Yoga in the Gym

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I have been teaching Yoga for 7 years now. And I mainly teach Yoga in gyms. This is by no means a popular choice with Yoga teachers- not at all. There is a feeling that gyms somehow desanctify the tradition of Yoga. That Yoga is a sacred and precious phenomenon which must be penned within Yoga centres and only imparted to those who are worthy of it. Yes, in a nutshell, those who are willing to pay more. Sadly, this is the main bugbear. Money. If you run your own classes you are going to get far more money than if you teach for a flat rate within a gym.

There is a feeling that if someone is serious about their Yoga practice then they must spend the money. Make the sacrifices. Support you as a teacher and really shift their lives around somewhat. Ideally to suit your business plan. Well I completely disagree with that idea. Teaching in gyms can actually be a real privilege. Like it or not we live in a world where not everyone has a massive disposable income. Many people, especially in the UK, are unemployed, or massively underpaid. Many people have families and other things to spend their money on and could not realistically drop £80 a month on their Yoga practice. Does this mean they don’t deserve to have a Yoga class? Absolutely not.

Gyms are a different environment to a Yoga centre. You never know who you are going to get in your class. You might have weightlifters, dancers, pregnant women and older people with osteoporosis all in the same class. There’s certainly a lot of stuff you have to deal with. As a practitioner of Yoga it’s actually an awesome opportunity to really examine all of your own attachments- all your Kleshas, all your bugbears…

It can be difficult because it’s nice to have a regular class- people that are focussed and wanting to progress step by step every week. In a gym you certainly have your regulars but you get beginners nearly every class. You have to learn to adapt. You have to get good at teaching the classical postures whilst being able to focus on the individual needs of everyone in the class, some of who you may know better than others. You have to study your anatomy and common illnesses until you can skilfully and quickly adapt postures for people without holding the whole class up. So someone with a weight problem can salute the sun with the others without making a big deal about it. So a pregnant woman gets an alternative to a deep twist without being made to feel awkward. So the older person with hypertension can stay comfortable. And you have to make sure that everyone in that class gets the best teaching you are capable of- because- especially if someone has never done Yoga before and to them you are the face of it- you don’t want to put someone off it because that would be such a shame. So you also have to not be a twat- to not put too fine a point on it..

And it’s not easy. You have to deal with a lot of stereotyping. I make sure I avoid Thai fishermans pants and tie-dye like the plague. Yuk. Coping with people turning up to your class who really don’t want to be in the gym and so they pick Yoga because they think it’s easy. And then get outraged when you ask them to stand up. People that see Yoga as the ‘easy option’ when anyone that’s taken the Yoga path knows how raw things can get. And most commonly, people saying to you outside the class ”Oh I would come but I’d be rubbish- I’m just not bendy” as if Yoga is nothing more than a freaky performance sport and anyone that’s not actually double-jointed can reasonably be expected to be asked to leave by your good self. I used to get really het up and protest about this, pointing out that paralyzed people can do Yoga… But now I don’t waste my breath because if someone wants to try it, they’ll try it.. I also play music in my gym classes whereas I never do in my own classes. I get a little creative and have fun with it..

I’ve learned a lot about myself from teaching Yoga in gyms. Man, I can be so judgemental. I get upset watching people struggle with their practice sometimes- when its an easy posture and something anyone with a healthy body should be capable of- and it really gets to me that people take better care of their cars than their bodies. That adults who would consider themselves successful intelligent people can’t take the time to look after their bodies just a little. Sometimes you can look at someone and see the days they live in their postures. They sleep, get up, get in the car, go to work, sit down all day, drive home, sit on the sofa, back to bed and repeat x 5 and then the weekend comes and its more sitting until they turn up in your class. It’s not an exaggeration to say that people actually disable themselves through their inertia. If you don’t use your body it will seize up and if you eat bad processed food every day of your life you will make yourself sick, with overloaded lymph nodes, excess weight and inflammatory conditions borne of years of a sugar rich, white flour rich diet. And as someone who genuinely enjoys exercise and feels great after a run (and on the whole avoids custard creams and caffeine all day) I just don’t understand people that would choose to live without that endorphin rush and sense of well being that exercise brings. I am talking exercise other than Yoga. To be honest much as I love my Ashtanga practice Yoga asana is not the be all and end all to me. It’s really not. It changes throughout your life and you adapt it. But I find genuine laziness hard to deal with and that’s my problem. And so that brings me back to the Yamas- Ahimsa, which of course includes not judging. I don’t know what someone has going on at home, and I have no idea why they have neglected themselves, I just have to try my best to inspire them to get into their Yoga practice. Nobody likes being judged.

There are many Yoga postures which you can’t go anywhere near in a gym Yoga class. This is because there is often a tendency for people to be in that mindset of always wanting to achieve- and with some postures this can be asking for trouble so I simply leave them out of my gym classes. If you think about the body’s functional range of movement there are many Yoga postures that would not fall into this category. Such as Matsyasana- fish posture after shoulder stand. Shoulderstand brings the chin down towards the chest which is quite easy and functional. Matsyasana on the other hand jams the head back and then puts weight into it. For someone who has never done Yoga- and perhaps is in their 40s and has spent years in a slightly defensive posture- maybe a bullying boss or a challenging relationship- this posture could be agony. I also steer clear of Hanumanasana (splits) and anything involving lotus or half lotus. If people want to progress and do something more challenging when they are ready then they can come to my own classes which are smaller and they’ll get more attention. Always have some business cards to hand and build your own classes too- nothing wrong with that for people that want to take it a little further.

I have met some wonderful people in my gym classes. Some people that have opened up opportunities for me- to teach at festivals, to teach Yoga to Moslem women in London mosques and to students at the University. Last month a woman turned up in one of my classes who had a lot of physical challenges, an interesting tattoo and an energy about her that seemed like a story.. So I googled her name and my Goodness that woman had a story alright. Someone who I could really learn from.

Gym classes are like little festivals or camps- you have to construct them anew every week. And it’s hard work and the financial rewards aren’t great. But what you reap in learning is far greater. Plus on a practical note it’s a regular wage and you have no overheads so notching up a few doesn’t do any harm. It definitely tests your patience- and helps with your people skills. And teaching Yoga in a gym is a real skill which only time can hone. It also forces you to look at the practice every week afresh. To be concise. Because the average gym class has a far lower tolerance for long flowery lectures than a Yoga Centre class does. To listen to the wisdom and feedback of the people in your class- to remember how strong the practice of Yoga is- and that is a real privilege- to introduce people to the practice. So be accommodating- be friendly- be helpful, make people laugh and make the world a better place rather than sitting on some Vegan/Raw /Crystal worshipping high horse thinking about yourself all the time. In these days of cheap monthly gym memberships I strongly feel that Yoga teachers- rather than bemoaning that gyms take away their business- should celebrate the opportunity to get more people into Yoga.

And- lets face it- the people that want to spend crazy money on organic cotton Yoga gear and expensive retreats in Costa Rica aren’t going to stop attending Yoga centres because David Lloyd offers a few classes.

So take Yoga into the gyms- and make your classes the best they can be J

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One Response to Yoga in the Gym

  1. Abigail July 3, 2014 at 6:00 am #

    Yoga in gyms… what a wonderful way to inspire and recruit new yoginis and shine your light further bringing it out into a wider variety of audience. I’m sure your classes have inspired many and as we more practiced yogis know… Yoga is such a fantastic blessing to anybody in all walks of life and why not help those that may not be able to afford to do it otherwise? You are a gift to yoga angel. Thank you for such a beautiful and inspiring blog!!!

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