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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

At the Equinox in Scarsdale, New York, Espel says, prospective teachers don't necessarily need a fitness-department certification, but they must present proof of certification in yoga to show that they've completed training in, say, Bikram or Ashtanga as well as CPR.

At the West Hollywood Crunch, potential teachers must fill out an application, pass an interview, and audition by teaching a yoga class that includes other gym instructors, who attend anonymously. "I look for teachers who have attended an extensive teacher's training," says Crunch regional fitness director Kendell Hogan. "I'm not talking a weekend, but about three months."

With so much variance--and given the fact that gyms tend to pay less than studios--the quality of the yoga teaching can be inconsistent.

That doesn't mean that clubs never have teachers equal to, or in some cases superior to, those at yoga studios. "I've been lucky to live in yoga-rich cities like Boston and San Francisco, where the teaching talent runs deep, so you can get good teachers in health clubs," says Nikki Granner.

The Future Has Arrived

Don't expect the increase in the number of health club yoga classes to slow down anytime soon. The yoga offerings at Minnesota-based Life Time Fitness, for example, spiked 300 percent from 2000 to 2003--"a direct result of our members' interest and demand," says spokesman Jason Thunstrom.

This surge in consumer demand has prompted some health clubs to develop secondary studios that are segregated, soundproofed, and designed specifically for yoga. When an 11,000-square-foot space became available adjacent to San Francisco's Bay Club, it opened a Mind & Body Center connected to the rest of the club by a staircase; the facility houses three dedicated yoga rooms and one for Pilates, complete with picture windows, exposed brick walls, and stacks upon stacks of clean mats and bolsters.

At the Equinox in Darien, Connecticut, a newly built yoga room is stocked with plenty of props and has a cherry-wood floor, a fabric-clad ceiling, and paneled (rather than mirrored) walls. Crunch has two dedicated yoga studios in New York and one in San Francisco, as well as another in the works in Chicago.

"Contemporary health club design facilities, from a functionality standpoint, have become very sophisticated," says the IHRSA's Bill Howland. "Remember, in the same way that yoga people don't want to hear racquetball and weights, the guys in the weight room don't want to hear yoga music."

Whether in a studio or a gym, perhaps the true practice is getting onto the mat and finding the yoga in any environment. I've been to well-known yoga studios that left me cold amidst the cliquishness and commercialism, and others where the adjustments changed my practice. I've been to gym yoga classes where two students next to me talked about their workout during the standing poses, and others in which a highly skilled instructor led me into the most solid Headstand I've ever done. Getting to know what you want out of your practice is the first step. If you find yourself in a class that doesn't meet your expectations, try turning it into a practice in which you look at your resistance, competitiveness, and ability to fully accept the present moment.

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Reader Comments


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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