UMass BROga introduces men to yoga
by Dan Peltier
Lying on a yoga mat in front of her BROga class at the UMass Recreation Center, group fit instructor and UMass junior Sarah Marotta inhales and exhales as sweat drips down both sides of her face. She pants like she’s just reached the summit of Mount Washington on a sweltering July afternoon as she finishes one workout track and demonstrates the next.
There’s usually three or four men in her class of 30-40 students, and these guys, she says, are her target audience for the challenging yoga program she calls BROga. Joe Marini, a UMass junior, is one of those men. He feels BROga helps him start his week.
“BROga helps me refresh my mental and physical self each week while still breaking a sweat,” he said.
Marotta developed the BROga class to help men build strength, providing a more strenuous and all-encompassing yoga workout. While BROga is the first yoga class designed for men at UMass, it is open to all. Every part of the body is worked and Marotta believes that anyone can attain results with BROga if they work hard enough.
Men learn exercises they can use to help improve their athletic performance in other activities. While other yoga practices, like Iyengar or Jivamukti, focus on breathing and relaxation along with balance, BROga focuses on these plus building core strength, and there’s also a good deal of cardio.
“I teach BROga for the men in my life,” she said. “My brothers and dad are active but I wanted to help them improve their strength, flexibility, and show them how to get better in tune with their bodies and I had them in mind when I decided on the name.”
The class incorporates the traditional yoga moves of upward-dog, downward-dog, plank and crock but it’s more intense and geared towards getting the heart pounding rather than relaxing the mind. BROga still values improving focus and clearing the mind, but breaking a sweat and increasing strength are the main goals. The class includes ten tracks: warm-up, salutations, challenge, balance, core front, core back, stretch, stretch, stretch and restore.
Yoga and Men
Marotta started her class after noticing the low number of men on the mat. A 2012 survey conducted by Yoga Journal found that 8.7 percent of U.S. adults, or 20.4 million Americans, practice yoga regularly. Of that, 82.2 percent are women, and only 17.8 percent are men.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), yoga’s health benefits include lowered heart rate and blood pressure, better cardio and circulatory health, reduced stress levels, improved respiration and increased flexibility.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 307,000 men died from heart disease in the U.S. in 2009. This amounts to one in every four male deaths, making heart disease the leading cause of death in men.
Yoga can prevent some of the causes of heart disease in men. With these benefits and statistics, it’s difficult to imagine why more men aren’t getting on the mat.
“I think men are nervous that they will be judged by their peers for taking a class that also draws a lot of women, but everyone’s there to improve their fitness, not judge others,” she said.
Marini sees the benefits in men doing this type of yoga.
“I think men should do BROga because it incorporates moderate resistance training and some traditional yoga all in one,” he said.
Doing BROga Yourself
Marotta demonstrates core front exercises that are coming next at one of her classes. These exercises strengthen abdominal muscles, and she tells students to lie on their backs while leaning on their forearms pressed flat on the mat. Legs should be extended to at least a 45-degree angle. Their legs will alternate from running in place to doing circles to sit-ups.
Pharrell’s “Happy” starts playing and a sea of legs begin moving while a cacophony of heavy breathing like a train whistle echoes around the room.
“You will never think of this song the same way again,” Marotta teases. “You’ll hear it on the radio and think of me.”
“Happy” might make you want to do BROga at home, and Marotta makes her playlist and fitness tips available on her blog. She describes her class as a roller coaster that starts slow, then builds, then slows down again, and at-home BROga workouts should follow this path.
“Push yourself during the first half of your workout and then unwind during the last half. Focus less on whether you’re doing a challenge track or core back and instead just think about that roller coaster ride, that’s the shape your workout should take,” she said.
The right music is important. The first few tracks should be soft, the middle ones should be faster and powerful, and the last ones should be soft. Choose 10-15 songs if you want to go for an hour or less if you do a shorter workout.
BROga can be done anywhere provided that the lighting isn’t bright and there’s enough space to fully extend your body. Basketball shorts or capris should be worn with a tank top or t-shirt, but socks should not be worn.
And like the core front track, Marotta says, being “Happy” is the key to BROga.
“You have to make sure you enjoy your workout, that’s most important,” she said.
“BROga helps all kinds of guys, whether you run or lift, everyone can get something out of it.”
Marotta teaches BROga on Tuesdays at 4:45 and Sundays at 12:30. Her Facebook page, “Group Fit with Sarah,” lists class schedules and updates. Dan Peltier can be reached at email@example.com.