The segregation that once existed in the gym — men in the weight room, women in a group exercise room — is dissolving as more men join group classes such as yoga. As men, in general, discover the benefits of yoga, Black men, in particular, discover how yoga can help their everyday life.
Neal McKinney, a student at Practice Indy Yoga who is currently training to be an instructor, said yoga offers a variety of benefits, so Black men should find space in a class. While yoga is stereotypically white in the U.S., Black people can and should get involved in yoga because of the benefits it provides.
“Just because it may not seem like it might not be for us doesn’t mean it can’t be for us, and if we can’t find space for ourselves, then we have to go out and create it,” McKinney said.
Yoga offers a variety of physical health benefits to men such as strength training and targets muscles like the obliques that standard weightlifting overlooks. Amy Peddycord, owner of the yoga school Invoke Studio, said Pranayama, or yoga’s breath training, helps men exercise by improving cardiovascular input, or how much blood your heart pumps. Better cardiovascular input means improved performance during aerobic exercise such as running. In addition, yoga decompresses the spine and elongates muscles, mitigating damage from physical activity.
Charles Crim saw how yoga can relieve aches firsthand. After a history as a college football player and a warehouse worker, Crim’s back began to ache as he aged. He decided to do hot yoga, a trendy form of yoga performed in rooms around 100 degrees with about 50 percent humidity, to ease the pain. Crim went in suspicious of whether he could benefit from yoga. He saw improvements within a week.
“Even if you are trying to lose weight, you go exercise, and you don’t feel good after the first day of doing it,” Crim said. “It comes later. But, actually, in hot yoga you do feel good [immediately].”
As Crim’s back pain disappeared, he began sleeping better and gaining flexibility. He even began stretching 15 minutes before going to bed each night.
“Men are doing it now because we’re older,” Crim said. “We have to. But if we would have kept doing it while we were young, we probably wouldn’t have some of these problems.”
Peddycord said many men start yoga for the physical benefits, but they often discover mental benefits along their yoga journey. For example, Jared Byczko, co-owner of Naptown Fitness, said yoga helps combat the mindset of being stressed and overwhelmed, or “monkey mind” as yogis often call it.
McKinney said yoga is a helpful solution to anxiety. On one level, being able to pause allows people to collect their thoughts. On another level, the physical progress can be inspirational because once people become able to do moves that previously seemed impossible, it reaffirms they can conquer other challenges in life. McKinney notes that yoga has helped him deal with a variety of stressors ranging from his own shyness to political worries.
“What yoga has given me is an escape to find peace of mind and being able to release those fears,” McKinney said. “Every time that I get on my yoga mat, I’m able to focus on myself and focus on how I’m feeling … [Black men] don’t get a lot of opportunities to engage in that kind of intentional practice of being at peace and not feeling like there’s all these external pressures.”
As men such as Crim, Byczko and McKinney embrace yoga, the idea of it being female only disappears. Peddycord said she not only sees more male students but also manly students like professional football and basketball players. In fact, experienced athletes often make dedicated students.
For Crim, being a man in a woman-dominated class was initially weird, but he never felt out of place in hot yoga. In fact, the women were helpful. They encouraged him to finish every class in the hot room, and they kept him accountable to how often he showed up. Sometimes the gender ratio was even a motivation in itself.
“I can’t punk out in front of all of these women,” Crim joked.
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.