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Gym Membership

How to give and receive the most from teaching yoga at a health club.

By Brenda K. Plakans

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If you've been practicing and teaching yoga for awhile, chances are good that you've been going to a studio. Most teacher trainings take place in a studio wholly dedicated to yoga, and advanced practitioners usually seek instruction among other like-minded yogis. And yet most Americans will get their first taste of yoga at the YMCA or their neighborhood gym. As the demand for yoga classes grows, so does the demand for teachers, and you may find yourself considering employment outside of a yoga studio.

"The health and wellness industry is incorporating a holistic approach to fitness," says Julie Logue, health and wellness director at the Dane County YMCA in Madison, Wisconsin. "It's not just about the body anymore, and to stay competitive in the market, gym owners must consider ways to include mind/body programming for their members."

You can use your position as an instructor to teach not only asana but everything a yoga practice has to offer—even if you're teaching in a gym setting. Show students the benefits beyond the physical, and demonstrate to owners the importance of having well-trained teachers on their staff. Your classes will develop a devoted following among members and become a source of pride (and revenue) for the gym.

An Entry Point for Yoga

When developing a yoga program for a gym population, you become a kind of yoga ambassador, says Barrett Lauck, a Boston-area teacher. "Recognize that you are going to be someone's first instructor," she says. "Gyms are an entry point for many people. Studios can be intimidating and/or cost-prohibitive, and a gym is more accessible."

Because you are introducing yoga to people who may have no idea what a practice is like, let alone the difference between Trikonasana and Tadasana, be clear in explaining concepts and always demonstrate safe ways of practicing. A yoga class is different than Pilates or aerobics, so explaining basic etiquette (taking off shoes, coming on time, staying through Savasana) and what to expect (different kinds of breathing, length of poses, using props) will help make new students more comfortable.

However, when teaching at a gym, teachers should make sure that,, they don't downgrade their expectations of themselves or the practice, says Jason Crandell, teacher and yoga director of the Mind and Body Center at the San Francisco Bay Club. "We have to treat that space and those students as we treat any space and any students. By doing that over time, you'll attract students who resonate with that—and those who don't will go elsewhere, if what they really want is a group exercise class."

The Upside of Gym Classes

People are often more willing to try new classes at a gym because they're offered a variety of options with their membership. They're already in the building, so they can just drop in. This means you may get a wider variety of students and have larger classes than at a studio. Your students also have access to such amenities as locker rooms, child care, lounges, or even a cafe, which may contribute to their consistency in coming to class.

Because gyms serve so many kinds of people, you can design classes or workshops for special populations who wouldn't normally consider yoga (athletes, seniors, kids). Your expertise might be useful to other teachers at the facility; for example, you could teach a session for triathlon training or for a corporate retreat.

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of teaching yoga at a gym is the financial security it offers. "It's nice that a yoga instructors' portfolios have some hourly wages and not be based 100 percent on commissions." Crandell says. "Teaching outside of a gym allows one to generate more revenue, but it's also subject to greater vacillation. At a gym, you take money out of the equation and just show up and teach to the people in front of you without getting distracted by the compensation, because it's done, it's a nonissue."

Lauck adds, "You usually get paid a flat rate for your time, no matter how many students. This can be helpful if you're trying to make a budget and want to have a little assurance as to what you'll make for at least some of your classes."

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Reader Comments

Gina

Thank you so much for this article, I've been teaching for 5 years at studios, senior centers and even a women's gym. Yesterday was my first class at the YMCA, the atmosphere and the attitude of the students totally threw me off and i've been looking for tips online all day. THis article is definitely the most inspiring and conclusive! Now just need to figure out what to do about those flourescent lights!

Robert

Interesting that health club yoga is being written off as purely beginner (until the yogi moves on to a studio). I think a bigger challenge is how do you continue to keep more serious yogis interested in your classes.

maggie

Thank you so much for writing this article. I have been apart of the yoga studio world for 12 years and have recently been approached to teach in a fitness center. I have been struggling with saying yes simply because it isn't a "studio" environment. Your words "It's important that we teach the essence of yoga as we understand it to the people that are in front of us." makes perfect sense and has me excited to explore the possibilities...

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