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More men in Singapore reaping benefits of yoga

Nervous about being watched by a roomful of women, they had to be dragged to yoga practice by their wives, but once they stepped in, they could not be dragged back out.

The leg cramps suffered by Mr Andy Teo while running marathons went away, while Mr Alex Lau was able to quit smoking - all because of this mind-body practice.

They are among the increasing number of men in Singapore who are turning to yoga for health and fitness, although it is a realm still mainly inhabited by women.

"My legs used to cramp easily during long-distance running, and I didn't know why," said Mr Teo, 48, a retired infrastructure specialist.

Four years ago, his wife persuaded him to join her at a yoga class while they were living in Japan (they are now back in Singapore).

"Before taking up yoga, I had been using only my leg muscles to run, which put them under great strain," said Mr Teo. "In yoga, I did things like leg raises that built up my core muscles. Now I don't use just leg muscles but also my core muscles to run."

He no longer suffers from cramps, and just one hour of yoga a week is enough to keep them away.

PERCEPTION OF YOGA

Socially, in a fitness-centre setting, men find it more rewarding...( to work out) among their gym peers via weightlifting and functional and strength training versus in a yoga-class setting.

MR MOHANKUMAR RAJARAMAN, an instructor at True Yoga, on the perception among many men that yoga is "too easy" or more suited for women.

There were other benefits. Yoga helped the 1.8m-tall man stop hunching and to stand straight, and it strengthened his shoulder joints, which were prone to dislocation.

Eventually, he recommended it to a fellow runner, who later thanked him for the suggestion.

He no longer has any qualms about being the only man among 10 women in his yoga class.

Nor does Mr Lau, who also felt a little awkward at his first yoga class half a year ago. He was the only man there, but at least he had his wife by his side to encourage him.

"It is very strenuous although it is just one hour, and you sweat a lot," said the 43-year-old civil servant.

He finds it such an effective exercise that it has replaced his previous regimen of gym and swim sessions. Yoga even inspired him to quit smoking - he used to puff through a packet of cigarettes a day - by making him more conscious of his health.

"It is all-round fitness you can do, regardless of age," said Mr Lau.

Both Mr Teo and Mr Lau are students of Mr Dev Kapil, 33, director of One Wellness Fitness Club, who estimates that in the early 2000s, only 2 per cent of yoga practitioners in Singapore were men, based on information shared among his network of yoga teachers.

Today, male enrolment in yoga at his club stands at about 25 per cent.

Mr Dev attributes the increase to research done over the years that has raised awareness about the benefits of yoga, such as relieving stress and improving sleep, blood circulation, bone health and the respiratory system.

Mr Mohankumar Rajaraman, an instructor at True Yoga, where 14 per cent of yoga classes are made up of men, said there is nevertheless still a perception among many men that yoga is "too easy" to enable them to attain their fitness goals. "Yoga is also depicted in popular media as something that is only for women," he added.

"Socially, in a fitness-centre setting, men find it more rewarding to display their muscles among their gym peers via weightlifting and functional and strength training versus in a yoga-class setting," said Mr Mohankumar.