Taylor Swift: Yoga Studios Are a lot Like Apple

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The $30 billion yoga industry might stand to take a lesson from Apple and Taylor Swift and pay their teachers even if they offer a discounted introductory package.

While Taylor Swift, with a net worth larger than many small countries, can easily boycott Apple and other distributors that offer free or deeply discounted tunes, not all artists can afford to do that. By standing up for her fellow musicians, Swift swiftly brought Apple around.

If only it were true for the yoga industry.

The fact remains that many yoga studios offer deep, deep discounts on classes and do not pay their teachers for the trial students. I just recently checked into a class in my neighborhood and inquired about the 30 days for $30 deal I saw advertised.

“You can have that deal,” the teacher said. “But I do not get paid for you.” I paid full price.

Now at this point I know a lot of readers are going to write in and say they cannot afford to pay for a full price yoga class, which runs between $12 and $25 in urban areas. And I feel you, downward dogs. Really I do.

But realize that nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does it say that you are entitled to free yoga. You can get free education and have free speech, and perhaps some free medical assistance, but as of yet yoga has not been subsidized by the government.

In fact, your yoga teacher paid between $3,000 and $15,000 for an education to keep you safe, and she most likely does not have good health insurance to take care of herself. So why do students feel entitled to free yoga while the teacher starves?

Furthermore, if you cannot find a free yoga class in the city where you live, honestly, there is something wrong with you. This weekend alone there were more than 25 classes in my town that were $10 or free to celebrate the solstice.

All of which brings me to the yoga studio. With cheap classes and abundant yoga opportunities, not all studios make a million dollars. Some are struggling to pay the rent. This is a very competitive business. Some say this has forced the industry into offering discounted classes.

But the dirty little secret is that they often do not pay their teachers for those students.

Here are some discounts that teachers may not get paid for:

  • Groupon
  • Living social
  • Class pass
  • $30 for 30 ,or $40 for 40
  • First week free
  • First class free
  • Donation classes

You get the idea. There is actually a studio in my town that does not pay a teacher the per head rate for the first eight students in the room, even if they pay full price! And you know I can’t make this stuff up.

People, it is time for a change. Studios and teachers need to find a way to stimulate business and support each other fairly. But nothing will happen until yoga teachers stand up and say, no more.

Taylor Swift was able to do it on behalf of her fellow musicians. But one yoga teacher cannot do this alone (Believe me, I’ve tried). There are too many teachers willing to work for next to nothing, or for nothing. Teachers need to recognize the worth of their offering.

“We don’t ask you for free I-phones,” Swift wrote to Apple. “Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.” The same should be true for our teaching.

Can I get an Amen, or at least an Om?

Michelle Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga,” the second edition brought out by Hohm Press.  You can find her writing on Elephant Journal, Mantra Yoga and Health Magazine, and Sports Illustrated.

3 Comments

  1. Kathy Baum on June 23, 2015 at 10:33 am

    I am not an economist but…

    I wonder how the yoga economic model would be impacted if teachers were paid based on level of training – like personal trainers are – teachers with more training paid on a higher scale, newer teachers on a lower scale.

    My gym has Tier 1, 2 and 3 pricing for personal training (and my wax studio does the same for that matter!).

    Newer teachers could still get their foot in the door, but teachers with hundreds/thousands of hours of training would be compensated more, and would likely attain larger class sizes.

    • Michelle Marchildon on June 23, 2015 at 12:29 pm

      This is a tough one, Kathy. In many cases, a senior teacher knows more than a newbie and can offer more to his or her students. They have put in the time and effort to improving their craft. They may also be well known, and therefore be a draw for the studio. However, it can also work like a tenure system that rewards teachers who have not improved or kept up with continuing education, and who have been doing the same old thing forever. Also, a brand new teacher can be full of life, and have much to offer from other disciplines, that it’s hard for me to say they shouldn’t be compensated equally. If a tier systems works for a gym or studio, then so be it. If they lose the uber-popular, young teachers because they aren’t compensating them, and their students follow those teachers out the door, then I hope the free market will fix that. In Denver there was a hot young teacher once who was not compensated as well as the senior teachers at my studio. He went out the door, started “Outlaw Yoga,” and today travels the world. So it works both ways, and probably for the best.

  2. KK Yoga on June 24, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Teachers simply shouldn’t teach at studios where they are expected to teach for free. Owning a studio is definitely a tough business, but owners should know that they must pay their teachers a fair fee, even at a loss at first. A sliding scale based on experience and training is a great idea.

    Once a studio starts generating a profit, however, teachers who were paid a fair fee during the lean times should not make unreasonable demands of the studio owner, because owners need to be paid back for their enormous investments of time, money and commitment. Teachers who have never owned or operated a yoga studio often don’t comprehend this.

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