Local yoga studios now offer guys-only classes. Express contributor Marc Silver reports.

Photo by Michelle Repiso/ExpressIT’S THE YEAR of the downward dude. Yoga for guys is the newest fitness twist in Washington, D.C., with three local studios kicking off man-only classes in January and February.

“Yoga used to be something that little old ladies, hippies and weirdos did,” explained John Schumacher, 61, owner and founder of the local Unity Woods yoga center. “Now a lot of athletes, male movie stars, and rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop singers do it.” A member of the Baltimore Ravens has been a regular Unity Woods customer.

Not every bloke is ready to salute the sun. That’s where the man class comes in. Guys don’t have to worry about looking silly in front of females they might be trying to impress. They’re also less likely to do that macho thing of competing like crazy to outdo women, who are often better able to tie themselves in yoga knots (they usually have wider hips and are less muscle-bound, which gives them a flexibility edge). Plus, the instructor can focus on poses that remedy manly problems like tight hamstrings, hips and shoulders and schlumpy posture.

Some fellows think ”yoga for guys„ is code for intense, high-powered yoga. Not so. The classes aren’t easy, but they’re not killer yoga, either. The goal is to give men a thorough introduction to a few of the 847,000 or so postures. Actually, it’s more like a reintroduction, since yoga was invented by men, and most of the top teachers have been men.

At Boundless Yoga, instructor Chaka Freeman (yes, that’s his real name — his parents were Haight-Ashbury hippies) opened a recent class by discussing why men shun the discipline: They think it’s not a good workout and it’s not competitive enough. Then he set them straight: Yoga has tremendous benefits for inflexible men. It can be plenty tough (as he proved later, when he taught the side plank pose, which is kind of like a sideways, one-armed push-up). But it’s not a contest: Don’t push yourself to the point of discomfort and don’t feel bad about “falling out” of a posture, Freeman, 36, counseled. That just means you’re challenging yourself.

Straightforward and low-key, Freeman comes across as a regular guy who’s showing some cool moves to buddies who want to loosen up muscles made tight from too much running and biking and weight-lifting. He walked around the long, narrow room, correcting postures with a firm touch (like a push on the shoulders to deepen a stretch). He only slipped into yoga-speak during the closing meditation, when he advised everyone: “Be happy to be you.”

At the Sports Club/LA in Foggy Bottom, the class has a similar style, except the teacher is female. Anneli Werner, 32, is like a sweet and helpful sister who wants to help her poor, stiff brothers. “If I come to adjust you, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it incorrectly,” she told her students.

“I just want to give you a deeper stretch.”

The stretches are demanding. So is the balance work (you try standing on one leg for a minute or so).

At both studios, some students are newbies, while others have tried yoga before. They all seem pretty happy with the experience. “It was good, really good,” said Andrew Dunscomb, 38, who came to Boundless Yoga looking for a class that would “emphasize some of the basic flexibility problems men have.”

At the Sports Club/LA, Wolf Saperstein, 79, says he wanted to see whether yoga will give “freedom from the aches and pains of aging.” He found the class “far more strenuous than I ever would have believed.” But he’s coming back for more: “I enjoyed it very much.”

The absence of women is a boon, noted Bruce McGillicuty, 29, who took the Boundless Yoga class. “I felt free and not self-conscious to sweat and be smelly.” And there’s no pressure to be fashionable. In both classes, guys wore sweats, shorts, pajama bottoms — anything but yoga pants.