The Business of Yoga Studios

yoga pose
More than 20 million Americans practice yoga, and more than 1 million of them live in New York City.

I am one of those people. The studio I attend charges $220 a month, so I spend one evening a week cleaning there in return for a significant reduction. (It’s not the most expensive ashtanga studio in the city—that would be $245 a month, formerly $260, until the owners tried to raise prices to $300 to cover a rent increase and enough people protested to spur a rollback.) I don’t mind cleaning—I love my studio, my teacher and my practice. But as someone making mortgage payments on a five-figure salary, if the rate reduction disappeared or diminished, I’d be SOL.

And some yoga teachers here think that soon, they’ll barely be able to stay afloat, much less offer work-study deals.

Yoga for NY, a group of owners and teachers who lobby the state when they think that potential laws or policies might adversely affect their business, are gearing up to campaign in the new year against the possibility that studios might be forced to reclassify their teachers from independent contractors to employees. Yoga Vida—the studio co-founded by Hilaria Baldwin, wife of Alec—is four years into attempting to appeal a state order to cough up unemployment insurance for its teachers. The state found against Yoga Vida over the summer, and owner Michael Patton found out recently that his final appeal will be heard.

Meanwhile, Alison West, executive director of Yoga for NY, told me that the state is already using Yoga Vida as a precedent for studio audits, and that if studios have to start contributing to the state’s unemployment coffers, their “tiny tiny profit margins” would disappear, forcing many to fold.

I know what you’re thinking: For this multibillion-dollar industry, spawner of fashion mistakes and sex scandals, a yoga contraction in one city isn’t a thing. But fewer choices equals less accessibility to a practice that reduces the stress of living in this overpriced, overcrowded concrete jungle. And as the center of the media world, happenings here get a disproportionate amount of coverage, easily setting up reference points for the rest of the country. In that sense, what happens here has the potential to affect the other 19 million-plus practitioners.

The alternative to folding, of course, is raising prices. Yoga classes in New York cost around $20 each, and memberships vary widely but are usually north of $140 a month. Higher prices would put yoga out of reach for many as surely as fewer choices would.

The wild card here is the teachers, who trudge around the boroughs in an attempt to teach enough classes and privates to string together a livelihood (privates are where the real yoga money is. That, and teaching workshops and trainings). West said that Yoga for NY canvassed teachers, and they said that they prefer the freedom of freelancing to the protection employee status brings. Thoughts, yoga teachers and folks who love them? Leave comments below.

 

See Also: Money I Spent to Make Money Teaching Yoga

Kira Goldenberg is the web editor at the Columbia Journalism Review.

Photo: pbkwee

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