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5 Struggles Men Face on the Yoga Mat + How to Overcome Them

Dan Jones
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We’re men – we like competition and we like to win. Yoga is different though – there’s no competition and in place of winning, it’s a very personal practice. Anatomically speaking, men face many struggles on the mat. But luckily, there are ways to overcome these challenges and truly benefit (and enjoy) your yoga practice.
 
When it comes to yoga, students typically start with either more flexibility and less strength, or more strength and less flexibility. Guys tend to have the strength component, but are often lacking the flexibility to access certain yoga poses right off the bat.
 
That’s why many poses can be particularly challenging for us guys, and struggling to keep pace with the class can all be discouraging for many dudes. But keeping at it and committing to trying can do wonders for your body and mind.
 
As a dude who might not be so bendy, there are ways you can still rock your Down Dog and keep your damn dignity.
 
Here are the 5 struggles men face on the yoga mat and how to overcome them:
 

1. Forward Folds

Forward folds can be a real eye opener as to just how stiff your hamstrings are. In the beginning of your yoga practice, there’s a chance you won’t be able touch your toes, or even your knees – and that’s ok.
 
Old weightlifting dogma tells us a tight muscle is a strong muscle, which is why stretching is overlooked by many in the gym. It wasn’t till I started spending 10 minutes a day – focused purely on stretching my hamstrings – that I started making real progress.
 

How to overcome the struggle:

Practice stretching your hamstrings in isolation before attempting more advanced movements. Reclining Big Toe Pose with the help of a belt around the foot is great for isolating the hamstrings from the lower back, allowing you a safe, deep stretch. Make sure to keep your knee bent when you bring it towards your chest before attempting to straighten it.
 
To gain flexibility in your hamstrings, practice these Yoga Poses for Tight Hamstrings
 

2. Hip Openers

Men naturally have much narrower hips than our female counterparts, which is why we have much less external hip rotation. What that means for us fellas, is a fundamentally reduced range of motion in the hip area.
 
I found Yin Yoga to be particularly helpful. The longer time spent in poses allows you to comfortably reach a deeper stretch that can penetrate into the many layers of tissue.
 

How to overcome the struggle:

Child’s Pose is a great way to ease yourself into hip openers if Pigeon Pose isn’t yet accessible for you. You can determine the intensity of Child’s Pose by how wide you spread your knees (the wider your knees, the deeper the hip opener). Use blocks to rest your arms or head on and gradually remove the props overtime so that eventually, you can rest fully on the floor.
 
If you want to explore the amazing practice of Yin Yoga, start by learning these 5 Yin Yoga Poses for Beginners.
 

3. Backbends

Wheel Pose always looks impressive, but those childhood throwbacks to walking like a crab along the floor might make you think it’s easier than it actually is.
 
The key to a good backbend is not having a flexible back, but rather an open chest and shoulders, along with a strong core. By focusing your efforts on the front side of the body and taking time to build up to Wheel Pose, you may find that it isn’t as intimidating after all.
 

How to overcome the struggle:

Focus on opening up your front side through easy backbends that prepare you for Wheel Pose – such as Cobra Pose and Extended Puppy Pose. These will introduce a gentle stretch into the lower back and help open up those shoulders for more advanced backbends.
 
Afraid you’ll slip and lose your grip? Too tall for most yoga mats? Check out the 10 Best Yoga Mats for Men to get that additional length and traction.
 

4. Twists

Remember a time when your back was soft and supple?
 
No? Me neither.
 
With back pain being one of the most common complaints among adults, a nice stretch is always in order. Twists are the perfect tonic for a tight core and stiff spine. This is great if you can effectively execute a twist, but gym junkies often have a hard time looking over their shoulder – let alone executing a full spinal twist.
 

How to overcome the struggle:

When practicing any form of a twist, start with a supine twist (meaning you’re laying on your back) and be sure to keep both shoulders on the floor during. If you allow your opposite shoulder to lift off the floor, you’ll negate the effect of the twist and strain both your neck and spine. To protect your lower back in the twist, you can squeeze a block between your knees.
 
If you suffer from back pain, you should definitely check out these 12 Yoga Poses for Back Pain.
 

5. Endurance

So you can comfortably run a half marathon and bench 200 lbs – you must be fit, right? Well sure, that may be true, but yoga is an entirely different beast. So many of us guys come into our first yoga class expecting an easy ride and end up getting our asses kicked – this is also the most effective way to make that the first and last class we try.
 
In yoga, we have to leave our egos at the door. On the mat there’s no place for competition – against ourselves or others. We explore our limits but we also respect them because forcing ourselves into poses we’re not ready for or foregoing proper alignment to keep up will only result in injury.
 

How to overcome the struggle:

It takes time to build up the endurance to maintain the flow with fast-paced Vinyasa flows. If you find yourself falling behind, there’s no shame in taking a resting pose to catch your breath. This is your practice after all – nobody will judge you for taking Child’s Pose or taking a sip of water. Join in when you’re ready and maintain a positive attitude.
 

The Bottom Line

Yoga is absolutely not just for women and it’s totally possible to find that post-yoga-flow-bliss all the yogis talk about. And as men, our greater physical strength lends itself to making all sorts of asanas look effortless – like arm balances, chaturanga and handstands.
 
The important message to take from this isn’t the spotlight on the issues or even the helpful tips, but rather the mindset that it’s absolutely okay to struggle with these things. It’s okay to not be great at everything yoga presents us with. The value is in the journey, not the destination.
 
So whenever you find that frustration creeping in, take a deep breath, accept your body for where it is in the moment, and have faith that these challenges will ultimately become your successes.
 

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Dan Jones

Dan Jones is a former research scientist with a degree in Human Biosciences. He has committed his personal and professional life to the yoga journey and he hopes to inspire more men to take up yoga. A sucker for cold drip coffee and lover of all things coconut, Dan is always pursuing the optimal diet.

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