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Midlife Yoga Crisis

in YogOpinions


by J. Brown

Coming of age in the yoga profession means facing changing realities and shifting priorities. The majority of yoga teachers start out in the profession at an early time in their lives. But as the viability of old models wanes and independent players have less impact in the face of up-scaled operations, long-term prospects for careers in yoga are less apparent. For those whose passion cannot be deterred by the odds, their faith and trust in practice will likely be tested.

This year marks the twentieth that I have made my living solely from teaching yoga. It’s hard to believe that the desperate stumble I took into yoga in my early twenties has morphed a life, replete with a family, a yoga center, and a multi-media platform. There was truly no plan. I’ve just been diligent in practice, showed up consistently, taught the best class I knew how, and it has panned out well enough so far.

Simply maintaining a steady and consistent pattern of teaching 12-15 classes per week brought with it many a boon.

For the first decade, I taught under the auspices of others. I got in just before the craze of the nineties and rode the wave of independent centers that paved the path for yoga in the west. Initially, it was either the YMCA or the hip studios that started popping up everywhere. There were no classes at the gym yet. You earned your cred on the mat. People saw you there every day. They saw your practice. Eventually, you got asked to teach. And you took every opportunity you were offered for whatever money they would give you. At least I did. I was hungry and fueled by an unexplainable drive to practice and learn.

Eventually, I developed a bit of skill and a following. It became a logical next choice to open my own place; to expand upon what I had established in practice.  It led to my finding the resources and freedom to do things my own way.  The forces that be put me in just the right place at just the right time to actually make that happen. I opened a yoga center over eight years ago and it has been a thriving venture, enabling me not only to codify my teaching in ways I never could have otherwise, but also to provide a modicum of stability that has enabled me to develop as a writer and, more recently, a podcaster.

But the scene that I came up in no longer exists. When I look around outside of the bubble I created for myself, I face a crucial impasse.

I have eighteen months left on my current lease for the yoga center. Since the lease started, my neighborhood has seen a quick shift from a network of local bodegas and art-inspired businesses to La Quinta, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Levi’s, G-Starr, and an Apple store. I plan to negotiate with my landlord in six months and I know that he likes us and will probably do his best to give us a good deal. But when commercial real estate in the neighborhood is being valued according to the budgets of corporate chains, even a good deal might be too much for the humble offerings of the sole-proprietor yoga center.

Inquiring into where the next enclave of artists may have migrated to, I can find no discernible pattern. It’s as if there has been a mass exodus and everyone just took off in all directions. Detroit, Germany, Maplewood NJ, Philadelphia, who the f*** knows? Not me. And my apartment around the corner from the center, which I secured on a rent-stabilized handshake back when, was transferred to a management company two years ago and now goes up every year so I definitely have to move my family, even if I keep the center.

Where corporate models successfully take hold of increased market share, it’s not clear whether the old-school model can compete and survive.

I followed those who came before me. I observed how they opened their own spaces, developed their teaching, and built niche platforms for themselves. Some ended up being embraced by the “mainstream” and others did not. Regardless, it was possible to make a way for yourself. But this model was contingent on having a place to settle where people desired an eclectic place smelling of Nag Champa more than the quaffed amenities of a highly designed spa. Yoga centers were places of counter culture where people came more to learn than to purchase a service.

Sometimes I wonder if such places exist anymore. I’m betting they do. Perhaps not in the cities, but in micro-communities who are happy to maintain a low profile? Or has yoga become so mainstream now that the yoga center with old-school charm that I hold so reminiscently dear, just looks like a dump without shower rooms to the new-school yoga connoisseur? And it is undeniable that the internet has changed the way people come to yoga. The income I receive from online offerings, and traveling to meet people who only know me from those offerings, has become almost equivalent to the profits I see from the center, which was always my bread and butter up until only a few years ago.

Things have changed. Now that the environment which inspired and fueled my little niche has transformed and no longer resembles the same place I originally settled, I face the prospect of either attempting to hold out and stay my ground against a stemming tide, or venture out and see if i can find the remnants of what I once knew. I can only trust that the place of knowing in myself, that which my practice has fostered, will not fail me when I need it most.


J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, podcaster and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY.  His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere.  Visit his website at jbrownyoga.com

21 comments… add one
  • S.

    The authentic yoga practice tells us that we must surrender all things until the every last breath (Iswara Pranidhana). Yoga was never ours to make money from, but for us to find liberation. Maybe packing it up and finding a square job may be the best for you and your family’s progress. Let go.

    • Lauren

      No matter what the unencumbered gurus tell you, liberation isn’t free.

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  • I am sorry that this has happened. I am a health care professional and a yoga teacher whose position was “eliminated” when two organizations merged in 1996. Devastated to loose a job that fit my like a glove, I retrained(or “uptrained” really) and continued on with a day job. My intention for teaching yoga, was never to make a living. I never saw yoga as a money maker but more as a gift to share with those that want it. It has been the perfect balance for me.

  • I am a person who have a weak health and i have found yoga for my health . It is surprising that my health become better and better. I love yoga and i will try to maintain it.

  • dave

    Yoga is what we make it. Not what we make off of it.

    • VQ2

      So true.
      Yoga teaching live, is being more of service, than it is being one of those “creative symbolic analysts”.
      They can be replaced by home practice, with or without them live.

  • Biff

    Kinda sad when a 21-year-old who completed her 200 hour Core Power Yoga training packs the studio more than a 40 year old who has been teaching for decades. Also sad that places like McDonalds thrive, where corner bistros founded by chefs with years of culinary school are barely making it. Is the time and effort going into making a perfect risotto tantamount to the 200 hours learning a corporate dialogue of how to teach a class and cross training on how to sell Lululemon in the boutique studio in the front of the “gym?” As people vote with their feet and pocketbooks, it appears as though that is what America prefers. So indie studios will soon become a dinosaur and we will have an army of college sophomores teaching the majority of yoga in the US. We are trusting a 5,000 year old practice to a group that jumps from boyfriend to boyfriend and can’t work more than 3 months without quitting for another opportunity. In short, America really has fucked up yoga now hasn’t it?

    • Lauren

      Yoga is starting to be viewed as another form of aerobics that gets you to a hot 20-something bod.

  • Inevitable

    There’s plenty of blame to go around. Let’s not forget that a defined set of those 40 yr+ teachers are the ones who created the concept of cranking out 200 hr. teachers. Pictures posted so proudly on social media claiming how each succeeding group was the best, most talented group they have ever taught. In this case, short term gains have long term consequences.

  • Corporate models have definitely taken over the old-school model, making it harder for the later to compete and survive. Will yoga centers really become a casualty of this rising ride? Yoga is needed to relieve stress, get in touch with your spiritual self and maintain a healthy body. It is a gift worth sharing irrespective of the market scenario.

  • fellow peer

    I’m right there with you. I have 18 months left on my lease and we’ve been debating whether or not we should close. Unlike you, I haven’t gone mainstream in regards to traveling to teach, online offerings, teacher trainings, and giant retail section. We make money off our classes, and that’s just to keep the place open and our mouths fed. It is a labor of love that i know i can make more of a profit on if I did follow the trend, but I just don’t have it in me. I sell what we can’t get in town and only the products that I love and use, I hire from teachers that I know and trust (not based on their training at all) and I give them as much freedom to be uniquely them as I can, and I don’t push anything. I hate selling things to people. They like it or they don’t. They want it or they don’t. We keep our prices as low as we can because I think yoga should be available to everyone. And we do okay against a big chain that has come to town and dominated the market.

    But, now that I have a child, I wonder if my studio can provide well enough for her. i grew up very poor, sometimes with nothing to eat and no water or electricity and shoes that were literally falling apart, so it’s important to me she has a better life.

    Who knows what will come next. Regardless, I’ll just go with the flow. Good luck to you!

  • Hi, J. Brown! I’m intending to attend a yoga class, but I still hesitate to do it, someone told me that it was no need to take a yoga class because I can teach myself by reading yoga book and watching videos from internet, so can you tell me what I should do, should I attend a yoga class where has a yoga teacher?

  • I like taking into yoga club. I have no time to attend a yoga class so i will try my best to watch on youtube and teack myself.

  • I know that Yoga is very good for health (both physical and mental) and I really want to attend a yoga class, but I’m too busy to do. Your post gives me the motivation to come closer to yoga, thank so much. And I feel so sorry to hear about your center. Hope everything will be fine soon.

  • I really love yoga but I have no time for it. I always get up early to do some basic but I really need a teacher who help me with it. Thanks for your awesome post. I really be inspirating by it. Hope everything will be fine.

  • Jennifer Banders

    I hate to say it, however I’ve been looking at this website for a while. The people who read and comment on this website and article seem kind of stupid for lack of a better word. Misspellings, poor grammar, nonsense comments. Not seeming to have any knowledge or experience of yoga practice. Can anyone point me to a yoga website that caters to people who are more knowledgeable about yoga?

  • amit kumar

    I do yoga everyday morning but 10 to 15 mins only i need to increase my time but i have no time , for more yoga i have to woke up more early in the morning , is it profitable for me to doing just only 10 to 15 mins of yoga everyday .
    Please suggest me what should i do for it ?

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