Call it yoga on testosterone.
It’s a yoga method that aims to squash the stereotype of the exercise as a soul-baring spiritual meetup where guys often feel clumsy, clueless and weirded-out.
Athletic trainer Dean Pohlman’s new book, “Yoga Fitness for Men,” explains and shows poses that increase flexibility, build strength and improve performance. His aim is to show how yoga can be fitness-focused and its principles practiced throughout one’s lifetime.
Yoga can play a key role in overcoming everyday problems such as back pain, knee problems and injuries caused by sitting all day, said Pohlman, a 28-year-old Cleveland native who now lives in Austin, Texas.
The book, available online and in bookstores, features step-by-step explanations of 55 yoga postures along with modifications and tips on what you should and shouldn’t be feeling with each; 25 workouts with beginner and advanced tracks; and three yoga programs that guide the reader into starting a yoga practice. Pohlman dismisses myths such as yoga involves only stretching; that yoga by itself is the only workout to make you strong and healthy; and that no injuries occur in yoga (he advises how to keep from being injured by poor technique or pushing too hard).
He recommends that men practice yoga at least twice a week for at least 30 minutes each session, and to stretch every morning, even for 10 minutes.
Pohlman literally walked into his first yoga class by accident. He was dressed for his usual weightlifting and sprint workout, but intended to stop first at a tailor. Instead of walking into the tailor’s shop, he walked into a yoga class. He decided he should try it when the teacher told him the exercises would benefit his regular workouts. Halfway through the class, Pohlman said he was “totally exhausted.”
“It was the hardest workout by far I had ever done,” Pohlman said. “I liked the challenge.
“I started being much more aware of my posture and my shoulder placement, and using my abs to stand up instead of standing with an anterior pelvic tilt – with your butt sticking out and the pubic bone tilts downward,” he said. “I noticed I had more mobility, more control over my body and I could lift weights better. I realized that many aspects of my fitness routine were under-developed, such as balance, flexibility and breathing.”
Pohlman said he was surprised that, even though he had always been athletic and played lacrosse in college, he’d never been trained properly.
Several Chicago-area men, who swear by yoga teacher Sue Wen’s regimen at the East Bank Club fitness center, couldn’t agree more.
James Casey, a 30-year-old River West resident, financial wholesaler and life-long athlete, said he started taking yoga eight years ago after his first job out of college – a desk job – left him stiff and with aches and pains.
After a friend convinced him to take a hot yoga class, he was hooked – and says his flexibility has improved dramatically and his back pain has eased.
He discovered a detox effect, too.
“I love the sweating that comes with the practice and I feel refreshed and energized afterwards,” he said.
Abe Fattah, a 36-year-old lawyer who lives in River North, said six months of yoga classes have led him to enjoy increased flexibility, less back pain and the discovery of a powerful tool to reduce – or at least, manage – stress.
His advice to others: It’s a one hour investment and you’re likely to get hooked after one class.
Jason Greenberg, a 48-year-old Glencoe resident and owner of an industrial work-clothes manufacturing company, says he has noticed a wide variety of improvements since he started taking Wen’s yoga class. Wen also teaches at Studio Three.
“I used to throw my back out about once a year and never do anymore,” he said. “I’m more relaxed throughout the day and not as bothered from annoyances I was before.
“And I have improved flexibility and balance for my golf swing. I’m more in tune with my body weight from pushing myself off the floor. I have dropped a few pounds trying to make the moves easier. My breathing is more in sync with other exercises, like lifting weights, [so] when I perform chest expansion exercises, like flies, I breathe in on the expansion and out on the contraction.”
Pohlman says it’s important to have a teacher who both challenges you and applauds your successes, and who knows how to teach yoga to men.
That’s why so many men at East Bank Club look forward to Wen’s classes.
“I take Sue’s class because I think she’s the best instructor I have ever had in any sport,” Greenberg said. “Every week is very different, fresh and challenging.”
“It’s also inspiring to see her perform the moves with perfect form, while she’s instructing the class,” he said. “She not only looks like a super hero, with no excess fat and muscular tones, but she performs the exercises with gymnastic-type poise.”
Andreas Bottcher, a 53-year-old South Loop resident, said his nearly three years practicing yoga has helped him become more flexible and have better alignment.
“It’s a great complement to my other workout routine,” he said.
Wen, who has taught yoga for more than 10 years, knows how to motivate her class.
“If you want to perform better, you need to be flexible,” she said. “If you’re stiff, you can’t do anything.”
And besides, she said, “You get taller. At least, you look taller.”
Sandra Guy is a local freelance writer.