In the nearly four years since she opened her studio in Riverhead, April Yakaboski has discerned one of the uncomfortable truths of yoga.
The girls can do it; the guys, or at least many of them, can't.
"Women would start to bring their husbands into our classes, and I could see them struggling," says Yakaboski, who opened Aerial Fitness and Hot Yoga in June 2009. "I knew that there had to be some other way more beneficial and appealing to them."
Of course, there are men with exceptional proficiency in yoga. Indeed, some of its biggest "stars" -- teachers such as Rodney Yee, Bikram Choudhury, B.K.S. Iyengar -- are male. But there's no question that women dominate the practice. According to Yoga Journal magazine's 2012 Yoga in America Study, 82.2 percent of the 20.4 million Americans who practice this ancient Hindu system of physical and breathing exercises are female.
But men can still get the same benefits of yoga, which include increased flexibility and balance, not to mention relaxation and a sense of centeredness.
Seeking a more guy-friendly approach to yoga, Yakaboski went online and talked to other teachers. She found Broga (as in, yoga for "bros"), a trademarked class developed by two male teachers in Massachusetts that caters to the male anatomy -- and temperament. "It focuses more on men's strength than their weaknesses," says Yakaboski. A Broga class includes, for example, push-ups, a movement rarely seen in traditional yoga classes. It de-emphasizes such guy-groaners as downward facing dog, one of traditional yoga's most basic asanas (poses), but one that is more difficult when one has tight hamstrings and shoulders. And Broga offers type-A guys a chill pill: Savasana "corpse pose" -- the deep-relaxation period that typically concludes most yoga classes, is done both at the beginning and the end.
So are male classes the next big thing in yoga? "It's hard to tell if this is a trend yet," says Jennifer Rodrigue, managing editor of Yoga Journal. "But I think it speaks to something that a lot of teachers see. Guys who are reluctant to take yoga classes because they don't think they're flexible enough. But that's one of the benefits of taking the class."
One guy who's feeling the difference is Casey Brandt, a 24-year-old weight-lifting enthusiast from Riverhead who had been taking traditional yoga, but switched to Broga when Yakaboski began offering it earlier this year. "Some of the poses in regular yoga are uncomfortable for a male," Brandt said. "In Broga, you don't really feel that."
While Brandt says his flexibility has improved, there is one thing he didn't expect to find in his men's class: women. But sure enough, they're showing up for the class, too. And no, it's not to meet guys. "They're married," said Yakaboski, referring to the cadre of women who now attend her men's classes. "They just want more of a strength workout."
For now, Yakaboski's is the only official Broga class on Long Island (she has been offering it on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings, but starting this month will increase that to five sessions a week.) A few other Long Island studios offer guys-only classes -- or at least classes in which the "limitations" of the male anatomy (and psyche) are taken into account.
While some yoga purists will doubtless cringe at the whole idea, Rodrigue is not one of them. "I think anything that introduces people to yoga is great," she says. "You have to find your own way and your own path."