A growing global fitness trend has men ditching dumbbells for yoga mats in so-called Broga classes, a macho twist on the thousands-year-old practice that promises the same punishing workout — with a little added bliss.
Until recently, some traditions of yoga were exclusively practised by men, but it has been largely shunned by male fitness buffs in the modern era. @Yoga instructors are now catering to men with classes that emphasize strength over stretching and offering everything from craft beer after class to man-only retreats away from the fairer sex.
“Yoga is more than just women contorting themselves into vegan pretzels,” says Michael DeCorte, the Toronto “man-treprenuer” behind Jock Yoga, an athletic mashup that combines the mindfulness of sun salutations with the muscle burn of pumping iron.
“Originally, it was just a gimmick,” says DeCorte. “When I first saw it on a poster, it was almost like an oxymoron. … You see yoga and think, ‘spiritual,’ and jock you think, ‘laid-back, swearing, burping.”‘
DeCorte says men can account for anywhere between 50 to 85 per cent of his classes at the Equinox fitness club in Toronto, a striking level of testosterone in an industry whose audience is 70 per cent women, according to a 2016 Ipsos Public Affairs study.
Classes like Jock Yoga have cropped up all over the country, such as Jo-Ga in Halifax, Yoguy in Vancouver and the all-nude male Mudraforce studio in Montreal.
The Massachusetts-based Broga yoga empire, which holds a copyright on the man-tastic portmanteau, claims to have more than 12,000 students and 500 teachers, boasting classes online and all over the world.
These classes are tapping into an underserved market, says Broga founder Robert Sidorti. He says many men crave the health and wellness benefits of yoga, but fear full lotus pose may make them seem “girly.”
“The absolute main focus was to get more men practising yoga,” Sidorti says. “(Using) everything that would speak to the average guy out there, who might feel like whatever they’ve seen over the years regarding yoga just hasn’t spoken to them.”
Sidoti says most of Broga’s disciples are just regular guys — dads with back pain and office workers trying to shed their beer guts, all looking for what the Broga site calls “an accessible yoga-based fitness program taught from a man’s point of view.”
Sidoti says Broga even offers men-only retreats for guys who fear the allure of women wearing lycra pants may distract from their yogic journey.
“I hear it all the time,” he says. “‘I want to go (to yoga) because I want to see beautiful women.’
“There’s plenty of time in your day to check out beautiful women. How about one hour where you just leave all the distractions aside and really focus on yourself?”
While the Broga movement is firmly established, absent from most of these Broga-themed classes is a certain back-slapping, baseball-capped fraternity of men — actual bros.
“I don’t think there’s a super strong ‘brogi’ culture, but I do think … it’s actually growing,” says Jock Yoga’s DeCorte.
He isn’t a Broga teacher, but says he set out with a similar mission in 2009 when he realized there wasn’t a yoga class for men like him who can bench more than 100 kilograms yet have difficulty touching their toes.
“The point was to have a guy who understands a guy’s body and what guys need,” he says.
Jock Yoga is a fast-paced, full-body workout that aims for tight hips and strong upper bodies. For an hour or more, students flow through dozens of tricep push-ups, complicated arm balances and inverted acrobatics, leaving with stronger abs and a sense of calm.
The class is set to Top 40 tunes, and DeCorte cues poses in everyday terms instead of the traditional sanskrit. He says, in these classes, a handstand is called just that, not “adho mukha vrksasana” — and no chanting is allowed.
“These guys aren’t coming to become spiritual beings,” he says. “They’re coming for a workout … so they want to be brutalized.”
That’s not to say the class is devoid of spirituality, DeCorte insists, it just isn’t packaged in its conventional form.
“There is meditation in the challenge,” DeCorte says. “It’s like sneaking broccoli into brownies. The workout is what gets men in the door, but they stay because of what yoga can do for your well-being.”
Not all yoga classes geared toward men demand Jock Yoga’s high endurance. In Halifax, Jo-Ga at the Rock in Opposition Yoga & Pilates Studio takes a similar, no-nonsense fitness-based approach to yoga, but moves a little slower than Jock Yoga’s plank-a-second pace. The studio is outfitted with hip, faux-western decor, and classes are capped with a round of craft beer.
There’s one other difference — the class is overwhelmingly attended by women.
“This class does cater to male bodies but that can be relevant to plenty of women as well,” says teacher Nikki Martin. “(Women are) embracing powerful and what powerful looks like.”
The class was once called Broga, but in recognition of its unlikely core audience, the studio has since changed the name.
Martin says some women are drawn to the class because of its masculine appeal.
“It’s keeping up with the boys,” she says, “or keeping up with those bad-ass women.”