, overturned trash cans, step stools, children’s chairs, whatever you have around the house.
A Word About Breathing
You may be used to measuring your workout in reps, sets, or minutes. Yoga poses are measured in breaths. Ideally, deep full breaths through the nose. If a pose causes you discomfort, think of sending the breath into the area where that sensation is. Notice if your breath wants to come faster or shallower in certain positions and try to lengthen it. If breathing becomes difficult in any posture, come out and rest.
Warning: Generalizations Ahead!
This is a routine that is tailored for people with tight hips, hamstrings, and shoulders but strong upper bodies. Generally speaking, this describes a lot of men who exercise but don’t have yoga experience, but it could just as easily work for a woman with the same body type. Likewise, there are many men who are flexible, either naturally, from yoga, or from some other type of exercise. If this is true of you, look at some of our other yoga workouts.
Standing Forward Bend
The first pose is a standing forward bend, which is generally an easier stretch for the hamstrings than a seated forward bend since gravity helps out. Don’t worry about touching your toes or the floor. Just hang over straight legs without locking up the knees. Your feet should be about hips’ distance apart. This pose is called uttanasana.
Take a deep inhale and come up to a half forward bend (ardha uttanasana). This means coming up until your back is flat and resting your hands on your shins or thighs (avoid putting your hands directly on your knees). On your next exhale, draw your belly button toward your spine and fold back into a deep forward bend. Repeat this back and forth 5 times, paying attention to your inhales and exhales.
Lunge Plus a Twist
Bend your knees as much as is necessary to bring your palms flat to the mat. Step your right foot to the back of your mat, keeping the left knee bent over the left ankle. Stay on the ball of your right foot and keep the right foot straight. You can come up with your fingertips or use blocks under your hands. Take several breaths in this runner’s lunge. Then plant your right hand firmly on the floor or a block and lift your left arm toward the ceiling coming into a twist. Notice if twisting makes it harder to breathe. Stay 3-5 breaths, then release your left hand to the floor, step your right foot forward to a forward bend and repeat on the other side.
Cat and Cow
Next, come to your hands and knees. Make sure to set up with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. If your knees are sensitive, put a blanket or towel under them for padding. You’re going to warm up your spine with some cat-cow stretches. On an inhalation, lift your tailbone, drop your belly, and lift your head. On the next exhalation, tuck the tail, round your spine and drop your head. Continue these oppositional movements on each breath for 5 rounds.
Downward Facing Dog
Now you’re going to move into downward facing dog. You may have heard of this pose even if you’ve never done yoga before. It’s one of the most common poses. done in almost every yoga class. The hands and knees position sets you up nicely. Curl your toes under and push into your hands. Straighten your legs, move your shoulders back so they are no longer over your wrists and bring your butt up high. Your body makes the shape of a V. Let your head hang heavy. Bend one knee and then the other, peddling out the legs. You can keep your knees bent if you can’t straighten your legs. Stay for 5 breaths.
Plank position may be familiar to you if you follow workout trends. From downward facing dog, shift your body forward so that your shoulders are back over your wrists. Your hips drop and your legs stay straight like you are about to do a push up. Imagine a straight line of energy from the crown of your head to your heels. Just holding plank is a good way to strengthen your core. Stay for 5 to 10 breaths, making sure you can hold your alignment for the full time. If your hips start to dip or shoulder sag, it’s time to come out.
Walk your hands back to your feet. Open your feet as wide as your mat (about 18 inches apart). Turn your toes out and bend your knees to a squatting position (garland pose). This is really challenging for people with tight hips, so use the following modifications if necessary. If your heels pop up, roll up a blanket and slide it under your heels for support. You want to be able to rest back into your heels instead of tipping your weight forward which will happen if you stay on the balls of your feet. You can also slide something under your butt to support you. A yoga block is great if you have one. If you can, bring your elbows inside your knee and your hands to a prayer position in front of your heart. If that doesn’t work, keep your hands on the floor. If you have knee pain, come out. If there is discomfort in the hips and groin, imagine sending your breath to those areas.
Stand up and shake out your legs. Now you’re going to work on a balancing pose. Shift your weight onto your right leg and bend your left knee to lift your left foot off the floor. To come into tree pose, you’re going to place the sole of your left foot on the inside of your right leg. If you can get it to the inner thigh, great. If not, place it lower down but not directly on the side of your knee. Find a fixed point to focus your gaze on and hold for 5 breaths. It’s ok to wobble and even to fall. Just come back up. The nice things about tree is that you will quickly improve your balance with regular practice. Be sure to do both legs.
When you are done with tree come to sit on the floor. Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall out to either side to stretch the groin area in cobbler’s pose. If this is tough, try sitting up on a folded blanket or a block. You can also put blocks (or pillows) under each knee for support. Take deep inhales and exhales here.
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet parallel. Reach down and make sure you can graze your heels with your fingertips. On an inhalation, lift your hips off the floor to bridge pose. Try to interlace your fingers behind your back and tuck your shoulders under for a shoulder stretch. If that doesn’t work, keep the arms by your sides. Don’t let your feet turn out or your knees splay. Keep the hips lifted for 5 breaths and then release. Rest a few breaths and then lift up again. If you have a block handy, a supported bridge with the block under your sacrum is also an option.
Bonus Pose! Crow
Crow pose in your first yoga workout? Yes, and I’ll tell you why. People with strong upper bodies and core can often do arm balances soon after they start doing yoga. Breaking down these poses that may seem impossible at first demystifies yoga and builds confidence. You won’t necessarily get there right away, but it’s fun to try. From a squat, come up on the balls of your feet. Bend your elbows straight back, turning your upper arms into a shelf for your knees. Raise your butt a lot and begin to shift your weight forward. Squeeze your knees tightly into your upper arms. Play with lifting one foot or maybe both feel off the ground. If you feel you are not ready for this pose, no problem. Just skip it.
Each yoga session ends with a rest in corpse pose, also called final relaxation. The idea is to lie completely relaxed enjoying the effects of your practice and clearing your mind for a mini meditation.