How to Ensure You Offer Safe Yoga at Your Health Club


Yoga is more popular than ever because it provides a total body workout that enhances strength, cardiovascular condition, balance and flexibility. It also enhances one’s body awareness, increases physical control and facilitates body mastery. Because it involves a highly comprehensive and integrated approach, yoga produces a longer, leaner and more graceful physique. Yoga also helps reduce stress, tension and fatigue through its mindfulness, often fluid movement and deep breathing focus. If yoga instructors are not attuned to the unique needs of the fitness club environment and members, injuries can occur. Traditional yoga does not really exist in most places in the United States, but certain fitness styles of yoga are appropriate for fitness clubs if done properly.

First, you and your instructors must understand that fitness yoga differs from traditional yoga in that the postures in fitness yoga link in a fluid heat-building way. Transitions are smooth, from pose to pose with a full-body workout focus. Breath is linked with movement, heating the body naturally and organically. Warm-ups are crucial as group exercise rooms are often cold. Fitness yoga incorporates fitness moves such as sit-ups and push-ups. Modifications and levels are offered to suit the needs of students at different levels in the room. Instructors encourage students to take breaks and rest as necessary. They encourage them to let go of expectations, judgment and competition, and they tell them not to push past their limits. Instructors never make aggressive physical adjustments to their students.

Group fitness instructors can incorporate yoga postures into their existing non-yoga classes whether they are step, kickboxing or aerobics. By doing so, members have an opportunity to get comfortable with a few basic postures. Of course, a warm–up period is crucial because you do not want participants to get into complex yoga postures before their bodies are warm and ready to be there.

Most instructors teaching in fitness facilities do not have the luxury of independent lighting and heating controls. But if at all possible, they should dim the lights, turn off the air conditioning and choose music for active yoga. Each class should begin with at least 5 minutes of deep breathing. This helps to clear the mind and prepare the body. The breath is the single most important part of yoga. By breathing in and out of the nose, participants keep the heat in the body and focus the mind. Deep rhythmic breathing is the solid foundation upon which yoga is built. Recovery is an important part of yoga. Instructors should ensure they leave at least 5 minutes at the end of class for rest to rejuvenate, restore and revive the body.

Before hiring a teacher dedicated solely to yoga, you should ask your candidates these questions:

Are you aware of the AFAA and ACE Safety Guidelines of Contraindications? Are you aware of how these relate to yoga? Have you been through a formal yoga teacher training? Are you comfortable doing the postures? Are you comfortable teaching the postures? Do you have a regular yoga practice?

During the interviews and auditions, you should watch for certain things, such as a guru mentality, which generally is not welcome in a fitness club. Look for an instructor who is first a fitness instructor. It is a lot easier to train a fitness instructor in yoga than it is to train a traditional yoga instructor in fitness.


Beth Shaw is founder and president of YogaFit Training Systems Worldwide Inc., a yoga fitness education school that has trained more than 200,000 instructors worldwide. Shaw has been featured on “Oprah” and CNN and in USA Today, The Washington Post, Time and Entrepreneur. Her book, “YogaFit”, is among Human Kinetics’ best-selling titles, and her latest book, “Lessons from the Mat”, will be released in fall 2012. YogaFit offers four levels of teacher training as well as many specialty programs, such as pre-natal, seniors and children. YogaFit has a complete line of educational videos for teachers, clubs and students.

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