How to Choose the Right Yoga Studio
June was the month for yoga-studio hopping! During my month-long time abroad, I practiced yoga at a studio almost every day with nearly a dozen different yoga teachers. Some classes were amazing, others left me with more questions than answers. No matter where you are on your yoga journey, you’ll quickly realize that there are two unavoidable truths: 1) if you want to deepen your yoga practice you will need a daily home yoga practice; and 2) you must also find a yoga teacher/ studio that can help you grow.
Last month I created the ultimate home yoga practice guide only for my subscribers. In case you missed it, sign up here to get access. This month we are picking up where we left off – with a checklist that will make it easier for you to choose a yoga studio — even if you are totally new to yoga. While you might not have the training to know whether a yoga class is purposefully sequenced, using my checklist of considerations will help you to narrow down your search for a yoga studio.
No matter where you are on your journey, I am here to help you deepen your practice and stay inspired. Read the blog post in detail or simply download the checklist that serves as a quick yogi reference.
1.Identify your objectives for practicing at a yoga studio.
Yoga classes are as diverse as they are plentiful. When selecting a studio, be sure to shop around. Take advantage of introductory passes that allow you to sample as many classes as humanely passible over a prescribed period. I’ve found that the use of meditation, music, chanting and yoga props will often be similar across classes at a chain, as these elements might be part of the studio’s brand. In contrast, at a boutique/community studio, you are likely to find more variety in teaching styles and types of yoga on offer.
2. Choose a yoga studio where you can grow.
I’d look for a studio that advertises classes that range from 60 to 120 minutes. If a studio only offers 60 minute classes, you’ll be hard pressed to deepen your yoga practice. Some days you will have more time — and as your endurance and skill increases you will need longer practices to facilitate exploration and play. A 60-minute class also leaves little time for your body to fully warm up and open, which can leave you vulnerable to injuries. Over my month long of studio hopping I accumulated three minor injuries/complaints – ankle, shoulder, hamstring. I chalk it up to too many 60-minute classes, one-minute savasanas and in some cases questionable sequencing.
3. The studio and its teachers are certified. Look for other indications that professionalism is a priority.
Transparency about the yoga studio and its teachers’ certification and experience is a must. Before visiting, check out the website and read the teachers’ bios for certifications in the particular style of yoga they are teaching. Some yoga studios have strict rules about tardiness — I don’t. I know that my students are professionals, parents, or both — who have to deal with crazy traffic and competing priorities. I’m just happy that they continue to share their practice with me. With that said, I understand that some teachers feel differently about this. That’s cool too. Whatever the case, the policy should be publicly posted and consistently applied. If the policies are not written somewhere there will be plenty of opportunity for misunderstanding. I find waivers to be super helpful in this regard as it delineates the responsibility of the practitioner/studio and clarifies the student/teacher relationship. If the studio asks you to sign one, request a spare copy to take home as a reference.
4. The yoga studio is clean; the mats and other yoga props are of top quality.
A yoga studio’s cleanliness and the state of its equipment plays a role in your ability to have a successful yoga practice; and creates a vibration and feel that the studio cares. A clean studio means: shoes are not worn inside, the bathrooms are clean – all places that the clients go within the studio are clean. There are a number ways to practice yoga, but the essential piece of equipment is always going to be a mat. Check to see whether the mats are clean – no foul smell. If students are asked to clean studio mats, there should also be a cleaner to provide a thorough cleaning afterwards.
5. Client communication, community outreach are on point.
Of all the studios I visited only one sent me a follow-up email! The email thanked me for sharing my practice, advised me to drink lots of water, warned me of potential muscle soreness, and encouraged me to come back ASAP as a remedy to that soreness! Genius. The follow up email is a small automated gesture. I was going to come back regardless — but for someone new to yoga this could be super important. I believe that yoga is a powerful tool for personal and social change. If the studio can’t care enough for its paying clients to follow up – how can it reach those outside its hallowed walls? On that note, at some studios I visited, there was a program where yogis could trade the cleaning of the studio for a free yoga class. One studio participated in the offering of free weekly yoga classes in the community. A studio’s outreach can give you some indication of its objectives and whether it’s the place that can help you achieve your yoga goals. Which brings me to the next point…
6. There is obvious diversity in body shape, ability, age, gender, and color amongst teachers and students.
Sadly, in all but two classes – you could cue the music from the parody I’m the only back girl in my yoga class. There were also no black yoga teachers — and I scoured the teacher profiles of the different web sites to make sure that my assessment was accurate. I also looked for language and cueing that might speak to wide cross section of students. Why is this important? I believe that sometimes we need to see someone who looks like us practicing yoga to believe that we can do it too. Without seeing someone with the same ethnicity, age, body shape or ability— who is accepted and respected in the world of yoga — it’s hard for similar students to believe that the world of yoga will respect or value them too. I don’t have the complete answer to this conundrum, but in the 21st century the yoga community can and should do better.
7. The yoga teacher asks your name.
One of the most basic ways to build rapport is to get to know the names of students. Given that the majority of yoga students are returning – and the number of new students at any given time is probably quite small – I’m of the opinion that asking a new student his/her name takes minimal effort. Recognizing a student by name can alter the entire experience of that individual for the practice. In addition, although the majority of deepening cues are directed toward the group by necessity – personalized adjustments are far more impactful. This requires a commitment from the teacher to put energy into learning names and connecting with individual students. I also find that interacting in a yoga session can be awkward if both the teacher and student remain nameless. Certainly if you attend a class of a particular teacher more than once and s/he hasn’t asked your name, I would seriously consider not going back to that class on principle.
8. There is a balance between manual adjustments, and verbal and visual cues.
A really great adjustment in a yoga class can change your practice. Adjustments are also a great way for teachers to interact with students, assist them with learning and deepening the postures. I was surprised to only receive a few intrepid adjustments and cringed inside as I observed some students in harmful stances. When I finally received an adjustment it was from a teacher that hadn’t asked permission. So while I was happy to receive the adjustment, I was distracted by the thoughts that it wasn’t OK for him to adjust me without first asking. I understand that not all teachers feel comfortable adjusting students — but ahimsa– preventing all types of harm in the space should be a top priority. In your sampling of yoga classes observe whether a yoga teacher asks if students want to be adjusted. The repetition can seem scripted but this is super important as it could be that on a specific day a student prefers not to be touched — or it could be that a student never wants to be touched. Asking permission can be the difference between a meaningful adjustment experience or a questionable one. Students should also be allowed to opt out at any point DURING class.
9. Classes are delivered as advertised.
Larger studios might offer level classes but many studios will offer “mixed levels” yoga classes. This could be one consideration when you are selecting a yoga home. I struggled to find a class that finally met my needs. I did this all the while dropping in on various “mixed levels” classes that were basically instructed for beginners. In this environment, you can easily assess the skill of the teacher. If the teacher offers several variations of poses including the proper use of yoga props — you’ve got a winner! In my experiences I refrained from entering into the more advanced expressions of shapes because I didn’t feel I had the space to do so. I also couldn’t help but to wonder whether the teachers knew how to make the class truly mixed levels or just didn’t care.
Along this line, observe whether the pose is announced before a long list of cues are given — or whether the teacher leaves the entire class in suspense as she sets up the most basic of poses. Announcing the pose not only helps you gain confidence in your ability to enter a posture, it also respects the time of the practitioner who might not need any cues at all for that particular shape.
10. Savasana is not forgotten.
I was the victim of a 1-minute savasana many times during my month of yoga studio hopping. This goes back to some of the issues with a 60 minute class, as teachers can feel rushed to finish. Short savasanas are bound to happen sometimes; if it happens all of the time it can affect your growth. Sure, the teacher will undoubtedly say, there is no need to hurry, you can stay here as long as you want. At this invitation – 98% of the class will do the opposite – clanging blocks and water bottles in the rush to the locker rooms. At this point you might as well stick a fork in your rest because it’s done. I try to give a 10-15 minute savasana but I run a small studio and teach 90-120 minute classes. I have that luxury! If savasana is your thing, look for studios that have 75 minute classes and explicitly ask whether there is time built in for savasana. Your body will truly thank you for it!
Some final thoughts…
Don’t give up if you find a studio that ticks some of the boxes but not all. If you find a studio that you like but there is still something missing, don’t completely abandon the idea of becoming a regular there. Find out if there is a mechanism that allows you to give objective feedback. Drop a quick note/comment to see if your concerns can be remedied. Yoga teachers are only humans, we have off days just like everyone else. I believe that most of us are truly doing our best to guide students in a meaningful yoga practice. I encourage you to use your yoga studio search as an opportunity to try out lots of different teachers, styles of yoga. You might find it helpful to use a journal to keep track of your experiences. This will serve you well when finally selecting a yoga studio to call home.
Best sure to grab your checklist of considerations to help you narrow down your search for yoga studio that best suit you and your yoga goals.
If you are new to yoga please see my post on the 7 tips for yoga beginners.
Plus, don’t miss out on my guide on how to start a home yoga practice. So far I’ve had nearly 500 downloads!