Yoga and Business: Balancing yoga service with yoga business
Yoga and business. A few truths about the yoga economy
If you’re a yoga practitioner or teacher, the chances are money isn’t a primary motivator. If it was really all about the Benjamins, you could be working for Goldman-Sachs or investing in the buy-to-let market. Instead, you’ve developed a strange and (to outsiders) irrational love of arcane Sanskrit terms and breath control. Yoga and business don’t mix?
So, now you want to teach, and make a decent living out of it. You may not have any ambitions to outspend the Koch brothers, but you’re probably quite partial to getting enough to eat and being able to heat your apartment. You want to follow your passions, and still afford health insurance. So, how do you reconcile the numerous potential conflicts between the practice you love and the necessities of business?
In the era of the ‘yogalebrity’, some teachers achieve global fame and recognition, and command enormous fees. For the average Joe, or Josephine, however, covering studio rental, insurance, and travel can leave turning a profit looking like as distant a dream as Enlightenment.
The exceptions to that rule are generally the teachers whose love, skill, and experience makes them stand out from the crowd, and who are prepared to spend the time it takes to build a loyal student base. If you’re looking to participate in a retreat or yoga holiday, those are great qualities to seek out.
Do business and yoga mix?
Like it or not, the modern yoga industry is a multi-billion dollar affair. That makes it tempting for teachers and studios to turn quick profits without too much concern for quality. Teacher trainings can be very lucrative.
The economics of yoga and business being what they are, many studios would fold if they relied on regular drop-in classes for their income, and it can take years for a teacher to develop a sufficient following to make teaching self-sustaining.
For students, that makes it even more important to choose carefully and ensure that any teacher training you’re thinking of participating in is high-quality, and motivated more by a desire to share the practice than by a desire to turn a profit.
The changing relationship between teachers and students
Traditionally, yoga students would find a guru and work intensively with that person. They would invest an enormous amount of trust, and that guru would play a key role in shaping their practices and perceptions. As Westerners, we may feel uncomfortable with this level of vulnerability. Trusting a guru so completely may look like a recipe for disappointment, even outright abuse, and it can be.
“The very fact that if you ask the average person what yoga is, they immediately think of a beautiful woman doing stretches and bends, that tells you how commercialized it has become, and how limited. What yoga has meant for thousands of years is not just that.” – Philip Goldberg
In modern times, the power dynamic has shifted dramatically. Students may relate to teachers more like customers do to service providers, with the freedom to integrate teachings from several different sources or traditions. This has the advantage of protecting the autonomy and freedom of students. On the other hand, it can place pressure on the teacher to meet expectations rather than teach with deep integrity.
Conclusion: how to balance vocation and finance?
The bottom line is that there have always been pressures on teachers. In the modern era, many of those pressures are financial. The temptation to make a quick buck in the modern yoga world can be enormous, and it can sometimes appear that quick bucks are the only bucks available.
There are those who become well known by building their teachings into a ‘brand’ and harnessing the power of the internet to expand their audiences. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it undoubtedly presents a dilemma for any would-be teacher. Determining when more commercial exposure is truly serving their teaching practice and when it may be diluting their integrity is a difficult task, and one that takes a great deal of honesty to do successfully.
Ultimately, only you get to decide how your practice, and your business, evolves. If you focus entirely on the former, you may be a dedicated practitioner with little to show for it. If you tip the scales towards the latter, you may become wildly successful but lack a true sense of vocation. If you succeed in combining the two effectively, maybe you’ll be in that rare, sweet position of being paid to do something you love.
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