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Gym Membership

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

By Brenda K. Plakans

Creating an Environment for Yoga

You'll have to deal with the challenge of gym culture diplomatically. You may share your space with other fitness classes that don't have the same goals as yours. "Gyms typically don't put as much effort into making the studio yoga-serene," Lauck says. Often, the gym room is multipurpose (you might have people come in during class to get free weights, for example), or it might not be the best temperature for yoga. There might be noise or distracting sights.

If you can't find a quiet space in the facility, think about ways to make your room more peaceful. Turning off some of the lights, having the students face away from other activities, closing doors, even setting up a portable screen can help students turn their attention inward and reduce outside distraction. See if equipment can be moved outside, or at least closer to the door, so people won't be tempted to come through the room while you're teaching. Always keep your sense of humor; nothing disrupts a class more quickly than a frustrated instructor who makes an angry comment.

Your attitude will go a long way toward setting a yogic tone in the classroom, no matter what's happening nearby. Establish the ground rules of the class early on so students know what to expect, and they can help new members figure out what's going on. Be gentle but firm about proper etiquette; if people are used to a boisterous step class, the serene tone of a yoga class could be a bit unnerving.

Nonetheless, your students are there because they're interested in the benefits yoga has to offer. The atmosphere of the class will be just as important to them as the asana. They'll sense your dedication and commitment, and this will attract the students who really want this kind of practice.

On the other hand, "if what people really want is a spinning class, I'm going to direct them to that.," Crandell says. "You can't make a yoga class a spinning class."

Making the Gym Work for You

Be sensitive to needs of your students and your teaching technique, but also be respectful of this busy environment. Figure out who can help you get the props you need, advertise your classes, relocate to a more peaceful space, or even just adjust the temperature.

The gym administration wants you to teach its members yoga. You can help make it a successful endeavor. There are several basic steps to take so your gym practice will thrive:

Make your teaching space yoga-friendly. Figure out what needs to change to make your room more inviting. If other teachers use the space, brainstorm with them—especially if they too teach mind-body classes, such as Pilates. Find out how to adjust the lights. See if the sound system can be fine-tuned to play more quietly, with less bass. Come up with a plan and then suggest it to the fitness director; if you work with the administration, they may give you what you ask for.

Take advantage of the gym's resources. If you use props, you can try incorporating some gym equipment into your class. Do chest openers or backbends with stability balls. Use foam rollers under the heels in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) to stretch calf muscles further. Try doing yoga in the swimming pool. Be imaginative; by using more of the gym's resources, you give your classes higher visibility, which will attract more students.

Take advantage of access to nonyogis. Yoga classes at a gym are very inclusive and give lots of different people exposure to the practice. See who comes to your classes and listen to why they're coming. Is it for stretching, stress relief, rehabilitation? You may be able to design classes that address those needs specifically, in addition to your regular classes. Fitness directors are always looking for new ways to keep members motivated, so they'll welcome a class for an underserved population.

Be true to your practice. People come to your class because they want to learn yoga. Avoid gimmicky hybrids that reduce yoga to a mere "workout". "The way a well-trained instructor tailors his or her class should be based less on the gym's sensibility and more on the students' needs," Logue says. "Popular blends may not meet these needs and may in fact diminish the overall yoga experience,",

Moving out of a yoga studio into a more public space does require some adaptation. It may take extra time and patience to educate your students and the gym administration about yoga—but you'll also have the honor of introducing the practice to a whole new population. "It's important that, as yoga teachers, we don't buy into the whole gym yoga thing. It's important that we teach the essence of yoga as we understand it to the people that are in front of us. That really should not be different regardless of where one goes."

Brenda K. Plakans teaches yoga at the Stateline Family YMCA in Beloit, Wisconsin. She writes the yoga blog Grounding Thru the Sit Bones

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Reader Comments


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!


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.


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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