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From top sportsmen to high-flying executives, men are taking yoga more seriously, but it isn’t all about being ‘bendy’, says Spear’s wellness correspondent Jo Foley
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BY Jo Foley
Way back in the mists of time in the ashrams of India, women were not allowed to practise yoga: they were thought easily distracted. But over the ensuing millennia things changed dramatically. For most of the past 50 years yoga has been perceived as a rather airy-fairy, hippy-dippy girly thing… in fact, everything it is not.
Yoga is an ancient discipline which focuses on strength, flexibility, balance and breathing, and while many of its devotees are female, more and more men are joining in. It’s been a favourite with entertainers who value what it brings to both breathing and stamina; actors from Ralph Fiennes to Freddie Fox, Robert Downey Jr to Colin Farrell are unashamedly photographed with their yoga mats and gear.
But it was when it entered the world of sport that it attracted even more men. Ryan Giggs credited yoga practice for extending his playing career, and was so enamoured of the exercise that he released his own yoga video with his teacher Sarah Ramsden. Chelsea players have added yoga to training sessions, while tennis’s Andy Murray has been practising Bikram yoga for five years and claims it has improved his concentration and flexibility.
Many chaps initially choose Bikram yoga, which is performed in 37C heat; Murray has described it as ‘tough and ugly’. (Bikram is looked on as a parvenu by true yogis as it was devised in the US in the 1970s.) Ashtanga is another type known for its speedy sequence of asanas (postures) and is nicknamed ‘athletes’ yoga’. They are the two kinds most popular with men who are taking yoga up for the first time.
One of London’s top yoga teachers, Jane Kersel, says this is mostly because men are results-driven and think this is the quickest way to feel the benefits of yoga.
In fact, she says, ‘If you are an Ashtanga teacher and your newest student might be a 45-to-55-year-old who spends most of his time at a desk, you might be kinder to send him to a more general Hatha class, where he will learn slowly the different ways of getting into and out of poses and can build on that practice. It’s better than being thrown in at the deep end and learning a set sequence of fast-paced movements that were originally intended for nubile adolescent boys with an over-stimulating amount of testosterone streaming through their bodies.’
Kersel has noticed more middle-aged men joining her classes and retreats, most of whom are encouraged by wives or partners. ‘They usually start with “I’ll be no good because I’m so inflexible,” which is actually the wrong mindset to come to yoga with and has been proliferated by any number of instant media accounts showing beautiful women doing a kind of “Cirque du Soleil” style yoga, which has zero to do with yoga and much more to do with acrobatics.’
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