Yoga in Toronto

While many men embrace yoga as a serious athletic pursuit, there remains a camp of guys for whom the practice continues to evoke wariness. Fair enough. Visions of spandex-clad women reaching languorously for their toes or hippies burning incense keep some red-blooded dudes at bay, if aroused. In reality, yoga is a legitimate and extremely challenging form of exercise that combines strengthening, stretch and principles of mental concentration, achieved through a series of poses. Since every studio has a different style and vibe, negotiating the Toronto scene can seem daunting. Still, if you’re even a little intrigued, it’s worth testing them out.

Warm and Green: Yoga Tree
With a suburban and a downtown location, the studio is ideal for trying hot yoga without committing to the degrees-hotter practice of Bikram yoga. The Yoga Tree mainly offers hot classes (between 36-40 degrees Celsius) and reduced-heat classes (about 28 degrees Celsius) ), which combine deep, muscle-building poses with a decent cardio workout. If the concept of profuse public sweating doesn’t appeal, there are also Hatha yoga classes, which tend to be slower and more stretch-oriented. For the eco-inclined, this studio boasts a low environmental impact, with zero-toxin paints, cork floors, energy-efficient lighting, reclaimed wood and a strict, no-paper policy. 140 Spadina Ave., 416-603-9642; $20 /drop-in class, $17 students.

Spirit-rich: Kula
This Annex refuge, nestled unexpectedly above Future Bakery, offers a range of classes, from hot yoga to core-strengthening (think burning abs) to Reiki restorative. If a serious cardio workout is what you’re after, though, you’ll have a harder time: certain instructors put more emphasis on meditation, inner reflection and yes, chanting, than some many be comfortable with. 304 Brunswick Ave., 416-922-5852; $17/drop-in class, $12 students.

Sadomasochistic: Bikram
Not for the faint of heart — or the out of shape — Bikram’s rigorous structure and the drenching workouts on offer may provide the perfect fix for some. The standardized practice is certainly considered addictive by its followers. With locations in the Annex and the Beaches, each 90-minute class follows the same strict regimen of 26 postures performed twice each in a room heated to a whopping 40-42 degrees — and yeah, the excessive sweating is considered part and parcel of the cleansing process. Students are advised to avoid eating two hours prior to a class, and the website warns first-timers to ensure they’re properly hydrated without being too “tanked up.” Needless to say, bring towels. 208 Bloor St. W., 416-691-7575. 1911 Queen St. E., 416-686-2584; $20/drop-in class.

Unpretentious: West End YMCA
The studio scene isn’t for everyone. Often, community centre yoga classes are a welcome respite from what can feel like a snooty culture. Yoga at the “Y” can be ideal for beginners, as instructors tend to cater to a broader range of age and skill levels. Classes at the West End location range from Hatha to Vinyasa — using breath-synchronized movements to transition between postures — to a yoga/pilates fusion. The downside for those seeking more of a workout is that classes can be on the slower side, and students are given less of an opportunity to experience level progression. 931 College St., 416-536-9622; $10/drop-in as a member’s guest, $14 without a member.

Image courtesy of Lululemon Althetica.

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