Today I received my first debriefing on the current status of yogaland, since I m looking for ways to start teaching locally again.
Ironically, I only intended to teach to friends, since I gave up being a business owner slash yoga teacher, in 2020. Covid had taken away my last classes, I stopped two weeks before the official decree came, when the time I spent disinfecting the studio after class had become the same length as the time it took me to teach it.
But there had been more.
Two years earlier I had downsized, only teaching at my own small studio and no longer renting extra space. And when I ultimately ended the lease of my unused studio, late 2020, I still did not fully grasp why being a yoga teacher had not worked for me. Why there had been something not working, way before Covid.
Why I had always felt there was something inherently “off” with being a yoga teacher, without any concept of what that was or how to improve on it.
I was empty handed and could not offer any consolation or alternatives, to my fellow yoga teachers, not to my yoga students, not to myself.
Which was less dramatic than in sounds because aside from my own yoga students – who were of course affected by me not finding my way around being what they wanted or perhaps even needed me to be- aside from those directly involved, everybody else seemed to be fine with the dominant business model of students paying a yoga studio, a gym, a community center, or an independent yoga teacher, in order to attend a real life class.
I seemed to be the only one who felt something was not going the way it should be.
And even I did not know what it was.
The history of yoga as a business, or teaching yoga providing a full income, is a relatively new one.
In the 70s and 80s yoga had been the domain of alternative communities and women, in particular in The Netherlands where we have a high percentage of home-deliveries. For decades prenatal yoga was the most dominant recognizable “type” of yoga.
But yoga changed with the arrival of Ashtanga yoga in America.
Ashtanga yoga is a very athletic form of yoga. It was already in America but it really propelled yoga into a whole new universe, as the go-to exercise, when Madonna revealed it was her yoga, in 1998 when promoting her album Ray of Light.
The more athletic forms of yoga were embraced by the fitness industry, and in their slipstream all other forms of yoga and meditation followed.
At the beginning of the 21st century, yoga studios were still an absolute rarity in The Netherlands, but in America they had been on the rise since the 1990s. As had the intensive teacher trainings and rise of teacher trainings at large, that were needed to accommodate these studios, and meet the high demand.
Around the turn of the century I began reading the American Yoga Journal. To this day, this blossoming yoga culture with its rich and colorful studios, remains one of my biggest inspirations.
Drop-in classes, unlimited class passes; It was all unheard of in The Netherlands, with the exception of a few yoga studios located in the largest cities of The Netherlands such as The Hague, Amsterdam, and Utrecht.
I soaked up the concept of how these professional yoga studios were ran, what message they presented, and how amazing they made me feel.
Around 2015 online business coaching had started to take a leap, and I worked with a Canadian business coach.
But to my deep frustration, it did not have any effect.
It inspired me, but I felt it did not inspire my students at all, nor did I get any new ones other than from Google advertising which did not require any marketing skills just spending money.
I also studied marketing for yoga studios with two other teachers, although not one-on-one, and I learned about marketing for health coaches and therapists, which was already more general than a focus on how to make a living teaching yoga.
Then I went on to studying marketing of how to run an online businesses. These coaches were also very mindset-focused.
From 2017 and up, my study was no longer of diversifying yoga classes, knowing my audience, target group, niche, elevator pitch, and instead I learned how to create multiple online income streams.
For example: 1-on-1 coaching, group programs, home-study courses (pre-recorded material), selling books and membershipsprograms.
But I only dipped my toes in the water, execution wise.
Online marketing or having an online business has never been my thing.
It was 15 years later, and all I wanted (still) was a colorful, rich, local yoga studio with drop-in classes, unlimited class passes, visiting international yoga teachers, and yet I was the furthest away from realizing my dream as I had ever been.
I felt like I had actually gone back, in going for my dreams. And was frustrated that I had been unsuccessful creating what I had wanted.
Yet, do you know what I did have?
I had the most amazing group of people in my classes, who by now had known each other for years, and who wanted fixed class times and a reliable yoga teacher. Every time I tried something new, or got new students, I realized I was unable to melt it all together and let the group grow.
I was not so much incapable of teaching classes within a tight community, because I adored my students and they are the reason I m currently looking into ways to start teaching to friends. They will all, one way or another, receive a notification or see a blog post. When I have my new intimate classes up an running (also Covid regulation wise) I will invite them back, and will be the yoga teacher they always wanted me to be.
But it wasn’t because I was unhappy with what I had created, that I failed to appreciate it.
It was because I did not know how to grow it. I didn’t know how to make a healthy business, out of it.
Sure! I had been originally inspired by the dynamic, early 20th century, American yoga business.
And the only marketing I understood – in hindsight – had been for those.
But I basically pulled out of my business not because the dream did not match reality but because it wasn’t growing. I quit before my classes or business would fall apart from natural decline in numbers, of people moving away, etcetera
I quit reluctantly.
And very angry with myself that although I had a Masters in business, had studied marketing both in the 90s as well as picked it up around 2010, specializing in 2015, and absolutely binging on it from 2017 and onward;
It had not made any, any difference.
My yoga business failed.
It took me until 2020 to figure out WHY even the best, most modern, marketing, tailored to my industry, had failed to work in the most spectacular way;
Because the marketing of local yoga studios cannot be compared to those of the biggest cities of America.
And if it had been available, I doubt I would have been inspired by marketing for yoga studios in small towns where maybe they had one or two yoga studios.
Because I was inspired by the buzzing streets of New York city where on the rainy dark streets you could see the foggy windows of a brightly lit yoga space, on the first floor above the shops.
Or where you had to take elevators to the 10th floor, and the doors opened in the middle of a tranquil yoga shop where bamboo flute music was playing, staff spoke in hushed voices and students in colorful leggings walked around with a yoga mat under their arm.
The big difference between an inner-city, with an abundance of yoga studios, and a suburb or small town where there are only very few studios, is that if there are only few studios, it will be picked for its location and its convenience in class time.
All other aspects, even price, are of little importance.
In a small town or suburb, you can niche and market all you want, but even a class Badass Yoga for Badass Motherfuckers, will only attract an audience if it’s at 8 PM on a Tuesday.
And it will be people who would have preferred the thing to be called just “yoga”.
Yet after solving this riddle, after understanding that in a smaller town you let go of the New York dream, and go for generic, community focused, weekly classes, for a broad audience, and absolutely ignore everything anybody has ever told you about marketing?
I was on absolute fire!
Not only was I relieved that I had finally answered the riddle and knew why I had failed;
But I was excited!
So excited, that if it had not been for Covid, I would never have ended the lease of my yoga studio, and would have rebooted my group programs, with so much enthusiasm!
I would have STEPPED ON IT in 2020, and be reborn the happiest yoga teacher in the history of the world.
Except: there was Covid.
And instead of stepping on anything, I had paused my classes for friends when Covid started and ultimately ended the yoga studio and my business December 2020.
Because of Covid, 2020 was the worst time to be a yoga teacher, topped only by 2021. Which has beaten 2020 as worst year of being a yoga teacher. At least where I live.
But you know what?
This post is absolutely not a story about feeling sorry for me, nor for the yoga industry. We have the option of transferring our work, which is teaching yoga, online.
The thing we get PAID for? With a few modifications, we can keep doing it.
Sure, there are challenges to teaching online, and different rules to making it commercially successful. And some teachers will stop, but then others will take their place.
But as a whole, the survival of teaching yoga as a business model is definitely not at stake here.
What is at stake are our local communities.
What becomes clear now that yoga teachers are going online and the burden of taking care of real-estate and the costs of brick and mortar studios, when those studios can no longer be used (currently the Netherlands is on a 5PM lockdown and all evening classes are cancelled) or when your students cannot come because they are in quarantaine, or are not vaccinated (in The Netherlands you have to be vaccinated to enter);
That burden and those costs have become evident, now.
All those years, we’ve gotten used to the yoga community being there as a bonus, a side-effect, as not being the thing it’s really about, because we said we “did yoga” or “taught yoga”, and it was about breath, health, meditation, mindfulness, philosophy.
Well, what if we were wrong?
What if I wasn’t the only one who, in pursuit of a dream, failed to notice that the most valuable thing was right there in front of me?
What if we all failed to see, that the most valuable aspect of yoga in particular in smaller towns and suburbs, is not yoga;
It cost me my yoga studio.
Whether you have a studio, or are attending one, trust me when I say;
Now that you still can.
Suzanne L. Beenackers
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You can find my books The Little Mistress Who Turned Into A Baby Koala
A Boyfriend Like Jon Bongiovi and The White Tigress Yoga Workbook
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Dharma and Greg, where Dharma plays a yoga center at a community center