If the sound of Om in your yoga class seems to have dropped an octave, it’s not your imagination. From Hollywood brass and NFL linebackers to regular joes looking to get fit, men are turning to the ancient practice to build muscle, improve balance and flexibility and get the benefit yoga is probably best known for: stress relief. “We have definitely seen an increase in men in our classes over the past year,” says Jen Zweibel, a manager at the Equinox-owned chain Pure Yoga, where a third of the students in some classes are male. A 2012 poll estimates that men make up 18% of the 20 million Americans who practice yoga, and a handful of recent studies on male yogis suggest that all those downward dogs are worth it.
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Men who practiced yoga had a better body image than those who worked out in a gym, a recent study found. Yoga also improved their sex lives, with men reporting more desire, control and stamina in a Journal of Sexual Medicine study.
Yoga’s reputation for being relaxing is well established, and a host of recent research on active-duty soldiers backs it up. Researchers found that regular yoga reduced stress, anxiety and depression while improving memory.
When Vietnam vets practiced yoga, their symptoms of PTSD lessened, according to a study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress Disorders and Treatment. A paper on police cadets found that just six yoga classes reduced tension and anger.
Preventing falls and injury requires good balance. And five months of regular yoga gave men substantially better posture and balance, a 2014 study in the International Journal of Yoga found.
A HEALTHIER HEART
Daily yoga was linked to lower blood pressure and cholesterol in older men, according to a study in the journal Age. Hypertension and high cholesterol are both major risk factors for heart disease, the U.S.’s No. 1 killer.
A study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that after eight weeks of yoga, 40 males with insomnia, which can increase stress, were significantly less stressed and more self-confident. Other research suggests that regular yoga might improve sleep quality and duration.
Sources: Yoga Journal; Consciousness and Cognition; Psychological Reports; Perceptual & Motor Skills; International Journal of Yoga Therapy
This appears in the November 24, 2014 issue of TIME.
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