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 Experts: Erin 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!
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.
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
- 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.
- 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. )
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- Retail: YogaWorks typically offers an upscale and fun selection of yoga-wear and accessories. You'll enjoy browsing!
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.