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Incredible Shrinking Yoga Class

in Business of Yoga, YogOpinions

shrinking-yoga-class

by J. Brown

In the last twenty years, yoga in the west has gone from a guru-driven model to a market-driven model. Decisions still often come from atop a pyramid. But now, the directives are based more on aggregated data than on the presumed authority of an ancient wisdom. One small manifestation of this turn can be found in the way that yoga classes have gotten progressively shorter. As yoga teachers are newly questioning old models for what and how they teach, industry mores also deserve examination.

When I first starting teaching, yoga classes were always one hour and forty-five minutes long. I remember using a watch to time fifteen minute final rest periods and observing how some folks would get fidgety come ten minutes. But It was considered an integral part of the practice, and teachers reveled in the time spent, challenging students to relinquish effort. Eventually, there was a shift to a ninety minute class. Exactly why that happened is a mystery but my theory is that it was largely logistical. It just allowed for a cleaner schedule of daily classes. Then, after yoga had become well established within gym culture, the sixty minute “express” class emerged.

Recently, I happened to take a stroll around the internet sites of all the local yoga centers in my area. I was looking at making some changes at the center I own and operate and wanted to see what is going on with my competitors. I was surprised to discover that the majority of places have almost entirely switched to seventy-five and sixty minute classes. There are a few ninety or one hundred-twenty minute offerings scattered as special items, but the regularly scheduled classes are now seventy-five minutes or less, and “express” classes are down to forty-five minutes.

If you are interested in more than just the physical exercises, participation outside of regularly scheduled classes is becoming required.

Were a survey of general yoga class attendees to be taken, I suspect there might be a lot of people who think that ninety minutes is too long. Maybe if I shorten the classes then it will make it easier for people to fit them into their schedules and increase participation? I’m betting someone has done that research and proved it true, otherwise you wouldn’t see everyone doing it. But as a teacher, I have already so distilled and truncated the amount of teaching that can be offered in the course of a drop-in class. Most teachers who are really getting into stuff with people come up against time constraints, and are always struggling to avoid running five or ten minutes over.

Granted, the question of having enough time only really comes into play if we consider a yoga class to be more of a learning environment than a service being provided. And that really is the big switch. The days of regular attendance in group classes allowing for a comprehensive yoga education have perhaps passed. People are not generally looking for a yoga education when they are coming to a yoga class anymore. Yoga is regarded more as a paid-for service, comparable to the work of a personal trainer, where the expectation is not necessarily to learn the nature of the exercises so much as to be taken through the proper reps.

There is a difference between skillfully leading someone through a series of exercises, and teaching something about how exercises might be utilized as a means to serve a human system beyond just its physiology.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who are genuinely interested in learning about yoga beyond the physical practice. And I’m also betting there are about as many others who just want to move for sixty minutes and think I should shut my pie hole. Truth is, it would actually lessen my workload and make my life easier if I reduced all of my classes to sixty minutes. But I can’t help feeling it would be a disservice to the people who come and pay hard-earned money in the name of yoga. Perhaps there needs to be a better way to distinguish between classes that are more directly concerned with the broader aspects of yoga, and those more geared towards an exercise regimen which potentially hints at something found elsewhere.

Regardless of my feelings about it, the market is becoming determinate. If the people who pay for yoga classes want them to be shorter, sticking to my principles might just mean going out of business. No more do we see the same dutiful deference to the teacher of old. Rather, it now behooves yoga professionals to focus on fashioning exceptional customer service, even sometimes at the expense of maintaining a purity of purpose or message. However, in the process of adapting and accepting changing realities, communicating our offerings and intents with greater clarity, and taking a stand for what we believe, might just be the best thing we can do to shape markets in unexpected ways and provide more real value for everyone.

~

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.

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16 comments… add one
  • I have been teaching for 8 years. I have seen my classes increase over time. My group classes are 90 minutes, my private lessons 60-90 minutes, depending on the student. I prefer 90 minutes.
    I think the reason for the difference is that my classes are donation only(honor system). I know that there are yogis who come weekly that have never donated. The reason for this I am sure are varied, but not important. They would not be able to participate in a group practice without this class. All the donations are given to the organization that allows us to use the space.

    My intention as a teacher is to share the practice, encouraging personal practice. If I had to make a living, I would starve! I think it goes back to the balance of livelihood and teaching intent. Whether it is 60 minutes or a 2 hour sadhana, both teacher and student benefit when yoga is given and accepted equally. Today’s economy and fast pace living doesn’t support the studio model any longer.

    • Dave

      Hello Genevieve, I once heard a story from a woman. I don’t know how to put it, she needed to get to yoga for herself. She couldn’t afford to pay a donation for some time. Her plan was to pay a single larger amount later and she did. It was a nice story.

      I am able to teach without getting paid at all, at least with money. It’s too bad the whole system wasn’t able to work that way.

  • Me and a fellow yoga teacher were just talking about this. I loved the 90 minute class. There was no rushing. There was time to play around, perhaps meditate or discuss a Sutra. The shorter the class, usually the less limbs being tought.

  • Great Article very Informative! Yoga is really needed for our fast daily life. If you want stress free life and fit then it is must.

  • 90 minutes is not enough for yoga lovers 🙂

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  • I know Yoga is relaxing the mind and the body. I was wondering how we can combine the yoga and physiotherapy so the effects are long lasting and supportive.

  • I’ve heard that hot yoga that uses infrared heat technology is good for detox and other health benefits. Have you tried this form of yoga?

  • Entered now my fingers crossed!

  • As a yoga studio owner in Albuquerque, NM, I offer classes to working people that are forced to adhere to a schedule that may not be their design. We’ve been open for ten years, and in that time, have observed the “yoga boom”. We have acquiesced to the need to offer shorter classes to those desiring the many benefits of hot yoga that just don’t have a full 2 hours in their day to dedicate to practice. 60 minutes 3-5 times a week has done a world of good for our clients that may not have ever walked through the door had we only offered 90 minute classes.

  • Dharma Ramm

    The practice itself takes time like anything else found in nature to grow, blossom and experience its full natural process. To shorten this time is really cheating the potential to go deeper into the experience. Sure there are benefits to a shorter practice. The issue here is that a studio model is built to profit from a service and to continue a service that is really is deserving of more time to explore and experience its full therapeutic benefits. This is unfortunate but what can be done is that the community of practitioners always have the potential to dictate what they prefer and voice their concern about shorten classes to the studio owners.

  • Chris MacBrien

    What an incredibly ignorant article……

  • John

    One major driver is financial. Three 60 minute classes in three hours is more punters through the door than two 90 minute classes. Customers are charged more than 2/3 of the cost of a 90 min class for a 60 min one so the studio wins out.

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  • Lauren

    Home practice is a good place to get in a 90 minute session. With all of the relatively recent influx of new prople, many probably have never thought about a 90 minute class. There are a lot of ways to supplement the asana practice. And, we have a life time to learn. I say get them in the door first.

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