Yoga for men is a tool every man should have in his belt, especially considering one of the biggest killers of otherwise strong, dynamic men, is heart disease. Sure, there are other diseases that the modern superman should be concerned with, but heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. In yogic terms, the heart center is also called the Anahata Chakra and is considered the seat of the soul. It is no wonder that the nation is dying from a wounded spirit. It is through the heart center that we are able to give and receive love, but with all the demands on the modern Übermensch, who has time for love?
Freud called the ‘above-human’ or ‘super-human’ man in his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and the ancient yogis talked about the super-man who blended perfectly, the qualities of strength and tenderness. When our hearts become hard, we can no longer open to the subtle vibrations of the heart – those that allow us to feel compassion towards our fellow human beings, and even extend outwards to the other creatures inhabiting this big rock of ours. Our nation, and men, in particular are suffering from a hardened heart, because they have lost the ability to connect from the heart. Heart dis-ease is the result.
Considering that Freud believed in integrating the ego just as much as the ancient yogic sages and arhats did, one of the biggest tasks for men is to relinquish the egoic self. In place of an absence of love, men tend to over eat, over work and over stress. This trio of deadly habits is what causes heart attacks, cardiovascular disease and clogged arteries. Yoga addresses these three primary impediments to great health in specific ways:
Yoga For Men Reduces Stress
Yoga practice that includes asana, pranayama, mudra and meditation reverses the constant, low-level stress that floods the blood. By delivering mood-enhancing hormones like seratonin and melatonin, men sleep better, feel better and reverse the constant adrenaline rush, and then addiction to states of agitation. Harvard Doctor, Herbert Benson calls this reversal of a stressful state to one of equilibrium, the relaxation response, but ancient yogis called it Nirvana. Our work, our money and our toys become an addiction and it takes more and more of them to feed the egoic mind, but when the ego is transmuted and the heart is opened, we fell happy with less and grateful as though we had more than we ever did by working 70 hour weeks or constantly checking our iphone.
Yin Yang, Sun Moon, Ida and Pingala
Yoga acts as a means to open Anahata chakra and give men back their feminine side. In Hatha Yoga particularly, there is what is called the sun and moon principle. These forces are just like the yin and yang of Zen. One aspect is feminine or receptive and nurturing. The other aspect is more masculine, or assertive and all about getting the job done. In the nervous system there are two subtle channels that are affected by our energetic patterns (how we go about living life in the external world). One is called Ida, the other Pingala. They intersect each other like a coiling snake and commune in Sushumna, or the spinal column. When these energies are balanced, our psychological, emotional and spiritual as well as physical selves are enhanced greatly. If the male aspect, or assertive part of ourselves are always running the show, then we never love ourselves enough to have a reserve of love and compassion for others. We eat in ways that congest our arteries and heart, and work in ways that make us so stressed out, we can’t relax even when we are sleeping. Yoga helps to balance these subtle channels, Ida and Pingala, so that we can equally achieve and receive.
Yoga For Men: A Note about Diet
You don’t have to be a vegetarian to be a yogi, but men with a history of heart disease in their families can definitely stand to lose the red meat, and eat many more leafy greens and vegetables. These foods have cleansing properties that not only clean the blood, but open the heart. In yoga, this is called eating a Sattvic diet. You don’t have to go cold turkey to see benefits in your heart health, but you will want to eat better and better once you’ve started to lose weight, and feel lighter. Try changing out a heavy meal for one that leaves you just satiated, too. Remember that you may be eating too much to make up for other areas of spiritual or emotional lack in your life, but you can’t address them until you stop numbing the feelings with food.
By practicing yoga, men can reverse the trend of heart disease in our nation and the developing world. They can gain health, but also let more love in, in the process, and live more balanced lives that leave room for experiencing compassion.