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By Cari Nierenberg
Tired of hearing a wife, girlfriend, mother, sister or female friend sing the praises of yoga, some guys will eventually man up and tag along to a class. Once there, in many studios, he might be one of few downward facing dudes.
Being the only man surrounded by a room of limber ladies in tight-fitting yoga pants might sound like paradise. But it gets rough when the gal on the next mat can touch her nose to her knees and the guy can barely bend over to reach his toes.
Feeling self-consciousness and possibly embarrassed, a guy may retreat to his man cave convinced that yoga is not for him. It's too New Age-y or hippie-ish. Or not macho enough. Or too damn hard.
Enter broga -- a yoga class geared for men.
"We're a yoga class geared for guys, but open to all," says Adam O'Neill, president and co-founder of Broga, which is based in Somerville, Mass. Although women are welcome in class, it's designed with a man in mind.
"We chose the name broga because it's funny, catchy, and familiar. It lets men know this is for them," O'Neill explains.
"On the one hand, we don't take ourselves too seriously. But broga is a real thing with real integrity," points out O'Neill. Classes, he says, work from the familiar to the unfamiliar.
Familiar language is used and little, if any, Sanskrit. There's familiar music in the background, maybe some Radiohead, Bob Dylan and The Black Keys -- and not an Eastern soundtrack.
And there's a different vibe: There's little reference to the spiritual side of yoga, although more advanced classes may go there if participants are ready for it.
Classes combine traditional yoga postures and athletic movements. "The class focuses on balance, building strength and an awareness of breath," says Robert Sidoti, the "Brogi," who developed and teaches the classes and co-founded broga. "A side benefit becomes increased flexibility."
There might be more push-up variations you might not find in a traditional yoga class designed to strengthen the core, and different kinds of athletic movements and series to get the heart rate up, explains Sidoti. "If an athletic or fitness-type move is done, it's countered by a yoga stretch and a balance move, like tree pose."
"A lot of guys come here after years and years of sports, but their bodies are out of whack -- some have cement shoulders or really tight hips," Sidoti points out. They might not be able to do those flexy, bendy poses that a woman can, he suggests, so we work on poses and movements that are more relevant to their lives, whether he's a carpenter or he sits all day in an office.
"Many guys would rather go play tennis or a sport because it feels like exercise," says Sidoti. "Yoga hasn't been a place that feels fun."
But then men get to that point or to that age when things in their body start to hurt them, and that's often what gets them in the door to try yoga, he admits.
"I think a yoga class geared for men is a great idea," says Matt Carpenter, who teaches hatha yoga and yoga nidra classes at The Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY.
"Men often bring a competitiveness, an intensity, and a seriousness to their yoga practice," says Carpenter. "We try to balance that by helping them grow in the direction of softness [flexibility] and openness," he says.
Carpenter thinks that yoga can become more male friendly by acknowledging the qualities that men bring to the practice and speaking to those qualities directly. "A good way to connect is to appeal to the strength aspects of yoga, the focus on discipline, or the quiet mindfulness -- that Zen Samurai mindset," he suggests.
Whatever it takes to get men to practice yoga, ultimately, "broga is about men feeling better in their bodies," says O'Neill. "And taking an active, preventive role in their own lives."
Right now, there are seven weekly broga classes in Massachusetts. But O'Neill and Sidoti hope to grow the brand so they offer instructor training certification (for men only) to bring the practice elsewhere, and online classes or DVDs. They also plan to work with men's sports team on the collegiate and professional level.
In the meantime, Sidoti encourages men to go to an introductory level yoga class, even if they're fit and athletic. "If you're a fast-moving person, that will be your work to slow down," he says. "Take the time to learn the breath and the poses, and grow it from there."
What do you think of yoga classes geared for men? And, male yogis: Tell us how the practice has helped your body, mind -- or golf game. Talk about this story on Facebook.