An increasing number of people are seeking relaxation in the lotus position, experts say. An estimated five million Germans are practicing the trendy sport of yoga. Men still have a lot of inhibitions, though, and novices should follow a few tips.
"Yoga is still a women's sport for the most part," noted Anke Rebetje, from the Goettingen-based Association of Professional Yoga Teachers in Germany (BDY). As some 80 per cent of the people in yoga courses are women, a male participant in a small group is often surrounded entirely by females, she said, "which naturally deters some men."
Yoga is starting to attract more men, however, said Andrea Haisken, from the magazine Yoga aktuell.
"Germany's national football team even used yoga to prepare for its matches under (former coach Juergen) Klinsmann," she pointed out.
Many men have a completely false impression of yoga, Rebetje said. "Most of them still think it's for wimps and models." Not every course is right for people who are seeking merely serenity and self- communion, so a trial lesson can help determine whether it fills the bill, Rebetje advised.
A pleasant atmosphere is also important, Rebetje said, noting that men in particular quickly became fed up when explanations of energy "chakras" were accompanied by scented candles and meditative singsong. People who find that a course is too esoteric for them should simply look for another one, she said.
Many modern variations of yoga are attractive to men as well as women, Haisken pointed out. She said that men were often "power-yoga types" who preferred Ashtanga exercises - the kind that most closely resemble classic fitness training. Other forms of yoga are calmer, she said, and concentrate more on breathing exercises and meditation.
In Rebetje's view, men often go into a yoga course with the wrong attitude.
"Many of them put too much pressure on themselves to perform," she said, explaining that competitiveness was more of a hindrance than a help. And you need more than muscle strength for exercises like the "sun salutation," she noted, which entails raising your arms while standing, inhaling deeply and bending your upper body forward, then exhaling as you touch your feet with your hands.
Macho attitudes do not take men far in yoga. It is a discipline in which they are inferior to women, who are frequently more agile, according to Professor Ingo Froboese, a sports physician at the Health Centre of the German Sport University in Cologne. Women's connective tissue is more elastic, Froboese said. And men, on average, have 15 per cent more muscle mass, which "tends to get in the way in a sport like yoga."
Yoga novices should be careful not to overdo it at first, Froboese warned. A crash course in power yoga can do more harm than good when beginners apply too much strength, hyperextend their ligaments and put too much strain on their joints.
Forboese said that the "business yoga" trend appealed to men in particular. Primarily people with desk jobs are substituting it for traditional office exercises. Guidebooks with titles like "Lunch- Break Enlightenment" and "Blitz Yoga" aim at helping tense office workers to unwind.
People should not expect too much from a yoga crash course, Rebetje remarked. She said that doing a brief exercise such as Nadi Shodhana (inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other) would not immediately boost a beginner to undreamt-of powers of concentration.
Rebetje also warned of black sheep among course instructors. "A statement such as: 'I've been to India' isn't a recommendation for a good yoga teacher," she said. dpa/tmn to tk ah ob pb ds