Yoga was originally made for men. Asana, those body-twisting, flexibility challenging postures we’ve come to call “yoga” these days were designed with men in mind. In the beginning, yogis were wandering bands of male ascetics covered in ash – generally an unsavory group of characters. As India gained independence from the United Kingdom, a cultural board was created to define and clean up the country’s image, transforming yoga from an outsider’s thing into a practice that allowed people to live better. Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga, was a yogi and healer whose teaching encouraged health and well-being. One of his students, Patthabi Jois, went on to found Ashtanga Yoga, where meditation and asana was taught to adolescent boys to help steady them and keep them still.

The yoga-for-women boom came only in the ’40s when Indra Devi, one of Krishnamacharya’s female students, opened a yoga studio in Los Angeles. Hollywood took to her style of yoga, and the practice came to look female-driven, though a lot of teachers and instructors were still male. As more men see its appeal, though, it becomes apparent that yoga is actually for everyone.

Yoga ups your energy and strengthens you. While it helps target a lot of tightness that you get from a typical gym routine (something many men have to work with especially in hamstrings and shoulders) yoga isn’t “just” stretching; it offers a full-body workout.

YOGA IS AS CHALLENGING AS YOU MAKE IT

Stretching out, rolling around on a 71″ x 26″ rubber mat, doing lunges, getting into a handstand the same way you did in kindergarten, and chanting Om may not sound much compared to an hour of muscle pumping at the gym, but it can be surprising how much sweat and intensity can come from mindful muscular movement.

You don’t need heavyweight gym machines, burpees, or miles of pavement to get a good workout. A strong, focused asana practice takes you through the nuances of the body in a way that most physical activities don’t. Being able to concentrate on the way each part of your body works when you’re standing, bending, seated, or even lying down in a particular position for minutes, even just seconds, raises the bar. Looking inward through mind work and moving outwards through the body is a combination that allows you to tune in to yourself, how challenging you want your practice to be, and how far you can take it day by day.

Despite the bone-breaking poses, the challenge with yoga doesn’t come with bending your body to form a certain shape. It comes with the muscular efforts you work internally and externally. There is no end result, no defining pose that will say you’ve achieved the workout you’re gunning for. What yoga does is keep your effort sustained, so the work just keeps on going.

Yoga helps you find your edge; even the simplest poses, when worked safely and with proper alignment, can be as challenging as you want it to be. Urban Ashram Manila’s FNR (Flexibility Not Required) class tackles foundation poses and the nuances you bring into them to progress through your practice so that even the basics give you a good sweat.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE BUDDHA ON A MOUNTAINTOP TO EXPERIENCE THE BENEFITS OF YOGA

All the esoteric meditation, chanting, mala beads, and Sanskrit may make you feel a little less ready to jump into the yoga bandwagon Truth is, yoga is practical. Tenets or sutras that have been written by yogic sages like Patanjali make sense even today.

“Whatever your impression is of yoga, it’s time you revisit it. Yoga is one of the few disciplines that can truly be life transforming, not only on the physical but holistically as well,” says Lasse Holopainen, yoga teacher and one of the founders of Urban Ashram Manila.

Practice as effort towards stability. Non-attachment means mastery over craving for things that you experience or hear about. These are just a few of the sutras that can be used to get you through the 21st century. While it’s a common misconception, yoga isn’t a religion. It’s more of a philosophy that can permeate through parts of your life that extend beyond your mat. Think of it as the good stuff: what fuels your physical practice and what keeps you coming back to it day after day. Yoga is really about the breath, focusing on the inhales and the exhales, and linking them with how you move. For all the obscurity that meditation might conjure up, what matters in yoga, whether you’re seated with your eyes closed or soldiering through a Warrior pose, is how you can come back to your breath and realize that it’s the fuel taking you not just through your practice but also through life.

People come to yoga for different reasons: to lose weight, to the mind, to deal with the daily grind and stress. Whatever the case may be, stepping on your mat takes you one step closer to feeling better both in your mind and in your body.

 

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Writer: Chinggay Labrador
This article was originally published on Garage Magazine August 2013

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