Yoga’s new converts

Yoga teacher Abhishek Sharma believes men are often intimidated by a yoga class because women tend to be naturally better at yoga than them. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Yoga teacher Abhishek Sharma believes men are often intimidated by a yoga class because women tend to be naturally better at yoga than them. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Till a few years ago, women invariably dominated yoga studios across the country. That is now changing.

“These days, I see almost an equal number of men and women in the classes for yoga teachers, and also in the studios where yoga sessions are conducted for the public,” says Reshma Sood, a 38-year-old yoga instructor certified by Bhavan’s Yoga Bharati—Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Yoga Academy and Research Institute in Mumbai.

Abhishek Sharma, a 39-year-old Mumbai-based yoga teacher and author of Fitness On The Go: The Anytime Anywhere Holistic Workout for Busy People, says: “The ratio of men to women in most yoga classes is 30:70. It used to be even more skewed just a couple of years earlier.”

Sharma, a Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan-certified teacher who has attended advanced workshops at the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger, believes men are often intimidated by a yoga class because women tend to be naturally better at yoga than them. “Yoga involves quite a bit of stretching and flexibility. Men find it more difficult to either attain or hold the perfect posture when they first start because they are usually less flexible. They feel out of place among women, who seem to do it effortlessly,” says Sharma, who gave up a career in art photography to pursue yoga full-time because he found it more rewarding and satisfying.

Growing interest

More men seem to be taking to it now, with several factors contributing to this growing interest. The pursuit of a more active lifestyle and an increased understanding of fitness have led to greater awareness of yoga and its benefits. The multitude of studios offering different styles of yoga has added to the interest. And it helps that you don’t need supplements or extra protein, as you would in weight training.

Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Satyadeep Misra, a former corporate lawyer who is now a full-time actor, was overweight when he joined Bharat Thakur Artistic Yoga in 2007 because there was a studio close by. After practising this form of yoga in Delhi for a year, he continued with this school for 18 months after moving to Mumbai. Thereafter, he experimented with the Vinyasa, Hatha and Ashtanga forms of yoga.

Misra, 43, who now does Ashtanga yoga, which focuses on building core strength and toning the body, says this particular style of yoga has become popular among men because this routine plays to their natural strengths. “The first time I tried it, I thought I would die. It was tough. But having stuck with it for a few years now, I have come to the understanding that this is the best form of workout for me,” says Misra, who also enjoys the flow and smooth transitions of Vinyasa yoga, where movement and breath are coordinated to flow from one pose to the next.

Sharma swears by the classical style of Hatha yoga. “In my classes, I tend to include exercises for strength-building and running for cardio. And when it comes to yoga, it is the good old-school traditional yoga that we stick to. Hatha yoga is a wonderful technique that improves the elasticity of muscles and flexibility,” he says, adding that he is not a fan of the newer schools that combine yoga with strength and endurance training, such as Power Yoga, Hot Yoga and Aqua Yoga. “I avoid them because I find them too strenuous. How can doing 100 Suryanamaskars at breakneck speed help anyone relax? Yoga is a beautiful routine that relaxes you and complements strength-training and running,” he says.

A great stress-buster

The de-stressing power of yoga—its ability to release tension, quieten the mind and help you relax—is another reason why more men are drawn to it today. Harish Sandesha, a 35-year-old garments manufacturer and exporter who shuttles between Mumbai, Tirupur and Europe, recalls how he was once “a typical college-going guy who went to the gym to pump iron and thought yoga was for old people and women”.

The stress and exertion of running the business, however, began to take a toll on his health. One day, his Tirupur factory manager suggested he meet a local yoga teacher. “In the very first session, I became a convert. That 1 hour of yoga didn’t tire me out; instead, I was able to relax for the first time in many years.” Sandesha says yoga helped him deal with insomnia. Today, though he continues to run and do body-weight workouts, yoga has become his core fitness activity. “Yoga has helped me cope with stress and tension much better. Since I started yoga, my focus, sharpness and performance in all fields of life, including running, have improved,” he adds.

The fact that an asana can be done almost anywhere makes yoga a go-to choice for men with busy schedules. Sharma, who represented Delhi University in boxing and martial arts as a student, recalls that his coach would include yoga in their warm-up, stretching and cool-down training. He returned to yoga when his photography career’s hectic and irregular hours made it hard for him to find time to exercise. “I found myself doing the short yoga sequences I had learnt while training whenever I had a few minutes to myself,” recalls Sharma, referring to what he learnt at the university.

Rehab routine

Men also turn to yoga after suffering injury—for when working out in the gym or playing a sport, people can hurt themselves in all kinds of ways. Once they start yoga, they realize that it actually enables them to not only reach their fitness goals but also improve their muscle elasticity, flexibility, focus and temperament. So they stick to yoga.

Misra, for instance, returned to yoga when a brief stint of the intense CrossFit workout left him with a shoulder injury. “Whenever I do yoga regularly, I quickly reach my ideal weight and body shape. Also, it invigorates the body from the inside out and addresses the root cause of the problem,” he says.

It helps that you don’t need supplements or extra protein to recover from yoga sessions, as you might with weight training.

It is also one of the best rehabilitation routines for those recovering from injuries. “As far as long-distance runners are concerned, yoga is heaven-sent for them as even a simple routine of Suryanamaskars ensures proper stretching of every part of the body ,” says Sharma.