I’m a longtime yogi born and raised in yoga’s motherland, India, and I founded and operate a web site called Divine Wellness that offers Western yoga students a chance to practice with real Indian teachers through the technological magic of video conferencing.
I try to stay on top of Western yoga trends and developments, and some of the things I come across amuse and often perplex me. The latest U.S. trend I am hearing about? Broga: “a yoga class geared for men.”
Here in India, where yoga was invented and developed, mainstream yoga has traditionally been a male-dominated practice. While there is the occasional female guru cited in the lineage of yoga (Ananda Mai Ma, for example), the overwhelming majority of those teaching, preaching and practicing yoga have always been men. The phrase “yoga for men” would be redundant in my culture.
Yet, in the West, it seems that the opposite is true. I’ve heard more than one Western man refer to yoga as “a woman thing.” Part of this misnomer seems to come from the mistaken belief that yoga is a docile and un-athletic activity. For a culture obsessed with physical fitness, competition and reward, the slow and patient payoff of a hatha yoga practice may seem dull to the average American alpha male. Why spend hours each week on a yoga mat when one could lift weights in the gym or go for a nice macho run? Yoga in the West seems to have a reputation for being “not exercisey enough” — despite the incredibly rigorous routines associated with styles like Ashtanga and its modern variation, Power Yoga (also a Western concept, of course). Chanting Sankrit mantras and balancing on one foot — well, those aren’t very rugged activities, are they?
Or, are they? I suppose it’s open to cultural interpretation.
Another insidious deterrent many Western males come up against is the emasculating experience of being new in a yoga class, surrounded by lithe, athletic women who can touch their toes and float through the air seemingly without effort. Americans are more obsessed with quick results and easy payoff than we in the East. An exercise system that takes a lifetime to master must seem like little reward for lots of effort.
Now, the marketers behind Massachusetts-based Broga are capitalizing on these cultural predilections and gearing their classes specifically toward men. Brogis Robert Sidoti and Adam O’Neill promise “You’ll get that pumped-up feeling you get from working out and a deep flexibility and relaxation feeling from ‘working in.’”
Such references to the spiritual aspects of a yoga practice are sprinkled throughout their marketing materials with just enough frequency to ensure that the style still qualifies as “yoga,” but make no mistake — the real focus of Broga is on fitness. In fact, their marketing rhetoric is rife with allusions to “functional fitness” and “yoga-based fitness.” And as Sidoti told a U.S. magazine last month, “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. Our emphasis remains on breath, strength and balance, along with flexibility.”
I don’t meant to imply that I am rolling my eyes in regard to Broga. In fact, I think it’s a fantastic idea. While the postures themselves tend to span gender in terms of who can do what, there are certain ways in which one can cater to the male psyche, and if it gets guys in the door to do yoga, then bravo. Whatever gets them on their mats. If combining athletic training with yogic flexibility brings more men to yoga studios, I guess we can all make peace with the kitschy name given to the activity. Here’s rooting for Broga!