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.