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Bikram vs CorePower vs YogaWorks, an Expert Comparison

** Editor's Note: This post was originally published in 2005. However, given the explosive growth by CorePower, recent outside investments in both CorePower and YogaWorks, we thought it prudent to update the article to reflect these and other changes. 

"Corporate Yoga" (defined by us as those yoga businesses with multiple locations in various cities) gets a lot of flack from so-called purists.  For example, people complain that yoga should not be copyrighted a la Bikram Choudhury, that CorePower is too "western" in its approach; and that YogaWorks varies too much from studio to studio-- not corporate enough?

Dig deeper.  These three "brands" are successful because they offer a great yoga experience to their students. Our experts have compared Bikram Yoga to CorePower Yoga to YogaWorks to help you better understand the potential benefits and qualities of each.  We will comment on 1. Number of Locations 2. Vibe Inside the Studio and 3. The Yoga Practice.

The ExpertsErin Kaese is managing editor of Athletic-Minded Traveler and has been practicing Bikram Yoga since 2002 and CorePower since 2010.  Becka Christian is a former Athletic-Minded Traveler Yoga Editor who completed YogaWorks 6 month teacher training program.  She is a regular practitioner of all three disciplines.  Kai Trinh, is a director of Power Yoga Teacher Training at CorePower Yoga and completed the YogaWorks teacher training program.  Beth O'Reilly is a certified CorePower yoga teacher, manager of a San Diego CorePower studio, Bikram practitioner, and director of teacher training for CorePower.

First and foremost we think the franchise/corporate approach yields real benefits:

  • For Travelers: Because these studios have locations across the country and globe, travelers can easily maintain their practices even when away from home.  CorePower wins the Athletic-Minded Traveler award.  Its members can take classes at ANY CPY studio ANYWHERE without paying a drop-in fee. That is some benefit.
  • For Busy Yogis:  All three studios offer multiple classes throughout the day making it easy to find a class to fit one's schedule. However, true Bikram classes are 90 minutes which makes it a bigger time commitment. (We wish CPY offered more 75 minute classes. We find 60 minutes a little short.)
  • For Beginners:  All three brands offer classes suitable for beginners.  Anyone can start a yoga program here.
  • For Athletes:  If you think yoga is all about chanting, meditation and some gentle stretching, then you surely have not experienced "Bikram's torture chamber," CorePower's C2 class with Kai (teacher extraordinaire), or YogaWorks' power class.

Additionally it's the American way.  If you have a good idea, replicate it and profit!

COMPARING THE PRACTICES:  Bikram Yoga vs CorePower Yoga vs YogaWorks

1.  NUMBER of LOCATIONS

In terms of numbers, and if you look globally, Bikram is the winner with hundreds of studios.  However, studios are typically not "connected" and each operates as its own business. In contrast, CorePower Yoga, with its approximate 115 studios located across 14 states, owns nearly every studio.  With an investment in 2013 from Catterton Partners, CorePower has been growing fast. YogaWorks, with approximately 30 studios across four US markets, was acquired by Boston-based private equity firm Great Hill Partners in 2014 and plans to keep growing.

Specifically:

Bikram studios are basically "franchises", so each studio operates independently from the others.  So if you want to sample a class away from your home studio (even in the same city), you'll have to pay a drop-in fee of about $17-$25. Over the past few years, Bikram has lost "official" studios as owners have bristled at the franchise fees and recent lawsuit against Bikram. For example, the former Bikram Yoga Summerlin is now simply "Summerlin Yoga."  Additionally, even the "hardest core" Bikram studios are beginning to offer 60-minute classes in order to compete with the likes of CorePower etc.

CorePower studios are nearly all company owned which means that the look and feel of each studio is similar.  Additionally, members can visit other studios without paying a drop-in fee! This is a significant benefit.  For example in San Diego, yogis can take classes at any of the ELEVEN studios!

YogaWorks' studios are also company owned but unlike CorePower, simply joining one studio does not grant you privileges to all 38 studios. YogaWorks studio locations are only in CA and NY. For athletic-minded travelers, there are various membership types that do allow you to practice in any studio. BUT you must sign up for that membership. A "Nationwide" or "Regional" membership will cost more, but may well be worth it! Additionally, YogaWorks has a very strong presence in the online space. We reviewed its service in another post.

2.  INSIDE THE STUDIO

Bikram

  • Vibe:  It's typically no frills here.  Most studios have small lobbys and small locker rooms. Most have showers, but not all! Some studios sell yoga clothing and accessories, but it is not a focus.  And while Bikram may have copyrighted his 26 asanas, he did not standardize the heating systems.  There is significant variability across studios.  Many practice rooms have carpet, which means that there can be a bit of an odor; however owners are moving away from carpet.  (You get used to it!)  Overall students and teachers are friendly, serious and devoted to the practice.
    Bikram Austin Lobby
  • Where:  Get directions and know where you are going. Often Bikram studios are located "off the beaten path".  (Athletic-Minded Traveler's listings include important information about directions, # showers etc. )Typical Bikram Practice Room

CorePower

  • Vibe:  Studios are more upscale than the typical Bikram studio and more comparable to YogaWorks studios.  Nearly all studios are company owned and therefore similar.   Expect soothing tones, comfortable spaces to lounge and locker rooms with soap, shampoo, hair dryers and other amenities.  Practice rooms have hard wood flooring and the rooms can get hot and humid (not as hot as Bikram, but often as humid). Teachers are very nurturing and the practicing yogis are friendly.
    CorePower  Lobby
  • Retail:  Retail is a focus here and Core does a great job stocking a cool assortment of clothes and accessories. In fact, we have discovered companies beyond Lululemon that manufacture great clothing and accessories such as Lole, Tonic and Alo. We think CorePower really does retail well.
    CorePower Retail
  • Where: Studios are typically clustered near urban centers which adds to the convenience factor.  For example there are 25+ locations in the Chicago-land area! , 3 in Portland, OR, and 11 in San Diego. You get the idea!

YogaWorks

  • VIBE: While all studios are corporate owned, they do vary quite a bit in terms of size and vibe.  For example, the studio in SoHo, covers two floors and boasts 3 practice rooms along with an upscale locker room and spa services.  It's posh!!!  Other studios may be more low-key and intimate.  All studios are fairly upscale and typically have high ceilings, loads of natural light and nice changing rooms, but often no showers. (Hot yoga is not a focus here.)  There are often 2 practice rooms and the common areas are definitely inviting.
    YogaWorks Practice Room
  • Retail:  YogaWorks typically offers an upscale and fun selection of yoga-wear and accessories.  You'll enjoy browsing!
    YogaWorks SoHo Lobby & Retail
  • Where: YogaWorks studios are located in more upscale urban neighborhoods (e.g., Pacific Heights in San Francisco, Santa Monica in the LA area, SoHo in Manhattan).

3.  THE PRACTICE

BIKRAM

  • In a nutshell:  Until recently, every class was 90 minutes, heated (105 to 115 degrees F) and consisting of the same 26 postures with no use of props.  Now, there are 60 minute "express" classes offered.  The teacher gives directions but does not perform the poses.  The teacher and level of heat will also affect your experience.   Read a more detailed summary here.
  • What we love:  Kill yourself for 90 minutes and feel amazing!!  There are studios all over the world; The teaching is consistent and the verbal cues ensure you are "doing it right"; While the poses are  suitable for beginners, Bikram will challenge even die-hard athletes.  Yet this is still yoga, and there is just something awesome about working every part of your body and sweating a ton.  One feels good after the practice, better (in our opinion) than any gym sweat.  Because the yoga does not change, it offers a constant against the craziness of the day--especially for travelers.
  • Common Complaints: For those just starting out or who don't "like" Bikram yoga, the reasons vary:  The heat creates a false sense of flexibility; There are no modifications for poses, and for those students just starting out or with an injury, the concept of "doing less of a pose" is often hard to swallow.  For example, other disciplines will employ props such as blocks and blankets that will support the body until it opens up.  Detractors also bristle about the vibe (feels competitive), smell (carpeted studios can stink), rigidity/sameness of the practice, location and small locker rooms.

COREPOWER

  • In a nutshell:  Studios offer a variety of class types including "Hot" which closely resembles the Bikram sequence; Vinyasa style flow for beginners (C1, 80 degrees and C1.5 90 degrees), intermediates (C2 95 degrees),  and advanced (C3 95 degrees); "Hot Power Fusion", which is a combination of the aforementioned two and "Sculpt" which fuses yoga with weight bearing exercises.  All classes are heated with humidity and music plays in all classes.  Also, most classes are only 60 minutes, but there are 75 minute classes too.  Because, (with the exception of "Hot"), the sequence is at the discretion of the teacher, which means that the teacher leading the practice can have a big effect.  Certain teachers definitely have "followings," (like our experts Kai and Beth).
  • What we love: CorePower offers great schedule flexibility with its one hour class times and ability to take classes at multiple studios.  The décor and vibe promote relaxation and the varied class offerings appeal to those who like to mix it up.  The music is fun and offers a positive distraction during class. (Sometimes it can be amazing.)  When teachers make an adjustment, it's with a very nurturing touch and it always feels good.  Each Vinyasa (C1, C2 or C3) flow class will offer a variety of postures which (theoretically) ensures balance of muscle groups.  Beginners can feel secure here too and ease in with the C1 or C1.5 classes.
  • Common complaints: Bikram purists bristle that the "Hot" class is a "rip off" of the Bikram series.  These purists also scoff that teachers can be trained so quickly (in about 200 hours) and inexpensively (around $2k).  Detractors worry that less experienced teachers could be  weak in explaining the alignment or setup for postures like headstand and arm balances.  Some complain of complicated transitions when many poses (that have different setups) are linked together.  Other nit-picks:  classes are too teacher dependent and 60 minutes is just not long enough.

YOGAWORKS

  • In a nutshell:  Studios "can" be more traditional/spiritual in the approach to yoga as compared to CorePower, but it really depends upon the studio.  Classes are not heated (expect 80 degrees); Duration varies (55, 60, 75, 85 & 120 minutes); Props are often used; music is sometimes played (and will be noted on the schedule); most studios have more than one practice room; and there are Numerous class types for varying levels (e.g., Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow, Iyengar, Sculpt, Blend, Anusara, BarWorks, Gentle, Pilates Mat and even Kids Yoga and Prenatal Yoga).
  • What we love:  Classes, classes and more classes!! The huge class offering really does mean that there is something for everyone--for every age and level.  Restorative and breathing classes allow for busy yogis to tap into their quiet and spiritual side.  Also, YW teachers typically complete the YW 500 hour teaching certification process and are supervised by a senior teacher for 6 months.  And while YogaWorks represents a corporate brand, studios seem to operate independently which promotes a tight-knit and unique community feel.  The YogaWorks brand class is a blend of Iyengar (detailed alignment) and Ashtanga and will leave you feeling well balanced and stretched out.
  • Common complaints:  In general, it is much less of a 'workout' here.  For non-flow classes there can be frequent stopping and starting between postures for alignment purposes, annoying for people who prefer to "go."  Other complaints:  It's not hot enough, props interfere with the flow, not nearly as many locations as Bikram and less than CorePower.  Because there isn't a universal sequence it isn't as traveler friendly as CorePower and Bikram.

WOW!!  How is that for an education about these three brands.  Our team confidently recommends all three!  Tell us what you think. Get our Blogs by email here. Sign up for our newsletter here. Are you a member of the Media?  We have a special list for you here.

Comments

Comments

I have tried all three. I

I have tried all three. I find that core power is more like healthy circuit training with stretching included than a meditative practice. Yoga Works has an incredible variety of classes, my favorites being Iyengar so that I can learn the posture deeply and gain the most benefit from proper firm, as well as Astanga for strength and focus.

My favorite is still Bikram because it is just as much a mental strengthening as a physical one. The intense heat means I must work to stay mentally present. It also means that instead of my mind wandering, I am totally focused on the class - whether it's listening to my body to see if I'm going to puke or trying to leverage it to get one more inch of stretch in.

The boring sameness means I am able to focus 100% on my posture, with time to adjust and tweak instead of always feeling like when I finally get into the correct pose I have to jump into a new one. I like to be able to sit in it and go from gross adjustment to fine tuning.

I also LOVE the fact that Bikram asks us to do "less" of a pose and work into it. It forces me to let go of my ego and be very honest about what's possible for my body. I hd weak ankles and tight hamstrings, and many of the standing poses were incredibly challenging. However, instead of jumping into a half assed approximation of a pose, I was stuck at the beginning for a long time (lock your knees! don't wobble!) which meant that those poses in the beginning were 100% focused therapy on my weaknesses!! I finally got strong ankles and looser hammies because I could no longer ignore them or compensate in a different way with other muscles. No other yoga has ever so dramatically transformed my body than Bikram

this is all a bunch of

this is all a bunch of bullshit.. spreading slander will not change the fact that bikram studios all over the world change lives for the better everyday!!! I myself am a bikram certified instructor and have taken this training and there was no evidence of the lies you are spreading visit www.bikramyoga.com and you will see the lawsuit was dropped !

Hi Everyone. I wanted to

Hi Everyone. I wanted to chime in as a graduate of the 500-Hour YogaWorks Teacher Training program. The YogaWorks training is Yoga Alliance certified. They have been trainings students for over 20 years, so its a very trusted and well recognized brand which is why I chose to study with them. I knew I could work anywhere I wanted to afterward and have been! They have a rich lineage that combines Ashtanga & Iyengar, and the teacher Maty Ezraty & Lisa Walford, who created the program, studied for years and in the homes of these authentic teachers. So the program is very true to the intentions of yoga. What I also love about the program is that you learn more than 1 sequence. Coming from a studio where I only learned one, I was so limited when it came to understanding the needs of private clients. With this training, you are able to customize a practice to areas of the body, for focused attention, and can learn how to customize to the needs (injuries, pre-post natal, post injuries, back issues, etc) of your private clients. You are equipped to teach any type of body all the way up to senior citizens. The alignment and intelligent sequencing is key so you can design any type of class to fit any student's needs. I did take other trainings in Yoga, but this one made me a real teacher. I also love that YogaWorks is recognized all over the world, so I can travel with this brand and teach anywhere. They also put the teacher trainers through rigorous standards/extra certifications. It takes years and years to become a trainer of students - you are getting master teachers. I also wanted to say that I know YogaWorks has been said to not be hard or flow based which I think is a strange rumor. YogaWorks is a vinyasa school and there are so many flow classes. I agree that some studios are a bit slower paced maybe than others and I'm also in LA (mecca for very advanced yoga and fast, flowing, sweaty vinyasa)! You can find sweat dripping on all the walls here. If you are doing the work of yoga, you will build enough internal heat to heat the room, vs having to heat the room to create the work. Regardless, yoga is doing the work for everyone. Just get on the mat. ;) Blessings all!

I think that in the truest

I think that in the truest spirit of YOGA, this is a great write-up and ultimately no one discipline is right or wrong. To say that one or the other is would be placing too much attachment to an ideal or notion of perfection, but it's not PERFECTION it's a PRACTICE!

Bikram provided me discipline

Bikram provided me discipline and a routine in my life that I needed at the time. I did it for five years. I tried hot power yoga and I have realized that Bikram was just a gateway to a healthier me, got me craving exercise aand yoga, but now the type of yoga I do is more fun, exciting, challenging, etc. I love the upper body strength I am getting now. I love hearing music while practicing. I went back to Bikram recently. Was very bored. Recently I joined CorePower. I love it. I do the C2 class and the sculpt class. I tried C3. Awesome.

having gotten my teacher

having gotten my teacher training from Yogaworks, i may be bias
but my feeling on yoga as a physical practice is that a majority of people are pushing their bodies into too advanced of poses. With bikram most able bodies are not accustomed to stretching that deep which may lead to injury. Anyone deep practitioner knows injures build up over time and generally don't just happen. When doing any classes not pushing yourself too hard is far more beneficial than over stretching.

ahmisa my yogis an yoginins

yoga is the cessation of the mind, asana is just a tool to get back to that equilibrium within

Are any of the yoga brands

Are any of the yoga brands certified by a national or international accrediting agency? Or are they all just individual businesses? Is there any state licensing involved so the public knows that the business meets certain minimum standards?
Are there any standardized teacher training accreditation's for yoga or does each business create its own teacher training requirements?

Or is the whole business just the Wild, Wild West!?

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