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Pumping Iron, Practicing Yoga

As the demand for yoga in health clubs skyrockets, gyms across the country are offering innovative classes and more of them. We sent Managing Editor Nora Isaacs to find out if gym yogis are getting their money's worth.

By Nora Isaacs

First Impression. If you take an informal poll of gym yogis, you'll find that the No. 1 reason they choose to practice in a health club is that it just feels more comfortable. "I didn't feel intimidated to take my first yoga classes at the gym," says San Francisco Bay Area resident Katie Popp. "I think I would have been a bit more hesitant to go to a yoga studio right away, not knowing what to expect." Many beginning yoga students like Popp have been gym members their whole adult lives; they feel comfortable in the surroundings and know what to expect--whereas a yoga studio, with its unfamiliar sounds and smells, has the potential to keep some away. Other beginners simply find it easier letting the yoga come to them, rather than taking the initiative to search out a studio. "People get turned on to yoga in health clubs, and if they're looking to deepen their practice, they'll go to the yoga studio. It's definitely a way in," says New York teacher Beryl Bender Birch, author of Power Yoga (Fireside, 1995) and Beyond Power Yoga (Fireside, 2000).

There is, however, the problem of students being too comfortable, which can hinder the growth of their practice. "Student levels at gyms can kind of keep you in a perpetual beginner class, [because] they have to teach to the lowest common denominator," says San Francisco business manager Nikki Granner. The solution, she believes, is to find a gym with enough classes for all levels and with qualified teachers who can handle teaching different levels all at once. This is getting easier as yoga classes begin to dominate gym schedules--more advanced practitioners can choose the most appropriate level for them and allow their practice to deepen.

Double Your Pleasure. Rather than shelling out for a gym membership and a pass for a yoga studio, gym yogis pay only a single fee, while enjoying the convenience of having everything under one roof. "One good thing about gym yoga is that you pay a flat fee to use the gym, so if one instructor turns out to be a dud, you can go to another without losing any money," says Popp. In San Francisco, monthly gym dues run anywhere from $59 at the YMCA to $138 at the swankier Bay Club. A single studio yoga class is about $15, which means that four classes a week for a month could cost $240, whereas gymgoers pay a single price and have access to amenities like a pool, showers, saunas, and massages in addition to yoga and other exercise classes.

Gold's Gym patron Bruce Collins's regular routine includes swimming laps in the pool, taking an hour-long yoga class, and then hitting the weight room. His gym yoga classes have also taught him some easy stretches to incorporate into lulls in his workout routine. "This way, you're not just sitting there like a dork between sets; you're doing something," Collins says. Robert Rigamonti, yoga instructor at 24 Hour Fitness in Santa Monica, sometimes even incorporates workout equipment into his teaching methods, like having students explore Downward-Facing Dog by having them hang from their hips on a back-extension bench.

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I would like to know why it is ironic for a gym that is famous for people lifting weights to have yoga classes. The two activities are not mutually exclusive and can benefit each other greatly.

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