Your Gym is a Terrible Place to Do Yoga – What Your Yoga Teacher Will Tell You, Part 3

This is part 3 of What Your Yoga Teacher Will Tell You, a response to the Smart Money article: 10 Things Your Yoga Teacher Won’t Tell You. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

6. “Your gym is a terrible place to do yoga.”

Not surprisingly, gyms have jumped on the yoga bandwagon. Although most gyms try to hire good teachers, they often don’t provide a yoga-friendly environment to go with them…

Whereas many dedicated yoga studios discourage arrivals that are more than a minute or two late, some gyms keep an open-door policy. What’s worse, those who roll in late aren’t warmed up and often miss critical instructions. – Smart Money mag

I mostly agree with the author on this one, and let me explain why.

How Health Clubs Hire Yoga Teachers

A couple years ago, I had the revelation that I might want to wear spandex to work and increase the number of times I say the word “perineum”, by like, a lot. How does one go about becoming a yoga teacher? And how does one get hired?

An answer revealed itself to me during my annual visit to my gym, oh, let’s just say it’s one of those national chains that opens all day all night. They were doing an Instructor Search for all sorts of things: yoga, pilates, aerobics, kickboxing, etc. Hey, did they mention yoga? Well, I’m there!

The audition process went like this. You showed up, signed in, gave them your info, the typical process. Then, you did a round-the-world workout, where the instructors who were already working there lead you through a rousing round of all the different group classes, 20 minutes each. Then they told you what you need to do to get hired.

For yoga teachers, they suggested you check out YogaFit. I remember being assured, “Oh, it’s just a weekend or a couple weekends, it’s pretty easy.” They also suggested that you get certified in Pilates and PiYo, and anything else you like, because that increases your employability. You could be called to sub or teach a variety of classes. Then, after submitting your resume, you would come in for an audition, when the Athletic Director would judge you based on your presentation.

That’s it.

YogaFit – A Diversion

YogaFit is a popular training program, most typically for gyms and health clubs, that “adapts” yoga for fitness. If you are interested in the YogaFit debate, you will find plenty of heated discussion on online yoga boards, which you can read to your heart’s content. A good one to start is the forum, where you will encounter many opinions, ranging from a gentle inquiry like this:

That would be my concern in taking some quickie teacher training then holding court in a public forum–do you think you’d be prepared to deal with prople you don’t know rolling into the health club to take class? What are their physical restricitions? Would you be prepare to deal with a student’s physical emergencies? WOuld [sic] you be wisened enough not to have prople getting hurt, i.e., a 25 year old woman’s body is quite a bit different from a 50 year old man’s.

or drawing an analogy to make you go  “hmm”…

This is akin to learning how to do a reverse punch and a front kick in a weekend seminar and calling yourself a karate teacher.

or just flat out calling an ace an ace

This is not stretching and it is not lifting weights nor is it a way to get an ego boost. Teachers of yoga encounter different challanges with their students. It is not just physical exercise. There is a reason it totally rehabilitated your body. A yoga teacher MUST have something more then a weekend certificate.

It takes dedication and personal practice and experience. Otherwise, you will be able to model a pose nicely, but when it really comes down to a specific challange [sic] with a real human being, that certificate will be worthless and may result in injury and suffering.

Okay, end diversion.

Now, I have to warn you that the Instructor Search process was just my personal experience with one particular gym a couple years ago, which means it may or may not be true elsewhere now.

Let me also stress that I know many good yoga teachers who teach at local health clubs and gyms. A friend in my 500-hr Yoga Teacher Training teaches at the same chain, and she is a wealth of knowledge and a super talented teacher. I am simply saying that the experience of yoga teachers at a gym will vary enormously. For example, yet another teacher friend of mine used to sub there, and they were astonished that she had so much yoga training.

Why Your Gym May Not be the Best Place to do Yoga

The second, and perhaps more important point is exactly what Smart Money said: “Although most gyms try to hire good teachers, they often don’t provide a yoga-friendly environment to go with them.” As someone who has taught in a gym setting, I will whole-heartedly agree to this.

First, there is the gym-goer mentality. It’s one I know well, because I can slip into it easily if I want to. It’s the mentality that says, “Hey, they probably don’t care if I come in late or leave early.”, or, “I’m gonna check it out and if I don’t like it I’ll just leave.” So, it’s understandable that some gym-goers may approach yoga classes the same way.

The problem with this is, at least for me, I plan the class sequence to gradually warm up to what we in the trade call the “peak pose” or “apex pose”. Then come the counter poses and cool down. To get the full benefit of the class, not to mention to avoid injuries, it’s a good idea to take the whole class from beginning to end. However, it is not uncommon for some gym-goers to only show up for the more intense portion of the class, and then roll up their mats, presumably because Savasana doesn’t burn a whole lot of calories.

Then, there’s the size of the class. No yoga teacher, no matter how good they are, can sufficiently *teach* everybody when there are a lot of people in a class and not a lot of time to work with them all. I occasionally teach at a club where membership is limited, and the class size is smaller than other gyms. With an average of 10-12 people per class, I’m already maxed out. I often have to let certain things go. (This isn’t exclusive to health clubs though, some yoga studios will try to cram in as many people as possible, making it impossible for yoga teachers to keep an eye on everybody.)

One thing that many yoga teachers do is to check in with everybody, to watch out for any injuries, pregnancies, or bodily particularities. This is not as easily done in a setting where there are a lot of people, and who really feels comfortable shouting out to 20, 30 other random strangers that they have scoliosis or that they’re on their period?

Proper equipment is another essential part of yoga, at least according to a props aficionado like me. I totally dig yoga gadgets: blocks, straps, blankets, bolsters, whathaveyous. I’m a total believer in their usefulness, based on years of doing hot and power yoga *without* props, and then learning Iyengar-based yoga *with* props.

At certain health clubs, props are a luxury. My friend who teaches at a gym told me that she insists that her students buy and bring their own props. I still remember a class I took at my gym where I was doing yoga on one of those foam mats. I’m hopeful that times have changed, but looking back, I can see a lot of opportunities for me to dislocate something.

Um, Dude, But it’s Free!

Yup, there is that. Nothing will beat “but it’s free”. Nothing will beat “it works for me.” After maybe skewering gym yoga a little, I’m going to eat my words. After being super ideal, we inevitably have to come back to the practical. I have said this before in my post about Bikram yoga, and I will say it again here: it’s about what works for you, right now.

If you do yoga at your gym, I’d recommend a couple things:

  • Bring your own mat, and get blocks and straps if they’re not provided.
  • Let the instructor know of any issues in your body privately.
  • Stay until the end unless there’s an emergency. Savasana is the best part!

Yoga teachers, what else would you advise?

Finally, I like what this person under the user name “tourist” said in the forum about YogaFit: we all start somewhere.

I want to study with someone who has practiced and studied for a good long time under a teacher who has observed their practice and teaching. I want to study yoga with someone who understands my struggles and can lead me knowledgeably from where I am today to where I might be tomorrow. Someone with depth and a connection to a lineage of teachers who understand and honour the roots and wings of yoga.

Now, not everyone wants this and that is ok. We all start somewhere and wanting a better butt is not the worst reason to start yoga.

And then I'm hittin' the yoga mat!

And then I'm hittin' the yoga mat!