Monday, November 17, 2008

Yoga at the Gym

I'm in the midst of my next YJ article, so I've been a bit quiet (not to mention, lax in my daily Up Dog). I've enjoyed my interviews, tho, as this is a subject near and dear to my heart: Teaching Yoga at a Gym.

There is often the implication (from YJ, among other places), that the ideal place to teach and practice yoga is at a studio. That was even my attitude, back in DC, where the studios I went to were much more dedicated to the practice than the gyms (not that the gym experiences were bad, but they were a lot more generic). I wanted to write a piece that would show the benefits of teaching at a gym (variety of students, steady income), drawbacks to avoid (loud practice spaces, workout mentality) and suggest ways to make it pleasant employment.

I've been teaching at the Y for almost five years now, and I like to think that the yoga experience my students get is very similar to one they would get at most studios. I've found us a quiet space in the unused dance studio (lovely wooden floors) and I have a nice stash of props. The Y is very accomodating when I wanted to add new classes or try new themes; it's been a wonderful steady gig.

And, as several of my interviewees have stressed, at the start of every session there is at least one student new to yoga. Being some one's first yoga teacher is such an honor, with such great responsibility--you could make them fall in love, or you could drive them away forever. But it's so cool to be the yoga ambassador to these students and there is nothing more satisfying that watching some one become a "true-believer" during the course of a class. Usually with shoulder-openers (at least, that's what won me over).

So, I wanted show new teachers that all the wonderful enlightening they are ready to do upon completing a training could happen at a gym. Yoga is yoga, wherever it happens--as long as the intention is good, it will be a worthwhile experience for both student and instructor. Plus, the locker rooms are usually bigger...hello sauna.


Jenn said...

This will be an interesting piece to read. I teach in a variety of places, none of which are dedicated yoga studios. At our studio, we're multi-purpose. So we have yoga, step aerobics, Spinning, kickboxing...a whole variety. So it's an interesting setting because we battle with the temperature setting, we battle with the noise control. HOWEVER, we also get to welcome in students into our yoga classes who may not give yoga a try should they have to visit a yoga dedicated studio. And yes, even in our level II classes, we often have newbies and it forces one as an instructor to continue to grow to be able to help each student in every class regardless of length of practice get what they need from that class.

I also teach in a variety of spaces on our local college campus. And on the rare occasion that we're locked out of the room we're suppose to use, or find it set up for another function, or find that the space has simply been double booked..I try to use those moments to convey the lessons yoga has to offer besides the physicality of asana. I just smile and say..."and this is why we do yoga, to be flexible in life!" I think it's a good lesson for us all to remember.

Catherine said...

I wish that all yoga practice at a gym was like yours. I went to a class at my gym excited to have another opportunity rather than my usual studio. At the beginning of class the instructor asked if we would like to hand weights during the class, calling it "Iron Yoga." She took a vote, the weights won, and I rolled up my mat and went home. Not at all what I would consider yoga of course I didn't stay to find out. I have now only gone to studios some of which also do pilates but I am scared away from gym yoga!

Linda Sama said...

It is true that teaching yoga at a gym (or health club, or park district) is not necessarily "bad." I taught at a park district in their athletic center for almost 5 years, but I must say that I would never teach in that type of facility again. that being said, it CAN be a wonderful experience for a first-time yoga student -- I have two private students now that started with me 5 years ago at the PD.

However, in my area of suburban Chicago EVERY health club, gym, and park district has cheap yoga which makes it extremely hard for yoga studios to survive. if someone is getting cheap yoga ($5/class or free), they are most likely NOT going to pay $15/class at a yoga studio. one of my friends who teaches at both a park district gym and studio told me that two PD students told her that they will NEVER "pay" for yoga again, and these are women who can afford to!

Also, in my area, many teachers who teach "yoga" at a gym, etc. are fitness instructors who take the ubiquitous "become a yoga teacher in a weekend" training and are out the following Monday making people do 50 chatarungas in their first yoga class. uh, no. that is scary. in my humble opinion, those courses are a huge disservice to the public AND many times dangerous. not all of those fitness instructors go on to a 200 or 500 yoga teacher training.

and what about people who have never been inside a yoga studio and get "certified" on-line for $50 and go out to teach in gyms? I knew a woman who taught "yoga" at a gym after taking a 3 hour workshop and reading one yoga book! but, hey, she had that "certificate" to show she knew the difference between up dog and cobra (actually not, because she asked me what the difference was.)

it is really too bad that many people at gyms, etc. don't experience yoga in some place other than a gym or a health club.

Brenda P. said...

Good points, all. And something I will add to the article is "schooling" fitness directors about yoga training, kinds of yoga, etc. It behooves a gym to specify what kind of yoga they are offering and the training of their instructors.

Some people care, some don't, but I get the sense that more and more students are aware that teaching yoga requires training and they want to know their teacher is qualified.

Re. "cheap" yoga at gyms. Many gyms charge an extra fee for classes, so even if it seems like the class is "only" $5, it is closer to studio prices if you include the memberships costs. And, usually gym classes are only an hour so you are getting less yoga than at a studio. In my neck of the woods there are no studios, so it's gym yoga or nuthin'.

Iron yoga, indeed.

Linda Sama said...

"Many gyms charge an extra fee for classes, so even if it seems like the class is "only" $5, it is closer to studio prices if you include the memberships costs."

true, some charge an extra fee, some don't. in many places in my neck of the woods, yoga is included in the membership fee, so people consider it "free" because they are not shelling out extra dough for a class.

one chain, Lifetime Fitness, started charging extra for yoga because they had a "mind=body studio." I know a teacher whose classes dropped from 30+ to less than 10 then to none as soon as they started doing that. so she quit. people were not going to pay extra for yoga.

Kris said...

I teach at a gym and I love the wonderful availability it brings. I love that people can come multiple times each week without paying any additional fees, and that people who might never step foot in a yoga studio will give yoga a try in this more accessible setting. I know that there ia a wide variety in the quality of yoga taught at gyms, and have seen fitness instructors that teach yoga without the slightest understanding of the heart of yoga. I look forward to your article in YJ - feel free to contract me if you want more input from a "gym teacher" If any of you have not practiced in this setting and are curious, you can listen to my live classes from the gym at or iTunes and decided for yourself!

Ivete said...

I started doing yoga at a gym. It started at 8 a.m. and the gym was empty at that time of the day. Then our teacher left and another one came. A very good one who wasn't so happy about the place. She found a wonderful one nearby in a big property surrounded by trees. The only noises are from the birds and a creek. In the morning is fantastic and at the end of the day is magic with the sunset. Well, everybody followed the teacher. There's no more yoga at that gym by the way.
But I must confess hadn't that gym offered yoga classes I woulnd't be able to start yoga because the studios I knew were far away from where I live.

Jackie said...

I'm looking forward to reading your article. Like you, I teach at the Y. I teach an Anusara influenced class at two different Y locations. At one of them I'm the only yoga instructor. So for many of those students I'm their only yoga experience. At the other Y there are several other yoga teachers. I often have students tell me they come to my classes to learn appropriate alignment which allows them to have a better (and safer) experience in the other classes. One time I had a new student in class (new to my class) the end of the class she came up to me with tears in her eyes and spontaneously hugged me. She said, "do you know that you're the only one 'really' teaching yoga here?"

What often gets lost at gyms is the spiritual aspect of yoga. That's something that is not taught in online trainings or quick weekend fitness yoga training classes that are asana focused. But, I've found it's what really makes my students keep coming back to my classes. They're hungry for some spiritual nourishment.

As teachers, our "gym" classes are what we make of them. The environment doesn't have to diminish the depth of experience we can share with our students.

Linda Sama said...

"As teachers, our "gym" classes are what we make of them. The environment doesn't have to diminish the depth of experience we can share with our students."

very true. as I say, I taught at a park district gym for almost 5 years, but would not teach in a facility like that again, not because of the students, but because there basically was no respect given to my classes -- yoga was just another class like a step class.

for 5 years I taught next to karate classes (lots of yelling), next to tap dance classes (!!), over a dog obedience class (bark bark), and even next to bag pipe practice!!

in other words, the atmosphere sucked, and they were lucky that I stuck around for almost 5 years.

never again!

Brenda P. said...

Man, I would have loved to see the bagpipers duke it out with the karate dojo...

Teaching Kids Yoga said...

Hi Brenda,

Great topic. I teach 3 classes at the community centre on Wednesdays. One Adult and tot yoga, one kids yoga, one adult.

It's a great way to get kids for kids yoga classes as it's full of kids programs. We usually have 10+ kids enrolled in yoga.

As a full-time yoga teacher, doing 3 classes in a row is the best way to make the pay at gyms and community centres worth it. They don't compensate the teachers very well.

heather said...

I'll be interested to read the article! I've taught at a gym for 5 years now and you're right, it is such an honor to be someone's first teacher. However, for my personal practice I've been going to a studio...more because of the quality of instruction and the anonymity (no one there knows I teach).

Jennifer said...

I love "our" space at the Y - and I miss it dearly!!! I'll come back after Thanksgiving!! Hope you guys have a good one!!

Florian said...

Thanks for your remarks about practicing yoga at gyms. I've taught yoga in busy, noisy city gyms in Boston and found it a perfect opportunity to integrate teachings of meditation and non-attachment....we have to "let go" of the idea that yoga has to be in a candle lit room, with shiny clean mats and near silence. And in many ways practicing in a less than serene setting is the perfect way to learn to find peace in chaos by tapping into the internal peace rather than needing to be externally surrounded by our image of peace. Eagerly awaiting your full article on the subject!

Eco Yogini said...

This is a great post-
My favourite yoga teacher of all time was "Jim" at the Y in Montreal. My friend and I "yoga-shopped" around the city to find a great yoga instructor- and the best was Jim. So- we signed up- got a membership and went to yoga four times a month (which payed the membership). Now- the other teachers were a crapshoot on whether they would be a positive experience.
But from a yogini who has traveled across Canada, finding yoga studios in BC, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia- going to studios did NOT guarantee a positive yoga experience. (in fact I have sadly had several traumatic studio experiences and for two years swore off yoga classes all together- sad i know).
I know many (a dozen at least) people who have voiced interest in yoga, but who either- can't afford 14$ a class (especially when they have never ever tried it) or already have a gym membership. Yoga at the gym opens up the experience for so many more people from all walks of life.
I believe yoga should be available for everybody, not just those of an SES that can afford 60$+ a month just to attend weekly classes.
ps- I am a FAN of your blog Brenda :)

mooskietx said...

I did yoga for the first time the other day and it was so hard. I was at one of the Gold's gyms in Boston, and my body hurt for the next two days after the class.