We get the lowdown from yogi Instagram success, Jared Fu.
We know the story. Your girlfriend made you purchase a yoga mat so you can join her on that Sunday morning class downtown. It all sounds great in theory, until Sunday morning comes round and you’d rather stay an extra hour in bed nursing your head from having one too many beers with the boys last night.
And let’s face it. Yoga’s just for girls and new-age hippies, right? Wrong. There’s a reason why the West has followed the East by incorporating yoga into its everyday lives. And if you’ve ever heard people talk about how amazing yoga makes them look and feel, you’ll want in on a piece of the action pronto. No more Sunday morning hangovers.
There’s no doubt you’ve heardthat yoga is good for you, but it’s key to understanding exactly why. Yogi Instagram success story, Jared Fu (https://www.instagram.com/jared.fu/) , got started back in 2013 when he was seeking something “different” in his life:
“Physically my body was starting to get bored of just lifting weights, and I was plateauing. Mentally I wanted to challenge myself to something new and also reframe my mind having gone through recent personal issues. I decided to take up a promotional pass at a local yoga studio and I instantly got hooked on the ‘yoga bliss’ and my body began to function in ways I didn't think possible for me.
“The best part was noticing how the lessons I was learning in class and from my body translated into changes in my day-to-day life and way of thinking.”
So why yoga over other forms of exercise? Jared insists it comes down to feeling and seeing his body doing “amazing things” and, more importantly, noticing the positive change in his way of thinking:
“Yoga became a form of cross-training for me, and became completely complementary to the weight-lifting I was doing at the time. It's like a balance between Stability and Flexibility, Structure and Space, Power and Fluidity. While sports and exercise tend to have a ‘hardening’ or ‘tightening’ effect on the muscles and joints, yoga helps to open and soften, while still strengthening the body.
“The physical practice is also about balance, so while bodies begin to fall into habits by way of paths of least resistance or asymmetrical movements (like throwing with only one arm, golf, etc.), asana (the physical practice of yoga, as yoga as a whole is a much broader practice and philosophy) makes it easy to identify the imbalance and helps to bring things into alignment. And of course, yoga draws attention to your breathing – movements are often linked to breath – and helps to bring you to a different, sometimes meditative state of mind, which is great for reducing stress.”
Many guys avoid giving yoga a go altogether because they worry they’re simply just not flexible enough. Jared explains how this is even more reason to try it out:
“Yoga is not about whether or not you can touch your toes – asana was developed as a way to prepare for pranayama (breath practice) and meditation. Yoga is about feeling, so if your body and your mind feel good after a practice, then you're on the right path, toe-touching or not.”
Starting to think yoga is too easy? Think again. Jared likes to challenge guys to try yoga if they think it's not a valid form of exercise.
“I remember my first class holding one of my first ever Downward Facing Dogs, shoulders quivering and body sweating. I thought to myself: ‘Is yoga really supposed to be this difficult?’ I've seen many conditioned cross-fitters who've struggled in a class.”
In terms of which yoga poses to begin with, Jared has a hard time narrowing it down, as there are so many. But he offered us 10 to get started:
One might think how this is a pose, but it’s the second most important pose in yoga (you'll see later what number one is). In a proper standing position, there should be a straight line running down from ear to shoulder to hips to knees to ankles. It might feel weird, but this is alignment. This alignment is essentially what you should have in every other yoga pose, and so it is your template for all other poses.
Another pose everyone recognizes, chair is great for the core. Keep your low ribs/abs pulled in and keep your torso as upright as possible. Relax your face and your shoulders. If they’re tight and strained, this will affect everything below as your body is all connected.
Also great for the core, planks help build arm and shoulder strength. In yoga, you'll usually see hips in line with shoulders as “proper alignment”. The traditional asana practice does not have high plank as a pose, but it was added for Western practitioners as a way to work into the traditional Chaturanga, because Chaturanga is very difficult for most people.
A pose everyone recognizes, this pose pretty much targets every part of your body all at the same time, including a nice stretch to the hamstrings.
A great all-around pose; warrior 2 is a foundational standing pose that works the external rotation of your thigh. This means if you have really tight groins, this pose will help with opening while strengthening other parts of your body and building your stability.
This isn't a “beginner” pose by any means, but I included this because I believe Crow to be the foundational arm balance pose. If you can get into and hold crow with ease and openness while maintaining a steady breath, you're on your way to more complex arm balance poses like Handstand or Eight-Angle pose.
This is often seen as a resting pose, but can also be a bit of a rescue pose. If you’re having a tough go at something, need to take a break or if you’re feeling light-headed, take Child’s Pose. Being curled up and having your head to the ground has a calming effect on your mind, which in turn helps to rest and relax your body.
Twists are both core warm-ups and cool-downs. Twist from the low ribs, not the shoulders or the neck, which can be tempting since the cervical spine has much more range of motion than the thoracic.
If Tadasana is the second most important pose, then Savasana is definitely the most important. What’s better than lying on the floor after a long practice? But Savasana is not about sleeping. This pose is incredibly important in all forms of asana, as it helps to rest your body and reset your nervous system after your practice, so it should never be skipped.
What to Wear
Finally, Jared offered us some top tips on what to wear when practising yoga. Unsurprisingly, keeping it light and stretchy is key:
“When you're spending your time trying to open your body, the last thing you want is clothing that makes you feel closed in. I recommend sleeveless shirts and to avoid really loose shorts though unless there's an internal liner. Because some classes are heated, I would avoid cotton fabrics as they really begin to cling to you and weigh you down.”
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Still not sure if you should start a yoga practice? Check out our post on how 'real men' do yoga.
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