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-
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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