It’s early afternoon in South London on a grey and moody Tuesday, and BESTFIT is being put through our paces in a small gym space under a series of archways, home to Soho Gym. Tube trains rumble overhead. A glass wall separates our small group from those nonchalantly going quietly about their business outside and, at this precise second, I’m a little jealous.
I see puddles grow as rain pounds the streets. There are puddles closer to home, too, puddles of sweat. I’m dripping [the room is 30-degrees], and I’m not the only one. The only reason I know this, is because some dude I’ve never met before is sweating all over me. Meanwhile, my whole upper body is shaking. My core is at the point of failure, and not for the first time in the last 60 minutes. I’m laying on my front but with my torso extended towards the ceiling. My arms are locked behind my head and my elbows are being held back in a vice-like grip by said sweaty gent. His arms shake as he attempts to prevent my upper body from crashing into the pathetic pool of sweat in front of me. Our master in command demands we hold our current positions for a few more seconds yet. We obey.
This is Broga. It’s yoga, but not as you know it, and it’s brilliant.
Still only three years old, Broga is gaining a large and loyal following across in London and, increasingly, around the rest of the country, Europe and even across the rest of the world. After one intense yet satisfying session, we can see why.
Just as it’s a misconception to assume yoga is mainly for women, the same could be said of the assumption that Broga, though designed with men in mind, is just for guys. My group, to prove the point, has a 50/50 mix of men and women. Many of the instructors are female, too. However, there is something infinitely more masculine about telling mates you’re doing Broga, and not yoga. I’m a regular visitor of vinyasa sessions and I’ll be the first to admit I feared not only being the only male at my first class, but also the prospect of being surrounded by candles while listening to some form of pan pipe music. Not all yoga is the same, of course, some forms are more spiritual than others, but Broga is successfully breaking down established myths and stereotypes by bridging the sexes and taking the – many – benefits of yoga to the masses.
“The class you’ve just done is the perfect equalizer of genders,” explains Matt Miller after our session. Matt is Broga’s founder and, it’s fair to say, he does not conform to conventional yogi expectations. You might recognize him from The Fat Fighters on Channel 4. He was the affable super trainer with the arms bigger than your thighs.
“There were moments in your session where there were requirements of strength that some of the women found difficult. However, as you noticed, they weren’t the only ones! Yet there were also flexibility aspects that the women found easier than the men, so the great thing is that you can’t laugh out loud at any failure at any stage of a Broga session because the tables can turn pretty quickly.
I think that’s a nice feeling for everyone involved to have, to know that whatever your level of strength or flexibility, you won’t be at the bottom of the barrel.”
Our class begins by aligning the spine while focusing on the regulation of our breathing. “Breathing is hugely important and it doesn’t come right away,” explains Matt. “As you get into it, you realize how important it is.”
We then do a warm-up of vinyasa, which consists of five basic movements tied together in a sequence, all with coordinated breathing. “That’s what we call ‘the flow’, and you repeat that flow so it becomes a rhythm,” he continues. Things then escalate quickly.
“That’s the point of our classes,” Matt explains, “they build.” A lot of movements flow together and they’re then repeated. “You might not get one movement straight away, but I’ll bring that train round again and again so that you can start to learn how to grab on and put these movements together.
“We then work the chest with a series of movements designed to give you the idea of what a yoga push up is, and how that might differ from your normal gym practice.
We then hold these positions, add isometric positions, leg splits, dives… we’re just adding load to the movements, much like you would move the pin to a heavier weight in your gym apparatus.
“We then explore the idea of locking shoulders in place in a side-plank circuit. The movements again get progressively harder, culminating in a rock-star plank position. We move into a series of dynamic and repetitive shoulder movements, punishing leg hops and another series of stretches.”
Then comes the partner-based work, a signature of Broga’s sessions.
“Part of each session is what we call ‘the brotherly’ bit, where you help the person next to you. This isn’t something you identify with yoga, but we feel by helping people it helps to build a sense of community. Yoga is traditionally a singular experience. That’s not for us. Yoga should be about making friends, having other people sweat on you and having a laugh about it.
“To finish, we perform chest openers, move into table-top positions and do a bit of abs work… then we deconstruct the session. The class as a whole is quite chaotic, so this is the bit where we bring it back down to a resting state, and where we try and encourage positive visualization both in terms of your body and in your life as a whole.”
Ours was the primary class, but you can progress to the chest session, shoulders, legs and a full-body workout in 40-degree heat. All classes follow a class syllabus, which Matt explains can be particularly useful for guys.
“It means they know what’s coming, which then means they can plan their other workouts around the classes. I think women are a lot happier to go with the flow sometimes and that’s why yoga appeals, whereas men want progress, traction and trackable results. They want to plan their week, and incorporate a class like this around their other training.
“I’m always trying loads of yoga classes and sometimes I’ll think a certain class is a wasted hour. Yet the range is so vast. Some of it is spiritual, and that’s why so many men are sceptical about it, but
I’ve found some more useful than an hour in the gym.”
The idea that men shouldn’t do yoga is slowly eroding. More and more sports stars are incorporating it into their training. For example, even in the early 2000s, Ryan Giggs, who played at the highest level until his late 30s admitted his longevity owed as much to his yoga as his healthy eating. Now, more and more sportsmen and women and celebrities are utilizing the physical and mental benefits.
“I can’t tell you how many people come to my classes and ask, ‘you’re the teacher?’” explains Matt. People expect to see a flexible female, but yoga is all about functional movements and that applies to all of us. Everything in the fitness world right now is aligned to mobility and functional movement, and while things like CrossFit can get you where you want to be, I believe yoga does it quicker, safer and ensures you’re even stronger.”
I can believe it. My hour session was more focused and intense than any previous experience with a personal trainer.
“We’re not really doing anything different to anyone else; we’re working with the same concepts – Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Jivamukti – and just presenting them in a different way. We’re putting these movements together and repeating them in sets of repetitions of five or ten, just as you would train in the gym.
“At the very least, I’m hoping that Broga is able to open up the yoga market to more people and perhaps just make it cool. I just want people who might not previously have considered doing it, to give it a go.” We’ll be back, that’s for sure.
“The only thing that can replicate the feeling you experience in yoga is swimming,” explains Matt. “Swimming is meditative because you have to control your breathing, and in both yoga and swimming it’s a combination of the rhythmic breathing, movement and physical activity that creates a really special formula. I also find that yoga is the only thing that makes me feel so energized, pumped and cleansed. Nothing comes close. “And it’s not just a great way to train, it’s also perfect for recovery and injury prevention. You learn what your faults are real fast, and yoga provides you with the mental focus to be able to try and fix them. You might find, for example, that one side of your body is weaker than the other, and you can work out how to address that problem. You don’t do that in any other form of training.