In 2009, Adam O’Neill and Robert Sidoti founded Broga®, a religion-lite, fitness-heavy form of yoga geared towards men. In the past 8 years, this inclusive, accessible practice has branched out and is now even taking root in Europe and Asia. Read on to find out what draws people in, and what keeps them coming back for more.
Since its origins in Northern India over 5,000 years ago, yoga has been practiced by mainly men around the globe as part of a religious meditation. This physical practice helped to boost mindfulness, focus, strength, and flexibility to better prepare the body for silent meditation. So why the sudden need for a yoga practice catering specifically to men?
Since yoga has become popular in the West, it has evolved from its original purpose and become a popular fitness-boosting exercise. Natasha Ali, Fitness Director at Manhattan Plaza Health Club in New York City, observed that in general, “men like to work out to build muscles, and most group classes are geared toward cardio,” which burns fat and keeps more women enrolling. While many forms of yoga do stress muscular strength, the practice involves mainly body weight exercises, which many men may discount as not being effective enough in providing a stimulus for muscle growth.
However, Ali has noticed more of a gender balance in traditional yoga studios, where deeper practitioners are more comfortable with yoga’s Eastern customs, but notes that Western marketing of yoga has stressed more of the exercise aspect than the holistic aspect. There also tends to be a lot of stretching in structured yoga classes, whereas many men are much more interested in only the physically challenging exercises—and generally more limited in flexibility as well.
O’Neill, president and co-founder of Broga®, agrees that the foreignness of the language and the ancient religious teachings can be a barrier to people who want to reap the benefits of yoga, but are already intimidated enough by having to take off their shoes and socks in a room full of strangers. O’Neill explains that early adopters of yoga in the U.S. in the 80s were mostly upper-middle-class housewives, California-lifestyle oriented women, and followers of Jane Fonda. As a result, advertising of yoga was aimed mainly at women, which then caused even more women to flock to yoga, forming a cycle. This hardly created a welcoming environment for guys.
“Maybe the word ‘yoga,’ had a PR problem,” O’Neill mused. “This made yoga seem groovy, and crunchy like something that your mom or sister or girlfriend would do, not what buddies do. That’s why we created Broga. Just the word changed the conversation.”
So what is Broga all about?
The idea of Broga is to get people — men and women — in the room. The practice is meant to be inviting, to “celebrate showing up, being on a mat, moving their bodies in ways relevant to functional movement.” The creators know that the name Broga may raise an eyebrow or two, but they like that it makes people sit up and take notice. “We hear time and time again what a great workout it is. We take yoga seriously. We have a great respect for the tradition.”
Broga simply works to make the practice accessible to everyone so that even beginners can feel successful, whether or not they ever master yoga’s toughest postures. As the tagline on their website states, “Broga is a yoga class geared for men (where it’s okay if you can’t touch your toes).”
The accessibility part seems to be calling to women as well as men. “An important distinction about our classes,” O’Neill said, “is that even though they were conceived as a way to bring men into the yoga world, they are not male-only. Half of our instructors are women. 25 percent of the people in class are now women.”
New York City-based Broga instructor, health coach, and owner of Gojifitness Emma Galland buys what O’Neill is saying about Broga being a welcoming class and bridge to a lifelong yoga habit. So much so, she got certified to be an instructor after the class “changed my life 3 years ago and made me finally appreciate yoga, and stick with a regular practice. Within 6 months I was in India taking my ‘formal’ yoga and meditation training (ashtanga) and have been practicing almost daily ever since.” Emma appreciates making yoga relatable—her website even says “This isn’t your Grandma’s yoga”— and she enjoys incorporating modern exercises into her classes. She even teaches Beer and Broga Yoga with Emma, a Broga class that leads into enjoying a craft brew or two.
“The Broga format provides a user-friendly way for guys to come to yoga. I call it the gateway class to traditional yoga,” reported Sarah Conner, Broga instructor, traditional Hatha yoga teacher, and owner of Sarah Conner Fitness Expert, LLC, in Marriottsville, Maryland. Explaining her how Broga classes differ from her traditional classes, she said, “The moves are basic and stay away from hip openers that are tough for men. There is a lot of upper-body work where men can excel and gain confidence while increasing flexibility and balance. Also, we use really cool music instead of the traditional thing you hear in most yoga classes.”
Galland, too, pumps up modern jams in her classes. “The music is awesome and bro-oriented,” she told us.
Bro-tunes are just the beginning…
Galland said her classes “deliver the challenging workout men crave, like HIIT, core strengthening, cardio and muscle toning, and integrate the yoga they need.” That means that students work hard yet “leave feeling spent, relaxed, and recharged.”
“They get the sweat like with other sports,” O’Neill said, “and still get the mind-body meditative clarity of traditional yoga, a lightness… You get the feeling of not being exhausted, but of being uplifted because of the breathing, and you don’t get that same experience with other workouts.”
O’Neill admits that having people embrace yoga and sometimes move on to traditional studios isn’t a win from a business standpoint, but he and Sidoti couldn’t be prouder from a mission and impact standpoint. In fact, Broga® students have shared that the exercise has helped them go off back pain meds, lose 80 pounds, and sleep well again after years of insomnia and sleep disorders.
Bottom line: Yoga is an excellent way to lower stress and get fit, and you don’t have to be an ultra-flexible Lululemon-clad woman to join the bro-gade. Everyone is welcome!