The Business of Yoga

Yesterday I read an article called “The Brutal Economics of Being a Yoga Teacher” in NY Magazine. There was also another article a year or so ago called “Why Yoga is a Broke Ass Business” which was even more dreary.

So yeah, make no mistake about it: being small business owner in the yoga industry is hard – and I have a business degree.

Here's the problem I have about these articles. While they ring true for many of us what I hear is a lot of fear and not many solutions.

Fear is a troublesome emotion. It can keep us stuck. We end up making the same choices over and over and hoping for a different result. We drag our feet on change because the unknown is scarier than the known; even when the known isn't working.

This happens in all facets of our lives and it happens to all of us.

Have you ever had the experience of really disliking your job but not quitting because the fear of not having a job was worse?

What about not breaking up with your boyfriend or girlfriend because the idea of no relationship is scarier than the wrong relationship?

This is what it looks like when we are stuck and it happens in business, too.

The economics of the yoga business has been the same for a long time. Heck, when I opened the studio in 2009, I used the same class card prices that my neighborhood studio had in 2004.

Many years ago, I briefly dated a gentlemen who said “I never want to know what goes on behind the scenes of a yoga studio”. He insinuated that in order to be successful – owners had to be ugly, greedy and downright “un-yogic”. The guy didn't stick; but his words did.

I set my intention to run a Dharmic business. This is an actual quote from my “intention” journal written 2005:

"I am the owner of a healing center where the core business is yoga. We offer yoga classes of all schools and healing services of all types (yogic, energy, shamanic, chinese, “new age”). This is a community of like-minded souls who have come together for the purpose of personal growth, healing and happiness. The business provides services that are affordable to the community and provides jobs and income producing opportunities for teachers and healers in the community”.

You know that quote from Field of Dreams “If you build it, they will come”? Well – that was my mantra. I was Kevin Costner building a baseball field in the corn. I was going to create a business like no other in Washington Heights – a prosperous yoga studio that offered affordable classes to a community of like-minded souls, employed teachers and healers from the community and provided me with a good income in which to contribute to my family of 5.

Oh and the yoga room was going to be small enough for people to get a personal experience and learn yoga really well.

Entrepreneurs are very optimistic people.

And so it went. And then I was that person the gentleman of my past was referring to. The person behind the scenes of the business of yoga. That person, trying desperately to practice what she preaches (Yoga works! Do yoga!) with scheduling stress, financial stress and general life stress beating down the door.

And I felt stuck. And you know what was keeping me stuck? Fear. Fear of change. Fear of doing something different than everyone else. Fear of failure.

Fear of failure is a bitch if you let it be.

So here is where I get transparent with my business. Your community yoga studio.

Do you know what most yoga studios (including mine) struggle with? Cash flow. Money coming in (predictably) and money going out (predictably). It's easy to count on the money going out – but the money coming in? Hm. Harder. Guess what happens when more money goes out then comes in? Owners pay out of their pockets. Owners go into debt. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. Guess what else happens? Fear and stress knock on the door to your life.

There are a lot of mathy type stats we can play with as studio owners but the nut of it is this: we need students to practice consistently at our businesses OR we need a VERY large pool of people who practice at no particular frequency.

For us, in Washington Heights, we do not have a very large pool of people.

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In life they call that insanity. In business they call it bankruptcy.

So what did I do? I lowered prices and created memberships. Memberships with different levels of practice frequency per month at VERY affordable per class prices (actually, the lowest I can find in NYC). What's the catch? It's monthly and it auto-renews. Memberships are flexible (we are flexible yogis after all) but they are intended to help students commit to their practice in an affordable way.

From the studio perspective, it helps us predict that money coming in the door part of the equation which is oh so important to keeping those doors open.

So it's a new way of doing things. And new is scary and not always pleasing to all. But to grow personally, we must try new things. I'm pretty sure its the same for business. Lets see!