It’s so hard to start something new. It’s also hard to re-start something, especially in a new place.
If you are wanting to start yoga and are trying to decide how to find the right studio for you, this is for you. If you have relocated to a new place and haven’t yet found a new “home,” this is also for you. These are my suggestions; I hope they are helpful. Everyone should have a safe and sacred place to practice.
1. Get a mat.
Yes, most studios have mats that you can borrow or rent for a small fee, but I think you will feel more relaxed and at home if you have your own mat. (Plus, you can avoid wondering during the entire practice who used that mat prior and whether or not they cleaned it after class.)
Bringing your own mat eliminates something to worry about. What if they don’t have any mats or don’t have any left. How much more will it be to rent a mat, and how expensive will that make this class? What if they are all really thin mats? What if they are all really thick mats that slide when I use it, but I’m stuck with it anyway? How do I ask about mat rental? Do I ask if it is free or if I have to pay? You get the idea.
It also makes everything else consistent. You wouldn’t, for example, want to pick a studio as your home studio simply because of the mats they have to use. You can get a mat. You will use the same mat at each studio, so you can compare the studios more equally. Plus, you will at least become more and more comfortable with your mat even as you move from studio to studio looking for a place to land. There’s something comforting about that.
Need a recommendation? I always steer people to the middle of the road – not the cheapest mat you can find at Walmart, but maybe also not a Manduka mat to start out. The Gaiam mats are a nice, fairly durable and inexpensive mat that seem to be universally enjoyed. If you begin practicing more than once or twice a week you may want to upgrade, but until then this type of mat will get you started and be a comfortable mat. If you are wanting to upgrade your mat, Jade mats and Manduka mats are my favorite.
2. Don’t wait. Practice now, at home.
It becomes easier to walk into a studio if you feel like you have a practice of some sort. It can be intimidating to have your first yoga class in a group class at a studio. Some people can do that, but I couldn’t and didn’t. I was too nervous and insecure about my own abilities and felt like I didn’t know the names of poses, etc.
YouTube to the rescue. There are a million and one (if not more) yoga videos on YouTube. Try several. See if there is a teacher you like or a style. Try all sorts of videos. This will help you not only to feel more comfortable with your own practice before walking into a studio, but it will also give you a stronger sense of what type of classes you might enjoy most. (Feel free to search for my videos as I am also part of the millions of yoga videos — Yoga with TG.)
It also gives you time to break in that new mat!
3. Ask around
With social media this is easier than ever. You can ask for recommendations and see what studios people recommend. Depending on the type of friend someone is you might be able to get even more info about a studio’s atmosphere or what classes are best or recommended, etc.
This is a good starting point for your research. Take the list given to you by your friends, and maybe make note of how many times a studio was recommended. If 50 people recommend the same studio, that might be a good sign that it is a place to try and to try first. BUT don’t sign up for a membership just based on the fact that a lot of your friends like the place; you need to make sure it works for and fits you.
It’s also a good idea to follow the social media pages of the studios recommended to you so that you catch deals or special workshops or free community classes they might offer that you might want to try. Even after you find a “home studio,” you might still want to try a special class or workshop offered by another studio. For example, sometimes a studio will offer a special session of outdoor yoga during the summer at a park. Feel free to follow all the studios in your area.
Taking the list of recommendations, begin looking at each studio’s (or each yogi’s) websites and/or social media pages. See what they say about themselves, how they describe themselves, where they are in comparison to you (just around the block or 30-minutes away), what type of environment they use (heated studios, etc), what their schedule looks like.
This is an important step to maybe prioritize the order you might try studios with the hope of finding your studio sooner rather than later. How you prioritize your list will depend on what is most important to you. A few things come to mind that might impact your decision:
3. Types of classes/studio environment
Location is important because if it is a difficult or long trek to get to the studio from your home or from your work, it becomes less likely you will actually go.
Schedule is similarly important because a studio with 10 classes that fit in your schedule each week is maybe better than a studio with only one. If you can’t make it that week you are out of luck. Of course, if you do find that one instructor you love and that perfect class that makes you feel all the yoga feels, then that is an exception. 🙂
Types of classes and the studio environment are important for the same reason — meeting whatever needs you have. If you enjoy hot yoga, a heated studio space is probably want you are wanting. (If you like heated classes or are going to try them for the first time, you might also want to grab a new yoga towel along with a mat before trying different places.) If you are like me and prefer non-heated classes, then a studio with only hot yoga classes might not be the right fit. If a studio emphasizes intermediate classes and you are a beginner, or emphasizes beginner classes and you are intermediate, then those factors might impact your decision as well.
The more you can determine before you arrive, the better.
5. Find the deals.
Once you have a list of studios you are interested in trying, look for introductory deals. Many studios will offer at least the first studio class for free or give you an introductory week or month for a discounted price. Take advantage of these and use them to their full potential. If a studio has a discounted week or month, really look at their schedule and try as many classes as you can. Even if it’s a class that you don’t “think” you will like, if it’s free or part of the deal, go for it. You might be surprised. You might find an instructor you love or a style you hadn’t tried but that really speaks to you, etc. Maximize the introductory offers.
When your introductory offer ends, don’t feel obligated to stay. If it wasn’t the right match, so be it. You didn’t take advantage of them; you gave them a fair shot. You are looking for your home studio. They are looking for their tribe. It’s ok if it doesn’t work out. However, if you are sure that this is the place you want to keep coming back to, then go for it!
6. Talk to people before and/or after class.
It is tempting to sneak in to a yoga class, set up shop in the back, and sneak out immediately after class. However, use time before or after class to strike up a conversation with others in the class. Let them know you are trying to see if this is a good studio. Odds are that they will give you more information about what class you might want to try or a way to get the most out of your membership, etc. Other clients are also great resources for describing classes that you might not recognize in ways that are more helpful than a generic class description on a website.
If you have certain goals or limitations that impact your practice, talk to the instructor before class if at possible. Introduce yourself. Let them know so that they can do their best to serve you well in the class with additional cues or props or adjustments, etc.
If you are shy, I will give you a pass on the first class. Sneak in and sneak out. BUT if you think this might be the studio and especially if this might be the class you enjoy, allow yourself to fully become part of the community. If it helps, bring a friend with you to a second class to see what they think or to at least allow yourself to relax a bit.
7. Try more than one class OR different instructors and classes at the studio
Before you commit to liking or disliking a studio, I recommend that you take more than just one class. Take that class again. Try a different class. Try a different instructor. Before you sign up for a membership that might tie you down for a year, you want to make sure you like more than just one instructor or one class. If that instructor leaves, or that class gets canceled or rescheduled to a time inconvenient for you, you don’t want to feel like you have wasted your money. Make sure you like the studio space itself, the facility, the vibe, etc. Ideally there will be several classes you enjoy and that fit into your schedule.
If there is just one class and one instructor you are really like, then see if it might be just as economical to pay by the class or to get a punch card, etc. You don’t want to pay a monthly rate for unlimited yoga that is double what it would cost to just use a punch each time you came to the class you enjoyed.
8. Make your yoga yours.
Connected to the previous idea, don’t feel like you have to decide and commit 100% to a specific studio if you don’t want to do that. Depending on your location, you might find a couple of instructors or a couple of classes at different studios that you like. Maybe one studio has a class on Monday evenings that works for you, and another studio close to work has a Friday lunch hour class you love. Then, maybe you pay per class at each studio and forego joining either one.
For some, committing to a specific studio is what they want, a “home” to land. They space is important to them. For others, convenience and instructor are more important. It’s really up to you. Use this time trying out studios and classes and instructors as a way to really determine what is most important to you and your practice. Honor your practice.
9. Keep going.
Once you find a class or instructor or studio that is a good match, keep going. Schedule it in your calendar, and make it a priority. Have mat; will yoga!