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Broga: Inclusive Solution or Douchey Distraction?

in We've Noticed This Is A Thing, YD News, Yogitorials

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Question of the day: Do yoga classes separated by gender help or hinder yoga’s accessibility? In other words, is the “Broga”-fication of yoga making it more approachable to guys or is it just another douchey construct further enforcing a false definition of male vs female yoga? A writer for Bustle, a women’s interest website, might argue for the latter.

“Is it bad that I find this whole concept kind of…douchey?” Lara Rutherford-Morrison wonders about Broga rhetorically to the whole of the Interwebs. Let me start by saying I love guys, I love that they do yoga, and I love that even more men are realizing they can benefit from the practice. That said, I’ve known about Broga for a while and wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it, but this article reminded me why something about it just stinks a little funky like those Axe body spray commercials.

For the uninitiated, Broga, as the website states, is a style of yoga that “combines the best core-strengthening, muscle-toning, cardio-working, stress-reducing, clarity-enhancing yoga postures with functional fitness exercises for an amazing workout.” Doesn’t sound too dude-i-ly exclusive, does it? But as Broga founder Robert Sidoti has explained, the idea came to him when he kept encountering guys who felt uncomfortable doing yoga because they weren’t flexible enough and because most of the yoga classes were full of females. “A lot of guys were saying: ‘I can’t touch my knees, let alone my toes. I would never go to a mostly women class and do things I’m no good at,’” Sidoti says in a recent Reuters article. This seems to be a budding mentality. Since its inception in 2009, Broga has amassed 200 trained Broga instructors across 22 states. (Note: While Broga™ is its own thing, this discussion is intended to also include the larger whole of “broga” yoga.)

So the old flexible thing I’ve heard a million times from just about every single person I know when I mention yoga, from my parents to my neighbors to my sweet non-yoga-practicing friends who say they really want to practice yoga, but…yeah, nope! not flexible enough. This is a silly argument and we all know it. And we can probably blame most of that on the image of yoga that some people still deny exists, but somehow keeps creeping up on magazine covers and Instagram feeds. Yoga = the splits, DUH! Once and for all, you DO NOT need to be a head-between-your-ankles circus act to practice yoga. We can also blame some of the “I’m not flexible enough for yoga” line on people either being lazy or polite, depending on the context.

Now, on to the next part. Guys feel uncomfortable practicing yoga in a room full of women. Oh, hey, I’m sorry, is that anything like what it feels like to be the only woman in a male-majority company, a professional sport, or any other male-dominated field? At least you’re not getting 78% of the yoga while women get the full 100%! Sigh.

(I’m not going to lie. There is a tiny voice in my head at certain moments saying good! go do your manly yoga and leave us ladies to ourselves! But there is something to be said for the yin and the yang, the masculine and feminine coming together in harmonious balance, er, I dunno, shall I say, union?)

No one likes to feel uncomfortable in yoga where it’s supposed to be a safe and supportive space, where you expect to feel free to be who you are. Men should have the same opportunities as women do in yoga. (I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.) So I do have some empathy, but not a whole lot of it. This is different from a class that’s structured for, say, people with larger bodies, as is the case with the “Fat Yoga” trend. Broga is not solving an issue with adaptive yoga. Broga is creating an “other” where an “other” need not be, a minority where a minority isn’t really relevant.

As Rutherford-Morrison points out, ““Broga” indirectly defines “regular” yoga as something only women do, which is insane…” and that it suggests that “yoga is stereotypically feminine (passive, flowery, etc.) whereas Broga is oh-so-manly—forceful, athletic, and sweat-inducing.”

One could argue that the tough guy approach is just a clever way to get guys to start practicing – trickery, almost – and once they’re in, they’re hooked! That’s good, right?

Adam Cogbill, student, writer and human manperson who practices and loves yoga, makes the case for guy-centric Broga classes, saying that men might not try yoga otherwise, and that the semantics switcheroo is actually a boon. He writes via the University of New Hampshire blog:

I’ve heard teachers say, “Relax in downward dog.” Downward dog feels to me exactly as relaxing as plank position. And often, Western yoga practices seem to emphasize happiness and peacefulness while denying the importance of other emotions, even though anger, sadness, and frustration also help us process our experiences.  I could go on, but these examples illustrate my point. My experience as a male often conflicts with what I encounter in yoga practice.

But this conflict, Cogbill continues, “is nourishing.” “I may even need it,” he says because “yoga has important things to teach men about our bodies that traditional male pastimes don’t.”

Men’s bodies are different, sure. To this end, it’s on the yoga teachers to make the space more open and accessible to all through language and instruction. The light and fluffy “find your bliss!” talk is maybe sometimes too much, too, but yoga provides something different from the usual competitive sports many men are used to, and it can be all that much more beneficial to balance it all out, as Cogbill points out in his support of why more men should practice yoga/Broga.

And yet, by further separating men into their own bro groups, it’s possible that a greater stigma is being created around yoga in general, rather than ameliorating it.

“Media coverage of Broga Yoga has painted a picture of poor, inflexible men in yoga classes surrounded by hyper-flexible, judgmental women,” Rutherford-Morrison writes.

So maybe this is the problem: the marketing and the tired old regurgitated message. Some men are so insecure about their manliness that regular old “yoga” yoga is emasculating and embarrassing? Hm. And somehow adding “bro” makes it all better. It’s a bandaid. But it’s also making some other things worse, like subtle sexism. Rutherford-Morrison writes, “I find the trend of adding “bro” to things as a marketing tool to be generally insulting to men. It suggests that they are so obsessed with their own perceived masculinity that they can’t risk buying products that women also buy or doing activities that women also do.” Kind of like how using pink or purple razors (insert “yoga mats” or any other object) would be a big no-no because they’re “girl” colors, which is an absurd construct our society tries to convince us of every day. This is insulting to everyone. Yoga should be, and is, better than that.

At this point you may be thinking…wow, this sister really thinks Broga is stupid and dumb and should be thrown out the window along with popped collars and trucker hats! That’s not necessarily the case (though I am truly happy that style trend has all but phased out). I do think guy-specific yoga classes, if they do exist, should present a gender-positive, gender-neutral approach that doesn’t make men or women feel inadequate based on how bro-y or non-bro-y their down dog is. I do think everyone should be able to practice in a safe and supportive environment. I do think there’s a lot of room for discussion around this which is why I’m also wondering aloud to the Interwebs…[insert floaty thought bubble]

One potentially great or at least interesting thing that’s emerged from the Broga-ness is that social media has been awash with man yoga pics lately. Guys are feeling comfortable sharing their yoga photos with the world. They sure don’t mind the likes they receive from followers, which also includes women, by the way. So maybe soon they’ll feel comfortable enough practicing on the mat next to them?

-image via @revyoga-

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hollypenny is a writer, yoga practitioner and springtime enthusiast living in New York City. Her interests include taking long walks, meeting random people and trying to make sense of the world. She appreciates those who have fire and passion, who approach life with fervor but choose not to take any of it too seriously.

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25 comments… add one
  • Sara

    What a well-reasoned, and beautifully expressed article. Thank you for sharing! Please keep writing!

  • John

    The guy in the photo would feel a million times better if he made the effort to open his shoulders and get his hips over his wrists, pointing his toes would help.

    Any one else remember when it was men taking off their shirts in class, rather than yoga selfies, that was a sign of rampant ego destroying yoga? Yogadork was full of “eww, men” articles much like the “eww, selfies” ones we’ve seen recently. That little fad alone justifies “broga”. Articles like this one that agonise over the potential semiotics of a marketing gimmick as if it was the early 70s and America had just discovered Barthes rather than, possibly, trying a class, are another reason it exists.

    How about an honest discussion? Men represent an untapped market, something the saturated yoga business needs. “Broga” is one way into that market but it makes the middle class women who teach yoga for a living feel threatened that they’ll lose access to that market. Instead we get a whole bunch of fluff that screams “we like to talk about how yoga should be more inclusive as long as we can feel superior to the people being included and they are properly grateful for our efforts”

    I’m not a fan of the name, the broga classes that have been available to me were clearly not for me, in decades of regular yoga classes I’ve only felt unwelcome as a man a couple of times, but I can understand why broga would succeed.

    • VQ2

      So could I, and I am relatively very inflexible for a woman of any age; and, personally, at any ages I’ve ever been.
      I certainly would not be caught dead in a “Broga” class, myself, though …

  • Bob Stearns

    When I first saw an article about Broga I just rolled my eyes and thought “How stupid is this?” I mean, to me, this was all about guys who are afraid of what someone else might think because they can’t perform the poses picture perfect. And yes, I also believe they are intimidated because they believe it doesn’t appear manly enough. Women have told me that men’s energy is needed in yoga instruction and classes. I believe it’s needed in classes however they are comprised. Segregating the classes bolsters suspicion about motives of the opposite sex’s participation in an activity where one aims to transcend the petty and stupid to attain a higher acceptance of self and others. You can’t do that when you require an exclusive class to guard against ogling or snickers about how awkward you are. Guys can learn and grow in a “regular” yoga class and don’t need to hide in a class exclusively with “bros”, a term that I, as a guy, abhor.

  • Tom

    The name “Broga” is awful and it put me off, but I like see things for myself before deriding things. I had an opportunity to take a class with Rob Sidoti so I ignored the name and signed up. It was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. He’s a terrific instructor.

    I suggest the author of this article do the same and then form her opinion instead of basing it on secondhand news articles and blog posts.

  • I’ve been teaching gender-specific yoga to males and females since 2006. This articles misses a few important points: 1) anatomical differences 2) impact of social conditioning 3) historical implications of male only spaces 4) that no one questions women only classes. The yoga world has a tough time being nuanced because of the “all is one” myth. Yes we all we connected, no we are not the same. Different bodies, different social conditioning, different paths to wholeness. I have some articles on my site for you – “Gender-specific Yoga” and the “Mysterious Female Pelvis.” http://www.SacredCentering.com Please feel free to contact me with questions.

  • VQ2

    More than 50% of the “yoga is not a competition” lip-service by yoga instructors in certain upscale or surburban markets, suddenly solved. The posturing by certain female yoga instructors trying to make a name for themselves in the vinyasa yoga world, with other women? Discredit the bullshit where it must be discredited. As for Broga? Bring it!!

    http://www.xojane.com/issues/yoga-is-not-a-competitive-sport

    The above blog is deemed an “Unpopular Opinion” for a reason.

  • paul

    get “real. fit.”© in broga® yoga’s brograms© .. broga® gives every indication that it isn’t yoga, but a fitness program intended to give a safe space to leave the sense of self unchallenged, marketing for those feeling left out of a fad, by people who don’t distinguish commodity from humanity. insecurity is ok and normal, and except for race, i think any [category] yoga is good, d-bag yoga or slut yoga, and so long as it is actually practicing yoga the insecurity will fade along with self-conception.

    • VQ2

      “get “real. fit.”© in broga® yoga’s brograms© ”

      Is the above actually published on the website?
      On second thought, I don’t wanna know …

      • paul

        not so tidily, but that’s the idea https://brogayoga.com/aboutus/broga/ .. see also the ‘our vision’ section; broga® is designed from the outset for franchising.

        • VQ2

          Even though I’m a woman, I might be perfectly suited to their brogilates®-on-the-mat program … oh wait, they have not invented that one yet …fairly comprehensive branding—no joke THERE, paul …

          • paul

            broilates™ seems the logical next step, alongside a clothing line; i’m sure they know to not grow too quickly though. i’m looking forward to brogirl™ yoga, for women who want to experience broga® without bothering (or being bothered by) the brogis™.. competition is formative, but it can be kept gendered, and doing so will help keep such formative experiences unexamined.

  • Carlos

    I started up yoga and for the first few years I was often the only man in class. I could not touch my toes either at first, but I didn’t let that get in the way of reaping the benefits of building my practice. Men, let go of your expectations and enjoy the practice for what it offers to you each and every time you come to it. In time the ego will subside and the flow and ease will comfort any concerns of being self conscious in a mixed gender class.

  • Carlos

    When I started up yoga and for the first few years I was often the only man in class. I could not touch my toes either at first, but I didn’t let that get in the way or intimidate me from reaping the benefits of building my practice. Dear men, let go of your expectations and enjoy the practice for what it offers to you each and every time you come to it. In time the ego will subside and the flow and ease will comfort any concerns of being self conscious in a mixed gender class.

  • frankie

    I know a lot of straight men who would not be caught dead at a Broga class. Their concern is not about flexibility or competition, and with that in mind, they’re happy to go to regular classes.

  • VQ2

    “broilates™ seems the logical next step, alongside a clothing line; i’m sure they know to not grow too quickly though. i’m looking forward to brogirl™ yoga, for women who want to experience broga® without bothering (or being bothered by) the brogis™.. competition is formative, but it can be kept gendered, and doing so will help keep such formative experiences unexamined.”

    I can speak only to the quick call(!) on broilates—simply because probably no back-formation of the purported name of the hybrid practice offering that I was referring to [jury is out as to whether broga Yoga itself is hybrid – probably not any more than is DDP Yoga (aka Yoga for Regular Guys) (lol)], might prevent a copyright infringement suit from Jonathan Urla himself, as his brand name of that particular practice is still actively trademarked and copyrighted, TM’ed and whatever else …

  • paul

    i didn’t know about yogilates®, which seems even more removed from yoga than broga® .. all three look as cynical with their marketing, and ddp yoga has dropped breath integration from its copy.

  • Bobbye

    Shouldn’t Transgendered Yoga — TOGA — be next?

    The studios are completely dominated by a “mainstream” gender demographic — Type-A heterosexual females that love to preen and strut their narrow version of “femininity” together.

    It’s made it do hard for other gender identities to feel completely safe in the studios.

    I think every studio should feature a prominent T-Girl diva as a teacher, too!

  • A quick scan of the Broga program reveals its focus on athleticism, fitness, and muscle toning, barely cloaked in a merchandise-able package that capitalizes on the current popularity of yoga, replete with the buzz-phrases like “living authentically.”

    Come on. This is a fitness program. And probably a good one for physical health. But it has NOTHING to do with yoga.

    I can respect the goal of exposing real yoga to more people, but this smacks of gimmickry. Who knows though, maybe that’s what’ll make this program “successful.”

    Remember, “Yoga is an internal practice. The rest is just a circus.” – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

  • Two things. Firstly, comparing guys feeling uncomfortable in a yoga class to women in a corporate environment is a false equivalency. Writing ‘we’re uncomfortable/outcast here, so you should be here’ makes no sense and is a total stretch. In over 11 years of teaching I’ve heard both arguments you cite dozens upon dozens of times—not being flexible, which is an excuse/ignorance of what happens, and men being uncomfortable in a group of women. Just because you think it’s nonsense doesn’t make it so to a lot of men.

    Second, ‘yoga should be better than that.’ So you’ve found the ‘right’ definition. Wonderful. There are so many things that yoga ‘should’ be better than. Invoking them to point fingers to an audience potentially interested in yoga helps nothing.

    I don’t know Robert well, but I have taken his class and seen him around, a few years ago when I spent time where he lives. He’s a solid teacher and a really nice guy. I’m with you in the sense that the name does nothing for me, and I could never imagine myself teaching it. But it has made an impact for some men and introduced them into a wider physical/emotional world through yoga, and that is a good thing.

  • Alex

    I agree with Taryn it should at least be an option for a teacher to alter the students Asana to reflect anatomical differences for both genders.
    Namaste,
    Alex

  • I think making a class only for men is a marketing strategy to get more men into yoga, those who feel uncomfortable with a class full of girls, not a big deal, there are many spaces where men are not aloud, so why can´t men have them exclusivity too, I think its a way to make everyone happy, and of course making some profit from it, not that its wrong,, I follow a blog full with yoga tips, and healthy living, check it if you have some time 😀

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mind-Body-Soul/667017430092628?fref=ts

  • Big Om Daddy

    If it gets more men interested in exercise and some aspects of a yoga practice then great! Yoga was originally designed for men anyways. Should us dudes start a campaign like #takingbackyoga ?

  • chuck

    Except women not only teach Broga but love to come to class…..someone didn’t do their homework with this article since the premise is based upon segregation. If you write an article about a type of class…how about taking it first ?

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