I am so over the comment “gym yoga isn’t real yoga”.
This is a story of gym yoga, and why it has a special place in my heart.
13 years ago, I sold the women’s health club that had been like Cheers to many people. My husband and I had been owner/operators of health clubs for two decades, and it was time to move on. More truthfully, it was time to make money, after the birth of our third son. We knew that health club revenue wasn’t going to put three boys through college. I was broken hearted at the ‘letting go’. To fill the hole in my heart, I applied for a teaching job at 24 Hour Fitness. I was hired and given a great schedule of classes. (Thank you Pam Mechling for believing in me!)
Fast forward, 13 years later, the Trolley 24 Hour Fitness where I have taught every Wednesday is closing. This photo is from our last Wednesday yoga class, and these people will forever be in my heart. Let me tell you why I choose to teach in gyms and fitness centers.
- In every class I have ever taught, there is a new student. I get to be someone’s first yoga teacher on a regular basis. They don’t always come back, but I hold dear the opportunity I have to make them comfortable, and to show them that yoga is for every body. In a gym setting, it’s less competitive. People are there to stretch, to relax, to find a balance to the work they do on other days. They don’t come to show off, or compete. They are welcoming and accepting of newbies.
- We deal with distractions like real yogis. Those old guys who spent their lives meditating in caves said it best. The most challenging yoga is “householder yoga”. People who have bills to pay, houses to clean, kids to drop off, relationships to manage, showers to take. Distractions. We’re householders, and it’s much more challenging for us to quiet our minds. Yoga in the gym setting gives us real-life practice. No heated floors, sometimes no heat at all. I have taught to ringing cell phones, people doing yoga in their shoes, basketballs hitting the walls, a spin class next door. In the gym, people, come late and leave early. All great opportunities to strengthen our mindfulness muscles. My students are so good at being in the noise, and finding the quiet inside.
- It’s affordable. Yoga is included in the price of membership. When you don’t have to pay $20 for a class, you’re much more likely to get on your mat on a regular basis. I have the joy of teaching to people who are committed do getting on their mats every day, and they can because cost isn’t prohibitive.
- Gym yogis appreciate the woo-woo. Literally, in every class I teach, someone comes up to thank me for the spiritual side I weave into classes. I have grown unafraid of threading in the yoga sutras, chanting, mudras and other essences into the classes at the gym. Humans, especially Westerners need more ways to dial back the busy, and dial up the connection to something greater. Why not at the gym, in a room full of mirrors and people of all ages and abilities?
- It’s so nice to show up, any time, and have a room full of people ready to get quiet and slow down. I don’t have to do the marketing that a lot of studios require. I just show up, and connect with the people in the room. I get to do what yoga teachers are trained to do…teach.
All of this said, I am not bagging on studios. In fact, I am friends with all of the studio owners and teachers in my community. I try and attend studio classes weekly, and support their community events. I consider what I do with gym yoga as the “funnel” people drop into, and many of my students eventually find their way to a studio, where they find more personal attention, and more specialized classes.
In a gym, the ambiance will be, well, gym-like. You will smell sweat, experience fluorescent lighting, hear music playing on the way in, and see all kinds of people working out. Most yoga studios take great care to provide a relaxing, welcoming environment. The decor is designed to calm you. They play mood music, burn incense and serve tea. But if you’ve ever done yoga in India, you know, it’s anything but relaxing. No incense, no bamboo floors, no expensive mats provided, and no cucumber chilled towels on your forehead at the end of class. In every class I took in India, yoga was simply designed to help you find quiet inside of the noise. Calm inside of the storm.
This is a perfect description of gym yoga.