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Business of Yoga

The Business of Yoga: Why I Run A Donation-Based Yoga Studio

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How I make it happen so you can figure out if you can do something similar, too.

Wondering if you could ever afford to run a donation-only yoga studio? Here’s how one yoga and meditation teacher in Colorado does it so you can consider if it’s an option for you, too.

I recently met with a student who was out of work after having a major surgery. She had limited motion, and she was recovering from a hysterectomy—a procedure she was upset she had to go through in her mid-30s. She faced a Catch 22: She wanted to commit to her yoga practice, something she needed to help center her as she dealt with immense sadness after this life change. But the financial stress of being out of work made it impractical to keep yoga in her budget. I was able to create a deeply discounted membership package for her so that she could practice in our studio.

Anecdotes like this reaffirm for me why I wanted to open a donation-based yoga studio in the first place. Since opening my Louisville, Colo.-based studio Yoga Hive in Sept. 2017, I’ve been navigating what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to the donation-based model. I’ve adapted along the way.

See also 10 Business Secrets to Starting a Successful Yoga Career

It’s my mission to disrupt the pervasive stereotype that yoga is just for wealthy and fit people, toting yoga mats and green drinks as they saunter to and from classes. All the while, I am running a business and need to keep the doors open, so it’s important for me to home in on a donation approach that works in the health and wellness marketplace.

How I use a sliding-scale membership program

My studio does have drop-in classes, punch cards, and packages. But critical to operating as a donation-based studio is having a “Pay it Forward” membership program, to bring in a steady stream of revenue each month.

Under this program, roughly 75 percent of my members pay the full $99 per month, which gives them unlimited studio access to a wide range of classes, like aerial, Kundalini, cycle yoga, vinyasa flow, and more. The remaining 25 percent of my clients pay a monthly membership that’s tailored to fit their budget; this typically ranges from $30 to $50 a month. Just like full-paying members, they have access to all the same classes and studio amenities. To enroll in this, clients meet with me one-on-one and we develop a membership rate that works best for them, and they commit to at least three months of the practice. During this dialogue, we discuss what yoga means to them, how many times they can come to class each week, and what price points can work with their budgets.

Here’s the thing that’s important: There’s a level of discreteness. When it comes to which members are paying in full and which ones are receiving discounts, the studio’s teachers and other students don’t know. It’s not something that’s advertised when they check in, either.

See also 7 Best Yoga Mats, According to 7 Top Teachers Around the World

Was I afraid when I opened the studio that people would take advantage of this model? Absolutely. But I can honestly say that hasn’t been the case even once.

As of now, my studio is breaking even. We have some months when we’re turning a profit, and others when we’re not. When you average them together, we’re coming out just about even and able to cover overhead costs.

It’s tight, yes.

But the Pay it Forward model works best when it operates almost like a scholarship: You have enough members paying full-price, which helps subsidize lower-cost memberships for others, which may be college students from the nearby university, service workers in the community, or a member’s friend who, until now, viewed yoga as too expensive.

The donation-based business model must be clearly laid out to avoid confusion among clients.

The challenges of running a donation-only studio

A major lesson I learned in the first year of business is that running a donation-based studio can cause a lot of confusion among your clients. To help remedy that, we have information at our front desk about the Pay it Forward membership program available to hand out.

See also How to Create a Solid Yoga Practice At Any Age

While I will certainly work with people to help them afford drop-in classes, I’ve taken an emphasis off of donation-based, drop-in classes and now charge $17 for a single, drop-in class. Frankly, having a “suggested donation” was a tricky business model that confused people who did want to pay full price.

One risk we face is the misperception that our studio is only for low-income yoga students, and we do need full-paying members to help offset costs. Even though we accept credit and debit cards, people also tend to associate this donation model with dropping cash in a bucket. Also, you need to be careful that just because you have a donation-based model, your high-quality programming and yoga classes aren’t mistakenly perceived as cheap.

Before opening the studio, I was working in corporate health care for 20 years, with a jam-packed travel schedule. I cared about maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, and I competed in races and triathlons. But, I felt as though I was becoming more disconnected from my authentic self. There was that “mean voice” telling me to get up even earlier and work even harder. After some significant soul searching and meditation, I decided to leave the high-paying corporate world and build a space that went beyond a fancy yoga studio. There’s no lack of those.

See also This 5-Minute Meditation for Parents Will Save Your Sanity

As a registered yoga teacher and meditation coach, I built Yoga Hive as a space my community could gather to work on physical, mental, and emotional growth in a safe and supportive environment. The “thank you” notes and testaments I hear from students we’ve been able to reach definitely feel great.



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Balance

How to Host International Yoga Retreats Consciously and Ethically

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Yoga and Buddhism teacher Jacoby Ballard shares thoughts on travel and how the compassion and generosity that a yoga practice fosters can help create peace, regardless of where you roll out your mat. You don’t have to go far to feel connected to the world.

My yoga and meditation practice helped me grapple with the disappointing truth that I didn’t have the training, support, context, or time to act skillfully in Guatemala

When I was 24, I traveled to volunteer in Guatemala, arriving with many good intentions, and radical anti-globalization politics. But I soon found that, due to the economic, race, and gender dynamics that preceded me, I was often viewed as wealthy and expected to either tell locals what to do (about challenges and difficulties that I had no context or skills for) or to dole out gifts (whether to individuals or a community). Over the course of hundreds of interactions, I learned that I would have to remain in one community for decades to become a true partner in change and not be seen as just another imperialist gringo. At the time, my yoga and meditation practice helped me grapple with the disappointing truth that I didn’t have the training, support, context, or time to act skillfully in Guatemala.

See also Leadership Lab: Jacoby Ballard on Power, Privilege and Practice

Shortly after my return to the U.S., I began working for CISPES, the Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador—a grassroots organization that has been supporting the Salvadoran people’s struggle for social and economic justice since 1980. At CISPES I received a history lesson on El Salvador and the training and support to do the work that initially brought me to Guatemala. I benefitted from generations of CISPES activists before me and a legacy of trust and profound dialog with our Salvadoran compas about social change strategies and practices.

While working at CISPES, I began teaching a weekly yoga class to our staff and that of a few other nearby organizations. Through that offering, I found my work, or my dharma: to support social change workers through embodiment and reflection, to give them designated time to slow down and turn inward, thereby preventing burnout and strengthening their social movements—it is when we are in a state of individual and collective balance that we can be the most tactful, innovative, wise, and ambitious.

See also How to Become a Group Exercise Instructor

Can Yoga Teachers Lead International Retreats Ethically?

Five years later, in 2012, I led my first international yoga retreat in Tulum, Mexico, after hearing how lucrative it could be, and given the difficulty of making a living as a yoga teacher in New York City. Initially, I felt I had enough reasons to try to lead international retreats ethically, but after five such retreats, it still didn’t feel aligned with my values and politics. Unlike with my work at CISPES, I certainly wasn’t in dialog with local people and movements, and I wasn’t using my privilege in solidarity with the needs of the most vulnerable and targeted people of Mexico. I had no way to evaluate whether my week-long presence on retreats was of actual benefit to the working class and indigenous Mexicans working at the retreat center or those walking the beaches selling coconut water or necklaces. And with more and more American and European presence in Tulum, it felt like I was part of displacement and imposition rather than an equitable relationship.

Such experiences sit in stark contrast to an annual Queer and Trans Yoga Retreat I started leading at the Watershed Center in Millerton, New York, in 2013. This retreat center is devoted to the wellbeing of social justice workers, the health of the land, and it cultivates relationships with the original inhabitants, the Schaghticoke people. Retreaters’ food is grown on the queer farm across the dirt road. Retreat center beds were constructed as part of a youth leadership program upstate. And, the Watershed Center posts photos on its dining room wall of a diverse array of retreatants answering the question, “what is liberation?” All of these practices build a sense of continuity, community, and participation beyond just who attends the retreat.

See also Jacoby Ballard Creates Safe Spaces for Trans Community

Some people travel or retreat to have a new, fun experience, to fulfill curiosity about the world, to gain perspective on life, or for respite. I want this too, but I also want to participate in the equitable redistribution of resources, authentic and humble relationships with local people, a priority on connection over profit, and a sense that I am there to do both individual work and participate in collective liberation. If you are like me, when you engage in yoga travel, you want to take the opportunity to cultivate intimacy with yourself on the mat, but also with the uneven dynamics of race and religion that shape our experience and help us understand the world.

My hope for any immersion into a yoga practice—whether at your local studio or on retreat in Tulum—is for you to cultivate awareness and visionary strategy to tend to problems like the gender wage gap, the targeting of black folks by police departments, the separation of immigrant families, or the generations of assault on Turtle Island’s indigenous peoples. By creating intimacy where there has been separation, we can humanize those who have been disregarded, displaced, or excluded. We can investigate what is deliberately hidden. Traveling ethically can be an opportunity to put our spirituality into practice in daily life. 

See also YJ Asked: How Can Teachers Make All Students Feel Included?

Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Host an International Yoga Retreat

These inquiries are not easy! But they can help you travel responsibly
:

  • What are my intentions in travel to this place, at this moment in my life, and at this moment in our political landscape? 
  • What can I learn about the local history, politics, spiritual and religious practices, and culture from the perspective of local communities? (If you don’t have time to study this, perhaps it’s not the right time to travel.) 
  • What does humility and integrity look like in the space I take up, or with the jewelry I wear, gifts I present, and products and experiences I consume? 
  • Who owns the retreat center? What is their position in the local culture, economy, and political landscape? What kind of income does the staff earn? 
  • What organizations in my travel destination can I donate to that serve local people at the margins? 
  • Can I offset the environmental impact of my flight through donating to an organization blocking an oil pipeline or supporting a reforestation project? 

See also What’s the Difference Between Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Appreciation?

About our author

Jacoby Ballard has taught yoga for 19 years. Now based in Salt Lake City, Utah, he is the co-founder of Third Root Community Health Center, a worker-owned cooperative and holistic health center in Brooklyn, New York. He has worked with the Yoga Service Council; Insight Meditation Society; Off the Mat, Into the World; Yoga Alliance; and Lululemon on issues of social justice. Learn more about Jacoby’s work at jacobyballard.com. 



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One Yoga Teacher's 3 Lessons We Could All Learn About Making Money

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Yoga and abundance don’t always feel like they belong together. One yoga teacher shares the lessons she learned about accepting wealth and tearing down financial barriers that weren’t serving her.

As I watched the snow fall into the hot tub at the retreat center I was visiting, nestled in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, I found myself thinking, How did I get this luxury?! Taking four days off to indulge at a hot springs in the mountains while learning from my yoga mentor seemed like a far cry from my start as a yoga teacher. Being underpaid was a regular occurrence when I first started teaching. Struggling to buy groceries, trips to the gas station hoping that I didn’t go over the twenty dollars I had in my wallet, and not being able to afford health care (gulp) were discomforts I grew strangely accustomed to.

I was extremely passionate about teaching yoga and I loved doing it, but my bank account did not match my passion as an instructor. As much as I would like to blame corporations, point my finger at capitalism, and gnash my teeth at the unfair nature of my soulful work being so undervalued, the truth is that my value as a teacher was already at a deficit before I even stepped foot into a yoga studio.

See also 10 Business Secrets to Starting a Successful Yoga Career

When I followed the thread that led me to being a “poor yoga teacher,” I could trace it all the way back to the old sayings that were instilled in my absorbent young brain as a child: “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” “You have to work hard for money.” Or the most insidious, “Good people don’t need money.”

These seeds grew in my subconscious at a slow and steady rate. Over time, they became my reality, and as my yoga career developed, so did my belief that money meant struggle.

See also A 5-Minute Meditation To Relieve Financial Stress

I said “yes” to unpaid yoga gigs. I constantly bustled across town from one teaching job to the next. And I watched as my own practice fell to the wayside because teaching at a high volume was siphoning all my time and energy.

Finally I hit a bottom. I was fed up with scraping by, and I knew something had to change. I realized that if I wanted abundance, I needed to make a choice. That choice was to start shifting my perspective around money so that that I could not only heal my relationship with money, but also welcome prosperity into my life.

See also A Katonah Yoga Sequence To Live A More Abundant Life

There were three critical things that shifted the tide for me, and I know they can help any teacher looking to give themselves a raise.

1. Realize that spirituality means abundance

When you go into class and speak the word “abundance,” can you honestly say that you are feeling it in all areas of your life? Chaining yourself to the idea that being spiritual means financially struggling can disrupt the abundance that is waiting for you. When you accept that financial abundance and spirituality can have a thriving working relationship, it will reflect in your spirit—and your bank account! Take it from visionary Maya Angelou, who said, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive”.

See also The Yoga of Money: Take Wisdom from the Mat to Your Finances

2. Get crystal clear on your teaching intention

For some people, teaching a full load of 15 classes a week can strain your health and your capacity to serve. As in any other business, it can take time to build a network and establish a presence in the yoga space. Figure out a teaching strategy that will fulfill you and help maintain your sanity—not detract from it. Do you see yourself teaching full time? Does having a full-time job while teaching two to three classes sound fulfilling? Get clear on what is right for YOU. The way I figured this out was by getting support from a business coach and community I trusted so that I could navigate how to market myself and speak effectively about my services.

See also Live + Practice From the Heart: Identify True Intention

3. Seek great mentorship

One of the most pivotal steps you can take to open to financial abundance is to seek guidance from other successful yogis. Learning from others who gained wisdom and experience from walking a path before me allowed me to understand the paths available to me. Just like your daily local teacher, learning from someone who knows the ropes is so much easier than trying to figure it out yourself. I also sought guidance from business mentors and like minded women who were committed to living on purpose that could teach me how to offer my gifts, live my purpose, and get the structure I needed to financially sustain myself. Look for local clubs, meetups, and other networking opportunities in which you’ll be able to make valuable connections in the community.

See also A Yoga Teacher’s Guide to Social Networking

Just like yoga, stretching your financial container can cause some discomfort. Just like the journey of yoga, the path to feeling ease and grace with our money values starts from within. With a clear vision and the right tools and support, knowing and claiming your worth as a yoga teacher is totally possible!



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Business of Yoga

The Business of Yoga: How to Name a Yoga Class

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The right name can mean the difference between a small turnout and a well-attended class. Here’s how to choose the best name for the yoga class you’re offering.

Here are some insider tips on how to name a yoga class.

When planning a yoga class, the location, teacher, and music (or lack thereof) can make or break the success of the class. What you might not realize is that the name of your class can make just as much of an impact. After all, the name is the first point of contact for your students—the formal invitation to the experience.

Consider this: There is a big difference between “Vinyasa Level 2,” and “Yoga Warrior.” The first indicates a general idea of what the class will be—sequences that an intermediate student would be familiar with. However, these days, saying “level 2” is kind of like saying “blue.” There are so many shades and variations that you might mean electric blue or navy blue. On the flip side, a name like “Yoga Warrior” gives you an idea of the feeling or tone of the class.

See also The Business of Yoga: How One Yogi Started a Meditation Group—on Her Front Stoop

How to Name a Yoga Class

When crafting a name for your yoga class, one of the first steps you should take is to consider your audience. If you are teaching a restorative yoga class to people at the end of the day, adding in the time of day with an image from nature can make the class sound more inviting. (For example, you might name that class “Sunset Restorative Yoga.”)

Descriptive adjectives and verbs that evoke a particular feeling can create a name that jumps off of a screen and reaches more people. If you need a little more direction, try writing down the three words that you would like people to feel at the end of your class. Do you want to invite feelings of warmth, radiance, and strength—or do you want your students to leave class feeling chill, nourished, and receptive?

See also 10 Business Secrets to Starting a Successful Yoga Career

At the other end of the spectrum, names that are too flowery can be a deterrent. For example, “Sun Celebration” sounds more like a song title than a descriptive yoga class name that lets students know what they should expect. It’s important to find a balance between the concrete (for example: yoga, prenatal, restorative, yin, or Ashtanga) and the descriptors (such as powerful, peaceful, or energized). As you brainstorm how to name a yoga class, play with names on paper or on your computer and be aware of the length of the name. Names that are too long can be hard to remember.

A name with alliteration can intrigue students. Names like “Buti,” “Budokon,” and “Yogafit” have all been a hit because they are short and memorable—kind of like singers and actors with just one name. Longer names with alliteration or even rhyming can also work because they are fun to say. “Fitness Flow” and “More Core” are clear indicators of what students can expect.

See also I Moved to Bali to Start a Yoga Business—Here’s How I Pulled it Off

If you are a traditional teacher and want to pay homage to your lineage, make sure your Sanskrit is on point. We have all seen or heard teachers use or say Sanskrit terminology that was not correct. Also, keep in mind some names, both in English Sanskrit, may have been trademarked. Some trademarks cover the right to use a name for videos, books, and products, while other trademarks cover in-person classes. If you want to check if a name carries a current trademark, visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office website and enter the name you’re considering. You can also apply for a trademark on a name you really love to protect it.

Follow this simple checklist before you name your yoga class.

The next time you’re asked to name a yoga class, here’s a quick checklist to help you come up with a winner:

  1. Get a piece of paper and draw a line down the center: On the right side, write down the feelings that you hope your class will evoke. On the left side, write down what the class will entail.
  2. Use a thesaurus to find additional words that can help you with alliteration and rhyming.
  3. Check your Sanskrit, or any language that is not your first language, to make sure the terminology you’re using is correct.
  4. Check the United States Patent and Trademark Office (uspto.com) to make sure the name you’d like to use isn’t trademarked.
  5. If you have a name that you love, register it on the USPTO to protect your idea.

Remember, your class name is a reflection of your style. Students will get an idea of what your vibe is simply by reading the name of your class.

See also The Business of Yoga: 5 Pro Hacks That’ll Get Your Yoga Studio Cleaner Than Ever 

If you work in a studio where the names are already selected, ask your studio manager if she is open to using a new name. If she says no, consider using the name online and in your branding. I teach “Prenatal Yoga,” and the name of my brand is Mothers into Living Fit. On social media, I post my classes as “Prenatal Yoga with Mothers into Living Fit.” Remember, your class names are your signature, and you can be creative with the names as well as where and how you use them. 

About the Author

Desi Bartlett works as the Head of Yoga Programming for Manduka Yoga and is the creator of Mothers Into Living Fit. She has appeared in 10 yoga and fitness DVDs and is the prenatal and postnatal yoga teacher for Beachbody. Her new book, “Your Strong, Sexy Pregnancy,” comes out this April with Human Kinetics. Learn more at mothersintolivingfit.com.



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