When I first started yoga, I had little time or inclination to try to find a studio. Like many people, I started with a DVD (AM yoga by Rodney Yee – I highly recommend it for a first try). After a while of doing one DVD and then gradually adding a few more, I found yogatoday.com online. At that time, yogatoday was offering a 1 hour free streaming class every day – what a deal! I still didn’t look into studio classes, even after a yoga studio opened up a mile from my house (Yogawood in Collingswood, NJ). In fact, it wasn’t until this past May, after several years of practicing yoga at home, that I finally took my first “real” class. The reasons why I hesitated to get into public yoga classes are many, and some of them remain reasons why I still do the majority of my practice at home, using yogatoday or just going with my own flow. In this post, I consider some of the benefits and costs associated with home and public classes and talk about the process of selecting a yoga locale.
Location – This may seem pretty obvious, and I guess it is, but location is a big deal when it comes to choosing at home or studio yoga. At home classes can be done where you are, whether that is at your own house, in a hotel, at a friend’s house, at the office, or even on the beach. This is important when there are other demands on you that require you to be in a particular locale. When I first began practicing, I had smallish children and a puppy. Going away from the house for a couple of hours to a class was hard to even imagine. Walking into the TV room and getting on the floor was an easier step. And, because practice at home is so close, it can more easily be sandwiched between other activities, which can be invaluable for the busy individual. The location downside of home practice (and correspondent benefit of a studio) is that studios are a dedicated locale. The space has been designed for yoga, so the floor choice, the open space, even the paint colors have been selected with yoga in mind. At a studio, the likelihood that you will find tree pose disrupted by a Lego in the arch of your foot, or realize during Downward Facing Dog that there is actually a dog under you, are pretty slim.
Time – Even the best and biggest yoga studio is going to have a limited amount of times available for classes, and those times may or may not meet your needs. If you work from 8-5, a 7:30-9:30 pm class may be too late in the day, but a 9:30 am class would be during working hours. Because most studios offer a variety of yoga types, it is possible that even the classes that fit your schedule may not be the type or level of yoga that you need. At home, you can do yoga whenever it fits into your day (for me it is often when the family is eating dinner, because they are generally quiet and out of my way then), and you can even squeeze in a few short sessions if a long block of time is too difficult to locate. On the other hand, having a scheduled time for yoga at the studio forces you to clear out that portion of your day and makes it less likely that something else will creep in and take over. There have been plenty of days when I planned to do yoga at home, but someone needed me for XYZ and before I knew it the day was over and I had never fit that hour of yoga into my life.
Cost – For some, cost is not a factor, while for others it is a big factor. A yoga DVD is relatively inexpensive, and there are free videos online as well (yogatoday no longer has a new stream every day, but there is always a free class available), or you can grab a DVD at the library and learn the routine. This makes the cost of getting started at home very low. A mat is a good idea, but a quick trip to Target will get you a mat for not much over $10, and that is all you need to get started. Taking studio classes can be more cost prohibitive. Every studio has a different pricing scale, with some charging by class and others by month. But, with some careful shopping, you will find that there are deals to be had even for studio classes (buying classes in bulk may decrease the cost, or sessions that are lighter in attendance may have a lower fee). Some studios offer discounted rates for students or seniors, and some will allow you to volunteer some time to the studio in exchange for classes. While money is a factor, there are ways to get some studio classes even on a limited budget.
Feedback – My TV and computer never ever talk back to me. I like that. When I’m in the sunroom doing yoga to a streaming video, my Warrior II is the best Warrior II EVER! I don’t have to worry that anyone else is critiquing my form or thinking that I should really stand with my toes together or that my knees should be off the floor in Upward Facing Dog. I just do the yoga and whatever I do is fine enough. But… I also can’t get any feedback on the problems or challenges that I’m having at home. In studio instruction offers the opportunity for a yoga expert to provide tips on poses and breathing. Before studio classes, I was convinced that I would never get into a tripod or a headstand. But, with just a little bit of advice from a great instructor, I’m now doing both and loving them. It’s worth noting, however, that a studio class does not typically involve a large amount of individualized correction. In a 1.5 hour session, with 15-20 students, an instructor has little time to engage in one-on-one instruction or adjustment with each student.
Privacy – I have to tell you that I don’t really like having people watch me do yoga. There is nothing about being in Downward Facing Dog or Plow Pose that feels to me like it should be a spectator sport. And, I like to do yoga in the least amount of clothing feasible (even in my house, naked yoga isn’t going to happen, but a tank top and shorts might). For a public class, the shorts have to be long enough (pants for me), and the t-shirt or tank has to have enough coverage to avoid any uncomfortable gaps/slips or protrusions in a cold breeze. Now, truly, in a yoga class people should be paying attention to themselves and their own poses and not to the person next to them. But, I know that I notice and/or watch the people around me sometimes, so I guess I would be shocked if others don’t. Now that I’m a little more comfortable with yoga, it’s not as big of a problem, but early in my practice history, the added angst of having someone watch me, on top of the difficulty of the poses, would have been enough to prevent me from practicing at all.
Individuality – In any yoga class, whether a home class or a studio class, you will generally find the instructor offering some options to more closely tailor the practice to your own needs and abilities. I don’t recall a studio or home class yet where the instructor (on video or in person) didn’t note that Child’s Pose is always available if you need to rest. However, I have also noticed that in a class setting, most people will try to tough out whatever the most difficult version of the pose given might be. I definitely have held my breath trying to force my way into a pose during a studio class, and from the gasps of those around me, I don’t think I’m alone. I also very rarely see anyone in the studio classes go into Child’s Pose, whether it is available or not. At home, I am more likely to adjust the practice to what I need and am able to do at that time, or to take a Downward Facing Dog instead of going through one more flow if I’m out of breath. I can also add on the poses that I want to do which aren’t in the routine, or skip the video and cobble together my own practice of my favorite poses or my most challenging poses or some combination thereof. On the other hand, good studio instructors will make adjustments to the practice based on particular health or other needs that you might have, will suggest variations to you, and will encourage anyone they see getting overwhelmed to take a more restful pose for a moment. So, while studio classes are less individualized, part of that depends on the student’s willingness to listen to his/her own body.
“Equipment” – Doing yoga takes very little in the way of equipment. However, studios have some cool stuff! At a studio, you will generally find mats available for your use. You will also probably find blocks, blankets, straps, bolsters, and even eye pillows. There may even be advanced props like a headstand support. None of this is utterly necessary. I’ve done yoga for several years without a bolster, blanket, or eye pillow, and I had never seen a headstand support until I saw one at the studio. But, they are kind of cool! Having these items available to try out at the studio also gives you a trial run before purchasing them for your own home use.
Support – My family puts up with my yoga. In fact, my spouse recently purchased me a kickass mat. And, when I am particularly stoked about something I accomplished, “OMG, I did a headstand!,” they will listen and smile and nod, but I’m pretty sure they really are not all that interested. A studio class provides the opportunity for support from a group of other student yogis, as well as an instructor. When I’m working my way into a pose that looks pretty easy, but that I’m finding sort of hard (like Crescent Lunge), it is truly helpful to hear the instructor say, “Don’t be fooled, this is a hard pose.” Yay! This is a hard pose! It’s not me; it’s the pose! And, before and after class discussions about poses, mats, and clothing are also helpful. When I first started with studio classes, I didn’t really speak to anyone but the instructor, but over time, I’ve engaged in a little more conversation, and gotten some good tips from other students. I’ve always had trouble with Bow Pose (it hurts my ribs and hip bones like hell), and I mentioned it to another student who made a couple of suggestions. While I still don’t love Bow Pose and would probably not ever choose to do it if left alone, I can get through a couple of them now without agony. So, that’s a win.
Focus – I live with 7 other people, 2 cats, 2 dogs, and 2 lizards. With the exception of the lizards, they have all bothered me at one time or another during a yoga practice. One cat likes to chew my mat (and also peed on my yoga bag). One of the dogs wants to lay on the mat, and no matter how many times I throw my legs over her, she will not budge until she is ready. The other dog doesn’t sit on the mat, but she’ll come into the room, get on the couch, bark at the mail carrier, jump off the couch, run in front of me, and leave. Even if I can get them all to leave me alone during a practice, I can still hear people squabbling in the room next to the one I’m in, smell something buring on the stove, hear the strains of anarcho-punk, etc. It’s not the best environment for focus and it makes it difficult to get my attention onto the mat. On the other hand, there are days when the time of the studio class is just not a good focus time for me. 7:30 at night is not a good hour. I’m tired and anxious. I’m worried about what happened that day and planning the next day. And, of course, yoga studios aren’t on deserted islands either (generally). The studio I go to is next door to the fire station. This makes for some very interesting classes. There are also some in-class issues that can distract the focus, like the student yogi who feels that sex-sounds are perfectly appropriate to yoga class (you know what I mean). So, focus can be a challenge at home or in the studio, but I find it generally easier for me to focus when I’m not in my house (around my loving family).
For all of these reasons, I find that… both studio and at home classes are best for me. Some days, a studio class is the way to go. And I like to get a couple in each week because I know that I will push myself further and try to get into the fullest articulation of the pose. Some days, practice at home with a tape or a streaming video or a book is just the ticket for me. The key seems to be knowing which is the best choice for any given day.
And with all of that said, I think I’ll go do some yoga!