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Men’s Classes, Broga, Male-Only Retreats: Where the Boys Are in Yoga

in YD News

by Nancy Alder

One glance at the latest Yoga Journal (and its ads) and it is obvious that the American yoga market is filled with women on mats. The recently released Yogawoman movie further discusses the connection between yoginis and the community that the practice has provided for woman yoga students and teachers alike. The Shakti boom has exploded and the women are Natarajasan-ing in it, big time!

But this recent trend begs the question: where are all the guys? Yoga was traditionally a male-only practice in India and most styles of Hatha yoga derive from the teachings of Krishnamacharya who was male. One only has to look at some of the biggest names in yoga to find men:  Jois, Iyengar, Desikachar, Mittra and newer leaders Yee, Baptiste, Kest and the hottest head in yoga, Bikram. Yet, the current Yoga International magazine features its first ever male cover yogi – Los Angeles based Tommy Rosen – and Yoga Journal only recently had a male on the cover (the first one in almost as long).  Sure, many teachers may have a Y chromosome, but where are the local studio mats filled with men?

Why aren’t more males doing yoga?


Many men see the growing popularity of yoga as something that is strictly for super bendy women. Yes, Gumby was a flexible green guy, but many male bodies do not move in a similar fashion. Additionally some men feel intimidated by attending a class that may be at best a 3:1 ratio of women to men. There are men that just cannot find a comfortable seated position on any mat in any studio because they feel the practice is one that is not right for them.

Enter the men of Broga, Robert Sidoti and Adam O’Neill. They have created a group of classes and a style of practice that is designed to directly address these issues for male students and bring them as a group back to their Mandukas. Sidoti teaches classes  and workshops that are powerful, with an emphasis on strength rather than flexibility. O’Neill says:

“Each and every element of the Broga experience is designed to welcome men and to introduce them (in a bite-size, step-wise, fashion) to the big, amazingly beneficial, potential transformative world of yoga. When a student is ready for more intensity or more of a deeper yoga experience, Broga is right there and ready to help show the way.”

Is something called “Broga” just for guys?

According to Sidoti, many women also practice Broga because they like the approach he brings to his classes. O’Neill adds that the Broga bros are also not opposed to having female teachers, though he notes that some male “biases” may prevent students from greeting female teachers with open arms.

Offering male-only yoga retreats is a way for Will Duprey, a Los Angeles yoga teacher who recently moved to Florida, to connect with his male yoga students.  Duprey who teaches Sadhana and offers both 200H and 500H trainings to both sexes, suggests that male-only retreats are a way for guys to connect and form a “collective.”

While Duprey admits such retreats may bring up visions of “cavemen and group hunting,” he offers that they are instead a way for men to “challenge one another intellectually and raise the consciousness of each other upward to create a more positive male image.”  These retreats work to honor each man where he is at that moment, something many yoga classes do daily.  A retreat, Duprey posits, is a way for them to connect as a unit and as individuals in a way a class with women cannot. He states:

“The name Sri which we use all the time was originally a male title. One in which indicated that he had control over kundalini. Similar to a shaman, he could bend nature or kiss the snake (sometimes physically) on top of the head without getting bit. Now, we are lucky if some men can wield a hammer, saw or tap into any creative skill that comes from within so how do we expect them to lead themselves or anyone else or even take the role of a leader. If we need both energies (masculine and feminine) to create that current then I am trying to create that balance. “

Studios across the country are watching this trend and stepping up with creative offerings to attract men to their collective sanghas.  Carrboro Yoga Company in North Carolina has $6 Tuesday evening classes for men (sort of ”men’s yoga happy hour”) and Lulu Bandha’s in Ojai, CA has a weekly “Stiff Guy Yoga” class.

Getting American men to realize that yoga is not only bendy, but also macho and male may be a challenge, but yoga teachers and studios are rising to it.  They are infusing their classes with connection and heart and sometimes a bit of rock and roll to open the doors to the yogis out there who have been scared away in recent years.  Whether it be attending a retreat to deepen their practice and connection to other yoga students with the likes of Duprey or to find a different approach on the mat where they feel at home with the Broga guys, men are returning to yoga.

Shiva shambo: let’s hear it for the boys!

Related:

Manly Yoga: The Four F’s of Male Yogaphobia

Why Men Should Do Yoga [TheWellDaily]

Excerpt of poll results from YD post More Meat and Potatoes, Please! Is there Enough Dude Yoga? February 2011:

POLL still open if you care to share your opinion!



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Earlier

43 comments… add one

  • I don’t have anything against Broga, but I do think that the fact that existence of Broga and men-centric retreats is pointing to a greater issue within the yoga world.

    Yes, it is quite obvious that yoga is being sold to well-to-do white women (hey thanks, YJ!)… but just look at the list you just threw out there! All the superstar teachers are STILL men! What women are at that level? Are there any? I would even go so far as to say that the lady celebriyogis out there gain more recognition when they are more yang-like, athletic, fierce, and even masculine. What it looks like to me is that yoga is a nice hobby for ladies to do, but it’s still a man’s world at the top.

  • Hey Flissy.. thanks so much for your input! Playing devil’s advocate I’d suggest some major female teachers at the top are: Shiva Rea, Judith Lasater, Ana Forrest, Beryl Bender Birch, Patricia Walden, and Cindy Lee (just to name six). Some younger yoginis that might be considered “leaders” are Elena Brower, Schulyer Grant, Faith Hunter, Jill Miller and even Kathryn Budig.

    Just some food for thought. Thanks so much!!

  • yoga dude

    “even masculine”? Really? What are the “masculine”-looking female yoga teachers out there, and who are you to say what a women should look like?

  • Yogini5

    Well, the star women teachers don’t look like the kind who taught yoga 30 years ago. Where are the Lilias Folans for this generation?

  • Dale

    Ummmm … go to an Ashtanga class ?

  • David D

    That was my thought too.

  • Thanks so much for the input guys! Yes, Ashtanga does tend to attract more men than other styles. I’d say the same for Power yoga/power vinyasa as well. Both power and Ashtanga have that key: vinyasa which requires a ton of strength and not just flexibility. Maybe this is why? Just positing… thanks again for reading!!

  • Jack

    I personally love being in the middle of a sea of lulu wearing yoga babes. Can’t see going to all men class. Are there really men intimidated by attending a class that may be at best a 3:1 ratio of women to men? Doesn’t sound very manly.

  • LOL.. sea of lulu. glad you are comfy with your manliness and willing to share that here

  • Banana Republic Resident

    I personally love being in the middle of a “sea of lulu wearing” yoga dudes & dorks.

    Can’t see going to an all-male class? Intimidated by attending a 100% male activity?…..hmmm…. doesn’t sound like you’re very secure in your “manliness”—just sayin’…

  • you all are cracking me up.. thanks for adding to the convo!

  • Brenda

    Sorry your ego is so fragile Banana. Sounds like you need to man up. Just saying…

  • Blissful Girl

    Great video clip. We instructors need to get creative at pulling men into our classes. I teach at a gym, so I usually have one to three guys per class, but so many men haven’t even set foot the group exercise room.

  • Thanks! I’ll be sure to pass that on to Robert and Adam of Broga. I too teach at gyms and there I get more men than at the studios where I teach. Totally agree about needing the lure to the classes for male yogis.

  • Micah

    Guys seem to want a more strength-based yoga style, aside from the flexibility component. I haven’t seen many accessible strength-based yoga out there offline and online. I’be been recommending this SF bay area teacher who has been popular amongst guys and has a 75-min power yoga video up. I’ve been able to introduce my guy friends to the video and they seem to connect with it.

    http://www.youtube.com/mightycollective#p/u/2/pLi93EIHx5o

  • awesome source.. thanks for lettting us share it with the other yogis and teachers. Agree completely with the strength vs flexibility thing and see my comment above about power vinyasa and Ashtanga on this end.

  • Liz

    I practice hot power vinyasa, and the studio is consistently filled with men. In fact, last week I was one of the few females. I credit the male owner (who is very much “man-ly”) with helping to draw in the bro crowd.

  • Thanks so much for sharing that Liz… yep, in the classes I attend where a manly man is teaching there are many more men. Noticeably more men even than the other classes at the studios. Teacher does make a difference (no surprise there, huh?). That begs the question then… can women teach effectively to men or can they lure them in with the same consistency?

  • Yogini5

    As an aging woman, I don’t care to be (or prove that I am) stronger than a man. I applaud men having their own classes.

    It is no accident that the last yoga teacher at the insufferable kick-butt yoga place I had gone to, a man, was replaced by 3 women teachers.

  • David

    Well I get the heebie-jeebies over gender-focused anything, really. Practically speaking though, I have found masculine-oriented anythings to be the worst in terms of not really understanding their own energy and for encouraging self-indulgent behaviors and attitudes. Maybe it has something to do with the hegemony of the patriarchy – but who am I to say really?

    On the gripping hand, though, I’m just not planning to go to anything labelled with such a heinous neologism as “broga”! Just sayin’ :)

  • JeffreyD

    Most people do yoga at least partially to get into an ideal, culturally-determined shape. For women, that is skinny-fat, where for men, the ideal is to put on muscle and have low body fat. Additionally, women are more flexible and will have a naturally easier time at an important issue of yoga. They’re also going to enjoy flexibility exercises more. And, men are likely to be doing some kind of weight lifting in addition to yoga. So, it’s different goals, different backgrounds, different strengths.

    I am perhaps a little bitter on the gender divide – I’m very tall and very muscular and not very flexible and I want to exercise core strength. Yoga has the capability of being great exercise for that, and there’s 1 million studios within the area, and they’re all pastel-colored with a bunch of skinnyfats teaching themselves to bend into a pretzel for some reason.

    About the stretch pants, I guess it’s a nice bonus but I’m not doing yoga to perv out. I’d take the better workout any day of the week.

  • Yogini5

    Particularly, as a woman ages, she is subject to sarcopenia—the clinical term for skinny-fat–where you look thin, even to culturally-acceptable tiny proportions, but there is not enough muscle mass there to make a dent in a woman’s slowing metabolism.

    I always have the flexibility problem and not enough muscle mass. I am also large enough framed that I look very weird when I (easily) develop quadriceps on my legs without stretching them out, which is most of the time …

  • Good points, JeffreyD. I’d like to add that a great many female teachers in Amerika have an unconscious bias towards serving their own gender to the exclusion of men. They focus on feelings, avoid poses that require upper body strength, and so on. Men have been (unconsciously) correct to look elsewhere for their fitness needs if they don’s stumble across astanga or its derivatives. But that’s starting to change, and I’m happy to be a part of that.

  • i’m leery, in a slippery slope sort of concern, about anything “only” for any segmented group -

    i think it’s more a fear, than a practical concern at this point

    and i definitely feel some areas need focus or emphasis as for “a” particular group of people

    but then, wouldn’t it still be wise to leave attendance “open” – so a man can benefit from learning about prenatal issues (and women’s views of those issues) -

    or of illnesses affecting any one group of people? addictions, cancers, etc?

    or of issues affecting any ethnic or socio-economic group? like immigrants, low-income, wealthy, non-english speaking, etc – and seeing/hearing how and what issues affect those persons?

    i understand the idea of wanting an arena where a group feels more comfortable expressing and finding themselves in a group restricted to only that group, i just feel it’s a slippery slope

    there’s lots of slippery slopes in life, from taking another nip of something with sugar or alcohol, extending or contracting immigration quotas, increasing or decreasing tax rates at varying income levels, openness of sexual preferences in the military or work place, and we live with it – and re-adjust, hopefully as needed

    i guess my main point (yes, i know, finally! ;-) ) is, for me, to maintain awareness of how something “only” for one group may be “playing the edge” of our lives, more or less beneficially than advertised

    it’s part of why my own blog stuff ends, not with one salutation, but with, “namaste – con dios – god be with you”

    and even there, i recognize, i’m walking a slope of sorts ;-)

  • Embee

    The idea of Broga is as unappealing to me as its name.

    I believe the market-driven space for this yoga is a result of pervasive patriarchy. Notwithstanding the fact that yoga was historically a male practice, the fact that Western women have embraced it in large numbers before men came to the practice makes yoga “feminine” in the U.S. and therefore undesirable for men.

    Yoga is not gendered. The different styles address different needs. The only purpose for Broga is to assauge the fragile ego of men so mired in the patriarchy that they view an activity associated primarily with women as inferior (or to profit from this misconception).

  • Dayita

    hear hear!

  • The truth is that American yoga has become overly feminized, I’m sorry to say. Women didn’t come to yoga first, men did, as evidenced by the claim above that all the big names are men (which I don’t exactly agree with, but anyway). The nonsense about “it’s all about the male ego” is simply a common projection of American women about men on a number of issues, not just yoga.

    When I started going to classes led my men (and classes that were more or less balanced 60 to 40 in favor of women), I started to make real progress.

    This isn’t to say that no women teachers get it. Some do.

  • Stewart Lawrence

    100% agree with you here. And because yoga is so feminized, it’s also heavily commercialized. If you’re an “average” woman – I know ladies no such thing, right? – can’t shop to it, or look good in it, it really doesn’t hold much interest. It’s the birds and the bees.

    I found the Broga article very condescending, including the sign-off “boys.” Imagine if a guy deigned to write about yoga and women and signed off saying “girls.” Duh.

    But we live in the age of the double standard.

    Here’s a thought for whoever posted this dumb article: break down the poll responses by gender, and let’s see what you come up with?

  • I’m a yoga teacher who teaches a Yoga for Men class. From my experience I’ve taught guys who would never have found their way onto the mat if it had not been for the all-male environment.

    Whatever anyone’s opinion is of the resistance or misperceptions these guys have had is irrelevant – the fact is that they are taking a positive step, and for some of them a courageous one given the backgrounds they come from.

    I had a guy turn up at one of my general classes last week who had previously been only a private client who had “progressed” to the mens’ class. I can’t tell you how happy I was when I saw him come in the door and roll his mat out in a room full of women. He would never had done that if the path had not met him where he was at.

    At the end of the day our practice is our own, it’s about what we get from it and what we can give to it. All of us had our own journey to get to the mat, and if classes are packaged in a way that makes it easier for people take a step towards yoga and meditation then that’s great as far as I’m concerned. As long as they are getting the real deal when they arrive.

    My wife runs meditation classes for mothers http://www.meditationformums.co.uk and I think they offer women a safe place to explore. Yoga classes for guys can offer something similar.

    I publish a yoga website aimed at men and the growth in traffic tells me that there are lots of guys out there who are intrigued by what yoga has to offer them. The number one question I get sent by email from visitors is, “how can I get started?”

    Perhaps as a yoga community we need to be spending a bit more time considering how we can make yoga more welcoming for the various groups that could benefit from it, but are under-represented in classes.

    Just my 2c

  • David-also

    Thanks. I’ve been teaching at the same studio for six years. We have what seems like a decent turn out of men, but still a small minority of the student body I suppose. I’ve been thinking of doing something men-only for the very reason you suggest – reaching out to an under served group. I don’t know how far I could go with it though because I have an aversion to the idea of gender specific yoga. But if it gets some guys in the door, fine. Then I can work on allaying the bias and get to the good stuff.

  • Embee

    I fail to see how men are “under served.” Are they restricted from classes? Mocked? Made uncomfortable by anyone other than themselves?

    I see the merit in introducing the practice in an easily-digestible fashion such as “yoga for beginners/athletes/the very inflexible/those who have an aversion to chanting” but when a class of yoga is created for men it excludes women..how, exactly, does that comport with yogic principles of samadhi?

    The only circumstance under which I could accept the utility of a males-only class is if participation was limited to a single “subscription.” In other words, the student would understand that he was on a (10 class, for example) path toward joining a general class and NOT creating a boysclub of yoga.

    And Mahadeva, a meditation class for mothers is not a parallel for yoga for men. Not all women are mothers, you know.

  • David-also

    I consider my teaching practice to be a practice of service. And by under served I mean a population that could benefit from yoga but currently isn’t participating proportionate to their numbers. So the idea of a male-only class – at least as it appeals to me – would be for the purpose of outreach. As I said, I’m averse to gender specific classes generally. But if it got some men to try out the practice, then I’d do it. But I’ve never contemplated a permanent such class. I’d be willing to try it as a special offering to bring in new students who might not otherwise try yoga.

  • Embee

    Your concept of a “bridge” class sounds great. I certainly agree with you that men could benefit from and are not participating in yoga, proportionately.

  • Embee clearly has some issues around men, probably brought on by misguided feminism. There are millions of pointless women-only yoga classes and even entire fitness businesses such as curves.

  • Embee

    Don’t be ignorant. You don’t even know if I am a woman.

  • Andy

    God who cares? The practice is engaging enough – when you get into your ujai breath and working the practice, your surroundings really don’t matter that much? Just go. Personally I really enjoy having female teachers and being in a “sea of lulus.” There’s always men there too, intrestingly older dudes; maybe 50-ish years old – they seem to have a more who-gives-a-shit attitude. Younger guys these days tend to be way more concerned with possibly looking the least bit “gay.”

  • Andy

    If a guy wants to do yoga, he’ll go do it. Why do people feel the need to twist arms and convince people to do it? It’s like trying to make people love the kind of music you love–you try and try, but they are not you, and they just don’t like it.

    Can you imagine? “Yeah I’m heading out to Broga Class.” Sounds retarded.

  • Yogini5

    Well, odds are they will. They will rock all the arm balances they want until their arms fall off.

    They, like me (who actually doesn’t give a shit at my age, and felt I HAD to switch styles) will for the most part sit proudly in sukhasana because they, like me, have an idea that their hips don’t externally rotate enough for even half-lotus …

    And they will feel more comfortable than I do as a woman, because they are bro’s and allowed to be as inflexible as they want to or can in this moment, and accept what is available to them RIGHT NOW!

  • I have been a teacher for fifteen years now and things most certainly have changed. Back in the day, I was often the only guy in class but these days I have even had occasions where only men came to an “Open” class (beautiful thing.)

    I question the notion that men who come to yoga want strengthening. Most of the men who come to my class already go to the gym to work out or their not into the gym and that’s why they are trying yoga. Most men who come to my class have back pain or are just stiff and want to feel better. Designing classes to be more like what they are accustomed to at the gym (“yoga-based fitness”) doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    Yoga offers something that just working out doesn’t. That’s what makes yoga cool. I think that most men are interested in what those benefits might be.

  • Yogini5

    I question sometimes, guys who are NOT into the gym and will go take yoga classes, in that many of them do have the time for both. I HAD been into the gym (light weight training, anyhow) … back in the bad old days when I’d had the time …

    Not being a natural at great levels of flexibility–just like guys are–I would have swapped most of my yoga for the gym (and the swimming pool), but the gym TAKES TIME …

  • Doing Yoga without any guidelines, inspiration and safety precautions is very difficult. In this context, your attempt is highly encouraging.

  • Nice link to Manduka – don’t ya just lurve those bros!!

    http://yogawiki.co/Main/AYogaBook/MandukaThinksWeWillFallForThisHS

  • My teacher says, “you can pull a cat by it’s tail but you’ll still get the whole cat”.
    In other words, it doesn’t really matter why people come to yoga, or how, but simply that they do. Get them practicing, the power of yoga will do the rest of the work. If we truly have faith in the practice, we will know this to be true.

    As yoga teachers/sharers of yoga, it’s important that we serve those who come practice with us in our own authentic way and get create in finding ways to serve those who are currently underserved– those who are curious but perhaps haven’t yet “taken that plunge”. As humans, we fear the unknown, and some are even more of feeling embarrassed or insecure. So yoga can be intimidating to many people out there.

    Broga is a creative, compassionate, and accessible program with yoga integrity– with, as I see it, a great marketing strategy. Even the slight change play on wording, from yoga to broga offers the skeptical but curious student just the right touch of relaxation into the new experience of yoga. They try it, they get familiar with the poses, language, and new sensations that emerge from the practice, and, BAM! more yogis on planet earth- not a bad thing in my opinion.
    Yoga teachers- we can all serve from using Broga as a model for reaching more new students– find who you feel called to serve, get creative with how to reach these folks.
    And just for the record, I have been to Broga many times and as a woman, always welcomed.

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