Gym Yoga vs. Yoga Studio

While attending a business networking event on Thursday night, I was asked “is there a difference between yoga at a gym vs. yoga at a studio?”  In my opinion, the answer is YES for several reasons.  In an effort not to go overboard, I’ll focus on training requirements, teaching style and environment differences.

To start, the training required to teach yoga at a gym is usually not nearly as extensive as the training required by yoga studios.  A teacher for a yoga studio usually must have a minimum of 200 hours of training.  This training covers more than just asana (yoga poses).  It includes yoga history, philosophy, anatomy, physiology, meditation, chakras, pranayama, teaching skills, assisting/adjusting students, yoga teacher ethics and more.  A gym teacher can get certified to teach yoga in one Saturday afternoon.  Hmmm…do I need to say more? 

Not to keep picking on the gym yoga teacher…a gym yoga teacher is usually at the front of the room practicing yoga with the students.  This is a big no.  The verbal cues a teacher provides should address what’s going on in the room.  The teacher should know the poses from personal practice (and not just via text book instruction) and be able to convey asana cues in a way that will deliver a yoga experience for the individuals in the room.  Cues given in one class might be different than those offered in another based on the students’ level.  So I ask…how can a teacher who is practicing in the front of the room with 25 students see what’s going on in the room and provide the appropriate instructions?  Also, a teacher that practices the entire time is probably unkowingly posing greater risk of injury to the students.  A teacher that floats around the room, like in a yoga studio, can help students safely set up and deepen poses.  Finally, the energy level of the class is much different in a gym than when taking a class at a studio where the teacher floats around the room and speaks to what is happening.

Environment.  This should be obvious but for those who have never entered a yoga studio they might not realize how different the experience can be from a gym.  Yoga at a gym is typically taught in the aerobics/group exercise room which is covered in mirrors.  Mirrors provide a huge distraction in a yoga class.  For more on mirrors, read my post “why don’t yoga studios have mirrors”.  Secondly, the teacher has no control of the temperature which results in people practicing yoga in a sometimes frigid room.  Typically yoga studios are warmer than a gym (even those that aren’t hot yoga studios).  Finally, the sounds heard in a yoga gym class – thumping music, clanking weights and the buzz of cardio machines – aren’t really conducive to providing a real yoga experience.  Again, visit a yoga studio and you’ll immediately feel the difference.

Don’t get me wrong, yoga at a gym is better than no yoga.  The gym is a great place to start if you are under financial constraints —since most gyms include yoga classes in the membership.  But if this is the only yoga you’ve tried so far and you’re still on the fence as to whether yoga is for you; go to a yoga studio to get a richer experience.  And try a variety of studios and styles if you have the luxury of several studios in your area.  Each will have something different to offer.  Happy studio hopping!

15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Brenda on April 29, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Of course, this is not always true about gym yoga. Ask about the teacher’s credentials. I teach at a YMCA because I want the members at the Y to have access to a yoga teacher like me, and it is within walking distance to my home. I am certified with 200 hours of Kripalu yoga training and continuing my education at the 500 hour level. I also have completed certifications in chair yoga, restorative yoga, yoga nidra, meditation, and yoga for heart disease and cancer. And just to be on the safe side in case the YMCA asks for it, I also have attended YogaFit 1, 2, and 3 trainings, although I describe myself as a Kripalu teacher and don’t mention YogaFit during conversations. Yoga is listed on the schedule as “fitness yoga” so it does focus on asana, but I also slip in some breathing exercises and meditation. I spend a lot of time at this gym and I know my students very well. I often attend other fitness classes at the Y with my students and notice which kinds of activities they do and how yoga will complement those activities.


  2. Posted by sara on April 30, 2008 at 2:14 am

    I agree with Brenda. I know a lot of “gym” yoga teachers who have the training that studio teachers have, but have less experience teaching. This means that you can have some really high quality, enthusiastic teachers at the gym. The big difference between the studio and the gym is that you know you are going to get a well trained teacher at a studio and you have to ask at a gym.


  3. This is great! I appreciate your comments and agree with you both. After submitting this blog post, I started thinking that I have some friends teaching yoga in gyms who went through Yoga Alliance recognized training programs and I have taken their classes (not in the gym but in a studio). They’re are great teachers. Unfortunately, not all “gym” yoga teachers go through the extensive training that you all have. So yes, I agree there are good yoga teachers in gyms -no doubt -but it’s good for the student to inquire and try a variety of teachers to find one that clicks.


  4. Posted by Lee on May 22, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    I think that the students are definitely in charge of their experience in ANY yoga class, because yoga is different for everyone. Tis’ true that yoga in a gym setting differs in environment. However, the “distracting” variables (noise, mirrors, etc…) are all a part of one’s ability to take a given situation and still stay centered with your self and your breath. I think it’s something to be celebrated that gyms are offering yoga classes to people on their lunch breaks and also after working out. As long as people are “yoking/uniting” them selves with the present experience (“yoga” translates to “yoke”), then they are practicing yoga and not getting cheated out of a “studio experience.” It’s all about what YOU make of it.


  5. Posted by Lori on September 20, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Thank you for writing this! I’m a 200 hour Kripalu certified yoga instructor and just picked up some classes at a local 24 Hour Fitness. My feedback at the end of my first class was along the lines of “less meditative, more movement – we want to sweat! We can relax on our own!” I’m a little torn – like Brenda (above) I want to bring a strong yoga presence to the gym setting, but also want to meet the needs and desires of the students. Any insight on how to do this while maintaining the integrity of the yoga philosophy and foundation? I would love to chat with someone via email! Thanks and namaste. 🙂


  6. Posted by Lady on January 21, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    I am also a yoga teacher with a 200 hour level training, in addition to intensive training in traditional internal arts both in martial arts and tai chi. I think teaching in a gym is much more challenging and frighten than teaching at a yoga studio. The environment is not prepaired for the practice and the student s can be quite a random group. For myself, I come from a highly spiritual approach but as a teacher i remember where i started. I began as a student in a gym for fitness. It took me a long time to realize the deeper aspects of yoga outside of asana and breathe. I know from experience that energetic awakenings happen by the very nature of the physical practice but they often take time. In the gym setting we have new students who may not be ready to be corrected, may not be redy to sit still and sometimes are completely turned of by meditation which is sad. I don’t think that all aspects are necessarily appropriate for all students. I think that if a student is exposed to something before they are ready they could hurt themselves physically or emotionally in a way that may prevent them from coming back. And it is sad that often times peple don’t communicate their distress which just allows the problem to persist. I guess what I am saying is that even when a teacher tries their best, to have a balanced class in a gym setting they have little ability to control or prepare for what the environment will be in the classroom,it be nice for students to have some compassion for their teachers in that respect. By the way….. Gyms pay very little money and you would be suprised how much energy teaching can take .


  7. Posted by Adam on April 1, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    I disagree with most of the comments in this article, except for the noise aspect which is definitely a problem. In regards to teachers and their experience, at my gym the teachers are all well trained professionals who easily could and probably do work in studios as well. There are 4 main teachers at my gym, one Ashtanga, one Iyengar and two Hatha and they are all people I would feel comfortable recomming to friends or for one-on-one. In fact, there was one teacher who started at my gym who was a student next to me the week prior at an intermediate shadow yoga studio course. I complained to the gym because it was obvious from her lesson that her skills as a teacher were sub-par, and she is no longer a teacher at the gym. I think one problem not mentioned is liability regarding injuries. There was one guy, one of the best teacher I ever had who always had packed gym classes AND had his own studio – he left the gym because someone with a knee problem went too far and hurt himself and blamed the teacher and was threatening to sue.


  8. Adam,

    I appreciate your response. Please know my blog writings are based on my own personal experience. You made some great points to the post based on your experience. I would love to hear from you again.

    Thanks for reading and sharing!


    Where Yoga Comes to You…


  9. Posted by Ramona on March 8, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    Hello all,
    I’m in San Francisco and looking to begin teacher training during my summer break from university. Does anyone have any suggestions as to finding a reputable training program? Hatha and Iyengar are my two preferrences but i’m open to other styles for diversification.
    Thanks and blessings,


  10. perhaps a context to consider might be – is a catholic priest having mass in a gym ok? given what yoga truly is, doesn’t this also apply? but if prayer, worship, and intention are the goals, i *suppose* it could be ok. but then again, i suppose it is inherently wrong too. just a thought from a yogi who studied in india for many, many years and does not practise or share this practise with other practitioners in the same context.


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  12. Posted by Alfia on October 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I started my first yoga practice back in Thailand 10 year ago and practiced it there at a gym for 3 years. Then I moved here, to the states, and took some yoga classes at the gym and found a profound difference. The yoga classes here in the states are geared toward muscle strength and also cardio, to get your heartbeat up, the yoga classes in Thailand were more stretching with a lot more focus given to breathing, meditation and practicing a lot more challenging poses, lotus was a must to start with, here in the states most teachers never even attempt lotus, they would not even show it to students (it might be for safety reasons). I still love yoga classes I attend here and the teachers and got used to more energetic muscle strenthening classes, after all it makes it a full workout within an hour including stretching.

    Thank you


  13. Not exactly true. I teach at two gyms and I am 200 hour certified and on my way to 500 hr. I also teach at a yoga studio. They are very different settings, however many highly qualified teachers instruct in a variety of settings. Every yoga class I have taken at a gym has had very experienced and certified teachers. I do agree I don’t like the mirrors in the gym settings!


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