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Downward facing dude

Broga enthusiasts hope to make yoga more accessible for men

Broga (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff) Broga co-founders Robert Sidoti (front) and Adam O'Neill at the Armory in Somerville on Oct. 22.
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / November 10, 2011

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At a recent Saturday Broga class, there were no chest bumps, no crude talk of the opposite sex, no loutish stereotypes that could be culled from a Vince Vaughn film. In a yoga class dubbed Broga (a blend of the words “bro’’ and “yoga’’) such behavior would seem to come with the territory, but surprisingly it does not.

Just two days earlier, Broga cofounder Adam O’Neill was downing beer at Legal Harborside and throwing around the phrase “getting into the bro-zone’’ to describe the yoga program that he and Robert Sidoti devised to attract hesitant men to the world of yoga. Sidoti sends out dude-friendly tweets like: “Get with the Bro-gram’’ and “Stop bro-crastinating.’’ Doesn’t that bro-cabulary merit a fist bump?

“That’s actually one of the battles that we have,’’ says Sidoti, the 41-year-old “Brogi’’ who teaches Broga classes in Somerville and on Martha’s Vineyard. “This is not a dumbed down version of yoga. There’s a lot of movement linking the postures, but adding push-ups and variations of squats. People see the name ‘Broga’ and they think it’s just a bunch of idiots. But there’s integrity.’’

At the small Saturday class led by Sidoti, there are nearly as many women as men (women are welcome to do Broga, although normally men outnumber women). This is a slightly more aggressive and physical incarnation of yoga; Sanskrit terms are avoided as much as possible, and poses are carefully explained.

“Broga offers a much more palatable introduction to yoga at a much more familiar level,’’ says O’Neill. “There aren’t a lot of esoteric yoga terms that are used. We move from the familiar to the unfamiliar.’’

Both O’Neill and Sidoti were once reluctant to commit to yoga themselves. O’Neill, 30, grew up in a house with a mother who was a yoga enthusiast. The solidly built O’Neill, who is over 6 feet tall, was more interested in basketball and lacrosse. When his mother suggested stretches that might help him, he dismissed her. Until he started having back problems in his 20s, that is.

“One morning I got out of bed and I collapsed on the floor,’’ he says. “I ended up having sciatica, which felt like I was shot in the [butt]. I had physical therapy for six months. I was hearing the voice of mom past telling me that I should have gotten involved in yoga. But in my social circles, doing yoga was pretty far outside the norm.’’

For Sidoti, whose sun-bleached hair gives him the appearance of a surfer, yoga was less of a stretch. He had tried his hand at nearly every sport and describes himself as a natural athlete. When his wife started practicing yoga, he joined her.

But one of Sidoti’s friends asked the life-changing question: “But what about the bros? What about broga?’’

Sidoti, who lives on Martha’s Vineyard, tucked the concept away and started thinking about it again when he ran into O’Neill at a barbecue. After practicing yoga to help with his back injury, O’Neill had been asking similar questions.

“I was thinking ‘Why isn’t yoga more attractive to guys? Why isn’t there a program that’s guy-oriented?’ The issue is that yoga has primarily been marketed to middle-age housewives,’’ O’Neill says.

O’Neill heard that Sidoti was teaching yoga, so he brought up the idea of a yoga class for men. Sidoti, already toying with the idea, jumped at it and Broga was born.

Of course, men are no strangers to yoga. The Baptiste Power Yoga Institute has always sported a large male following, and David Vendetti, co-owner of South Boston Yoga, says his studio attracts men because there are multiple male instructors on staff. He applauds any effort to help men lead healthier lives, but points out that Broga’s concept could push away its intended clientele.

“I’ve had guys who come to class and say, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t get into this sooner.’ They love the fact that they are maybe one of five guys in a room of 30 beautiful women,’’ Vendetti says.

Sidoti and O’Neill make an unlikely business couple. O’Neill, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with degrees in environmental economics and entrepreneurship, is the business-minded side of the operation. He cringes slightly whenever Sidoti, the decidedly more laid-back of the pair, suggests that additional Broga teachers be selected based on personality rather than going through a rigorous training schedule - which includes certification and licensing fees.

Still, the duo has big plans for Broga. Though they only offer four Broga classes a week - and two of them take place on the Vineyard - they think there is a national and international market for it.

“What we want to do is start training more guys, basically cloning Rob and having instructors in other cities who can teach it,’’ O’Neill says.

He bristles at the term franchise, but that’s essentially the idea they’re exploring. That way a Broga class in Dallas will be the same as a Broga class in Los Angeles.

“It’s a way for yoga studios to attract a huge population to bring into their space,’’ Sidoti adds.

It’s not only the classes that Sidoti and O’Neill are hoping to grow. They also see the potential for Broga merchandise: a line of athletic clothes, a line of casual clothing, a series of DVDs for those who prefer to Broga in the privacy of their own home. An even loftier goal is an idea of a Broga center, a sort of high-end gym where men can practice different levels of Broga when they’re bored of traditional workouts.

All of these dreams are far into the future. But the two feel they’ve hit a magic formula.

“I know about the hesitations that men have,’’ says Sidoti, “especially if they’ve been out of the game for a while. They’re going to be self conscious walking into a room filled with women who are all dressed perfectly in Lululemon. This is a way to get them into the door.’’

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.

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