I’ve been going to hot yoga classes every day for several weeks, struggling through 26 postures over 90 minutes in a room heated to more than 40 degrees Celsius. I’m not very flexible, and usually hate exercise. I’m certainly not the stereotypical “yogi,” ridiculously muscular, without a gramme of fat, fond of herbal teas, and typically female (or, if a guy, sporting a man bun).
But when my flatmate asked me to come along one spring evening, I thought it’d be fun to give it a try. Stepping into the practice room, the heat was like walking into a sauna – so oppressive that I wasn’t able to even think about being intimidated by other people; about halfway through, I genuinely wondered if I was going to collapse from heatstroke.
But the environment also felt so comfortable, so supportive (it helped the teacher only had words of encouragement when I could barely do any of the poses she guided us through). Afterwards, lying on my rented mat panting from exhaustion, I felt a surge of euphoria, and awoke the next day with more energy than I’d had in years.
Fast-forward to the present. I’m beginning to fall in love, and the benefits have been numerous.
My self-confidence has grown; just finishing each class feels like a tremendous accomplishment. Feeling my brain melt into mush as I can only focus on the teacher’s instructions has done wonders for reducing COVID-related anxiety. I’ve learned the importance of self-love and body positivity – each class has people of all ages, body types and genders, and it’s especially inspiring to see older men with larger bodies.
The greater confidence means I can now look at myself in a mirror without a shirt on. And just like the sweat flushing out toxins, so too have I felt toxic masculinity washing away.
“Women seem to be a little more proactive about taking care of their mental and emotional wellbeing, whereas many men are still pushing themselves until they are forced to stop. Hot yoga is strong, sweaty exercise, but also includes meditation and breathing, so it is a kind of multivitamin for complete self-care.”
Practicing yoga can lead to better sleep, help with stress management, encourage healthier eating and habits, and promote better body image because it teaches a person to be more in tune with how they feel, according to Johns Hopkins University. Harvard Medical School notes physical health benefits include lowering blood pressure, helping with weight loss by burning calories, increased muscle tone, better endurance and flexibility.
“The heat dilates the blood vessels, so more oxygen and nutrients move around the body as you practice,” explains Linda Carofano, who has been teaching hot yoga in South Australia for more than a decade.
Jodie Peterson, who has been teaching Bikram – a type of hot yoga – since 1998 in the northern Sydney suburb of Brookvale, says more.
I lost a considerable amount of weight during my first year of practice. But probably more than the physical activity, was the routine.
Benjamin Lorr, author of Hell-Bent
“Men love it because it is a challenge physically and mentally – they feel like they are getting a workout without creating tension and stiffness.”
“I lost a considerable amount of weight during my first year of practice,” he says.
“But probably more than the physical activity, was the routine. The consistency of a yoga practice creates an amazing feedback loop where you can see your progress in steady enough intervals that you don’t lose hope or stall out.”
Lorr also has strong views about men who dismiss yoga because of what others might think.
“I think a guy who refused to do yoga because it was unmanly would look quite silly.”
He has a point: male celebrities including David Beckham, Daniel Craig and George Clooney are known for practicing hot yoga regularly.
One Hot Yoga’s Mills says she’s seen more men taking her classes in recent years.
“I think reductive ideas of gender are breaking down generally, and one very tiny and very wonderful part of that is that men don’t feel like yoga is for women.”
Another reason, she believes: increasing awareness of the importance of self-care, particularly amid COVID.
“We can only love and accept others to the extent we love and accept ourselves,” explains Mills.
“Yoga helps, and especially hot yoga, because it teaches two fundamental building blocks of love and acceptance: firstly, awareness of our thoughts and emotions as they are happening, and secondly, that we are not those thoughts and emotions.
“Once we begin to experience that, we can begin to act, rather than react, to others in ways that are in alignment with our goals and values.”
“Almost any form of meditation, anything that stills the brain, stops it from jumping around, creates room for your actual calm stable self to rise up. That room seems like a first step to loving ourselves.”
I may never be able to get my lifted leg completely parallel to the floor during Daṇḍāyamana Jānuśīrṣāsana (“standing head to knee pose”), but that’s OK. Becoming a better man is partially about being comfortable with yourself – something I’m not sure I’d learn as easily without hot yoga.
Ben Mack is a writer from North Plains, Oregon living in Wellington, New Zealand.
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