Just a few short years ago, a man practising yoga would have been considered as innately masculine as donning a pink tutu and skipping along to a Scissor Sisters gig.
Yoga classes were strictly for lithe women in tight leggings contorting their bodies into all manner of shapes, while the men retreated to their manly, testosterone-fuelled comfort zones; pumping iron, playing sport or swigging lager. The only blokes who practised yoga were those who’d smoked too much weed in Goa, or a Russell Brand-type celebrity who you’d see in the newspaper waltzing down the street in his pyjamas, wearing sunglasses and a beanie hat with a yoga mat tucked under his arm.
The strange thing is, yoga was originally devised by men, for men in India back in 500BC, yet somehow this got lost in translation when it migrated to Western culture. Only in the past 80 years has yoga infiltrated the Western world, and it’s taken until the 21st century for men to suss out how beneficial it is. We really are simple creatures, aren’t we?
Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs is Britain’s yoga poster boy, having flogged millions of copies of his DVD Giggs Fitness. He insists that had it not been for yoga he’d have been forced to retire many moons ago.
Giggs, who is approaching his 40th birthday, told The Guardian newspaper: “Yoga has definitely helped me. It helps me train every day because it gives me the flexibility and the strength not only to play the game but to train as well. I rarely miss a training session.”
Unlike Giggsy, I rarely emerge unscathed from a training session without sustaining some form of injury, so I turned to the flying Welsh winger for inspiration. Unfortunately, Giggs Fitness had sold out on Amazon, so instead I opted for one of Geri Halliwell’s yoga DVDs. Midway through my first downward dog, the sound of the ex-Spice Girl’s nasal voice made me want to punch the TV. This wasn’t going to work.
I initiated plan B – a Google search for yoga classes in Singapore. However, the array of options is frightening – the brand of yoga most suitable for you totally depends on what you’re trying to achieve as there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
There was no other option but to invest in a yoga mat and try out as many varieties as possible. And what I discovered is that yoga is full of oxymorons; it’s gentle but tough, non-competitive yet demanding. It aids flexibility and relaxation, yet it can help enormously with strength and conditioning. It’s a miracle cure that originated before that wily old miracle-maker Jesus Christ was even born.
RICHARD’S BLOKEY GUIDE TO BEGINNER’S YOGA
WHERE: COMO Shambhala Urban Escape, 402 Orchard Road
BEST FOR: Relaxation and meditation
IDEAL TIME OF DAY: After work or late at night
MY EXPERIENCE: Gentle and relaxing – the pressures of the world were lifted peacefully from my hunched up shoulders. In fact, I switched off to such an extent during the final moments of the relaxation session at the end that I fell asleep and inadvertently broke wind … rather loudly.
MEN IN CLASS: 20%
WHY US? “We offer several types of yoga, from classic Hatha and Iyengar, to the more dynamic. They are all great to improve strength and flexibility and the more dynamic styles such as Vinyasa are faster paced, moving from one pose to the next, so it gives an added cardiovascular benefit,” says Lynda Williams, COMO Hotels (email@example.com).
TYPE: Eight Limbs of Yoga
WHERE: Tirisula Yoga, 80B Arab Street
BEST FOR: Strength, cardio and flexibility
IDEAL TIME OF DAY: Morning or evening on an empty stomach
MY EXPERIENCE: This was a full-on workout; very challenging. One guy in the class practises Eight Limbs of Yoga five times a week, and his conditioning and body shape was like that of a champion boxer. Unfortunately, I’d eaten a healthy portion of chicken and rice an hour before the session, and keeping it down was a major challenge.
MEN IN CLASS: 20%
WHY US? “The postures tend to be dynamic and strong. We practise the Ashtanga Vinyasa style for asanas (postures) towards the end: pranayama (yogic breathing techniques for the expansion of energy) and dharana (one-mindedness techniques). In terms of strength, flexibility and cardio fitness, it scores ten out of ten,” says Satya Chong Wei Ling, the master trainer at Tirisula Yoga (firstname.lastname@example.org).
WHERE: Upside Motion, 100 Turf Club Road
BEST FOR: Flexibility
IDEAL TIME OF DAY: First thing in the morning or last thing at night
MY EXPERIENCE: When they told me I’d be spending most of the class in a hammock, I was ready to kick back and order a pina colada and a bowl of chips. Alas, the hammock in question was a contraption that helps you manoeuvre your body into hard-to-achieve postures. This is outside-the-box yoga, but it really helped ease the tension in my lower back.
MEN IN CLASS: 10%
WHY US? “YogaFly is a combination of Pilates, yoga and a little bit of gymnastics – it’s an all-encompassing workout for your body and mind using a hammock which supports about half of your weight and enables clients to achieve poses that seem impossible on the mat, such as handstands,” says Beh Hwee Sze, co-partner of Upside Motion (email@example.com).
WHERE: Pure Yoga, 30 Raffles Place, Level 4 Chevron House
BEST FOR: Cardiovascular
IDEAL TIME OF DAY: First thing in the morning
MY EXPERIENCE: Smooth and flowing – the poses link seamlessly together and at times it feels like a dance. Unfortunately, I’ve got two left feet. You have to move from one pose to another on an inhale or an exhale, so concentrating on breathing is paramount. A great start to the day.
MEN IN CLASS: 10%
WHY US? “Vinyasa is one of a variety of yoga styles we offer. They all promote a level of strength and endurance, flexibility and relaxation. Vinyasa offers much diversity. The pace can vary and there is no one particular sequence that instructors must follow,” says Pure Yoga’s managing teacher, Copper Crow.
WHERE: OhmSantih Yoga, 10A Haji Lane
BEST FOR: Toning and strength
IDEAL TIME OF DAY: Before 11am or between 4pm and 6pm
MY EXPERIENCE: Another good all-around body workout, but not as intense as the Eight Limbs of Yoga. It was tough and challenging, but still suitable for beginners. It was unusual to be surrounded by so many blokes – I’d actually got used to, and rather liked, being in the constant company of the fairer sex!
MEN IN CLASS: 25%
WHY US? “This style of yoga offers a good blend of dynamic poses as well as relaxing and calming ones. That is why this style is also known as ‘Yoga Chikitsa’ or ‘Yoga Therapy’. It’s well known for toning, but also for improving coronary circulation and it increases the mobility and flexibility of the joints,” says War War Lwin Tun, master trainer at OhmSantih Yoga (firstname.lastname@example.org).
TYPE: Bikram (hot yoga)
WHERE: Bikram Yoga, 252 North Bridge Road, #02-14 Raffles City Shopping Centre
BEST FOR: Dynamic, all-round workout
IDEAL TIME OF DAY: Whenever schedule allows
MY EXPERIENCE: Trying to avoid the heat and humidity in Singapore is a constant battle, but I’d happily immerse myself in sub-Saharan temperatures for another 90-minute session of Bikram yoga. It subconsciously seemed to flush away any negativity. The following day I woke up without an alarm clock, full of beans. Weird!
MEN IN CLASS: 40%
WHY US? “Bikram yoga uses heat to stimulate the mind, to challenge practitioners to stay calm and cool, to warm up muscles and to allow deeper stretching. It is a complete cardio workout because of the interval and timing of each posture, and it makes you focus on what you are doing so that you’re not thinking of anything else. The intensity of the class gives practitioners ultimate relaxation afterwards,” says Bikram master trainer, Diane Lee (email@example.com).