I see it quite often. Women drag their reluctant husbands to yoga only to find them wilting in a puddle of sweat. At the end of class, while the women glow and prance nimbly out of the studio, the men, hobbling to the door, are left feeling defeated.
Men are typically so much stronger than women, yet some struggle gravely in yoga. So why is this?
Flexibility vs. Strength
While men might be stronger overall, women tend to be more flexible. Many yoga poses require less brawn and more give to finesse. Often, men are programmed to muscle through physical challenges, relying on rote strength and manliness to get the job done. In yoga, women take the path of least resistance, using their litheness as an advantage.
When the bones of the body are correctly aligned in a yoga pose, little effort is needed to maintain the pose. However, bones can only be aligned properly if the muscles surrounding them are limber enough to permit it. Tight muscles tend to pull bones out of alignment, therefore causing one to use more energy to hold the pose for an extended amount of time. And since yoga poses are often held for durations of up to three minutes, wasting energy due to improper alignment can sap anyone’s strength in a hurry.
The Typical Culprits
Tight Shoulders, Biceps and Chest in Plank Pose
A man may be able to do a lot more push-ups than a woman, but ask a man with a tight upper body to hold plank pose and he’s squirming in seconds. With arms out of alignment, strain on the deltoids, triceps and biceps is increased when holding this pose.
Tight Hamstrings in Downward Dog
In downward dog, tight hamstrings tend to cause the body to lean forward over the wrists. As a result, the pose is not balanced and that places a lot of strain on the shoulders and hands. Without flexibility, this pose is difficult to hold for very long due to the increased distribution of weight on the wrists.
Tight psoas muscles (muscles that flex the hip) create a challenge in seated poses because they want to constantly pull the body forward. As a result, the muscles of the lower back have to work extremely hard at keeping the spine straight. This is very exhausting and can also be very hard on the ego when just sitting becomes a challenge.
What To Do
Stretch Shoulders, Chest and Biceps
Stand in a doorway with both arms stretched out to the side in the shape of a goal post. Grab onto the door jamb and lean slightly forward. Feel the stretch across the front of the chest and shoulders and hold for up to 1 minute. To stretch the biceps, straighten both arms as far as possible while leaning forward through the door.
To safely stretch tight hamstrings without compromising the lower back, lie on your back and take a belt or a strap around the bottom of one foot. Extend your leg to the ceiling and use the strap to draw your leg toward your chest. Hold the stretch for up to three minutes, each leg.
Stretch Hip Flexors
Come into a runner’s lunge with your right leg forward and your left knee on the floor. Place both hands on top of your right thigh and lift your upper body as far towards vertical as you can without straining. Feel the front of your left hip stretch even more by tucking your tailbone under. Hold for up to 1 minute and switch sides.