NEW YORK - Men who crave the benefits of yoga, but recoil at sharing the experience with a room full of women are turning to Broga, a rugged take on the 3,000-year-old practice of movement and breath.
Broga celebrates the physical over the spiritual, and strength over flexibility. Experts say it sets men free to flex tight hamstrings without hearing invocations to Hindu deities or feeling inept next to a woman twisted like a pretzel.
"I consider myself an athletic guy, but have never been flexible and didn't like the thought of embarrassing myself in front of a group of women," said financial analyst Eric Wright, 22, of San Jose, California.
Wright and his male colleagues use the video streaming service Grokker to practice.
"On Wednesdays we have a standing Broga appointment and anywhere from five to eight others will join me," he said.
Grokker founder and Chief Executive Officer Lorna Borenstein said more men are adding yoga to their exercise routines as a cross-training tool for flexibility and improving recovery time.
"Men are a little late to the party, but we're seeing more men in the workplace who find time to do yoga together a few times a week," she said.
Yoga instructor Robert Sidoti, based in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, is the creator and co-founder of the trademarked Broga Yoga, which so far has trained some 200 Broga instructors in at least 22 states.
Sidoti taught his first Broga class in 2009. His Broga Yoga videos are found on the Booya Fitness website, which offers on-demand fitness classes.
"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,'" said Sidoti, whose sequences are designed with men's bodies in mind.
"We rarely go into poses that require deep forward bending, twisting and binding," he said, adding a High Intensity Interval Training sequence is included.
Broga is also anatomically driven.
"It's not so much about feeling your heart centre as feeling the stretch across your chest," Sidoti said.
Jessica Matthews, senior adviser for health and fitness education at the American Council on Exercise, said most men tend to view yoga as a workout rather than a spiritual practice.
"They celebrate the physical," said Matthews, who is also a yoga teacher.
Wright said Broga improved his hamstring flexibility.
"Four months ago I couldn't touch my toes and today I can almost reach my palms to the ground," he said.