Yoga vs. Gym (Find What’s Best for You)

Find out what's best for you by exploring the similarities and differences between yoga vs. gym, examining its pros and cons, and choosing your best option.

A woman doing yoga and preparing to do Side Plank Pose at an indoor gym with free weights and other exercise equipment around her.

Yoga and gym are often talked about as if they are opposites of one another. For some people, the gym ticks all the boxes. Others argue that yoga is superior. 

I have had plenty of gym memberships and attended hundreds of yoga classes. As a certified yoga teacher, I taught at studios, community halls, gyms, and corporate spaces. I have had an opportunity to notice how much gyms and yoga spaces have in common while noticing the fundamental differences. 

The question is, how do you decide what’s best for you? And do you have to choose at all?

Yoga vs Gym (Major Differences)

Purpose

A smiling woman in casual clothes, meditating in the woods in Lotus position.

Let’s face it, most people go to the gym to get fit. Some want to lose weight or build muscle to change their appearance. Others are looking for an improvement in speed, strength, or endurance. In both cases, the goal is to train the body.

Although most types of yoga have a physical component, the purpose of the movement is different. In yoga, the postures are designed to prepare the body for meditation. We learn to hone our awareness, control our breath, and find stillness in body and mind. 

As you advance within your practice, the ultimate goal is to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

Audience

A muscular guy focusing on his heavy weightlifting inside the gym with various equipment surrounding him.

Due to the way they are marketed, gyms and yoga studios have a certain demographic. Gyms are often very male-dominated spaces, while yoga classes tend to have a larger proportion of women present. That being said, women shouldn’t avoid gyms, and men can certainly benefit from yoga

Atmosphere

A Buddha with string lights and two lit candles for creating a meditative atmosphere.

You can manipulate sound, lighting, and other aspects of your environment in order to get people into the appropriate mindset. For example, the atmosphere in the gym strives to be energetic and motivational. Most gyms play upbeat music to encourage patrons to move. The lights are bright, and people often exercise with their friends. 

In contrast, yoga classes usually happen in quiet, dimly lit rooms. There may be incense, essential oils, or scented candles. You want as little distraction as possible, so talking among the students is usually discouraged.

Nutrition

A long-haired woman wearing an exercise top and leggings while preparing herself a protein shake in the kitchen.

Practicing yoga and working out in the gym can be done without altering your dietary habits. However, nutrition is often a part of the conversation. 

In the gym, changes in one’s diet are usually made with performance and appearance in mind. When you work out regularly, you benefit from whole foods that provide your body with energy in a sustainable way. If you exercise to lose weight, you may choose to eliminate certain foods from your diet. 

If you are trying to gain muscle, you may add additional sources of protein (e.g., protein bars or shakes).

In yoga, nutrition is never brought up in a way that’s relevant to your skill or appearance. However, in order to benefit our minds, we need to nurture our bodies. As a yogi, you are likely to seek out locally sourced, organic ingredients. 

In addition, many yogis opt for a vegan or vegetarian diet to honor ahimsa (non-violence), one of the underlying principles of yoga.

Similarities

For all their differences, gym workouts and yoga classes have a lot in common. Both disciplines are a great form of exercise. As well as improving your physical health, practicing yoga and working out at the gym can boost your mental performance. 

Cardio

A close-up of a smart watch showing the heart rate, along with the time and other stats on display against a dark background.

One of the benefits of exercising at the gym is the improvement of cardiovascular health. The movement causes our heartbeat to rise, which is basically like a workout for your heart and your blood vessels. 

Practicing yoga has also been linked to better cardiovascular health. Certain types of yoga, such as Vinyasa, Ashtanga, or Power Yoga, really get the blood flowing. Over time, your cardiovascular system is conditioned to withstand workouts of higher intensity.

Strength

A woman demonstrating her strength while holding a plank position during her yoga routine outdoors.

One of the reasons people get a gym membership is to get stronger. At the gym, you normally achieve this with weights, resistance machines, and bodyweight exercises. 

Did you know that you can build muscle strength during yoga, too? There is a common misconception that yoga is just a series of stretches. In reality, holding elaborate poses can be very challenging. 

Practicing regularly is guaranteed to strengthen your legs, back, core, and upper body. 

Adjustability

A woman doing her upper body workout at the gym using adjusted weights on an exercise machine.

Your activities at the gym or during a yoga class can be adapted to your current fitness levels. You can adjust the duration, intensity, and frequency of your workouts. At the gym, you can start with the lighter weights or even no weights at all! 

In yoga, you can adjust specific poses. Additionally, you can use props such as blocks, blankets, or belts. As you progress, you can make your sessions more challenging.

Endorphins

A woman with her rolled up yoga mat on her shoulder and the other hand holding a water bottle, feeling relaxed and happy after a yoga workout.

When you exercise, the body releases chemicals called endorphins. An increase in endorphins boosts your mood, which is why we always feel more positive after a workout. They also have a positive effect on our self-esteem. 

Whether you like walking, running, swimming, dancing, playing team sports, lifting weights, or doing yoga, movement keeps you happy. 

Commitment

Both yoga and gym require ongoing commitment and self-discipline. To see any results, yoga and gym should be incorporated into your weekly routine. No excuses! 

Pros of Yoga

A group of people simultaneously doing a sitting yoga pose during class, finding balance between mind and body.

Body and Mind

The benefits of yoga go beyond appearance or physical performance. It’s true that practicing yoga benefits your physical health, but it also has a positive effect on your mind. In yoga, we explore the connection between our body and mind. That connection allows us to find peace and harmony. 

Inclusivity

As an activity that features movement, yoga is very inclusive. Regardless of your age, size, gender, or experience, you are welcome. Many yoga poses can be adjusted to accommodate a less experienced practitioner. 

You can also support yourself with props such as blocks, blankets, or straps. There are yoga classes specifically adapted for people with limited mobility, whether it’s due to age, injury, or disability. You can also attend prenatal yoga classes if you are pregnant. 

Little to No Equipment Required

To start practicing yoga, all you need is a bit of space and a yoga mat. In fact, if you are not in a position to buy a yoga mat, you can practice on a non-slip towel or a Mexican blanket. Although props can be very helpful, they are entirely optional. 

Community

Practicing with other people creates a sense of community. When you attend yoga classes, you build connections with the teacher, fellow students, and even with yourself. Finding the right yoga class can feel like you have finally found your home. 

Beyond the Mat

Yoga teaches us to be mindful, considerate, patient, and kind. The things we learn and achieve in class extend beyond the yoga mat. The practice is ongoing, and it improves every aspect of our lives.

Pros of Gym

Dumbbells of various weights arranged in a gym, with a woman lifting weights and working out in the far back.

Efficient Weight Loss

Gym workouts are generally more suitable for weight loss. Whether you are lifting weights, using machines, or performing body-weight exercises, you stand to lose weight quicker and more efficiently than if you do yoga.

Flexible Schedule

If you want to attend yoga classes, you have to plan your schedule around class times. The gym gives you more flexibility, allowing you to exercise on your own time. You can also vary the duration of your gym sessions depending on your availability. 

Independence

When you attend a yoga class, you are rarely left to your own devices. At the gym, you can design your workout to work on your goals. You can target a particular body part, focus on a specific activity, and take as many breaks as you need. 

How to Choose What’s Best for You

A near-empty jar on its side with coins spilled out and scattered all over the surface.

Expense

Unfortunately, our choices are often bound to our financial situation. When choosing between yoga classes and a gym membership, you have to consider all the expenses. 

In my experience, gyms tend to be cheaper than yoga studios. Gyms are often a part of a franchise, which allows them to keep the prices low. Most yoga studios I know are small, independent businesses. 

In order to provide good service, yoga studios need to charge more

As well as budgeting for the membership prices, you need to consider the costs of commuting, equipment, and clothing. 

If you are on a tight budget, don’t give up! Some places offer student discounts, military discounts, or concessions at off-peak times. 

Location

Hands holding a city map with thumbs pressed around the folded edges.

Choosing between yoga classes and the gym can largely depend on your location. If you live in a big city full of yoga studios and exercise gyms, you have options. However, if the nearest yoga studio is an hour away, but there is a gym around the corner from your house, you’re likely to pick the latter for convenience. 

Before you decide, do some research. As well as exploring the area near your home, see if there are any gyms or yoga venues near your workplace. Some gyms even offer yoga classes as part of their membership. That’s a great option for people who love both! 

Functional vs. Visual

A woman in Lotus position on a rocky cliff with her arms outstretched, facing toward the sea at sunset.

Think about what your goals are. What are you trying to achieve? Are you looking to get fitter, stronger, faster? Do you want to look a certain way? Are you looking for a way to wind down after a long day? Are you looking for a community of like-minded people? 

If your goals center around physical appearance, gyms are better suited to give you what you want. If you are trying to grow as a person, yoga is more fitting for that. If you want to move in a functional way that extends beyond mindless repetition, you would benefit from a thoughtful combination of yoga classes and gym sessions.

The best choice you can make for yourself is to move. How you do it is up to you!

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