In the past, those wanting to practice yoga had to find a guru to teach them, often uprooting their life to do so. But in modern times, particularly in North America, yoga is almost everywhere and there are a plethora of teachers, yoga styles and class format options to choose from. While having easy access to yoga is great, it can be hard for those new to yoga to navigate the options. Sometimes too many choices can leave people with more questions than answers. So what class format will work best for you? A class on video, in a studio, or a private lesson – what is the best deal? There is no easy answer. The reason there are so many options is that there are so many people with different needs, wants, lifestyles and yoga experience. So how do you choose? It comes down to comparing cost vs personal needs and wants. This article should give you a good jumping off point for navigating the options and ultimately getting the best experience for your money.
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By far the cheapest option on the list, videos offer you the chance to buy or rent once and utilize repeatedly. Sounds great, but there are some catches. For one, there is no teacher in the room with you, so if you are new to yoga, or if you are looking to improve your practice, this can be a big downside as no teacher means no feedback or tips and definitely no one on one attention. You also may end up not enjoying the video you choose due to the style of yoga, the teacher’s approach or the level being inappropriate for your needs, which adds up to it being a big waste of money. Videos also only work if you are dedicated and committed enough to carve out the time to do them. If you don’t have the discipline or the home atmosphere or space to do this, then videos won’t work for you.
The bottom line: Videos are a good, inexpensive way to practice yoga if you are familiar enough with the practice to be able to follow the sequence yourself, are aware of the teacher’s style and know you enjoy it, and are motivated enough to practice on your own. The downside is that you will receive no one on one feedback, adjustments or tips from a live teacher, and you’ll be limiting your practice to the postures/sequences on the video.
Insider tip: If you find a teacher that you like, ask them whether they offer any online video classes, either live or recorded. Many teachers use virtual studio software to enable them to reach a larger audience giving you the chance to take class with a teacher whose classes you enjoy while skipping the high cost of frequent yoga at a studio.
Online Yoga Video Databases
These offer you access to hundreds of videos and a plethora of teachers for a low monthly fee. They are a step up from buying or renting a single DVD because you aren’t stuck with one teacher and one class for all of time (or until you purchase another DVD), instead, you get unlimited access to hundreds of classes, different teachers and various styles of yoga at your fingertips whenever you are ready for yoga class (no planning your day around the yoga studio’s schedule!). An economical alternative to a gym or studio pass, just like videos, this will only work for you if you are able to make the time to practice on your own and are not looking for any of the benefits that being in class with a live teacher brings.
The bottom line: If a home practice led by videos works for you then this is the best option for your money and will offer you the chance to try out a variety of yoga options for a far lower price than going to live classes or purchasing/renting videos.
Insider tip: Combine an online yoga video database membership with periodic classes with a live instructor for the best of both worlds. Your practice can grow, but you aren’t looking at spending big bucks for a daily or even weekly practice, and the tips and insights you gain in class can be applied to your home practice to help keep you safe and keep your practice growing.
These are another economical solution, provided you already have a gym pass or plan on starting a gym regime in addition to your yoga. You get a lot more with a gym pass than you do with a yoga studio pass: access to everything the gym offers plus a plethora of different classes (not only yoga classes). Sound too good to be true? There are some trade-offs. A gym space may not be as conducive to relaxation as a space built just for yoga. The sound of weights clanking, music pumping from other rooms, a space with gym equipment cluttering up your peripheral vision etc. (though it could be argued that this is a better way to practice: if you’re practicing to learn to relax in life, isn’t it better to learn to relax with real world distractions, noise and less-than-ideal conditions instead of in an artificially stress-free environment?). Gym yoga, in the broad consensus, can be a different than studio yoga in that it may focus more on a hard workout and less on finding balance in the body and mind, and that it may not offer up the philosophical and spiritual aspects of the practice that you would likely find in a studio environment. This is great if that is what a yoga practice is for you, but if you are looking for more than a physical practice, you may want to look elsewhere (I have to note here that one of the most spiritually inspiring teachers that I know currently teaches in a gym setting and none of the above applies to her classes – there are always exceptions to the status quo).
The bottom line: Gyms can be a great way to hit up affordable classes. But some aspects of practicing there may not work for you. If you are looking for a ticket to several work-out options in addition to yoga, or are focused solely on the physical aspects of the practice, then this may be just what you’re looking for.
Insider tip: If videos won’t work for you because of lack of motivation or lack of practical home practice space, attending gym classes can be an affordable way to get to an out of the house, scheduled class.
The most expensive way to get your regular yoga practice, practicing in a studio environment has a few benefits to go with its increased cost. Most studios will be selective in hiring teachers, and will have checked their qualifications closely, a big plus to practicing in a bona fide studio versus a gym setting, where teachers may not be held to the same standards. Yoga is what a yoga studio is all about, and most studios will adhere to the ethics of yoga in their business dealings, how they treat their employees and how they interact with their community, which is an amazing environment to be in and a refreshing perspective to witness (most was not a typo there. There are absolutely studios out there that are not going to follow the yogic way, or have good ethics or be run well, be it that the mixing of business with the philosophy of yoga is not balanced by the owner, or that humans are human and have flaws, or that, for some, the trendiness of yoga is a good way to make money, and not their true passion, both teachers and students need to be cognitive of what a studio says it’s selling, and what it actually offers). In a studio setting you are also more likely to be exposed to the full spectrum of a yoga practice: asana, philosophy, meditation, spirituality.
In addition to being focused on yoga alone and the likelihood of better trained and educated teachers, a studio based practice offers the student classes in the physical presence of a live teacher, access to a number of teachers and styles of classes with one pass, and the motivation and ease that comes with signing up for and attending classes held outside the house.
The bottom line: Pricier than the other options, studio classes also offer a combination of all the benefits that the other options bring with a few extras that balance out the costs – if you can swallow the expense.
Insider tip: If practicing in studios is the best option for you then there are ways to do it for cheaper. Join a studio during a 30 day challenge when unlimited passes are usually on sale, or watch for other sales and special offers. If you live somewhere with several good studios, you can rotate buying passes from each at sale times. Many studios also offer karma options – be they classes by donation with the money going to a good cause or working in exchange for passes (this varies from cleaning duties to receptionist duties to bookkeeping). Ask at your studio to see if they offer any karma options.
These are the gold standard in lessons, but they are not your best option for a daily, weekly or even monthly practice unless you have a lot of cash on hand. The large price tag on them isn’t without benefit though, and they do have their place. A private lesson gives you a chance to have a teacher tailor a lesson to you and your needs. When you contact the teacher they will ask what you want to work on and then they will custom create a class just for you. In a private class you will not only benefit from working on specifics, with the teacher focused only on you, but you will receive valuable insight and direction that you won’t get in any of the other class options. Over a series of three private sessions, a common format for private lessons, your teacher can give you the tools to work on your specific area of need outside of your time with him or her, and leave you with a fresh perspective or a full plan for working on a specific area in your practice or your body.
The bottom line: Unless you are a celebrity (or have the income of one) you probably aren’t going to look at private lessons as a way to do yoga on a regular basis. But if you are looking to deepen your practice; to use yoga to support healing from a physical injury or an illness; to gain insight on specific asanas or other techniques; to learn yoga philosophy, meditation, or spirituality on a deeper level; or to have a custom sequence made for yourself; incorporating private sessions into your practice with a teacher that you trust and enjoy can be of great benefit.
Insider tip: You’ll get the most out of private lessons if you have a specific area, concept or problem you want to work on. If you are recovering from an injury and yoga has been suggested to you by your healthcare practitioner as a supportive measure, a private lesson is the only yoga you should be looking at – public classes or working without the direct insights and supervision of a teacher who is aware of your condition could end up doing more harm than good.
Coraley Letcher is a yoga teacher, freelance writer, and mom who lives in the gorgeous town of Fernie BC. She contributes articles and blog posts to online and print publications on a regular basis. Coraley can be found teaching throughout BC and Alberta and regularly posts her thoughts on the yoga life on her blog Coraley-ley, Yogini. Keep up with Coraley on Facebook, Twitter (@CoraleyLetcher) or Instagram (@CoraleyL)
(Coraley happens to be an in-real-life friend of mine and I am so grateful to her for writing this absolutely amazing post! – Anne)