I’m still pretty new to yoga, having been serious about my practice for just about five years now. So, I look for opportunities to take classes at different yoga studios. In this way I expand my own understanding of the asanas, or poses, of yoga and the spirituality and philosophy that supports my practice. In the last several months I’ve visited four different studios, three in Wisconsin and one here in Illinois.
What I’ve taken note of, aside from the teachings of the classes, and the ways of the teachers, is the design of the studios. Imagine that! The design characteristics of each of these studios are similar, and with good reason. Now, really, yoga can be performed anywhere there’s a little room to stretch out, which means there’s really no excuse for not practicing at home or on the road. Outdoors is especially wonderful and allows for a natural transition to spiritual presence. There are even events organized around taking yoga literally to the street.
But when I choose to attend a session at a yoga studio, I do expect certain things – a quiet space with a moderate temperature (with the exception of Bikram yoga which wants a very warm room) – a room with few distractions, save for perhaps something lovely on which to focus when chanting or meditating, lighting that’s neither garish nor too dim. Room to move, yet intimate.
Last Saturday, at BlissFlowYoga on University Avenue in Madison WI, I attended a class on hip opening entitled “Lotus Blossoming”. The studio’s been open just a little more than a month and it’s quite lovely. Though located on a very busy, noisy street, you’d never know it once inside. The main entrance at the rear of the building and down some stairs is unassuming, yet inside it feels inviting and comfortable – warm lighting, subtle wall colorings, a comfy banquette to rest a moment to fill out a form or sip a cup of tea, a window that borrows light from the studio space In the hallway leading to the studio space are three (three!!) changing rooms – ever so handy for those of us who travel to the studio, whether after a long day at work or a long trek from another state – a restroom, and a storage closet.
The studio itself is expansive – there were easily 30 students at the workshop and still it felt open and comfortable. The colors on the walls were muted, the lighting low level with fixtures located so as not to blind students when moving into poses. The floor was a lovely, warm, wood-look laminate which provides just a little cushioning beneath our mats. At the far end of the room was a wall of windows that looked out on bustling University Avenue – a bit difficult for students to see clearly when the teacher stood before the windows, but with its northern orientation, the bright, natural light poured in. In the middle of one long wall stood a carpeted, rectangular “stage” maybe 1-1/2 feet tall, several feet deep, perhaps 10’ long (I’m totally guessing!) upon which the teacher was clearly visible to all students as she demonstrated poses. Excellent idea.
The Mound St. Yoga Studio, located in a classic Madison neighborhood in an old storefront building offers a similar setting, with warm maple flooring and white walls, though the light coming from its large south-facing storefront windows can be blinding and too warm. Add to that the distraction of noisy college students ambling past on their way to UW’s Camp Randall Stadium, ogling students within and making random comments easily heard, well, let’s just say it’s not ideal. It is, however, good practice for finding quiet peace within regardless of what’s happening without.
Last spring I took a hot yoga class in Appleton WI at Trillium Yoga. Again, a lovely hardwood floor, but this one had one mirrored wall – disconcerting to some of us as we catch glimpses of ourselves moving into a difficult pose! And just a couple of weeks ago I attended an Ashtanga Yoga class at YogaTrek in Oak Park, IL. There’s something wonderful about old storefront buildings like this one, situated in the arts district of beautiful Oak Park. A smaller space, with exposed brick walls, wood floors, with low lighting augmented by soft morning light streaming in from the eastern storefront windows.
My favorite of course, the studio where I teach, tucked away in the “hay mow” of a small old barn turned studio/spa, is quiet, warmly carpeted, with daylight dancing lightly in from both east and west windows. It is small and intimate and particularly wonderful for candlelight yoga on New Year’s Eve, a time of reflection and release.
If I were designing a new space I would draw elements from each of these to create what for me would be the ideal – beautiful, quiet, comfortable – evoking peace and encouraging pranayama. Design considerations for studios that nurture and comfort while providing an atmosphere for learning and movement would have:
- Open space, unencumbered by walls, ceilings or storage
- Lighting that is soft yet bright enough to see clearly - dimmable for Savasana
- Abundant natural light
- Moderate temperature - neither too cool nor too warm. In Oak Park, the instructor turned the heat up prior to our arrival, turned it off while we practiced, and turned it on again during Savasana. I'm probably the only one who noticed that, but it made a huge difference in our comfort level.
- Muted colors - no distractions, no hype, minimal decor
- Ample storage for mats, blankets and other props
- "Working" parts separate - reception, restrooms, changing rooms, storage
- Soundproofing if shared space with other noisier activities
- Sound system integrated into the room - I'm a big fan of music during yoga, not everyone is, but if it's used it's ideal to have consistent operations and volume so as not to be disturbed during the practice by music cutting out, or changing volume.