The Business of Yoga
When I became certified in the fall of 1996, there were only a handful of teachers in the Erie area. Today, there are over 100 identifying themselves as yoga teachers whether they are certified or not. This increase reflects the popularity of yoga in America. Since I opened the first studio in 98, I have seen several studios open and close. Some can only survive by offering regular teacher trainings that can flood the market with more teachers. The percentage of teachers who can support themselves full time only on teaching revenue is relatively small. This also reflects a national trend. There are numerous factors as to why a studio might close.
One factor is too much overhead. Offering many classes and having to hire and manage lots of teachers; including your “brand” yoga clothing and supply shop; and offering a smoothie bar or café adds to the expenses. Increases in rents, especially in large cities, reduces the profit margin. I have heard so many true stories about teachers who started because they love to teach becoming stressed managers and occasional teachers. Breaking even is the norm meaning the owner can’t even pay themselves! This can work if one is already independently wealthy or married to someone whose income supports the owner.
Some teachers have had to close their studios and try to earn a living with on-line classes and products. This climate has created a competitive situation of teachers trying to get gigs and studios offering “gimmick” driven classes to attract new students. The irony is the yoga spirit of oneness and harmony is getting lost. I have been to some cities where studios are not friendly because what they offer is based on different philosophies. I have also been to cities where the intention of unity in diversity overcomes the differences.
I think it is important to provide potential students with information regarding credentials, experience and the logic behind the methodology of the “style” one is teaching. This helps them to make an intelligent decision. I think it is also healthy for cities to offer very different types of postural yoga. Some are drawn to traditional holistic approaches and others want more of a physical workout offered by contemporary styles. It can be miss-leading when the caveat of yoga is used to sell anything like a hybrid that may have no connection to the Wisdom Traditions that gave birth to Yoga.
A recent article addressed the intention of studio owners to “enhance” the traditional or even contemporary practices with beer, marijuana, animals, nudity and trampolines to attract more students. Apparently hot yoga and aerial yoga are not trendy enough anymore. Go to:
For review or if you missed it, please go to Chapter 6, The Play of Yoga and Meditation. I discuss what is yoga? For me, it’s all about intention, mindset, and setting. There is the intention of the student. What do you want out of the experience? Peace of mind? Enlightenment? Fun? A contemporary yoga body with six pack abs and a firm butt? Keep in mind, some of the yoga masters of the past and present were a portly lot women included!
Then there is the mindset of the teacher. What is their understanding of yoga? What have they chosen to focus on? Are they part of a lineage? How does the lineage present yoga? What is their level of depth in the traditional practices? Do they have resistance to spirituality, meditation, self-inquiry, devotion or mastering the senses?
In addition, the setting which can reflect the mindset of the teacher may or may not support the intention of the student. Is the space secular or spiritual? Does it have the competitive vibe of a fitness center or gym? Is there an altar? Are there wisdom teachings on posters or the walls? Is there a library?
So, the student needs to decide what their intention is, then find the most qualified and experienced teacher and appropriate setting to fully support it. I am going on 20 years of directing a sustainable yoga studio. The key to this longevity has been keeping it simple and following the Yamas and Niyamas. I have a boutique studio and I am the main teacher. I love to teach and not manage a business. I think of what I offer as a service, not a business. I know my students. I have been to their weddings, baptisms, and funerals. I know their interests, hobbies, and vocations. I know why they are there and if they have any limitations or contraindications.
I know of studios where the students don’t even know who the director is. I don’t have a store or employees. I barter and trade when possible. I highly value customer service and return calls and emails within hours. I check on my students if they have missed some classes to see if they are okay. I limit attendance to assure quality. I am not about packing them in with a generic 45 to 60-minute modeled fitness style class. I am about trying to creatively read the room and design a unique sequence to match the energetic, emotional and physical needs of the group.
My “business” model is based on the Yamas and Niyamas and not the class format at fitness centers or gyms. The five Yamas include non-harming, truth, non-greed or non-possessiveness, non-stealing and managing energy wisely. The five Niyamas include purity, contentment, self-study, discipline and surrender. There are endless ways to practice and apply these in our lives.
In terms of business, I do not want to harm any person or the planet with my studio. I want to be truthful in every aspect of teaching and financial transactions. I do not want to be greedy in my business dealings or possessive with my students. I do not want to compete or steal ideas from others but create from a place of personal inspiration and integrity. I want to manage the energetic flow of the space so it is relaxing and inspiring.
I want to honor the purity of the original teachings without being puritanical. I want to be content with the blessings and abundance that surrounds my studio. My wife, Allison will often ask me how a class went and I usually say, I was surrounded by loving people. I am very blessed. I enjoy the discipline of being on time and in the moment to serve others. I encourage self-study, contemplations, and reflections.
I have learned a lot about myself by serving so many different and diverse people. I make the effort to plan new projects but surrender to what the market/Universe wants. I always seem to make enough income to meet my needs. I am not interested in what other studios are doing. I follow my heart, my intuition and what rings true for me as guiding principles instead of the contemporary studio playbook of trends, novelties, and gimmicks. I guess I am old school.
Following the Yamas and Niyamas as best I can each day has contributed to leading what Swami Satchidananda describes as a peaceful, easeful and useful life. I am grateful for the first two limbs of Raja Yoga. I have met too many teachers and studio owners who were ironically stressed out and had hypertension and other stress-related chronic diseases. If you were born to teach yoga because it is the essence of who you are, it will all work out for the good, but if one is doing it because it seems like a cool and fun way to make a living than there could be frequent difficulties and inordinate amounts of stress.
I settled into my first studio after the complementary care center closed and continued with more workshops and trainings. Allison and I enjoyed going to workshops in other cities enjoying local restaurants and meeting like-minded people. We learned from Rodney Yee, David Swenson, Tim Miller, Rama Berch, Dean Lerner, Srivatsa Ramaswami and others. I also enjoyed an Ashtanga teacher training with Larry Schultz.
It was a time of assimilation and integration. I had gone deep in the Siddha Yoga and Integral Yoga practices but wanted to explore other approaches. I was primarily practicing the Ashtanga primary series with a knowledge of Iyengar alignment five days a week with one day of rest and one day of restorative yoga, and continuing with pranayama and meditation.
One of my intentions as a teacher is to come from a non-dogmatic place. What I mean by dogma is to learn only one system and be rigid about this way is the only way. Every system has something to offer. Every person’s body has different proportions based on the skeletal system they were born with. There are many different strategies to support students in learning how their bodies bend and twist. The outer-directed approach where the teacher tells the student what to do and how to do it can be a good starting point.
The next level is to support the students in having an embodied practice in which they can listen to the biofeedback of their bodies and make any adjustments to align with the intention of the posture. This inner-directed approach requires focus and awareness. If we have always been told what to do, this can be a big shift in consciousness. If we have experienced past trauma, being in the body can be very difficult but ultimately healing.
According to national statistics, one out of four Americans has experienced trauma whether it is forgotten or remembered. This past trauma can lead to the reality of “living in our heads”. We may not know what is happening in our bodies unless we experience pain or pleasure. We may not feel safe. Trauma-sensitive cueing can support a safe practice. Utilizing different strategies to honor the unique nature of each body and mind creates safety. Supporting the student in having freedom to adapt the form to their bodies and to release from postures as needed creates safety. My aspiration is that every person in my classes can enjoy feeling fully at home in their bodies.
I was also attending and presenting at teacher’s conferences in Yogaville and learning from more teachers like Mukunda Stiles. Students in Erie were asking me about starting a teacher training program. I could have started my own but I wanted to have the support of an established school with their available resources. I would make less money but I would be accountable to experienced trainers. I began discussions with senior teachers and trainers with Integral Yoga.
I would need to take their Intermediate or Hatha 2 training first and assist in a Hatha 1 training before I would be approved. I would eventually become their first trainer not teaching at an official IY Center or Institute. I began to plan a trip to India where they were offering a Hatha two training. The trip would happen in January of 2003. It had been on my bucket list for many years as far back as a teenager. I began to gather the resources to be away for six weeks.
One of the biggest dreams in my life was going to happen. I was going to visit the land where Yoga was born. I was trying to keep my expectations low but I was open to more amazing adventures.