Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The business of yoga, and my (non)place in it

Earlier today, I received an email from the owner of the yoga studio at which I have been teaching Ashtanga for a couple of months (wow, it's been a couple of months already? Time flies when one is having fun, doesn't it? :-)) The email was sent to the few of us who teach yoga classes at the studio. She informs us that starting December 31st, she will no longer be leasing the studio, because the class numbers thus far have not been enough to support the cost of leasing the space. Since she did not specify any further plans to relocate/find a new place to house the studio, I take the email to be a euphemistic way of saying that she is closing down the studio. So starting from December 31st, I will once again no longer officially be a yoga teacher, and will be devoting more time to my practice and self-healing. Which is good for me personally.

Nevertheless, as I was contemplating this development earlier today, I couldn't help noticing how there always seems to be a certain disconnect between yoga as a personal practice of self-realization/self-care, and yoga as a business. For the last couple of months, there have never been more than three people showing up for my class on any one evening. In fact, most of the time, it's one or two individuals. But these one or two individuals show up almost every week; which means that the practice (or at least the way I teach it) speaks to them enough to get them to keep coming back. In my opinion, I feel that this is a success. When I first taught yoga years ago in grad school, I was constantly preoccupied with how many people showed up for my classes. But since I became an Ashtangi, I had decided that if I were ever to teach again, I would try to stick as closely to the Ashtanga method as possible, no matter how many or how few people show up. Thus, I feel that if I can get even one person to appreciate the method and make it a part of his or her life, I would have succeeded. And I have.

But of course, things do not work this way from a business point of view. From a business point of view, there are real financial concerns to address. From such a point of view, a yoga studio is worth running only if its operations can generate enough revenue to cover the overhead costs. And the main way for a yoga studio to generate said revenue is through students (unless, of course, the studio chooses to do something lucrative in addition to its regular classes; something like, say, a Yoga Alliance sanctioned Teacher Training. But let's not go there now, okay? :-)). Anyway, what all this means is that if a yoga class does not bring in enough students, it is not a success, from a business point of view.

Some of you seasoned teachers who are reading this are probably thinking: Duh! All this is so obvious! How can we survive and pay the bills if we don't have enough students?! What planet do you live on, Nobel? (Answer: Maybe I'm from Mars. My skin seems to be turning redder by the second as I write this...) And of course, I totally anticipate and understand this reaction on your part. All I can say is: Gosh, I'm glad I don't teach yoga for a living. I'm glad it's "only" a practice for me. To all of you yoga teachers out there, you have my most sincere respect. I take my hat off to you.



  1. That's such a shame, it takes longer than a few months yo build up a class. I hope you can find aspace to continue with those three that came every week.

  2. Thanks for the encouraging words, Esther. You are right that it takes more than a few months to build a class, especially an Ashtanga class. Perhaps I'll speak to the people who come to my class tonight about the possibility of finding an alternative space.

  3. Nobel, I agree with the sentiment, the only way to have a studio is indeed if it can cover costs AND feed the owners, this is why I dislike it when people assume that yoga and money don't go together, that not advertising is a virtue, and that starving has merit... I feel the way we use money is what is more important...

    Sorry to hear about the studio, agree with the comment above, I think it was Ovo that said she would build at a rate od something like one new student every two months or so (I think, may not be remembering exactly) it takes time....

    Wonder if you could borrow a university space and teach mysore on your own...

    Either way, great experience!

  4. My friend teaches a led primary class and it has taken a year to build up from about 3 students to 6 or 7. If you can learn to teach 3 students and teach them well, more will come I'm sure.
    Good luck!

  5. Thanks for the encouragement and support, Claudia and DeborahS. Yes, starting small is good (and important, in my opinion). I'm going to take a little time to think about this before deciding on the next step.

  6. if you have the space, you could teach from your home or make them private students. i have done both in the past and would do again in future if need be:) I've been there with the 1 or 2 students, grateful they've shown up, bewildered why not more:) Good luck:)

  7. Thanks for the suggestion, JayaKrishna. Right now, my home isn't suitable for such an undertaking, but going to the student's home is a possibility. I'll consider this.

  8. Very entertaining subject, I will bookmark your website to check out if you publish more in the future. Thanks!

  9. My Ashtanga teacher finally added on to his house, so now he has his own shala. He holds Mysore classes there and led-primary series at the studios. The downside is that you really have to know all whom you invite into your home. In my teacher's case, he knows almost all Ashtangis in town because he has for YEARS now tried so hard to promote Ashtanga not just as a yoga practice, but also as a way of life. It is definitely something that you can think about looking forward into the future. But seriously, it took me two years of teaching at the studio to go from a handful to two-to-three handfuls. It takes a long time to get yourself and your classes established.

  10. Thanks for sharing, Yuna Shin. I'm really not sure if I am ready to take the big step of using/offering my home as a shala, although I also know teachers who do this, and do this quite successfully. But thanks for bringing up this idea. Gives me one more thing to consider.

    Btw, I just visited your blog. Great blog! Keep up the writing :-)

  11. Nobel, I really wish you the best of luck in finding a good space to share the practice with your students.

    My teacher Nancy Gilgoff gave me a great piece of advice - make sure the space you teach in is small enough and cheap enough that you don't get stressed out trying to cover expenses every month.

    She also said that about 1 in 100 students you will teach will become consistent students. That can be discouraging, I know.

    Still, as an Ashtanga studio owner, for about 3 years now, I am extremely thankful that my numbers have been much better than that - of the 500+ people on my mailing list, 50-60 are regular students. I can now cover costs (rent, teacher pay) and make a bit of a profit. But, it took three years of stress and concern - even with a cheap rent.

    Just don't get discouraged! Take the students you have with you to a new, small space, and continue to teach with your obvious love and commitment to the practice, and it will happen. And definitely stick with the Mysore program - it is the best way to build a strong and trusting relationship with your students.

  12. Hello M, thank you so much for your encouraging words.

    "...about 1 in 100 students you will teach will become consistent students."

    Although I have never heard this particular line before, I kind of figured that this is the case. It's not the most encouraging thing, but as they say, good things take time :-)

    I really have mixed feelings about finding a new space and starting again right now. It's so much more... comfortable to just be a student, do my own practice, work with my own issues, and travel to workshops by senior teachers now and then. Besides, having never been to Mysore, I sometimes use this to justify my view that I am not yet in a position to teach this practice. But on the other hand, I also sometimes get the urge to share this practice with others; which was what got me to start this teaching gig in the first place. So I don't know... I think I'm going to take some more thing to let these thoughts percolate.