What does yoga mean to you? For most, it conjures an exercise in peace, love and flexibility. And even as millions join this 21st century fitness fad, yoga’s basic tenets — learning to control the body and mind — are the same as they were when Hindus and Buddhists were practicing them two millennia ago.
But my editor didn’t ask me to try yoga. It was Broga — yoga for “bros,” I thought — and that brought to mind a much different image.
This was going to be testosterone-fueled yoga, with a little stretching mixed in with pushups, squats, dumbbells and high-fives, all capped off with a Gatorade bath for the instructor. Or so I had imagined.
After a 70-minute class at Windsoul Studio in , Broga convert Derek Anderson called it a “gateway drug.” And he was right: I wanted to do it again.
A couple of weeks before the class, I spent a half hour speaking with instructor Chuck Raffoni of North Chelmsford. His story of personal transformation through yoga was enough to inspire even the most timid newcomer. That was when my perceptions began to change.
Through yoga, Raffoni overcame a form of chronic fatigue syndrome in his early 20s and found a passion and a career, not to mention a new level of fitness, in his 40s.
Missing the connection he had to his first yoga teacher, a male, Raffoni bought a Groupon deal to try a Broga class in Somerville. It was being taught by Robert Sidoti, the professional yoga instructor who created Broga in 2009 in an effort to lure more men to the . Yoga teachers can now be certified in Broga, which can now be found in 22 states.
The idea, Raffoni said, was to create a yoga style that overcame barriers that typically kept men away. Sidoti provides instructors with suggested music selections that are more upbeat, a style of yoga with more built-in strength training, and a cadence for the instructors that is more straightforward.
“Instead of saying lift your heart to the sky, we say lift your chest,” Raffoni said. “Men generally like to know why they’re doing things. We explain things out so they understand the mechanics.”
The more he spoke, the more I felt like I was a candidate. I’d wanted to try yoga, but I didn’t really understand it, and if I was going to spend an hour at a fitness class, I also wanted it to snap-reverse my slow progression toward “dad bod.”
Still, when I arrived at Windsoul, I worried I was headed for failure before a class full of buffed out bros .
Raffoni explained that the class isn’t really just for men. His classes are typically 70 percent male, but women are gravitating to the style, too, and he has several couples that attend together.
Indeed, the first person I saw as I walked up to the door was a woman who said she’d just had a baby. Then another woman arrived. This class turned out to be about 50 percent women, and among the men, there were as many over age 40 as under.
As luck would have it, I was positioned up front, fully prepared to be the night’s comic relief. But as Raffoni turned on the music and started the class, my nerves evaporated. Our eyes were closed, and the first step was to take some “yoga breaths” and relax. In those moments, I almost felt alone.
The class began with some stretching, and transitioned into some poses. There were moments when my arms were up instead of out, and if my shoulders were hunched, Raffoni was sure to help me bring them down. I reached out and touched the wall a couple of times to keep my balance.
Gradually, the poses moved from balance to the use of more strength. There were some pushups, some squats and lunges, each adaptable to what each person was up for. All the while, Raffoni kept our focus on breathing deeply, not panting from exhaustion.
If there was a minor moment of embarrassment, it came during the “rocking baby” position, which is, shall we say, unflattering. But unlike a more classically sedate yoga class, Raffoni got this group to laugh. “That’s what I want to hear,” he called out.
And just as I worried that the intensity was about to go beyond my fitness level, the class started to wind down again. We down on our mats, and for close to 10 minutes we simply shut off our minds.
By the end, I did some sweating, but I was relaxed. My muscles felt fatigued, but not drained.
And then there was one last surprise. It was after 8 p.m., and I expected everyone to quickly head home to children, dinner or bed. Instead, many stayed and talked, especially Raffoni’s most loyal students, a group that is quickly expanding.
Many told how yoga, and Broga in particular, has changed their lives.
Andy Sicard of Tyngsborough has been doing Broga since August 2014. Working a desk job, he found he’d gotten out of shape and had gained weight. “My doctor said to look into exercise, but I didn’t know where to start,” he said.
With the help of Broga, he’d lost 40 pounds, changed his diet and has more energy.
Lauren Winbey of Nashua, N.H., brought her fiance, John Condon, for the first time, a night of Broga bonding just weeks before their wedding.
Kaleigh Tardiff of Dracut and Kara Bowles of Methuen, both of whom had delivered babies in recent months, chatted with longtime Raffoni disciple Helene Tremblay of Pelham, N.H.
Julie Iatron lured her husband, Derek Anderson, to Broga last October. For Anderson, this “gateway drug” now has him taking two classes a week. He has lost more than 10 pounds. For them, Broga means getting a baby sitter; their workout is now date night. Their classmates, male and female, are now their bros.
As I prepared to leave, I felt that I truly understood what Broga was all about. “There is a connection with people who come because it’s set up that way,” Iatron said. “We’re all in this together.”