I took my first yoga class when I was a teenager. I found it boring, pretentious, obnoxious. So I gave up. Ever since I stopped taking dance classes at the age of 18 I’ve struggled to get into a steady fitness routine. I like working out, I like sweating, I like stretching and I like hurting the next day. But even with a healthy love for endorphins I couldn’t get out of the house and into the gym. I’ve dabbled in yoga and other fitness ventures over the years but have never established a solid routine.
It took several years but I think I’ve finally found my answer. A good yoga studio. Here’s a list of criteria for you to look for when trying to find a yoga sanctuary for yourself.
1. An encouraging and inclusive environment: A supportive, engaging, education and development focused studio is a great place to go for anyone who wants to get serious about yoga. And, for beginners just wanting to check out a class, an education-focused yoga studio should make you feel welcome and comfortable. Go with your gut, if you don’t like the attitude of the people at a studio you try, don’t waste your money or time there. Many snobby yoga places have certainly lost my business. Also, many people avoid going to yoga or any fitness classes because they are justifiably worried about being body-shamed either directly or indirectly. If a yoga studio or teacher makes you feel uncomfortable don’t be afraid to speak up at the end of class or send a note to the studio management. A studio that makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t deserve your patronage, you are the customer, try somewhere else.
2. A variety of classes: Don’t get me wrong, I love hot yoga, but I also like variety in my practice. That’s why I like to attend studios that offer many different classes so that I can challenge my mind and body and push myself to be the best yogi that I can be. There are studios all over Toronto that are focused only on the ever-more-popular hot Bikram yoga. While hot yoga is wonderful, don’t paint yourself into a corner by telling yourself that you’re going to try hot yoga. Hot yoga is intense and can be intimidating and not-hot yoga can have just as many benefits.
3. Location: Face it, if your studio isn’t close to home or work, you just won’t go. Period.
4. Cleanliness: I’ve been unimpressed and discouraged by the hygiene levels of certain studios. I didn’t know it at the time, but it may have been what prevented me from really getting into my practice and establishing a solid routine. Don’t be afraid to ask for a tour of a potential studio that you may be courting. Ask them about their hygiene practices, what cleaning products they use and how often. Hygiene is extremely important in an environment in which everyone is walking around barefoot and in such close quarters.
5. Sizable Studios: Regardless of the size of the reception, lounge and changing areas, the actual rooms in which you practice simply must have enough space. I’ve been to a few studios that try to cram fifteen-or-so people into a tiny room and it makes for a difficult class. Stretching your leg all the way to the side is not easy if you’re worried about kicking your neighbour in the head, and shavasana is just not relaxing if you have to curl your toes away from the person beside you. Get a tour before your first class and make sure that you ask what the maximum number of participants are so that you’re not hit with a surprise foot-in-the-face on your first day.
If you’re still reading this, you’ve probably been considering starting yoga. I earnestly encourage you to try it out. Don’t let poorly managed studios discourage you. Yoga gets more popular by the minute and there are studios popping up all over the place. If you need a suggestion for a studio in the city of Toronto let me know and I’ll help you find one. Every studio has some sort of introductory deal so you’ve got nothing to lose. Remember that a bad experience at a yoga studio doesn’t have to dictate your future relationship with your practice. Give it time. The right studio for you is out there.
P.S. I recognize that I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who lives in a major city. If you’re in a smaller community it may be tricker to shop around. However, keep an eye on your local media outlets about new studio openings that you might be able to check out.