As I draw closer to finishing my year abroad in Australia, I grow sad about leaving this beautiful country, but also excited about the next step in my adventrue.
In August I will be spending a month in Thailand getting my 200-hour yoga certification that will allow me to start teaching all over the world.
It's been a long and interesting journey for me, as I've developed myself and my practice, and during that time I've come to discover one main thing: Yoga is not just for women.
In fact, it may prove more beneficial to overall health to men. So before I embark on the next part of my journey, I wanted to share with anyone interested some of the things I have learned.
There are a lot of stereotypes that are attached to throwing down a Lululemon and getting your down dog on, and a lot of them are just plain wrong.
1. Yoga doesn't build muscle, it just tones.
This is one of the major beliefs that keep men who are trying to get bigger from hopping on a mat in the first place.
It's the same reason many guys avoid cardio, or anything else they naively think takes away from gaining.
The truth is, the best way to create an efficient workout regimen is through variation, and that can take a number of forms.
What's not true, however, is the thought that doing yoga doesn't build muscle.
Yoga, when done the right way, is some of the heaviest, most stress inducing, muscle building workouts you will ever encounter.
The stigma also is that yoga, even if it does build muscle, only builds long, lean muscles.
While this is true for many women who practice, you take out what you put in; most women don't want to bulk up.
Because yoga is primarily a women's activity (at least according to popular census), classes and studios are tailored to this belief.
But as with any fitness modality, you can tailor a program to fit anyone's fitness goals.
When you start to understand the basics and principals of yoga, you can create your own system that can not only help you get bigger, but actively assist you in achieving those goals.
2. Yoga isn't challenging enough.
With the way fitness is now, it seems every new "next best thing" is about bigger, better results, as fast as possible.
The truth is, realistic goals take time, and we are a culture of instant gratification that doesn't take kindly to "hard work pays off."
Because of this, many men seem to turn away from yoga because it takes time.
Yes the basics are very simple, but to continue to track your progress and see great results takes a lot longer than that new infomercial on TV.
But with time and commitment, I can assure you, that the hardest yoga class you ever take will be on par with the hardest 10-minute cross-fit workout you've ever done.
Except with yoga, you'll be doing it for 90 minutes in a 105-degree room.
3. Yoga has no benefits for men outside of fitness.
Men in America are a target demographic for yoga. With high stress lives, high fat foods and an overall health that pales in comparisson to American women, it's no wonder the average life expectancy of American women is almost 10 years higher than that of American men.
We're targets for heart disease, high cholesterol, high stress and obesity, but there's something we can do about it.
Aside from being a great way to achieve a level of phsyical fitness, for centuries yoga has been praised for what it can provide for participants off the mat.
Certain poses, specifically in Birkram have shown direct links to reducing things like prostate and liver cancer, stomach ulcers and heart disease.
Though there is no definitive scientific evidence to support these claims, you can see the results in the way people act and feel after they've made yoga a regular part of their life.
Aside from the long term holistic benefits of a regular yoga practice, there are real world applications from yoga that can be used in everyday life.
Many of us, specifically those in high pressure jobs, feel the weight of stress on us throughout our daily lives with no real outlet to help curb these feelings as they are happening.
By learning to control our breathing when we face these challenges (an integral part of yoga practice referred to as pranayama, or an extension of breath), we can learn to curb our stress levels in moments of importance.
By learning and practicing pranayama, you can practically and realitstically make a huge improvement in your day-to-day stress levels.
When the feelings of stress start to overwhelm you, using the techniques practiced in yoga can reduce your heart rate, cholesterol and blood pressure on the spot.
It allows you to think more clearly and achieve whatever the task may be in front of you.
4. Real men lift weights!
While it's true that a good weight lifting regimen is important to any workout routine, the belief that the only way to see high fitness gains is by lifting weights has become somewhat archaic.
Elite sports trainers and athletes have discovered over the last few decades that the key to creating the perfect all-around workout regimen is variation.
In the last 10 years we've seen the meteoric rise of fitness modalities like cross-fit come to the forefront of fitness.
By using non-traditional workout techniques, combined with Olympic lifting, cardio and a variety of other things, guys like Rich Froning have become the new demigods of fitness.
But what many top-tier level athletes are starting to realize is that yoga is not only great for adding variety to your workout routine, it's imperative.
The flexibility and muscle gained from a regular yoga practice has penetrated the sports ranks at all the main levels.
For instance, the NFL champions, Seattle Seahawks, have an in-house yoga teacher and have made yoga practice and meditation mandatory for all their players, with the results obviously paying off.
A few other notable yogis include, two-time NBA champions LeBron James, and Kevin Garnett, as well as LeBron's new double-double machine teammate, Kevin Love.
What these athletes have realized is that peak training alone can put a terrible amount of wear and tear on your body.
By incorporating regular yoga practice, these athletes have been able to maintain an incredibly high level of play, and have achieved the durability to handle the punishment that comes with being a professional athlete in any sport.
And anyone who participates in a rigorous training regimen can reap these benefits, just the same as these top-tier athletes.
5. Flexibility can be counter-productive.
This criticism usually applies to men who participate in high weight training.
Whether it be Crossfit or Olympic lifting, there seems to be a stigma attached to being "too" flexible.
While it's important for your body to be able to function within the range of a particular exercise, there is a risk involved when your joints have too much mobility and you're lifting enormous amounts of weight.
Anatomically speaking, this is true. When you put a massive stress load on your joints (for example doing the snatch), it's important to have a certain level of restrictiveness in your shoulders, so the weight doesn't overload on the back end of joints and cause a tear.
The truth, however, is that by doing yoga, you are not simply increasing the elasticity of muscles, you are also increasing the load baring capabilities of those muscles when stressed past normal limits.
To put this into simpler terms, let's say you have two guys of similar build. One has natural shoulder flexibilty beyond the typical male.
The other has normal to below average flexibility, but has been practicing yoga and improving the range of shoulder flexibility and strength within that range.
Out of these two athletes, the one who is naturally more flexibile will be at risk of sustaining an injury when increasing a work load on their shoulder joints.
If the weight should get away from this person while doing a snatch, and go beyond the typical range of motion for that exercise, it could have serious consequences on their joints.
However, our athlete who has worked on their flexibility with yoga will likely be much more susceptible to adjust to going outside of their normal zone.
This is because the second athlete has not just improved flexibility, but also what you could call "flexible strength."
This is why yoga can be so important to a weight training routine: those smaller flexible muscles are not usually taxed, and it helps to have them in shape when needed.
6. Yoga is super expensive.
This one unfortunately can be very true, however, there are always exceptions to every rule.
If starting a yoga practice is something you are really interested in, there are many great options to get you up and running. Firstly, most studios offer a beginners rate.
When I first started, I found a great hot yoga studio in town that offered a deal that was $10 for a month of unlimited yoga on Groupon.
After that, I decided I loved the studio so much, I shelled out the $90 a month.
The most important thing is getting started. If you try a studio for a month and decide you want to keep going, there's many other options you have as well. Most people (well, most men) forget their gyms offer group fitness classes.
We see the old ladies doing Zumba, or the young chicks taking pilates and think that would be something we pay for in our monthly fees, but will never partake in.
If your gyms offers group fitness classes, they are almost guaranteed to offer yoga classes throughout the week.
Find a time that works for you and pop in for a few classes. There are many great teachers who work at multiple studios and multiple gyms to help fund their love of teaching, and some of the best classes I've ever taken have been in my gym.
If you can't find an option like this that works to you, have no fear.
There are hundreds of yoga apps, and thousands of yoga videos available to you for a super low cost or nothing at all.
After you've learned the basics, you can decide how you will progress in your practice.
Maybe you decide to join a private studio, maybe you simply make it something you do at home, but whatever you decide, just start.
The only thing holding you back from your next great adventure in yoga is you.
The bottom line is, if you're trying to get massive gains, yoga alone will not help you succeed where other programs have not.
However, if what you're after is a complement to your current workout regimen, or a new program you've been planning to try, yoga can act as the catalyst to push you past your previous boundaries.
As a long time gym fiend, I truly believe in the healing power, both mentally and physically of the gym.
But where pumping iron is a great stress reliever, yoga is the ultimate "life" reliever.
For 30, 60 or even 90 minutes, it's simply you, your breath, your poses and your mat.
And the value you will gain from concentration, breathing techniques and relaxation techniques will benefit you in every aspect of your life outside the studio.