The Business of Yoga: Part 2 (A personal story)

I have read that yoga’s potential students outnumber yoga’s current students 5 to 1. In 2012, more than 200 million Americans practiced yoga, while more than a million expressed interest in trying it out. I believe in the accuracy of this figure and feel that, without a doubt, every human being on this planet can benefit from this practice- whether it is just placing a conscious awareness on the breath for a period of time, or engaging in a fully physical practice. The issue is how to get these potential practitioners over the barrier of WANTING to try it out, to ACTUALLY doing it. It is very clear to me that the desire to teach yoga and the skills to build a business of teaching yoga are two completely different things. I write the following experience as an example of how such a desire alone can result in failure.

A few months ago, I mentioned that I had been hired by a new studio in a town that was a 30 minute drive from where I live. The girl who was hired to manage the “yoga department” within this personal training studio was a fellow member of my teacher training group and someone who I considered a friend. The opening of this studio continued to be delayed, as construction issues arose. After a long period of waiting without knowing when we were supposed to start teaching, we were told that the studio was to open on the weekend of April 26 and to mark our calendars. Then, we heard nothing more. Since I was scheduled to teach a Sunday afternoon class, I e-mailed my friend, the manager who had sent the e-mail, asking if the studio was indeed open and if I should show up to teach on Sunday. I received no replies to any of my e-mails and had no idea whether I should be planning a class and driving out the next day. I finally texted her and later received a response of, “No!”. The following week, she sent out an e-mail to the four hired teachers, telling us that they were waiting on the flooring for the studio to arrive. It would then take at least a week to install. The construction delays were understandable, but I felt the lack of communication was much less so.
Several weeks later, we were requested to drive out to the studio for an “orientation”. I arrived to find the place to be a construction site! It was immediately clear to me that it was not going to be opening that weekend, which we had been told was the next opening date. At the orientation, the manager informed us that if no students showed up for our class, we would be paid $10 in compensation. This was the first time I was hearing of this policy, which was a bit shocking after expecting to be paid weeks ago. The other teacher at the orientation spoke up and said that no students showing was likely to happen a lot, as he had been in this position many times before. He added that it takes months to build a student base. The manager immediately dismissed his concern and said that there were a lot of people interested in the yoga classes. We were then shown the software for checking in students and accepting payment and were informed that in addition to teaching, we were expected to sign all of our students into class, enroll them in monthly payment programs, swipe their credit cards, and make sure they filled out paperwork and listed their injuries! I knew that this was not a feasible system. This process takes at least several minutes per student, and takes time to learn how to do. In addition, many students arrive late. Most importantly, yoga teachers need a few minutes to collect themselves before they can be expected to get into a space where they can deliver calmness, a sense of holding space for the class, and go over the poses they have planned to teach. They can not be expected to perform two different jobs at one time (especially when not compensated for the additional work!). Things were looking bleaker and bleaker by the minute. After filling out tax forms, we were give a free coupon to pass out to anyone who might be interested in taking a class and were told that we could get more of them. Upon returning home, I noticed the fine print on the coupon… It was only good for one of the classes that the manager was teaching! I almost couldn’t believe it! She had created a schedule of 25 classes per week, 10 of which she would be teaching at the most ideal times. I was given the horrendous time slot of 7:15 on Friday nights (I immediately knew no one would come at that time and suggested it would be better to hold an earlier class, to which she responded that she was teaching then…), as well as Sundays at 4. She also informed me that these would be “meditative yoga” classes and upon reading the description, I learned that they were supposed to be restorative classes, which is the exact opposite of the style of yoga that I teach! At our audition (which was in NH- over an hour’s drive away, we were required to demonstrate that we could teach a ‘power yoga’ sequence, which is actually my strength and natural style). Other classes were instructed to be set to hip-hop and top 40 songs, which I was glad I was not assigned. I believe that instructors should be left to themselves to select the type of music that best goes with their style and have the option to use no music at all. Sometimes, the best practices are ones in which all outside distractions are eliminated and where the student can focus on the sound of his or her own breath.
The studio finally opened on the Tuesday after Memorial Day. They announced the opening Monday night on Facebook. They had five yoga classes scheduled for this opening day. As I was lying in savasana during my Monday night yoga class, I thought about how ridiculous that kind of scheduling was! It takes time to build a clientele. Students need a reason to change their schedules and try out a class at a new place and they then need to be given a reason to continue coming back. People also need advance notice to schedule their activities. By this time, I had agreed to teach a basics class on Tuesdays at 7:15. We were also asked to come in for a second orientation that day! It quickly became apparent that no students were showing up for any of the yoga classes that day. I asked if I could stop by for the orientation on my way into Boston that Thursday, as it was obvious no students were going to show up. I was told, no, that I needed to be there until at least 7:30. Because no one showed up to the managers class at 6pm, she asked if I could arrive early for the second orientation so that she didn’t have to wait around. I arrived to find a giant padlock on the studio door and thought it was locked! The manager and the owner were sitting inside and I expected them to let me in. When they did not, I realized the door was open. If I were a client, the giant padlock would suggest to me that the place was locked! There was also no sign informing anyone that yoga classes were being offered at this place. I was shown the yoga studio, which was supposed to have a “beautiful” bamboo floor. Instead, it had a black rubber floor! Cement steps in the room led to a back door exit. There was nothing nice looking about the room. They had a few yoga blocks and straps piled on the floor, but no blankets or bolsters like one would expect to find in a studio- and especially one that offers restorative yoga (which I was supposed to teach!). The personal trainer manager plopped a piece of paper next to me and asked me to fill it out when I had time. After the yoga manager left, I took a look at the piece of paper and read that it was a “non-compete” form explaining that we were not allowed to teach yoga of any kind within that town and that if we were let go from our position, we would be banned from teaching anywhere in that town for a period of one year. I didn’t like the sound of that. If an opportunity to teach a private client came up, I would not be allowed to teach them? I decided that I did not feel comfortable signing this form and took it home to ask the manager (my supposed former friend) about later.
A little while after I returned home, I received a text. “Did you take the non-compete form with you?!” I said that I did and that I wanted to ask her about it first. I thought about the instructors in Boston who teach at several different studios in the same town. She replied that it was standard practice within the fitness industry and that if I wasn’t okay with it, they would be unable to keep me on the staff. She told me that I had until the following night to respond with my answer. The next day, she left a voicemail that began, “This is (so and so) from Fitness Within. (Really?) And that I was to call her back to discuss the non-compete form. I went for a walk on the beach and thought about whether it was worth it to stay with this place considering they were doing nothing to help us get students (my suggestion to offer the free classes to all instructors’ classes was immediately shot down), that we would be paid $10 per class if no one showed up after spending an hour to prepare for class, an hour to drive there, my own gas money, and the time waiting to see if anyone showed up. In addition, I was missing out on the opportunity to take my own favorite yoga classes at that time. I thought about whether this was all worth it even if I got paid the $30 they were offering to pay me when students did show up. My conclusion was no. Still, I wrote her back and said that I would sign the non-compete form and bring it in on Friday. That evening, I received another e-mail asking if I had received her voicemail that morning and that I was to call her between the hours of 10:30- 1:30 the following day or I was no longer a member of the Fitness Within staff. I stared at the e-mail. She wanted to get rid of me! Since I had already decided that none of this was worth it to me, I realized that all I had to do was not call her back within those hours, and it would all be over with.
Amusingly, the e-mail from her arrived in my inbox at 1:38 pm, informing me that since I did not return her call during her specified hours, that she had no choice but to remove me from the staff. It’s funny that she always took several days to return my e-mails when I wasn’t sure if I was expected to show up to teach, but this time had no problem responding within minutes of her own devised deadline!
I later learned that the other hired instructor who expressed concern over the lack of students in the first few months had 4,000 hours of teaching experience! I wondered why anyone with that much experience would agree to be paid so little! It took only two days for him to be released from the schedule, as well, just as I expected. The schedule was changed from 25 to 19 classes per week, and over the next several weeks, no students continued to show up. Now, only 6 weeks later, there are 8 classes per week listed on the schedule, and it has come to my attention that this manger of the yoga department is no longer holding that position and is looking to be hired to teach at other studios. She has also burned her former bridge with me.

It is clear to me that a sense of togetherness and community is of utmost importance in any endeavor. Forming connective bonds and a sense of teamwork leads to a blending of ideas and suggestions that will result in decisions based on the higher good, rather than on one person’s identity with a position of authority and power. People need to feel heard and valued and when they don’t, they tend to either fight back or withdraw, which never leads to a good outcome.
The lack of advertising was also a huge contributor to the quick failure of this enterprise. From the moment she advertised the openings for instructors at this place, I asked how they were advertising for it. She didn’t seem to have any ideas. At the first orientation, the mother of the young personal trainer behind the opening of this place (presumably backing the place financially) proudly stated that they had included a coupon for a months worth of classes in the “ValuePak” that comes in the mail. (You mean the thing that everyone immediately throws out?!) The only advertising that they were doing was listing the next days yoga schedule on their Facebook page the night before.

Ultimately, I lost nothing and only freed myself up to once again be able to attend level 2/3 classes with this man! (A much happier situation for me!) Screen shot 2014-07-09 at 11.39.24 PM

(That is, if I want to sit in traffic for an hour and 45 minutes to get there! Ah life…)

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