A yoga class.

A yoga class. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yoga is an ancient discipline first practiced by Buddhists in 11th century India. According to recent estimates, around 20 million Americans currently practice yoga, but only a quarter of that population is male. This is unfortunate because the health benefits of yoga are not exclusive to women.

Full Body Exercise

Yoga works the entire body, something few exercises do. To compare, popular athletic activities like hockey, tennis and football only use 10 to 15 percent of our bodies. Yoga poses require you to use many more muscles, bones and joints, and the nature of such exercise actually oxygenates the blood, meaning yoga will leave you more energetic than when you started. In addition to this, yoga is also designed to work for people of all shapes and sizes.

Beyond offering a full body workout, yoga can also develop a person’s muscular strength. Even the United States Army has taken notice of these benefits, using yoga as part of the current training regiment for new soldiers.

Stress and Pain Relief

Another benefit of yoga is that can reduce stress. Hatha yoga, the sort most often practiced in the United States, is especially good at promoting relaxation. This is accomplished through slow meditative movements, enabling you to locate the specific places where tension exists in your body and your mind, thus increasing your ability to work toward releasing that tension. Since men tend to have higher levels of stress than women, men can especially benefit from the assuaging nature yoga.

Yoga can also decrease muscle soreness while increasing muscle strength. Practicing yoga can make your muscles more limber and can help to alleviate the stiffness that other, rougher sports can cause. This is because the lactic acid that builds up when a person’s muscles are fatigued can be flushed away by yoga’s tension-relieving stretches. Runners in particular tend to favor yoga as lactic acid buildup is particularly painful and frequent in endurance sports.

Mental Benefits

Aside from the obvious physical benefits, yoga also provides a number of psychological benefits for its practitioners. Because of this, athletes as diverse as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Joe McEnroe and Wayne Gretzky have all used yoga to heighten their performances. Yoga requires not just physical strength, but mental and emotional engagement as well. During a yoga session, practitioners have to clear their minds of distraction and allow themselves to slip into more meditative terrain. This evolved form of control over one’s self is key to how yoga increases focus, concentration and mental well-being.

Yoga helps its practitioners to balance their bodies and their minds to achieve a greater sense of overall fitness. It grounds those who practice it, enabling them to live calmer, less stressful existences — precisely why men, who tend to stress over the minutia of life, can benefit so much from yoga.

This post is written by Erica Moss, who is the community manager for the online MSN degree program at Georgetown University. She also enjoys dabbling in photography and connecting with new people. You may email Erica at em1005@georgetown.edu