|How hard can it be to join generation flex?|
Matt Julian (right), of The Third Space fitness club in Soho shows me how
Are you one of the estimated tens of thousands of men in the UK who have discovered the wonders of yoga? No, me neither. I don’t know my asana from my elbow – but lately it seems as though everybody else does.
Even footballers; Ryan Giggs was so pleased that downward dogging helped him become one of the oldest players in the Premiership, he released a “yoga for men” DVD. Leading sportsmen, from Andy Murray and Evander Holyfield to the entire New Zealand All Blacks, rave about how yoga tones muscle, improves flexibility and increases endurance.
According to the current issue of Men’s Health, one pose in particular – vipareeta karani, or the legs-up-a-wall shoulder stand to those who don’t speak Sanskrit – can even halt hair loss.
And yet despite all the chatter, it still seems irredeemably… girly.
Not any more. James Muthana, founder of YogaAt.com, which offers tailored sessions in the workplace, says that the gender balance of his classes has recently reversed. Men now regularly outnumber the women.
“Yoga is no longer the preserve of the hippy-dippy stereotype. The men we teach fit a common profile: they’re between 30 and 40, work in the City, and do two or three sessions a week to maintain peak condition for their main sport, be it rugby, football, running or triathlons. They’ve realised that yoga is great for keeping trim, sculpting the abs, as well as providing that calm but focussed mental attitude that’s useful at work and play. They’re not looking to find themselves. They see yoga as part of their general conditioning.”
But the hardest part, says James, is getting blokes into the class. “I just remind them they’re going into a relaxed environment with a large number of 20- to 40-year-old women who look after themselves. It’s quite an attractive proposition.”
As a yoga virgin, I head to The Third Space fitness club in central London for a taster session. Matt Julian, general manager and its yoga and pilates instructor, agrees that yoga is no longer the preserve of the fairer sex – if it ever was.
“Originally, women weren’t allowed to do yoga,” he says. “For blokes, it’s more a case of asking yourself: are you man enough? There are plenty of moves that men are better at than women – such as this.” He drops to the floor, into a squat, and performs a mini handstand – the Crow. It looks like he could be armwrestling himself. Can yoga get much more manly than that?
Matt, who did his first sun saluation four years ago – “when I could barely touch my toes” – now has the zeal of a convert. He finds at least ten minutes a day to practice his asanas, the various positions that go together to make up a routine. Given there are dozens, if not hundreds, of variants, recommends a beginner like me might benefit from vinyasa flow, a dynamic power yoga based on a series of key poses that you combine into circuits. Repeat until exhausted.
How hard can it be to join generation flex? It’s tougher on the ego than the muscles, says Matt. “Guys don’t like feeling like the worst in the class. Yoga’s not conventionally competitive, but you are competing with yourself to maintain your breathing and your pose.”
Matt shows me a few key moves – the ‘Sun Salutation’, ‘Downward Dog’ and ‘Warrior’ – all of which have Sanskrit names that I promptly forget, and require strength and that you breathe in and out through the nose, “like Darth Vader”. I can do that.
To my surprise, I can also do some of the stretches and hold some of the trickier poses (ta-dah, bending-over-backwards ‘Bridge’!). I can almost keep up with Matt’s everchanging flow of contortions, too. It’s aerobics meets Twister.
“Can you feel the heat building up and a sweat coming on?” he asks. We’re only a minute in, and I am already dripping wet. For such a gentle and deceptively simple circuit workout, I feel a furnace-like glow at the end. But it’s the following day that I really feel the benefit – or, rather, a dull ache all over, and stiffness in muscles that haven’t been used for ages.
If I could just get the hang of a few poses – and the correct places to breathe – I can see myself doing a ten-minute session on the yoga mat every so often, before work or after a gym workout. I feel myself going native.
“Good,” says Matt. “The world would be a better place if more men did yoga.”
* The Third Space (13 Sherwood Street, W1F, 020 7439 6333, www.thethirdspace.com); www.Yoga.At.com
* The photographs were taken by the remarkable Clapton-based photographer, Rii Schroer. Cheers, mate. Check out her amazing portfolio here.