"I'm not flexible enough to do yoga." "Yoga is for girls in pink spandex." "Yoga? Don't you have to be celibate and vegan to do that?"
These are just a few of the excuses I hear from men who are a tad resistant to the idea of adding yoga to their fitness routines. Their heads are filled with notions of swamis on mountaintops and gurus sipping wheatgrass-tofu smoothies while wrapping their legs behind their head.
While those images are enough to drive any man to the nearest Gold's Gym to pump some iron, they're simply not an accurate description of modern-day yoga.
As a yoga teacher and trainer, I've worked with elite male athletes and watched their performances transform with consistent yoga practice -- UFC fighters who developed more mental focus in the Octagon; marathoners and triathletes who cut minutes off their best times; NFL players who were able to avoid injuries and increase stamina.
The simple fact is, yoga works. The main impediment for most men isn't a lack of flexibility or fear of pink spandex -- it's ego.
A lot of men like to lift heavy things. They like to count reps and keep score. And no one gets tackled on the yoga mat. What does occur is a deeper mind-body connection, freer movement and a pliable strength in the body's muscles that enables longevity in physical activity of all kinds.
Best of all? The release of ego and self-judgment. So, men, pull out your yoga mats: Here are five simple yoga-inspired moves to get you started -- no tofu smoothies or contortions in sight.
Try incorporating a few of these moves before and after your workouts and you'll notice the difference in your effectiveness and recovery.
1. Up Dog-Down Dog Flow
This is one of the classics: Start in Downward Facing Dog. To find your perfect stance, begin in a plank pose and lift your hips up and back, leaning your heels back toward the mat.
This is a foundation yoga pose and a home base for any practice. It stretches the entire back of the body, making it ideal for athletes, particularly cyclists and runners.
Your Achilles, hamstrings and lumbar spine all get a decadent lengthening and tension release.
From Down Dog, gently roll through the spine, through a plank position and continue to Upward Facing Dog by rolling over your toes, pressing into your palms and opening your chest in a thoracic backbend.
This pose frees the heart center and stretches the entire front of your body. A great stretch for the pectorals and shoulders, which often get overutilized in aggressive sports and fitness routines, this is also the ideal counterpose for anyone hunched over a computer all day.
Flow from Down Dog to Up Dog four to six times or until you feel open and energized.
2. Warrior 2
Stand facing the side of your mat with your arms stretched to your sides and your feet elbow-distance apart. Extend tall through the spine and pivot both feet to face the front of your mat.
Lunge with the right leg until your knee is stacked directly over the ankle. This is a great pose for men because it opens up the hips in a nonaggressive way while cultivating upper- and lower-body strength and balance.
This pose also targets the side of the body, which helps with lateral strength and mobility. From shaping the shoulders to strengthening lats, obliques, quads and hamstrings, this pose is a true full-body workout.
Try holding this pose for two to five breaths on each side, then another round for 10 breaths.
3. Forward Fold/Chair Flow
Begin with feet slightly apart in a gentle forward fold, hinging from the hips. No worries if you can't touch your toes -- that will come with time and practice.
The purpose here is to release the low back, stretch the hamstrings and relax the nervous system. This pose is a great way to end a strenuous workout and will also redirect blood flow by dropping the head below the heart.
In yoga, we call this an "inversion." We'll make it more "masculine" by lifting up to Chair Pose by bending the knees until the thighs come parallel to the mat, dropping your weight back into the heels while lifting the arms overhead for a full-body strengthener.
Flow between each pose from four to six times, spending five breaths in each position.
4. Crescent Lunge Twist
Every well-rounded yoga practice should offer four things for the spine: forward folding, backward bending, extension and twisting.
This pose covers extension and twisting: Find a low runner's lunge with the right leg in front. If you have knee issues, you can place the left knee on the ground.
Keep the left hand on the mat and gently twist your heart center to the right, raising the right arm to cultivate shoulder flexibility. To fire it up a bit, curl over your back toes and lift the knee off the mat engaging more leg strength.
This pose will challenge balance, activate core strength and cultivate suppleness and rotation in the spine, keeping you limber and flexible.
Hold this pose for five to 10 breaths, then return to center and rest in a runner's stretch, extending the hamstring. Repeat five times, then switch sides.
5. Heart-Opening Warrior 3
Stand in a high lunge, then hinge forward 45 degrees and shift your weight onto the right leg and lift off the left until your body is parallel to the floor and your standing leg is straight.
Engage your entire core and interlace fingers behind your back to add a vibrant pectoral stretch and shoulder opener. Don't worry: Tipping over is part of the practice of releasing ego, so find your very edge and hold for five to 10 breaths. Repeat three times on each side, coming back through a high lunge each time to rest.
Now that you've worked up a sweat, balanced the body and mind and practiced some of the basics, you can take your new moves into any yoga class -- pink spandex optional.