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Get a Life, Yoga: Kill the Studio Paradigm

in Business of Yoga, Featured, Yogitorials

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by Mary McInnis Meyer

Let’s say you hear that a yoga studio is closing. You might be all, “Fail!” Hey, that’s how we’ve been culturally trained to see things. Closing = failing.

What we think a successful yoga operation looks like goes something like this: a beautiful zen space, a perfect-setting location, a huge schedule of 4+ classes a day 7 days a week, a large diverse line-up of teachers, and classes that anyone can walk in to – and anyone can be challenged in.

This is the current reigning premise that most studios have been set up under. It’s a near impossible goal. And that costs money. But guess what? I did it. I could keep doing it if I want to “look” successful. But I’m not going to. I think I’ll do something I can handle easier. I think I’ll change the world.

But before you listen to me about anything, like, oh, say, changing the world, we better find out if I’m a reliable source. I mean, I’m closing my yoga studio. I could be a total fu*k-up. But damn, check out the company I’m keeping: Cindy Lee closed Om YogaElena Brower closed Virayoga, and Rusty Wells closed Urban Flow.

Peeps, I think there’s a yoga studio paradigm problem here. We see the needs and only one way to meet them. But that way isn’t the only way. The pieces don’t fit, so let’s stop shoving ‘em together.

A successful small biz in the service sector has a pretty clear definition:

  • a service that meets a high mainstream demand
  • a price the mainstream demanders can justify
  • service times when the mainstream demanders want them

At first glance this may appear to have plenty in common with the current yoga studio paradigm: offer what yoga looks like in mainstream media (beautiful zen space thronged by the skinny young spandexed masses getting their flow on), a justifiable payment structure (set rates that can compete with fitness centers), with ultimate service flexibility (lots of “all-level” classes all the time).

That’s one way to connect the dots. But just like anything else, a more sophisticated analysis will reveal a more true truth. (I’m a big fan of getting sophisticated on stuff.)

Mainstream Demand

Yoga doesn’t have one. There is no mainstream demand. It is way too misunderstood. The closest thing to a mainstream demand for yoga is actually a mainstream demand for a misconception of yoga: that it’s a bliss-out for young, skinny, flexy, women. So, one solution is to shoot for the Misconception of Yoga market. This makes yoga studios successful. Oh yeah – and it leaves out nearly everyone yoga can serve. The people not demanding the Misconception of Yoga. The majority of people out there.

Damn, peeps. This means I’d need to stop putting studio resources into reaching and serving real people needing yoga. And guess what? I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to put resources into perpetuating the external focus of the Misconception of Yoga – how hot you can look, or even limiting it to how good you can feel immediately afterward. I don’t want to keep to the all-level fitnessy flows in a heated room that are the means to this misconception. And guess what? I don’t have to. Because there is another way.

Maybe I could take the yoga message to real people. Lots of them. Maybe I could set up a model that includes the kind of juicy yoga goodness that is usually only offered in yoga teacher trainings. Maybe I could show this truth of yoga – this comprehensive system for personal and professional growth – to people with no aspirations of ever becoming a yoga teacher. People who just want to learn how they can live their lives based more in the things that really matter to them. I bet that’s a lot of people. I bet that’s a mainstream market.

kill-yoga-studio-paradigm

Justifiable Rates

What we justify as payment for anything is based in our understanding of it. We pay $100+/month for our unlimited data plans on our phones, because we know what the service is and we know we want it. When we know what it is and we know we want it, we are less likely to question the expenditure.

With the rampant Misconception of Yoga, nobody knows they want it. Nobody knows it’s the foundation of total well-being and a better life than they’ve ever imagined. Nobody knows how it can change how you look at the world, and change the world’s response to you. What they “know,” is that from the outside, professional yoga looks just like that yogapilatecoreburn class at the fitness center that you can go to as many times as you want to for $40 a month. We question a professional service yoga program that costs $100/month. Wait – most people don’t question it – they don’t even consciously consider it. It’s an unconscious dismissal – gone before any conscious information-seeking for decision-making about its value can even enter in.

It took me the same contact hours to acquire my Masters degree in Engineering as it took to acquire my RYT-500 certification in yoga. Working in one field, my education is highly valued and considered a huge part of my service. I get a 6-figure salary. In the other, my education is often trivialized. I get a poverty level salary. Guess which is which? 😉 (Not-so-side note: successful yoga studios are made up of workers under the poverty level.)

After “retiring” from engineering and starting my yoga studio, I attended a work gathering of my husband’s – who is also an engineer. One well-meaning (engineer) guy asked me how my Jazzercise thing was going. Not to slam Jazzercise or anything, but I don’t think Jazzercise offers a comprehensive training in mind-blowing Eastern psychology and its life-changing techniques that max out your human potential. I don’t think.

I just told him, “Goin’ good.” You see, this kind of thing happens all the time, and you learn not to deplete your prana on it. And hey – this guy ain’t in no place to take in anything about yoga. Maybe next lifetime, someone else can hit him up.

So. It’s gonna take educating. So that the cost has a justifiable value. I know that I have never regretted a cent I’ve spent on yoga classes, workshops, private sessions or trainings. But I’m a discerning yoga consumer. I seek out the best because I know what to look for. I only buy from teachers of the “deep well” variety, and I know how to divine the water. (Score! I’ve been waiting my whole life for a great divining rod metaphor.)

So, I’m gonna help other people see what I see. Help them become a sophisticated consumer of yoga. Educating the public like this can not only help real people benefit from the huge value of yoga services, but it can help those deep well yoga teachers everywhere creep over the poverty line.

Service Times to Meet the Demand

Is the answer really yoga classes all-day every-day? Or is the answer yoga when people are more likely to be available? And – bonus! – when people are more likely to have the willpower to do it?

My studio built on the current yoga studio paradigm never pulled a profit between 8:00 am and 5:30 pm. And these hours… they look a lot like most people’s work hours. Huh. Too bad the world ain’t set up with magical yoga spaces that could pop up before and after working hours and not cost a full-time rent plus a full tax/maintenance “NNN” plus the overhead of heat/A/C/utilities during work hours.

Waitaminnit! They popped up a long time ago! They are called existing businesses. Sure, they’ll have to meet certain requirements like having the right kind of floor and movable fixtures – but they’re there. Sitting unused at the times we need them. Ho. Ly. Sh*t.

This makes sense. It’s an efficient use of a valuable resource – space. It conserves resources. It’s downright conservationist. Let’s jump that train, yoga bitches.

A New Yoga Delivery Paradigm

It looks like this:

  • Teach the entire empowering full-faceted system of yoga that can serve everyone;
  • Include resources that educate and make the value of this powerful system ridiculously clear;
  • Ditch the full-time yoga tomb and get smart about part-time space-sharing.

So, FAIL! No more full-time lease of a zen space that only breaks even during a small window before and after biz hours. No huge schedule with a perception of flexibility that actually works against students’ willpower and motivation. No more selling yoga short – limiting what it is to a fitness foray. No more throwing out the baby and keeping the bathwater.

Now for the mushy stuff: I will miss my studio dearly. For every person who gathered there in real community. For the energy everyone put into it – the very real energetic imprint of real people aligning with some greater guidance.

And, paradoxically, that very energy has driven this decision. Authentic guidance – it can be a real bitch. I have a responsibility to not only say what I know, but to act on it. To not just think different, not just say different – but to do different than I have been. To shine a light on the things holding yoga back. To pull yoga ahead.

There’s a lot of pull on the other end of the rope – a lot of momentum going toward a paradigm that’s not working. So I’ll pull harder. And maybe some other yoga leaders will grab hold and take a chance with me. Be vulnerable to judgment. Proudly sport a “Not a Fu*k-up” team shirt. Yeah. Let’s do this thing, Tug-o’-Warriors! Whether you’re a teacher ready to escape the studio paradigm or a student trusting that you could be served a better way, let’s do this. All together now. Pull!

~

Mary McInnis Meyer, RYT-500, MS-Engineering, is a conspicuous yoga teacher, writer, and problem solver. She says it like it is in her teaching and her writing. Her cred formula: 500-hour certification in Yoga and Meditation with Karina Ayn Mirsky + Masters degree in engineering + 1000’s of students in her experiment sample = spotting and solving disconnects in the body and in life. Mary teaches methods in how to choose connection, using mega effective ancient yogic methods with the checks and balances of the latest evidence-based science. She teaches the body at fieldofyoga.com, and the mind at realisthenewgood.com. Find her obscure #RealLifeYoga posts on Instagram @VoiceAuthentic. Find very little of her life on Twitter @MaryRealGood. And find way too much of her life on Facebook at Facebook/wowiemary.

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46 comments… add one
  • VQ2

    Congratulations!!

    Admit that you learned your lesson, instead of trying to upsell whoever walk$ through your studio door$.

    It CAN be done …

    I will support whoever will publish, film and record (though not in the latest delivery modalities–I do NOT have the streaming speed), so it limits me mostly to “name” instructors …

    In addition, Corporate Yoga has never been part of my active vocabulary, as I’ve never been working in big business …

  • VQ2

    And really, yoga studio owners (those who are still left), should wise up and stop thinking of home yoga (even if class length) practices as their competition; and would do well to start becoming enablers of home practices … just like “old school yoga” used to do …

    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/01/i-find-myself-less-less-willing-to-spend-money-on-yoga-classes/

  • Asananine

    If I wanted to learn a “comprehensive system for personal and professional growth”, I would not seek teachers comprised of “workers under the poverty level”.

    • Asanine, don’t you have better things to do than to try to harm people? In the Ramayana, it is stated that in times of lesser virtue, people who try to walk the path of virtue cannot even get by easily, financially. You didn’t help there. Try to grow up.

      • Asananine

        I do not believe that by stating an opinion I am doing harm. Nor do I consider that yoga teachers as a group are more or less virtuous than either their students or the population as a whole. If a teacher struggles financially, you would advise them that it is because they are on the path of virtue. I on the other hand would advise them to reassess their current situation. The whole point of the article is for studios to seek other options. Your dulcet tone sounds nice but has no basis in reality and in the end perpetuates more actual harm.

    • Here, watch this… The Ramayana, where this is spoken…http://youtu.be/9x3JQFfUHbM?t=7m7s

  • VQ2

    Ok, a trustafarian or trophy wife would do better for you?

  • Asananine

    No VQ2, because I can conceive of many examples between the two extremes and it took a small quantum of mental exertion to do so.

    • VQ2

      Remember that Elena Brower is one trophy wife who actually ran the numbers and gave up her studio (mentioned above). Food for thought, as miniscule as you feel you need …

      • Asananine

        What actually is perplexing is your obsession with trophy wives. What exactly, is your criteria for such a designation?

  • S.

    Closing a studio isn’t failure. The real failure is seeing yoga as a means to financial wealth and distorting the practice to do so.

    • ACM

      DING ^, I would add, while deceiving the customer (and the self).
      The social system isn’t set up to support the guardians of higher knowledge anymore because money is prized over all.

    • ACM

      DING ^, I would add, while deceiving the customer (and the self).
      The social system isn’t set up to support the guardians of higher knowledge anymore because money is prized over all. Hard knock life for a Brahmana

  • John

    Interesting. It’s a good idea in theory. I see a few practical issues.
    Access – most business premises suitable have all sorts of security policies in place that don’t adapt well to random outsiders showing up demanding access.
    Showers – very few business premises are set up for a bunch of sweaty people to all shower around the same time before going home (many yoga studios fail on this front too, it’s true)
    Paperwork – the business premises will want to charge, which is revenue, which they need to account for, it’s all a headache for them
    Storage – props? students leaving a mat so they don’t have to lug one to work, then to class, then home?
    Temperature control? – I spent two hours every saturday morning practicing in unheated church halls for a long time, my injury rate dropped when heated studios started opening.
    Decor? For a lot of people doing yoga is part of creating an identity (this is especially true of the “other 7 limbs” people). Going to a purpose built studio with incense and idols and pictures is a stronger way to reinforce this than going to an empty meeting room.

    In the end I suspect what you’re will effectively be a return to the days of yoga classes in church halls, youth centres, scout huts, community centres, libraries, etc. I remember those days well, I also remember the studios opening and people flocking to them. I’ve seen a lot of people who were far happier paying 50% more to be in a class twice the size with the same teacher in a studio than in a church hall.

    The minute the gyms discovered they could pay their staff peanuts, offer them commission to sell memberships, and send them off on a two week course to make them yoga teachers the game was up. There are only two ways to make a go of it: teach what people want and get popular so you have name recognition and loads of students or teach a very specific niche. If you’re running a studio that goes double.

  • Deanna

    this hits home. Last summer I closed my small studio because I was not making ends meet- Hardest thing I’ve done in a long time.
    But I was approached by a woman who was opening a spray tanning (yes-you heard me) studio and had extra space she wanted to sublet. It’s an odd combination, but the rent is super low and she decorated everything in a very pleasing way -new hardwood flooring and soothing colors. Her hours are more daytime and mine are more evenings and weekends so we worked out the schedule and, thus far, it’s working really well! My students are thrilled to have me back. I’m in a better location and have picked up a lot of new students. And my overhead is so low I’ve been able to lower my prices to meet more people’s needs AND buy all new mats and props!
    I highly recommend thinking outside the box when it comes to having classes in less than conventional space. Imagine the yogis in India all doing yoga in their kitchen in the morning- I don’t think they would really care if you weren’t in a prime space with zen decor.
    Charge less money and get more people doing yoga!!!!!

  • I have been teaching Yoga classes for the past 30 odd years. I have taught in churches, schools, colleges, my own in home space, gyms and private sessions in students homes. I live in Torrington, Ct. And my classes are held on my property in a studio apt. above my 2 car garage. I can fit no more than nine people at a time, have 4-5 ongoing classes, sometimes just one person shows up…( which I love because it can be more beneficial to the one student) . I have never increased my prices. I am very flexable with times of classes to accomodate my students. We are small groups who have become friends. I love what I do and and love each of my students. Big studios are awesome, however, they can be so intimidating to some. I can turn my heat off when the studio is not in use, it is right here for me and I love it.
    Thank you for your article. Namaste…Judy

    • I realize that this post is probably very old, but thank you. I am in the process of setting up a home studio and your post was helpful and has made me even more excited…thank you!

  • Most people in my circles, middle to working class plus seniors 🙂 , would read this and say, “Well, ye-ahh.”

    All the best wishes, Mary – hope you write some follow-ups!

  • I’ve been sharing space with a martial arts studio since ’08 and this business model has worked out great! Offering classes during peak hours at the lowest price in town to the people who needed yoga the most and couldn’t afford the $100 a month fees.
    Who knew I was on the cutting edge of a something great.
    Thanks for making my day Mary

  • ann

    Long and incoherent article… Considering the fact that engineering degree plus yoga training should at least provide some focusing ability.

  • Wendy

    I had the great honor of practicing at Field of Yoga last fall while visiting family in the area for a couple of weeks. Mary’s studio was beautiful and teaching style was spot on for all the various levels of yogis attending. It was heartbreaking, and a little surprising, to see such a gem of a situation not being taken advantage of by everyone in her town. Sigh.

    I live in a big city and had the choice of visiting many (MANY) outstanding studios before landing with a perfect fit. Before chatting with Mary I had no idea that yoga teachers didn’t ALL have their 200 or 500 hour trainings. So naive. I lucked out by never having had an untrained teacher.

    I’m afraid that Mary was sadly ahead of her time, but to call her venture a “fail” is positively absurd. Whatever the future holds I feel certain that Mary will land in tadasana.

  • Mukesh Shah

    Mary what is your motive to go for yoga?
    It was not a career I believe. Seekers of yoga go for inner peace. Unfortunately majority, a large majority, hardly go beyond poses here. So yoga is business and no surprise people compare engineering degree and RYT-500. Do little more than poses and a whole world of consciousness will open and gain will be beyond dollars.
    Namaste.

  • Love my studio and if it was not a labour of love, I can see how I might close it. It is definitely not a get rich quick scheme. Doing well in a yoga business is a tricky thing. It requires patience and a lot of time investment.

  • Kim

    I have kids. The only time I can get to yoga class is when they are at school. Same with millions of others. NOT after 6pm, never.

  • A yoga studio can indeed draw a good number of students during the day — including those interested in more than just an asana practice –, if you know your audience, design classes for your audience and set your prices accordingly. Cedar Falls, where the author’s studio is located, does not have a high population (40,000) or population density, so — based on the notion that only 5% of the population will attend a yoga class, and those 5% will travel on average no more than 8 minutes to attend class — Cedar Falls may simply be the wrong location.

    I wish the author had taken the time to explain to the “jazzercise” engineer what yoga is all about, including the spiritual, meditative and physical aspects; that was a missed opportunity. A yoga studio owner must spend time and energy giving free presentations in the community and otherwise publicizing their studio in order to keep their classes full. The days of “build it, and they will come” ended long ago in the yoga world.

    Disclaimers: Yes, I own a successful, large yoga studio. Yes, our staff and students are interested in more than just a physical practice. Yes, I like Rick Astley. Do you?

  • Thanks for writing this. There’s all sorts of new models happening. One of the studios I teach for, Piedmont Yoga, has just transitioned to a “studio without walls”, exactly for reasons you’re listing. We’ll offer our training programs, more accessible classes, more donation-based classes, and teaching with a strong diversity and accessibility intention at a mix of spaces in Oakland. With lower overhead, we’re thinking about how to offer more (especially more affordable Teacher Training programs that can serve a broader population), while getting out of the $ trap studios so often struggle in. I’m happy to be part of this. Here’s a bit about our project: http://www.piedmontyoga.com/#!piedmont-yoga-oakland-studio/c10iw

  • Brian

    I’m sorry but it sounds like from this rant, the author forgot a simple basics in running a business. It’s a business! Any fitness business needs to understand that people don’t buy for amenities or features of a studio. They become student and clients, because they know like and trust you. The business also needs to be run like business no matter what size. The staff competent, systems in place to bridge new students to becoming regulars, the margin should be worked out so that the bills get paid and owner makes profit.

    You can run a very successful studio that is profitable and be true to integrity.

    That being said, this business definitely is NOT for everyone. It is hard to make buck, you do have to work to make the bills, competition can kill you if you let it. You can’t be made of sugar. The stress can destroy you. I have seen tons of great teachers open studios without understanding how business runs and it really does destroy them.

  • Neil

    “Cedar Falls, where the author’s studio is located, does not have a high population (40,000) or population density, so — based on the notion that only 5% of the population will attend a yoga class, and those 5% will travel on average no more than 8 minutes to attend class — Cedar Falls may simply be the wrong location.”

    Do you think that people in areas with low population density should not have access to yoga classes? Should we give up our rewarding careers and our high quality of life to move to where your assumptions say is the right location?

    I think that your assumptions are faulty, that by taking those numbers as given, you limit the possibilities of what yoga can be and who it can reach. 5% of people may come to the place you have to do what you offer, but to imagine that is the only way it can be done is to evince a great lack of imagination.

    • Hi Neil, the author laments the fact that not enough daytime students attended classes to successfully maintain her stand-alone studio, so she has apparently decided to rent space in an existing business. Neither she nor I suggested that instructors should move, or that anyone should be deprived of yoga. Yes, 5% of the U.S. population regularly attend yoga classes; some areas have a higher percentage of participation, some areas have lower. And, yes, the average client travels 8 minutes to their studio; some spend more time traveling, some spend less. These are not assumptions. My facts are not faulty, my thinking is not faulty, I do not lack imagination, and I am not making a moral judgment.

  • pamela hollander

    The issue from the outset is believing that yoga can or should fit into a “business model”. The ancient texts and traditional yogi’s (like Sri. K. Patthbi Jois ) have all said that yoga is not to be approached with a business mind for worldly gain. There are lessons to be learned through the teaching of the ancient science which are more valuable than money and cannot be quantified in a graph or modern value system. The ancient science, its practices, have been perfect for centuries and are not in need to being “pulled ahead” or changed in any way.

  • You can teach authentic yoga to authentic people– and own a studio.

    Guide workshops on our soul purpose-truth– grace and gratitude.

    I thank you for sharing your truth–

    It is about the energy you create and share… Yes it is hard! But true marketing and true service comes from that– serving. Openly and honestly.

    Thank you for sharing your truth and that you are ready for next phase of your life… Just as all those teachers you mentioned that closed thier studios…

    But only you can shift the misconceptions by making what you want real…

    Sharing the authenticity of yoga is your reflection… Not anyone else’s..

    But way to recognize you are ready for new adventure in your life! 😉

  • You can teach authentic yoga to authentic people– and own a studio.

    Guide workshops on our soul purpose-truth– grace and gratitude.

    I thank you for sharing your truth–

    It is about the energy you create and share… Yes it is hard! But true marketing and true service comes from that– serving. Openly and honestly.

    Thank you for sharing your truth and that you are ready for next phase of your life… Just as all those teachers you mentioned that closed their studios…

    But only you can shift the misconceptions by making what you want real…

    Sharing the authenticity of yoga is your reflection… Not anyone else’s..

    But way to recognize you are ready for new adventure in your life! 😉

  • Phuong Marcin

    When their favourite characters like Homer, Bart, Lisa and Maggie try avoiding the death trap of Joe, kids like to just take a journey. You’ve got an opportunity to watch daily tv series online in high-definition quality.

    http://sermov.com/black-sails/

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