The benefits of yoga for men are becoming increasingly well known, and many elite athletes and sports teams include it as part of their training plans.
But, whether you're practising as a standalone exercise to improve fitness and wellbeing or you're using it to support other activities, it's something everyone should be looking to include in their routines.
Because men generally have larger and tighter muscles, the addition of specific yoga movements into a training plan can have a range of positives. As well as helping to reduce injuries, you can also expect to see improvements in building strength and increasing definition and tone.
And, while it doesn't offer the same type of results as hitting the gym, it also increases flexibility and balance, adding mobility to the joints and lengthening the muscles, which can relieve pain and is essential for long-term health.
- Essential reading: Perfect yoga mats for every type of practice
But since there’s now a multitude of different yoga styles, all of which boast different poses and sequences, it’s tricky to know which postures are the best for guys.
We met with London-based yoga teacher, Daniela Olds, who picked some of her favourite yoga poses for men. Here we run through eight poses she recommends, including regressions.
Easy twist (Sukhasana)
“The easy twist targets the mobility of the hips, which I have found to be the tightest area in men,” explains Olds. “The opening through the pelvis targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors as well as the deeper opening of the hips into the groin muscles.
“And because it’s a twist, it helps with the lower lumbar spine, gaining strength in the shoulders because you are stacking them on top of each other and expanding; opening the chest.”
How to do it: To perform the easy twist, start in a high lunge position, right foot in front, with the knee above the ankle and toes of the left foot pushed firmly into the ground with the back leg engaged, keeping it as straight as possible. Bring the left hand down under the shoulder to the side of the right foot. Reach your right hand to the sky spreading fingertips and gaze to look in the same direction. Repeat on the opposite side.
High lunge (Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana)
“Same as the easy twist, the high lunge targets the quads, hip flexors, and the opening of the hips as well as the opening of the chest. The glutes should be engaged to protect the back and the shoulders relaxed. Expand through the upper body. The focus here is strength, power, and muscle endurance," says Olds.
How to do it: For the high lunge, start with the feet in the same placement as the easy twist, above, but create a slight bend in the lower back by raising your arms and stretching them behind your ears.
Tree pose - with foot hold (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana)
“The easier version of the tree pose is to place the foot on to the inner knee or higher inner thigh - good for the opening the hips and stretching in to groin muscles,” explains Olds. “It helps with practising focus and balance, too, something most men have problems with. This pose is also good for strengthening the ankles, by engaging the toes and balls of your feet.
How to do it: This pose can be tricky, especially if you don’t have great balance (usually this pose is taught in the middle of the sequence once the body is warmed up). However, there are easier alternatives if not. Start by raising your left leg and grabbing the knee with your left hand. If you’re finding it hard to stay still, try spreading the toes of your standing foot and gripping the floor whilst engaging your perineum (in yoga called the mula bandha).
Keep a straight back, lift the chest whilst engaging the core. Once you’ve established a strong balance, try to move the grip from the knee to the toes of the left foot and extend the heel out to the left. If it feels easy, try straightening the leg while retaining the grip on the toes and pushing out through the ankle. Repeat on both sides, although you might find one side is much easier than the other.
Easier, alternative pose
This alternative tree pose is great for men who aren’t quite as flexible. You can also use a wall, by leaning gently against it with your elbow or extending the raised leg into it. Holding a belt or band and wrapping it around the middle of your foot helps with balance whilst still targeting the same areas. "It’s fine to lean a little bit to the side for this pose until balance and flexibility improves," says Olds.
“It’s helpful to have the hand on the hip in this pose to assist you with stability,” she advises. “In this pose, it also helps to spread the toes and press really hard into the ball of the foot to divide the weight of the body into the heel and the four corners of the foot.”
Side Ninja (Skandasana)
With one of the coolest names of all the yoga poses, side ninja is another great yoga pose for increasing flexibility in the hips - a place that is known for storing emotions, such as feelings of fear, anxiety and sadness, until we release them through various hip-opening poses.
“In this pose, the extended leg is stretching the hamstring and groin muscles, stretching the lower back, and the bent leg is opening the groin and the hips,” explains Olds.
How to do it: To perform side ninja, bend the left leg and keep the right leg straight as you lower to the ground and lean to the left side. Try to get your bum as low to the floor as possible while keeping the spine straight. The left foot doesn’t need to be completely on the floor, you can stay on your toes if this is easier. Flex the right foot and try to point the toes up towards the sky, protecting the knee in the process. Repeat on the opposite side.
Olds adds: “Keep the hands at the front of the chest to help with balance, press them really tight against one another as well as against the chest - this will give you more balance. The pose also strengthens the ankles and the feet, especially when you spread the toes.”
More advanced, alternative pose
This is the full pose when your arms are stretched out as opposed to bringing your hands into the prayer. If you’re more flexible, you can grab the big toe of the extended foot and left the opposite arm so you have an extension and a better opening through the chest.
Also known as thread the needle pose, this is more of a Yin yoga pose. This pose is not the easiest to pull off but if you can, it is one of the most effective to release the tension in your neck, shoulders and along the spine by targeting the outer layer of the shoulder, the shoulder blade and the space in between your trapeze muscle. This is also a good pose to stimulate the kidney and urinary bladder meridians.
“This pose is for those who work predominantly at a desk and hold a lot of tension, lumps and knots in their neck and shoulders, as well as stiffness in the upper thoracic and lumbar spine,” Olds says.
How to do it: Start in a tabletop position, with knees at hip-width distance. Bring the right arm under the left armpit and come down onto your shoulder, relaxing your neck and side of the head. From here, bring your left hand up above your head so your left elbow is at a right angle. Now, straighten the left leg to the side, similar to a downward dog, and press to the ball and toes of your left foot. Extending the leg prevents you from falling onto your back and becoming a “rolling panda”, as the name suggests. Finally, look up to your left armpit and try to relax so that your neck rests on the ground.
As with most Yin poses, this is best held for longer periods, between 4-5 minutes. Once done, come out slowly, take a rest for two minutes and repeat the same move on the other side.
Similar to rolling panda, the broken wing pose opens the inner shoulder, the pec muscles and the armpit area. It also stretches your neck muscles, the space between your ear and shoulder. Adding the bent leg encourages a twist into your spine, too.
“This one is especially good for those men who lift a lot of weight in the gym,” explains Olds. “A really deep posture for those needing to open up the front part of their chest and upper shoulders as well as stretching the heart and lung meridians.
How to do it: Lay down on your belly, extend the right arm directly to the side of the body with the hand in line with the shoulder and place your left hand underneath your shoulder. Push into your left hand and rest the right cheek onto the floor. Now, bend your left knee and lift it off the floor, placing the foot flat beside your right hip to target the right shoulder. Alternatively, you can wrap the left arm over your lower back. You can also extend this fully and interlace your hands behind the back if it feels comfortable to do so.
“For a deeper stretch, bend the arm you are laying on by 90-degrees rather than keeping it straight,” adds Olds, “although keep in mind that this is highly intense.”
Again, because this is a Yin pose, hold for between 4-5 minutes for best results. Once done, rest for a few minutes and then repeat the same move on the other side.
Frog pose (Mandukasana)
This pose is a super-deep hip opener, really focussing in on the groin muscles, hamstrings and glutes.
How to do it: Start off in a tabletop shape facing the long edge of your mat. Walk the knees out wider than your hips and flex your feet so that your toes face outward and your heels are directly behind your knees. Now, walk your hands forward and if you have the room, place your forearms on a bolster or on the ground and try to lift your belly away from the ground.
“It’s really important that the knees are in line with the hips so the pose resembles a frog, Olds says. “You need to be super relaxed while in this pose in order to not damage the knees. Sometimes it’s good to use a blanket for cushioning to protect them and make sure the toes roll out away from the heels.
As with the rolling panda and broken wing poses, Olds advises holding this pose for 4-5 minutes. “It’s a really nice opening for the pelvis muscles,” she adds. “It also goes into the glutes, inner muscles of your thigh and the groin.”
Wide-legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana)
“This forward bend pose goes nice and deep into the hips and groin areas, but is more gentle to the frog, adding the benefit of stretching and strengthening of the hamstrings, calves, feet, and glutes,” says Olds. "It's best suited for those who use their leg muscles for running, football or cycling."
How to do it: Your feet need to be quite wide to start. The best way to measure is by stretching your arms straight out to your sides, widening your stance until your ankles are directly in line with your wrists. Root your feet firmly into the ground, and distribute your weight evenly in your feet. Now, straighten your legs, lock the knees in by lifting your kneecaps to engage your thighs and put your hands on your hips.
Next, lift your chest, move your heart forward and up, and gently draw your shoulder blades toward each other as your continue to lengthen your torso and begin to fold forward. Try to move your weight slightly forward into the balls of your feet and let your neck and head hang heavy. Alternatively, you can use the wall to lean against for a deeper and longer hold.
“If you can interlace your hands and stretch them up and high above your head, this is a great stretch for the opening of the shoulders,” adds Olds. It’s also said to help and relieve headaches.
Easier, alternative pose
If you find it hard to bend deeply into this pose and are looking for something a little easier, you can try the twisted variation. This is the same as the forward bend above, but Olds explains that by adding a twist you are opening the chest and stretching the shoulders away from each other to add in targeting the lower back, which, she says “is great for those who suffer from lower back pain”.
All picture credits: Banziris/ sur1clic.com, taken at LevelSix, Peckham Levels, Peckham.