When I first began a physical practice of yoga (yoga asana), there were a few independently run studios in my area offering an array of classes. All of these studios have closed down since then.
I miss those early years of practice. The teachers offered their unique spin on different styles of yoga movement they enjoyed. It was a wonderful period of development for me, as I was exploring various asanas and essentially myself. The small classes and space allowed a partnership between the class and the teacher so both grew and moved together.
‘Yoga’ is everywhere now, but independent studios have become more of a rarity, having been replaced by corporatized yoga business models. The major difference between a yoga company and a yoga studio is simple: one operates under a model of high volume and profit and the other operates under guiding principles of depth, connection, and self-exploration.
The roots of yoga have nothing to do with mass consumption and profiteering. Yoga is about growing into your authentic self. Yoga asana is a subtle, sophisticated, mind-body practice. It’s not just stretching. This level of teaching and learning takes time, practice, and experience from both the teacher and the student. It’s very difficult to achieve at high volume, with a fast food mentality, and “rock bottom prices.”
Recently, a recruiter from an investment company who runs multiple fitness boutiques approached me for hire. Essentially, they needed teachers who would learn their ‘trademarked’ curriculum over a weekend. Once learned, I would only teach that sequence in class. When I asked what happens if a client can’t do the prescribed sequence, the response was ‘you stick to the sequence.’ Oh, and payment. I would make a low hourly wage, but I could earn commissions based on selling expensive training packages to customers during their fitness class. So, the job wasn’t about teaching, it was about sells.
Like any small independent business, it becomes difficult for a studio to stay in operation when they must compete with corporate yoga establishments. Yoga practice means a great deal to most yoga teachers, who seek to help others in their own yogic journey. But if a business only provides a sterile teaching modality and has a high turnover in both teachers and students, it becomes impossible for a relationship between a teacher and class to be established.
Teaching is an organic product of an instructor’s own journey mingled with deeper levels of training, and then giving their teachings to those who want to receive them. Believe it or not teachers learn a great deal from students! No class or person is the same, so opportunities for creative expansion are endless! A teacher’s job is to meet the needs of a student and give them tools to realize their own potential. Hardening oneself (or class) to a strictly choreographed, never changing class will restrict the progression of the class (and teacher).
In this day and age, we are accustomed to high throughput, easy access, and superficial learning. Since there is a high consumer demand for this, companies provide such products. However, yoga is about depth. It’s not gymnastics, not fast food, and not about a scene. Yoga and all Eastern types of movements have a rich and ancient philosophical history behind them going back thousands of years. An independent studio typically tries to bring some of that to a community. It is an enormous part of the experience of yoga.
The partnership between an experienced instructor, a student, and a studio that is trying to offer you more than just sales can be incredibly enriching. Yes, a local business usually charges more than a chain - they have too. But in my experience, going to a small studio once a week with my teacher moved my practice to unimagined levels that I would never have received from a mass market. The depth of teachings has allowed me to explore other areas of movement safely and has helped me establish my own personal practice. I am profoundly grateful to those studios and my early teachers. Namaste.