Benefits of Yoga

When guys hear the word yoga they think hippies, tofu, and small muscles.

Contrary to the popular belief that yoga is only for women, it was traditionally practiced by men although it has not maintained its male student population since its arrival in the Western world. Only a small percentage of the 15 million people who practice yoga are men. (1)

What men don’t realize is that most women consider it incredibly sexy when a guy practices yoga. I imagine this probably has something to do with the fact that most males who practice yoga [and lift weights] exude incredible confidence, self-security and a strong posture.

Aside from improving your sex appeal, our primary focus in this article is to show that any guy, whether you may be a bodybuilder, endurance athlete, or strength athlete, can benefit from this ancient practice. You will find that yoga can be an amazingly powerful tool in enhancing fat loss, overall athleticism, and injury prevention and rehabilitation.

Fat loss & Cardiovascular –

One key benefit of yoga over traditional forms of “cardio” or supplemental “calorie burning” exercises is the actual pleasure found in practicing it. Compared to the boring and dreaded treadmill or stair machine, yoga is often considerably more engaging and enjoyable, yet just as beneficial. Plus, yoga is something that can be practiced from home, in the comfort of one’s living room.

Lack of steady commitment is one of the biggest factors in why ‘weight loss’ or ‘fat loss’ programs fail. One following a steady yoga practice may almost feel like they reach their goals faster and easier simply due to the fact that the exercise is enjoyed. It’s interesting to note that the positive physical effects almost start to seem secondary after one realizes the positive psychological effects. Either way, it’s a catalyst for success.

Warrior One

Philosophies on the actual cardiovascular benefits of yoga are vast and vary greatly depending on the type of yoga practiced. Most would agree that more vigorous activity such as running, field sports, or circuit training will provide stronger cardiovascular stimulus. However, research has shown yoga to be beneficial for improving lipid profiles, insulin resistance and cardiovascular risk factors. (5) Part of the benefits can be attributed to the stress and anxiety relief alone, which can reduce heart disease risk and high blood pressure.

Flexibility & Circulatory-

The most commonly known benefit of yoga is increased flexibility, which can offer potential benefits for strengthening and balancing muscle and connective tissue.

Most of us understand that when the muscles are strengthened during weight training they are in turn pulled tighter. However, this ‘tightness’ can disable your muscles and connective tissue from properly relaxing when they should be. This relaxation is especially important for the opposing muscle in any given movement. (eg, the biceps should relax during a bench press) Mechanical musculoskeletal movement can be highly compromised and susceptible to injury by overly tightened muscles.

What about old fashioned stretching?

The most significant benefit you will find with yoga over traditional stretching is the light and progressively increasing warm-up like activity and increased blood circulation. Most other forms of stretching totally neglect a sufficient warm up period and only stretch isolated muscles groups. Poses performed in yoga encourage you to support your own body weight, which engages more muscle groups and promotes rapid engorgement of blood in the muscle belly from the resistance. More blood in the muscle means more effective stretching.

Side Angle Pose

From a recovery standpoint, increased systemic blood flow will promote nutrient delivery and toxin clearance. This of course translates into faster repair and increased muscle hypertrophy when combined with the proper weight training program. The enhanced circulation will also greatly improve injury rehabilitation. Even serious injuries with the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or the rotator cuff can also be improved with physical therapy, supplemented with yoga.

An integral part of yoga is the seamless transition from one pose to the next. For instance, the controlled movement and twisting of the spine provides significant benefit for the smaller stabilizer muscles controlling the vertebrae (eg, rodatores, multifidus, interspinales, and intertransversarii). Typical back extensions, lat pulls and upright rows will help these muscles very little, if at all. A recent ACE study showed that an hour of yoga three times per week increases average trunk flexibility by 13% in only eight weeks.

Remember, flexibility does not happen overnight. If connective tissue is “stretched” it is considered an injury, so be patient. The lengthening of the muscle and fascia must happen together through months of progressive training.

Balance –

When the word “balance” is used there tends to be two thoughts that come to mind, balance in reference to symmetry and balance in reference to being able to stabilize the body. Yoga helps improve both types of balance. This is achieved in yoga because all poses are done on all sides of the body. Poses are done from side to side and front to back. When working the whole body in the equal amounts, the whole body responds as a whole and becomes balanced.

When the body becomes “balanced” it becomes realigned. All of the 200 plus bones in the body are held in alignment by your muscles and connective tissue. As discussed earlier, if one (or a group) of muscles are tighter than the opposing muscle it can cause imbalance and potentially lead to discomfort or injury. With overall enhanced flexibility you will find balance, and the benefits herein will lead to improved posture, movement and flow. Common physiological ailments can often be improved by simply increasing overall flexibility and balance. (Eg, shin splints, plantar fasciaitis, anterior compartment syndrome, meniscus degeneration, and various tendonitis related issues.) In fact, research has shown yoga can improve repetitive-stress related injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, (3) while also helping with inflammation related conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. (2)

Breathing –

Yoga can improve breathing capacity by improving the flexibility of the rib cage, shoulders and diaphragm. (4) Improved flexibility in these areas will aid in the proper involvement of the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles in the act of breathing instead of only using your upper chest. This increases the amount of air taken into the lungs.

Oxygenation efficiency can be improved by focused and controlled breathing. (4) In yoga, each pose is coordinated with your breathing which will improve your mind-to-body awareness, power of concentration, and the body’s ability to replace carbon dioxide with oxygen.

Endurance –

There are two basic types of exercise; isokinetic and isometric. Isokinetic exercise involves strength in a repetitive movement (curls, bench, squats, ect.). Isometric exercise involves the tensile strength without movement (holding a pose under load). A study done at UC Davis demonstrated that isometric exercise increased muscle endurance by as much as 57% while isokinetic exercise increased muscle endurance by only 28%. The same study showed that isometric exercise provided remarkable improvements in flexibility and oxygen intake. This increased endurance is good news for virtually any athlete, minus those exclusive to explosive strength. (Discus thrower, linemen, sprinter, ect) Just be sure to choose the correct style of yoga for your goals.

Lifting the spirit –

During an intense yoga session its often encouraged to find the connection between the instructions of the mind and the order of the body. It is this metaphysical interplay between these elements that keep the individual constantly engaged and challenged.

As you attempt to hold a rigorously demanding pose you may ask yourself –

“Am I consciously in control?”

“Can I consciously work through the uncomfortable burning sensation?”

“Can I strengthen the signal from mind to muscle?”

The act of mindfully focusing on your body and its functions while performing a difficult pose in yoga gives the mind permission to focus on the task at hand, rather than stress inducing factors.

As you practice yoga, you will find that it brings a certain feeling of clarity, order and mindfulness – and an ability to conquer stress. Learning to apply this skill set to everyday tasks will enhance your productivity and overall fulfillment – whether it is a verbal presentation, a cage fight or simply falling asleep. (6-8)

cross legged


1. (Seattle times article” Yoga Poises for Chain Pose” Published Tuesday Sept. 21, 2004)

2. Measuring the Effects of Yoga in Rheumatoid Arthritis I. HASLOCK, R. MONRO, R. NAGARATHANA, H. R. NAGENDRA, and N. V. RAGURAM Rheumatology, Aug 1994; 33: 787 – 790.

3. Yoga-Based Intervention for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Randomized Trial Marian S. Garfinkel, Atul Singhal, Warren A. Katz, David A. Allan, Rosemary Reshetar, and H. Ralph Schumacher, Jr JAMA, Nov 1998; 280: 1601.

4. Pattern of breathing and ventilatory response to CO2 in subjects practicing hatha-yoga

D. C. Stanescu, B. Nemery, C. Veriter, and C. Marechal J Appl Physiol, Dec 1981; 51: 1625.

5. Risk Indices Associated with the Insulin Resistance Syndrome, Cardiovascular Disease, and Possible Protection with Yoga: A Systematic Review

Kim E. Innes, Cheryl Bourguignon, and Ann Gill Taylor
J Am Board Fam Pract, Nov 2005; 18: 491 – 519.

6. Sahaja Yoga Meditation as a Family Treatment Programme for Children with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder Linda J. Harrison, Ramesh Manocha, and Katya Rubia Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Oct 2004; 9: 479 – 497.

7. The effects of yoga on the attention and behavior of boys with Attention Deficit/hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Pauline. S. Jensen and Dianna T. Kenny

J Atten Disord, May 2004; 7: 205 – 216.

8. Yoga for anxiety: a systematic review of the research evidence • Commentary

G Kirkwood, H Rampes, V Tuffrey, J Richardson, K Pilkington, and S Ramaratnam
Br. J. Sports Med., Dec 2005; 39: 884 – 891.

Other Primary Resources

Uniting body, mind, spirit: Nicole Joseph AAP News, Dec 2004; 25: 320.

Real Men Do Yoga by John Capouya

Yoga: a Yoga Journal Book.

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