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 Yoga, Elena 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.)
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.
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.