Is it better to take yoga classes at the gym or at a specialized yoga studio? The answer is…it depends. It depends on what you prioritize in your yoga experience. Let’s take a look at how the two compare on the basic issues of affordability, convenience, quality of teaching, ambiance, and community.
Generally speaking, yoga classes at the gym are going to be cheaper. This is particularly true if you are already locked into a gym membership or if you want to take other fitness classes and have access to amenities like a weight room or pool. Note that some gyms do charge a premium for yoga classes, so make sure to clarify this point. That said, there are ways to get classes at yoga studios on the cheap. Since many yoga studios are individually owned and operated, the owner has a lot more discretion to offer things like karma yoga and students discounts than most gyms, which are increasingly corporate-run. Another issue to consider is the commitment most gyms require. At a yoga studio, you can take drop-in classes anytime you like. Paying for a single class is usually the most expensive way to go, but it’s nice to have that option when you are shopping around for a class you like.
Take a look at when you’ll want to take your classes. Are you into early morning Ashtanga, a quick lunch-time power yoga session, or after work classes? A yoga studio will probably offer all these options, plus larger studios offer a few classes throughout the day at off-peak times as well. The yoga classes at the gym have to compete with other fitness classes for the same real estate, so the pickings may be slimmer. However, if you want to take a shower immediately after class before heading to work, a gym is more likely to offer this amenity than a yoga studio.
Many yoga teachers lead classes at both yoga studios and gyms, so the quality of teaching can be exactly the same. The key is finding those good teachers, which can be tough at any location. If you are thinking of joining a gym for the yoga, ask to take a trial class with the most popular teacher, just to get an idea of what the style is like. You will also want to make sure that the yoga teachers are registered with the Yoga Alliance. Quality gyms are pretty good about this, but some do try to repurpose their other teaching staff as yoga instructors by having them take quickie training courses. Needless to say, it’s not a great idea to study with teachers that are under qualified. Most yoga studios are very picky about their teachers.
Unless you are joining a very upscale gym, the ambiance will tend to be, well, gym-like. There will be a whiff of sweat in the air, fluorescent lighting, techno music, people working out all kinds of different ways. Some yoga rooms in health clubs are carpeted and have mirrors since they are used for a variety of classes. Most yoga studios take great care to provide a relaxing, welcoming environment. They paint the walls with pleasing colors, play mood music, burn incense and serve tea, all in an effort to build community. Which leads us nicely into the last section…
Yoga studios love to build community. If you attend regularly, you can’t help but get on friendly terms with the staff, teachers, and your fellow students. Some studios provide couches and comfortable chairs, just to encourage students to stop and talk a while before or after class. You all have a common interest, after all. If this appeals to you, a yoga studio is definitely the way to go, because most gyms tend to be pretty impersonal, which, on the flip side, is great if you just want to take your class and go about your business.
Your Mileage May Vary
As yoga becomes more and more mainstream, some of the differences discussed above are beginning to fade away. Many gyms have observed that their clientele value yoga and have responded with expanded class schedules and nicer practice rooms. At the same time, some yoga studios, especially chains like CorePower and Modo are offering membership plans and amenities like showers. Ultimately, finding the place where you feel comfortable, you click with the teachers, and it fits your budget are the most important factors in sustaining your ongoing practice.