Jeff Battersby walked into Grace and Glory Yoga in Northfield on a cold January day to try a class recommended by a friend. It was intimidating, the idea of trying something completely new at a place where he didn’t know anyone, but then he spotted an old high school classmate.
“I was completely surprised to see him there,” Battersby, of Ocean City, said. “I thought he was a student at first, but he said, ‘No, I teach here.’ And I thought, what? I couldn’t believe it. Travis (Farrell) was teaching yoga. That immediately diffused any preconceived notion that yoga wasn’t for guys.”
That was six months ago. Battersby, 43, is now a regular in some of Farrell’s power yoga classes at the studio. Although men are still the minority gender among yogis, South Jersey teachers and students say as men learn more about the many benefits of yoga, more are buying in to the practice.
“There’s a certain stigma that comes through the door with them, but I also know that men who come through that door are hooked after the first class,” Farrell, of Linwood, said. “The information guys really need to understand is that this will give you the workout that you aren’t expecting.”
It’s true women still outnumber men in most yoga classes. A recent Monday night class at the Northfield studio was packed with more than 25 students. About eight of them were men.
That might seem like a small number, but Anthony D’Alicandro, of Absecon, said he has seen a steady rise in male enrollment since he started practicing and teaching yoga four years ago.
And D’Alicandro, 44, has heard all the excuses in the book from men who have yet to try yoga: They’re not flexible enough. Yoga is only about stretching and they need more of a workout. It’s not for them because that’s what their wives, girlfriends, sisters or mothers do.
Battersby, Farrell and D’Alicandro say none of those concerns are valid.
“Probably one of the biggest misconceptions is that all they’re really going to do is a lot of stretching, and if you’re not flexible, you’re not going to be able to do it,” D’Alicandro said. “It’s about a lot more than stretching. It’s more about breathing, working your muscles and the physicality of it all.”
At the class, Farrell, 42, walked among people on purple, blue, red and gray mats and called out several poses in succession. The room temperature rose into the high 70s, sweat started to coat arms stretched out in mountain pose and roll down backs during a right side plank.
As the poses got quicker and more difficult, arms and legs began to shake and sway as the students pushed their muscles to achieve balance while moving their bodies into various positions.
“It’s physically demanding, but at same time designed to be relaxing at the end of a sequence,” Farrell said. “My mind would be calm and clear. Having had a couple years of rigorous exercise behind me, the yoga thing had a deeper impact for me.”
Farrell got his first taste of yoga by way of his wife, Barbara. She had been doing yoga for years and he decided to try a class himself. He was doing high-intensity training at a local gym at the time, and adding yoga only improved his fitness routine, he said.
Battersby tries to make it to the studio two or three times per week. In the past, he was used to do intense cardio workouts and fitness activities such as jujitsu. He said yoga has since diffused that aggressive side and helped him achieve a calmer, less stressed state of mind.
“The first time was intimidating. You feel a little out of place,” he said. “But you go at your own pace and figure it out along the way. If the only thing you go for is the workout, that’s great, but there’s so much more if you walk into the place with an open mind.”
Some of his friends joke around about his yoga classes, but Battersby said it’s because they don’t know what it’s all about and how tough of a workout it can be.
“I just explained, you don’t understand what it is,” he said. “Within the first three months, I lost 15 pounds. I didn’t change my diet or anything, I just went to yoga. You burn a ton of calories, build endurance and strength, and it gets easier as time goes on.”
And then there’s Quran Dabney, of Atlantic City, who started yoga several months ago. He is training to become a certified instructor, but in the meantime, the 19-year-old teaches yoga classes to kids at the Atlantic City Boys and Girls Club.
“It’s something different for them,” he said. “They know the other sports, like baseball, football, but this is new for them and I think they enjoy it and get a lot out of it.”
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence and research out there that proves how beneficial yoga is for men and women’s health. And men who try yoga won’t be disappointed, Farrell said.
“It took me long enough to come around to it,” Farrell said. “You’ll be surprised that yoga gives you exactly what you need. A rigorous workout, peace of mind, total life transformation — yoga will give it to you.”