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Pure Yoga vs. YogaWorks: Comparing New York City’s mega studios

Pure Yoga Upper East Side, and a YogaWorks teacher training class (right)
Pure Yoga Upper East Side, and a YogaWorks teacher training class (right)

With about 100 classes offered each week and up to half a dozen studios under one roof, mega studios like Pure Yoga and Yoga Works are evidence of yoga’s immense popularity in New York City.

Pure, which is owned by Equinox, has locations in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tai Pei and two here. YogaWorks, based in Los Angeles, has 17 California studios, and 4 locations in New York City. While Pure has a 200-hour teacher training, YogaWorks’s program, which gets kudos for fostering solid alignment know-how, is better known.

Like gym brands, both Pure and YogaWorks use a membership payment model, flaunt fancy amenities (notably showers), have their own teacher training programs, and offer marketing and branding galore—all challenges for indie yoga studios.

Well+Good took advantage of free weekly passes offered at these super-size studios to bring you the low-down on how they compare. Read on to learn which is a better place to lay your mat.

Pure Yoga New York City
Pure's studios feature adjustable lighting, pre-set mats, and faux candles

Pure’s parent company, Equinox, accounts for the four-star hotel design. Giant, heavy glass doors shut out the city’s stressors (and noise). Inside the windowless sanctuary not one modern detail is amiss: Perfectly placed yoga mats (provided!) await you in class. Color-therapy lighting turns from soft blue, to pink, to white during your practice. And faux candles flicker in corners. My mood fluctuated between intimidation and serenity.

YogaWorks: YogaWorks embraces a community feel. Each neighborhood studio feels a little bit different, thereby avoiding corporate sterility. Rather than shutting out the city, it’s given a role in shaping the studios—even at the swankiest Soho location, built by spa-designer Clodagh, where two studios have natural light and original supporting columns. You do lose some serenity with the audible rumble of nearby Canal Street. But it feels less like a Hyatt, and more like home.

Its two locations on the Upper East and Upper West Sides have about six studios a piece, including dedicated rooms for hot yoga and Pilates, and huge lounges for lingering. Classes were well-attended but never crowded. The luxury of space extends to the enormous, pristine locker rooms, which have three rows of individual showers and fluffy towels. Also provided: mouthwash, lotion, razors, cotton balls, and just about anything else you could conceivably need. An uptown yogi palace.

YogaWorks: It has four locations (five if you count Westchester). Each has two or three studios, and every class I went to was crowded. The Soho and the Upper West Side studios have somewhat spacious locker rooms, but the Upper East Side and Union Square locations have just one bathroom and a few tiny changing rooms, which means long lines after class and no showering. Some studios have areas for hanging out.

YogaWorks class in New York City
YogaWorks classes tend to emphasize alignment over a variety of styles

It takes the Greek diner menu approach to yoga with 100 classes offered each week in 27 styles—hot power yoga and self-guided Mysore to Jivamukti and Forrest yoga. I loved Jason Brown’s Zenyasa, a blend of meditation and functional strength training with Vinyasa, which he created. The community class (which non-members can attend), described as a basics class on the website, would have been difficult for a newbie. And Mary Aranas, who teaches Acroyoga, also showed me the value of a restorative class. In addition to its marquee-name homegrown talent like Derek Beres, David Hollander, and Raghunath, Pure hosts visiting yogis such as Ana Forrest, who held a series of workshops there this month.

YogaWorks: Most classes favor the YogaWorks style, which “balances precise instruction and alignment with breath, movement and flow.” Variety exists, but it’s less important than getting you into the right level class. In Level 1, instructors spend a lot of time explaining correct alignment and working one-on-one with you. In YogaWorks 1/2 with Chrissy Carter, a class focused on getting us safely in and out of bridge—I’ve found myself adjusting my body according to her tips since. The California studios regularly feed the NYC ones with popular West Coast teachers like Vinnie Marino. Top NYC instructors include Edwin Bergman, Jenny Arthur, Jodie Rufty, and Sarah Bell.

YogaWorks Soho location
A sunny studio at YogaWorks' Soho location

Like a gym, Pure is evasive about membership prices. They start at $125 per month, says a rep, then “change drastically” depending on the month. Ditto on an initiation fee. (Yogi negotiators will fare better than Zen types at landing a deal.) Most members join for six months or a year, and you have a choice between unlimited classes or six classes per month. Promotions for new members change throughout the year—when I first emailed, they offered me a free month and a Shiseido facial. Community classes, which are open to the public, are just $10.

YogaWorks: It costs $100­–$117 per month, depending on the studio, or $129 per month to use all the studios. A single class is $22. Mat rental is $2. YogaWorks often offers specials for new students. Example: Through September you can get ten days of yoga for $10.

The secrecy around membership prices is annoying—just say it’s $150 per month, if it is—and the overall vibe is clearly very corporate for yoga. But Pure has great instructors, many of whom teach at the city’s top indie studios, and an incredible selection of classes. It’s so nice there (I’m still stunned by the hotel aesthetic and amenities), I really wanted to hate it. But in the end, I couldn’t, because damn, it’s really just that nice. Guest teachers and stellar workshops are another plus.

YogaWorks: The vibe is more my style: community over creature comforts (and elbow room). For some it may seem a little like a Barnes and Noble of yoga, but the YogaWorks teachers were an impressive, careful bunch. I could see going to my regular studio to practice but coming here to really learn and breakdown the stuff I bypass in flow classes. Plus, I like how YogaWorks provides access to some of the country’s top teachers on the West Coast. — Lisa Elaine Held

Pure Yoga; YogaWorks