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Gym Yoga VS Studio Yoga: There Is A Difference

by Teresa BergenFebruary 18, 2014


Gym Yoga VS Studio Yoga: There Is A Difference

Are Gym Yogis Different?

My first paid yoga teaching job was at a horrific gym.

This was 2003, and every gym seemed to think they better have yoga classes on the schedule. My yoga class shared time and space with a power lifting class; both classes took place in an open area surrounded by cardio and weight machines.

We also shared a stereo.

If the power lifters arrived first, we all listened to Metallica or Ozzy. If I got there first, it was Hindu chants. This set-up resulted in evenings where a half dozen extremely buff people on steroids dragged 18-wheeler tires covered in chains from one end of the gym to the other, cheering, flashbulbs flashing, within inches of my yoga students.

This never would have happened in a yoga studio.

Okay, most gyms wouldn’t tolerate such a ridiculous situation, either. But a half dozen or so regulars showed up faithfully for a year until I moved on to saner pastures.

Is the studio yogi a different breed than the gym yogi?

In my 11 years thus far of teaching, I’ve recognized some general differences between these groups that might be helpful to other teachers. Please bear in mind these are generalizations, as some specimens of gym yogi are occasionally found in yoga studios, and vice versa.


Gym members often arrive in the yoga room because they’re paying for a gym membership and might as well check out all the classes. Some are grudgingly following the suggestions of a doctor or chiropractor. Many come in skeptically, especially guys dragged in by their female partners, and are looking for proof that yoga isn’t for them.

One even turned up in my class because he lost a Super Bowl bet.

I teach at a low-cost neighborhood gym. The situation is probably different at more upscale places, but our members have simple hopes: a clean floor, comfortable temperature, and a modicum of privacy from the rest of the gym.

Students at yoga studios expect more. Studios are generally prettier and definitely smell better than the gym. People don’t wander in during class looking for a misplaced kettlebell.  

You don’t hear people through shared walls grunting like they’re about to reach orgasm. (Unless there’s a tantra class next door.)

Partly this is cost-driven. At my gym, members pay one fee that covers all classes, weights, machines, sauna, and a water massage bed. They can work out anytime from 5 a.m. till nearly midnight. One of our three storefronts is even open 24 hours.

On the other hand, studios are expensive and the yoga class is all they’re getting. So it better be really, really nice.


I teach at a gym that attracts people of all ages, including many seniors.

We have lots of teachers and social workers, and weekend athletes training for marathons and long bike rides. They mostly want yoga to ease physical pain, stretch their running and cycling muscles, and decrease job stress. The seniors want to improve their balance to help prevent falls.

I hardly ever find somebody obsessed with attaining a particular pose, a phenomenon I associate more with the studio crowd. Nor do gym yogis consider yoga a primary weight-loss strategy. That’s what all those treadmills and ellipticals are for.

Spiritual vs. Material

One of the big differences between studios and gyms is the spiritual aspect.

Again, there’s lots of crossover: gym yogis can be spiritual, and studio-goers may be looking for more physical benefits of yoga.

But people who patronize yoga studios are generally ready to get deeper into yoga’s philosophy and Hindu trappings. They expect the statues and chants and harmonium and Tibetan bowls. These same trappings are just what many new gym yogis are looking for – as an excuse to get the hell out and not come back.

Gym yoga teachers debate how much chanting they should include in class; I prefer to err on the secular side.

I’ll mention philosophical concepts, but I try never to act like I expect them to believe or embrace them.

While many studio yogis behave like wannabe Hindus, that’s much rarer in the gym milieu.

Nor do I ever do kirtan in the gym. But I do softly sing mantra during savasana. People seem to find it soothing, like a lullaby during yoga naptime.

Plus, it helps cover the grunts from the weightlifters.

Teresa Bergen
Teresa Bergen
Teresa Bergen teaches at West Coast Fitness in Portland, Oregon. Her latest book is Meditations for Gym Yogis: An Easy Intro to Yoga Philosophy.
  • Aprille

    This is SO far from what I have experienced in my 6 years of doing and now teaching yoga that I am really turned off by the tone. Studios are fancier, nicer, cleaner. People are more inclined to want the philosophical side in studios. That is completely false. Those folks who attend studios to “achieve” a specific pose are just like gym rats – only they pay more. The gyms I goto and work at have quiet rooms with low lighting and heat adjustments. They are small, clean, nicely decorated with soft colors that soothe and calm. I teach meditation, breathing, conscious movement and I use a Tibetan singing bowl that they ADORE! My teachers in gyms have chanted, used chimes, and every single one taught us breath and meditation. They all presented, and I do too, a deeper version of yoga and my students come to yoga for the quiet, the reverence, the community – JUST LIKE AT A STUDIO! Don’t fool yourself into believing that all studios are better or gyms are awful. Try both, find your place and don’t believe everything you read from one person’s perspective.

  • YogaFix Orlando

    Great article! When I first started yoga at the gym the raquetball courts were next door and the balls (and people!) would constantly hit the wall. I was always terrified a mirror would come crashing down. I was at the front of the class every time to avoid that! I love the peaceful quiet of a studio over the gym, but I’ll never forget the gym is what brought me into my yoga practice and teachings from the start.

  • yogiA

    @Aprille….did you read her first paragraph? She emphasized her point of admitting she is making generalizations. Not once did she say studios are better and gyms are awful.

    • Aprille

      But she goes on to talk about every little aspect that differs making it sound like the first paragraph was just to be politically correct. I read it through twice. It is meant to make gyms sound less somehow. They are not and putting this out there to new folks who read this site will scare them from accessing yoga at a more reasonable price and accessibility for them. A recent article online talked about the diversification of yoga. Many folks cannot pay for the studio and many instructors are tired of the politics in a studio environment. You CAN teach studio quality yoga in a gym setting. This is MY point!

      • Jay Chadney

        Hi April,
        Teresa has worked at my health club for many years and she is valued and loved. I read her blog and didn’t feel like she was promoting studio’s over clubs. I do agree with your point, many health clubs offer quality yoga programs.

  • I started my teaching career at a gym. What I really loved about it was the small dedicated group of people who showed up week after week. The classes usually didn’t have more than 10 people, so it was a nice way to get to know the ones who came regularly, and they were willing to get into chanting (but it took some of them months to get there). We had our own room but one wall had treadmills on the other side and we often heard a thumping from them hitting into the wall. It was a great place though. But then the managers wanted the yoga teachers to start doing what personal trainers do and approach people on the floor and try to get them to come to yoga classes… I didn’t comply and sadly that was the end of my gym class.

  • The whole Tantra Orgasm comment is rude. Tantra is about expanding the mind. Please don’t mislead people away from such a wonderful Spiritual practice.

  • Tina

    I REFUSE to take yoga at a yoga studio anymore, excepting perhaps one (in the future) … I was the one who was prodded and pushed to get into poses that were three steps beyond where I was hanging out comfortably, thankyouverymuch.

    It’s all water under the bridge, and lawsuits both ways were averted …

    Gym yoga (at least at New York Sports Club) is non-fanatical. And they DO chant and do philosophy. Problem is, it is too variable in quality, and all the yoga teachers teach spin and pilates MUCH better. Even the little studio yogini who started out even-steven … she’d just turned the yoga class into glorified calisthenics after a while …

    • yogamatt

      Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience…I’m curious, what was your injury and how did it happen? (No worries if you wanna keep it private)

  • Jay Chadney

    I’m posting from the perspective of a health club owner and a yoga teacher. We started offering classes in 1992, the few yoga studios that existed were very expensive and the members from my blue collar neighborhood were never going to try them. Our teachers are amazing, most have worked for us for a very long time. When I hire a teacher they teach what they are passionate about, if they want to chant, they chant.
    The health club is a community, we are a community of senior citizens, moms, hardcore athletes (people who know exercise makes life better). We have members who have been practicing yoga for over twenty years, Our teachers are paid a flat fee, if one person comes you still get paid and we don’t cancel the class. We have a few classes with twenty but most are around eight and we are fine with it.
    When you practice at a club there is noise, when you practice with noise you find peace in a busy world.
    I love our yoga community and could not imagine teaching or practicing any place else.

  • Kay

    Thank you! I just started teaching at a gym, and I am a newbie as a teacher, and it is a ‘lifestyle’ gym. Very hardcore TRX, kettlebells, weight training, fat loss, interval, high intensity classes with the same loud grunting, dragging, sweating, and both music and instructors yelling at their clients.

    I went to a very traditional TT, Ashtanga, in fact. I FINALLY grasped the concept of traditional teaching methods, and find myself struggling to teach a 45 minute class in the style of the trx-yoga-hybrid realm. I am glad I am not the only one who experienced this! If there are any tips that helped you obtain clients, techniques you used, or any sequencing that worked well for you in that environment, please pass them on!

  • Missy

    I didn’t like the vibe about the lifters at the gym. Some of us do both. I understand the frustration of not wanting to share the space (not all gyms are like this) but it seems as though you need an attitude adjustment. Not very yogi-like at all. Namaste’.

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