How to choose a Yoga Studio

So I’m back from Thailand and I’ve been in the process for the past 2 weeks to try to choose a Yoga Studio. If you remember before Christmas I have decided to take a 3-month subscription somewhere to train for the teacher training in May. Shanghai is very competitive and the yoga scene is quite big here, so lots of options and difficult to choose.

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So how do you choose a Yoga studio? What’s most important? What if you can’t have it all? Before leaving for Christmas, I was thinking of going to this Ashtanga studio. But, at the time there were 3 teachers there, now there is only one. And I’ve never taken a class there. So the risk would be to take a membership and then what if I don’t like the teacher? Besides, it’s the studio that is most far from my home. To get into a daily practice, it somehow needs to be a little bit convenient from home and work.
So my teacher who has been teaching for many years in Shanghai, recommended me two teachers she likes. I decided to take a class with both and then see.

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Y+

This is probably one of the biggest studio in Shanghai with 3 big studios. The one I went to in Xintiandi was enormous. Big spacious rooms with nice wooden floor and floor heating. The girl whom I got the contact to was very nice, the staff was so-so. The girl in the reception was a bit shy but kind and showed me around. Yoga is something quite exclusive in Shanghai so I get this feeling that it’s a “cast system”. There is a whole machinery of staff working to distribute towels, clean the mats, clean the place, just so much staff everywhere! I almost feel bad being the one paying to do yoga when they have to clean up after me. I’m more used to smaller studio settings where you do everything yourself. When I went, there were many super fit yogis there, They all looked like Chinese professional Olympic gymnasts and I realised it’s a very serious place for yoga.
The place is top notch with all new Manduka ProLite mats, nice lightning, big showers and space. It’s apparently famous to be a bit expensive but all studios have more or less the same price. I guess Yoga has started to become very popular amongst the Chinese. Now, the teacher was just excellent. He filled the whole room with his presence, was calm, yet energetic, great music. I got these real “flow feelings” in class. I felt calm, strong and just great.
Now, the class was really challenging, I felt like the worst student in the room but it was fun and I made it through. A good third of the class was upside down and I got so embarrassed when the teacher picked me to demonstrate some handstand variation. I really need to practice more handstands! I’m still in a place where I feel a bit scared and don’t have enough energy to reach momentum but eventually, it will come. Luckily, I can kick up the wall (some days) but couldn’t really bend my shoulders the way he wanted to some awkward bending pose against the wall. It felt like my elbowes were going to break on the wrong side and and that I was going to fall any second. But I held it, well the teacher had to show it once more after me but I was quite happy I was alive :). What I really liked about this practice was that I was a real beginner (compared to the level of the class). It’s actually something really nice to be a beginner in Yoga, there is so much to explore with our bodies and minds. It made me so motivated to practice more and become stronger. These days it was -9 in Shanghai so I really enjoyed the slightly heated room and heated floor, just wonderful.

Positive

  • Great teachers, at least 2 that I know
  • Many teachers
  • 3 studios in Shanghai
  • Good variety of classes, focus on hot and vinyasa
  • Ashtanga MySore classes
  • Many visiting teachers
  • Great space
  • Floor heating
  • Dim Lightning
  • Great sound
  • Big and many showers
  • Closeby cafes and eateries

Drawbacks

  • Feels a bit impersonal and more like a money running gym
  • A lot of staff who don’t feel very integrated or engaged
  • Most staff were on their mobile phones (so were the yogis), but maybe it’s because it’s China
  • Administration was a bit messy, unorganised
  • Didn’t grasp the chill-out area, I’m sure there must be one though
  • The shampoo looked fancy but was very chemical and gave me a dry scalp

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Pure Yoga

A few days later I went to Pure Yoga, another big Yoga studio in Shanghai. The girl whom I was in contact with was nice but not as friendly as at Y+. She asked so many questions and at first, I didn’t really feel welcomed. They also booked me on the wrong class and were less flexible on which trial class I could take. I really liked the studio though. More cosy, zen-like and rationally planned, dim light. It’s really a place I could just “hang out”.
The teacher was good however, I was recommended to him as an Ashtanga teacher and this was a Hatha class. Not my favourite type of yoga but I can see how he was experienced, kind and calm. No music though and the room was so packed I literally had people from both sides falling on my mat. There were around 40 students, the same amount of mats like Y+ but the room there was twice as big so somehow felt less crowded. Here they have new Manduka ProLite mats, decided to try one (I normally bring my own) but didn’t really like it. Found it hard, slippery and prefer the skinny sticky one I use. Maybe mat-talk will be a future blog post.
The changing room space was also smaller and with fewer showers, I can imagine it gets packed here in the week. What was really nice was the hangout area where I sat with a cup of herbal tea after class. The girl who showed me around was also really friendly and chatty, we stayed and talked for a long time afterwards. I do understand that these studios work like a gym membership and it’s a money making business. Nevertheless, I do think that the service is important, especially for new members.

Positive

  • Nice planned studio space in a shopping mall
  • 1  very good Ashtanga teacher, don’t know about the others
  • Network with other Pure studios in Asia
  • Variety of classes
  • Nice and friendly staff, less “mobile freaks”
  • Very clean
  • Nicer shampoo than Y+
  • Nice “Audrey Hepburn” brushing area in the changing rooms
  • Great hangout area

Drawbacks

  • Not as many hot and vinyasa classes
  • Only 1 person who is doing mostly Ashtanga
  • 1 studio
  • Smaller yoga rooms
  • Packed classes
So, after this comparison, I think I’ll go with Y+. First, the two teachers I know there are great and they seem to have a young dynamic team. I loved the space and I’d rather be the “worst” student in class than the “best” to be able to progress more. Besides, it’s close to my work and I can train in all 3 studios in Shanghai. They have a lot of guest teachers coming from abroad too. In my case, I think it’s good to try different teachers and classes and learn from them then just to stick with one. Later I can determine my own style and preferences but I think it’s good to keep open.
It’s not easy to pick a yoga studio, anywhere. My advice would be to ask for a trial class and perhaps talk to other students. Hook up with the yoga community and ask which teachers they like and why. I also think it’s a personal choice so what’s important for one is not necessarily important for someone else. If you want to have a regular daily practice I also think it’s good if it’s somehow convenient in relation to your home and work. Some days it’s hard to get to the mat so it’s important to make it as easy as possible.
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