The yoga market appears to be bursting at the seams these days, yet we all struggle to find a good yoga teacher or studio. I feel compelled to write this article for two reasons: I have taught at gyms in the past, and now run my own yoga studio; second, practitioners of yoga at both gyms and studios will benefit from understanding the subtle differences between the environments in which they practice. If you are reading this and wondering “Is there a difference between a studio and a gym?” I am here to tell you, there absolutely is!! Below are the top 5 differences or factors to be considered when deciding whether to take yoga at a gym or a studio.
1) Your Goal for the Practice
As a practitioner or an aspiring practitioner, figure out what your goal from the yoga class is: are you looking for just a workout like any other class; are you looking to improve overall health and well-being while getting fitter; are you wanting to reverse the damaging effects of our modern-day lifestyle on your body; or cope with stress better? Once you are clear with what your goal is, it will become easier to sort through the large number of classes available out there. At a gym, the style of yoga is determined by the teacher hired. Since teachers come from a variety of training backgrounds, no two classes will be alike. At a studio, the classes are determined largely by ownership. You will find two styles of yoga establishments: one that practices only one style of yoga or follows a yoga lineage, like Iyengar yoga, Viniyoga, Hatha yoga, etc. and are dedicated to bringing students into their method of practice; or a second, more commercial studio that offers a variety of styles, from Vinyasa to Acro Yoga to hot yoga, etc. At a studio, it is easier to find smaller, multi-level classes to accommodate different stages of practice that a practitioner goes through. Whereas at a gym, most classes are almost the same level and progression or regression in practice after a certain point is challenging due to the environment.
2) The Role of a Teacher in Your Practice
Traditionally, yoga is a practice that has to be learned under the guidance of a competent teacher. Why, you ask. This is because the practice is not just physical, but goes far beyond. When you decide to practice yoga, you need the help of a teacher to get you started, and no two teachers are the same. Depending on their training and experience, some teachers are more skilled than others. The truth is, it can be hard to find a good teacher that suits your needs. This takes some time and patience. Just because a teacher has a great personal practice, that does not mean they will naturally be a great teacher, and vice versa. Often good teachers are limited in their teaching due to policy. Many gyms in the US do not allow yoga teachers to teach inversions, backward bending poses and arm balances due to liability issues. However, at a yoga studio, there is no such limitations and practice can be truly wholesome. Also yoga studios pay teachers better than gyms and more experienced teachers gravitate towards teaching at studios so they can teach without being bound by policy or also make more money. Certifying to become a teacher is not cheap. Depending on the personality of the teacher, some teachers will work sincerely to help you get the most out of your practice each time. However, there are also teachers out there that are still learning and will struggle to accommodate different levels of practitioners. Try to distinguish the instructors from the teachers, and remember to look back at your goals to see if they can help you get to what you want. Be patient. Do not give up on the first attempt.
3) The Kind of Student You Are
Although teachers are important, it is not always about them. You and I, as students, are equally responsible for making the learning process successful. Do you like variety in your workouts? Then a gym is probably a better fit as you have multiple class options at anytime. However, if you are looking for a focused yoga practice and to grow more in yoga, a yoga studio is a better environment for focused learning. If you are curious about the philosophy, the knowledge of yoga poses and other aspects – it is hard to find this at a gym whereas a studio can offer workshops, lectures, intensives etc…and facilitate concentrated learning that a gym environment cannot.
Over the years, I have seen all kinds of students, all of which fit into one of these broad categories: sincere, moderate and not ready. The practice of yoga requires one to dedicate time and, needless to say, the more you do it, the faster you will benefit from it. Some students successfully manage to make time for classes, build it into their schedule, and cultivate the discipline of a regular practice, week after week, month after month, and year after year. However, others have bursts of activity and then nothing for a long time, and, unfortunately, having a sporadic yoga practice will not work. There is also a third category that completely drops out of the practice, and while there are plenty of reasons for this, I think the top three are: the wrong style, teacher and studio combination; because the yoga is too difficult or, in some cases, too easy; and a lack of discipline to return to class on a consistent basis. Like many things in life, all comes down to priorities. To make your learning successful as a student, you must arrive on time, be sincere, try your best and ask questions after class. Be present and work hard.
Practicing yoga at a studio is more expensive than practicing at a gym. For the most part, yoga studios are small businesses run by one or two people. The overheads at a studio are high and usually the quality offered there is expected to be more exclusive than what is available at a gym, hence the higher price tag. A yoga studio also offers other aspects of yoga, like philosophy, history, workshops etc. that many gyms do not. A studio ends up building its own small yoga community over time, whereas a gym often has more foot traffic for different classes. A gym usually charges a general price per month and has less control over the quality of classes offered, and is more of a one-size-fits-all practice. I’ve met people on both ends of the spectrum – people who save up money to go to a great teacher at a far away yoga studio and others who do not leave the gym because they cannot afford it or because they like having the variety of other workout options as well. It all comes down to individual preferences and choices.
Yoga studios usually build a small community of practitioners around them, whereas at gyms it is harder to build small intimate communities because of the sheer number of people in each class. The experience at a smaller studio is generally more personal in nature than at a gym. The advantage of having a community of practitioners around you is that it will help you dive deeper into the practice, understand more, share experiences, support each other, and be involved in a lot more with minimal effort. While some gyms do manage to create a sense of community, it is harder to find that personal touch there.
So whether you opt to practice at a gym or at a studio, know that your environment of learning influences how you learn and what you learn. While different strokes work for different people, everything you gain is a reflection of a choice you made – so what do you choose?
[Photo credit: lululemon athlietica – CC BY]
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