Well, it has been a good week here in Texas. I am enjoying the time at home and having a chance to practice a lot and connect with my friends and students here. I started teaching a few public classes at Black Swan Yoga last week which has been an interesting foray into a completely different class format- 60 minute flow and 60-minute routine-based static holds- in a different type of studio. Black Swan is a donation-based yoga studio which is a very interesting, and for some, controversial, business model. Not to be confused with "free yoga" donation-based yoga invites the student to donate for the class they are taking rather than require them to pay a set amount in order to attend. This business model involves a radical sense of trust in the student's willingness to support the studio and the teacher and invites everyone into an immediate relationship with value, money, respect and worth.
I have been thinking a lot about money these days and the various challenges that come along with monetizing the yoga practice and supporting oneself as a yoga teacher. In the age where many students feel that the cost of yoga classes, workshops and trainings is outside of their budget, studio owners everywhere are struggling to keep their doors open and teachers are often unable to pay their bills. So it is easy to say that yoga is too expensive, except that running a studio is certainly not cheap. Money is a really hot topic and so I definitely want to tread lightly on the subject lest it come across that I am being critical because I do not feel that way. Not at all. I am really thinking deeply on the this very difficult and personal subject.
Recently I offered a webinar at a sliding scale (in fact, I am offering all of my webinars that way this year) and a colleague of mine told me that I was "devaluing the teachings" by making them so affordable. Another colleague told me that I was "ruining my brand" by teaching at a donation studio and that by teaching locally at a discounted rate I was cheapening my image. I am always sensitive to this kind of feedback so I really gave the comments a lot of thought to see if I had some kind of blind spot or self-esteem issue that was operative of which I was unaware.
As I thought about it, I wondered where is the value on the teaching placed? Am I placing the value on what you have to pay or on what I might earn from the time and energy expended to offer a course? How does one value something like yoga? Does the money received and/or paid determine the value? Is there a reasonable way to put a price tag on the inner value we all receive from great instruction? If I pay more does that mean I am paying better attention or that I value the teaching more? If I charge more does that mean I have self-worth and if I charge less does that mean I do not believe in myself? And if someone is wealthy then $50 is a drop in the bucket of their monthly yoga budget but if someone is less financially solvent then $50 might be a proportionally huge amount of money.
The first workshop I ever did with John Friend was in February 2000 and Desiree Rumbaugh, his host, called me up and said there was a spot that had opened up and did I want it? If yes, it would cost $450 for the 5-day intensive. So I tell this story now because at the time Kelly and I had exactly $450 dollars in our checking account and truth be told, it belonged to the people we owed it to for a car payment, rent, etc. I will always remember being at that workshop and parking my 1993 Toyota pick up truck in a parking lot filled with Lexus, Mercedes and BMW's in Scottsdale, Arizona. My point being is that we all paid $450 but the cost of that $450 was not the same for everyone in attendance. For me it was 100% of my money. For other folks the tuition represented a much smaller percentage of their financial resources. (And as anyone knows who travels for workshops the tuition is only part of it- there is travel expenses, lodging, food, etc. to make the journey as well as the days of not earning money while you are in training.)
The finances of yoga training gets further complicated now that we live, teach and practice in a global yoga community because $100 in USA is not the same $100 as it might be in Mexico or India or in other regions.
And of course, we all have our financial needs, our families needs and our own personal boundaries to explore and to uphold when it comes to the amount of money we need and want. Each one of us is absolutely free to charge whatever we want for the services we are offering as teachers and studios. Of course, as students we have to be real and honest about what we can and can not afford and also whether or not the trainings are "worth it" to us relative to the percentage of our budget that the tuition for any program represents. I have no issue with people charging a lot for what they offer. I look at some things I would love to do and while it may be more than I want to pay, I am in no way upset they are asking for it or getting it. That is the beauty of capitalism, I suppose.
And the longer I go about teaching the more I am aware of the time and energy it requires to have something of real value to offer. It looks like a yoga teacher is being paid for the time they are in front of the class "teaching" but the teacher is actually being paid for the time he or she spends practicing, studying, reflecting, learning, integrating their experiences on and off the mat. All of that inquiry behind the scenes informs the presentation called "class" where the monetary exchange happens.
I was thinking about how even with all of these complexities there are still some very affordable ways to enjoy great yoga instruction. First is home practice with a great book like Light On Yoga or Yoga Resource. Home practice is one of the best values around as it costs you only your time and energy. There are also so many great online resources like Yogaglo where for only $18/month you can take as many yoga classes as you want. And if you end up in someone's class you do not like, no big deal- press stop and just pick another! There are lots of other online resources as well, not to mention a plethora of DVD's, podcasts, CD's and iPhone apps offering a way to practice yoga affordably. (Of course, these require a computer which is an expense and is not available in some areas of the world.)
I was thinking about my own "Schedule of Services" as a yoga teacher these days and how I have little free snippets called Yoga Tips that I have started offering, a free blog like this one, and I offer a few group practices locally for free for the fun of being together in the name of yoga. I teach some local classes that are by donation and some that the studio sets a fee for. I have classes on yogaglo. I offer webinar programs that are set up on a sliding scale. And I offer workshops, intensives and trainings that are more specialized, more time-consuming and more professionally-targeted and they still come in generally lower than the national average but are certainly higher-priced than public classes. And I have some minimum financial requirements I request to pack a suitcase and leave home for a weekend or more. So, it's a range.
A marketing expert once told me that I should market my teaching work as the BMW of yoga trainings and I think now I might rather be a Honda. But I digress. My point in all of that is to say that I completely get that yoga is pricing itself out in some ways and this great practice is often cost-prohibitive for many people. And I also get that teaching is more competitive than ever and studios are struggling more than ever to stay open. I suppose I do not have any conclusions or definitive answers for anyone else- I am simply trying to offer a variety of programs at different price points as a way to offer the teachings as widely as possible and I would love all of us yoga teachers to have financial freedom to pursue what matters most. So there is my dream- students who have wide access to yoga and yoga teachers who can afford to buy houses, put their kids through college and pay for health insurance. Is that too much to ask?
At any rate, Yoga Tips continues with a short clip on how to teach and practice putting active weight through the top of your head in headstand. Enjoy.