Yoga is like dating. You might think you're not good at it, but that's because you haven't found your type yet!
Have you ever attended a yoga class, only to feel awkwardly out of place? Maybe you felt like you just didn't fit in and, as a consequence, you concluded that yoga was not for you? Maybe you even stopped going to yoga altogether until a friend dragged you to a different studio where you realized you actually liked yoga? There's a reason for that! It's not that yoga is not for you, it's that each yoga studio (and teacher for that matter) has a whole different style that may or may not fit yours. Here's a breakdown:
The Five Yoga Studio Types:
Body-Focused Yoga Studios
Many studios are primary focused on yoga as sport, athletic workout, or stretching for physical tone and health. And that's exactly what many students of yoga seek because research (e.g. this study and this study) shows that yoga can improve our physical health and well-being. Here is a breakdown of some body-focused yoga studio types.
1. Trendy yoga: This is by far the most visually attractive studio. You are probably immediately wowed as you enter. Everyone's wearing beautiful multicolored tie-dyed skin-tight clothing, showing off their amazingly ripped bodies. They all look like they could be models for the latest yoga trend couture catwalk or a Hard Tail advertisement. The teachers -- usually buff and beautiful young men and women -- are decked out in revealing clothing and look amazing too and, more than likely, the studio sells clothes and funky jewelry. The yoga classes are usually intense, accompanied by energetic tunes, and focused on fitness. There may be more talk of yoga's impact on losing weight and looking hot in those classes than elsewhere. In sum, hip, fit, young and fun.
2. Fast-food yoga: This is the most convenient and hands off studio there is. There are classes going on at every hour of the day, sometimes simultaneously in different rooms. They usually have multiple locations across town to keep things convenient. One example is Bikram Yoga NYC -- I loved the convenience of multiple locations and ongoing classes when I lived in Manhattan. Bustling with highly scheduled professionals with no time or desire to be chatted up by their yoga teachers or classmates, it's the fast-food version of yoga studios because it's so efficient. You get your yoga on in large packed rooms, you quickly change in large convenient dressing rooms, and you leave. Classes may be intense but are offered for mixed level to accommodate students of any level. In sum, super-efficient and convenient.
3. Gym yoga: These classes are strictly a workout. Yoga classes are now offered at most gyms. They are primarily focused on getting toned. The students' primary goal is to get their sweat on, not necessarily attain inner peace or wisdom. Accordingly, you will hear talk of "working those glutes" and "pumping those abs" and your instructors may even pull out weights for you to hold during warrior II. In fact, you'll find classes like "Yoga Boot Camp" and "Yoga Core" taught to loud and energetic music on the menu -- specifically focused on an intense aerobic or ab-focused workout. You'll get a cardio and muscular workout similar to that found in other gym classes, only this time with yoga-based movements. In sum, all you'd want out of a gym class plus extra stretching which really does a body good!
Body- and Spirit-Based Yoga Studios
The following types of studios seek to encompass more of the original yoga teachings. They aim not only to strengthen the body, but to relax the mind and bring peace to the spirit. And research shows that, indeed, yoga and its associated meditative practices can also increase our well-being and decrease our stress (see this post for a summary of the research with links).
4. Purist yoga: This is the most traditional yoga studio. The teachers or students' looks, clothes and glute perkiness are completely irrelevant here. The classes are about teaching the fundamentals of yoga including not just physical postures, but the philosophy of yoga and traditional elements such as chanting, breathing and meditation. The physical postures are not taught in a hurry, each posture is described in detail and the instructors are particularly attentive to the correctness of the students' movements. The students that attend this studio are not dressed to show off nor are they there for convenience. They are loyal and dedicated and not willing to compromise on the quality of the teachings. "I hate driving but I will drive 45 minutes to attend classes at Carlsbad Ashtanga Yoga Center," says Priya Narayanan, a long-term student of Ashtanga. The teachers have dedicated their lives to yoga and the purity of the traditional teachings. Their teacher training probably contained stints of study in India, a meditation practice, and knowledge of yoga philosophy. Lyengar and Ashtanga studios tend to be purist. In sum, purist yoga satisfies those seeking both a physical and spiritual experience.
5. Sanctuary yoga: This studio is the one that just makes you feel at home. Tea or fruit may be served after class, students linger to chat with each other or with the teachers, and there is a sense of community. One example is Bikram Yoga Dupont in Washington, D.C., and Bliss Flow Yoga in Madison, WI. The instructors get to know their students, often provide extra support outside of class to help their students strengthen their yoga practice, and even develop friendships with the regulars. "I keep coming back because of the wonderful, compassionate teachers who greet me by name and always offer a kind smile and words of encouragement," says Anthony Sepulveda, a student of Bikram Yoga D.C.. Students of all ages and body types feel comfortable in sanctuary yoga studios. Classes are mixed-level and the instructors accommodate everyone. In sum, sanctuary yoga nourishes you body, mind and soul with the added bonus of a community of like-minded people.
That said, you can't always generalize. Some studios are a blend of both (e.g., purist and sanctuary) or sometimes transform from one to the other over time and with different management or growing business. Jivamukti, in New York City, definitely started off as purist but definitely now has many Trendy elements to it. I spent years enjoying the anonymity of attending a fast-food yoga type of studio but have recently found that I now tend to prefer the coziness of sanctuary yoga studios.
It's also important to remember that teachers from different traditions and studios sometimes have very different teaching styles though they teach at the same place. Classes can vary depending on the instructor so you may want to try a few classes at each studio before deciding whether it is or is not a good first for you. As yoga teacher and author of the "Physics of Yoga" blog Brian Balzar notes "In addition to finding a comfortable studio to practice in, it's important to branch out and experience different teachers and styles. When coming to a new class the two possible outcomes are picking up on a new technique that suits you or understanding why a particular technique doesn't suit you. Both are extremely valuable experiences."
Either way, if you have ever felt that yoga was not for you, or you didn't feel comfortable at a studio, know that you may not have found the right style or instructor for you. Shop around until you find the one that floats your boat and suits your needs best so you can get your inner peace (or sweat!) on.