New Moon, New Paths

Today Thursday is a New Moon.  In the Ashtanga tradition, you take rest from vigorous asana practice.  So enjoy your day of quiet, restoration and rest. =-)

New Moons are associated with new beginnings.  It is a time to plant seeds, to start new projects, to take on new challenges.  So it is unusual, yet also fitting, that I announce that, as of Friday June 9th, I will be stepping back from teaching the morning Mysore program at Yoga District, for the foreseeable future.  Claudia Paredes will be stepping in to start teaching the Mysore program on Monday June 12th.  I would like to thank Jasmine, the owner of Yoga District, for giving me this opportunity to teach the morning Mysore program for the past year.

I will continue to teach some led classes at various studios and corporations, and I will be conducting workshops and intensives once I am able to get some time to recuperate from my exhaustion.  I will also be available for private instruction.  So please stay tuned and share my information if you are interested in learning Ashtanga, Vinyasa Krama, meditation and pranayama.

In short, Rogue Ashtanga is becoming more of an individual project, more like consulting than a regular program tied to a studio.

This has been a hard, but necessary, decision to make, because I am, frankly speaking, burned out and I need to make this more sustainable.  I’ve been teaching yoga for over 17 years, practicing yoga for nearly 20 years.  I’ve given a lot to the yoga community.  I’ve seen it all.  I’ve been a yoga teacher, a studio manager, a teacher training director.  I’ve taught regular weekly classes, special workshops, teacher training modules, donation-based fundraisers, Mysore programs (twice now), and international yoga retreats. My studio was a part of the yoga landscape in DC for 6 years, before rent obligations and flagging sales caused us to close last year.

And most recently, I have taken to blogging about the “whys” and “hows” of yoga practice, specifically Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Krama as taught by Matthew Sweeney.

I’ve advised yoga teachers on their classes and their career paths.  I’ve advised yoga studio owners on their business strategy and their vision.  I’ve aspired to be what Keith Ferrazzi calls a super-connector in the yoga community.  I have lived, breathed, eaten, slept yoga for a long time.

And it seems that I am reaching a midlife crisis (3 years early! Early bloomer!).  I am questioning everything about what I am doing, about why I am practicing yoga, about why I am a full-time yoga teacher, about how the yoga community is organized, about how yoga as a business is conducted.  I’ve been asking myself, “What are we doing when we say we practice yoga?  What are we teaching when we teach yoga?”

In fact, why is the image of yoga presented to the public, mostly through Instagram and Facebook these days, about being tanned and flexible, posing elegantly in a difficult yoga posture (or handstand, more and more on one hand) in an exotic location, hash-tagged with the following bizarre litany: “#yoga #yogapants #yogachallenge #yogaeverydamnday #yogainspiration #yogapose #yogalover #yogagram #yogafam #yogateacher #yogamat #yogaforlife” ad infinitum.

Dig deeper.  A casual search of the instagram hashtag #yoga delivers 34,647,365 posts (that’s over 34 million, just to write it out for full effect), the top posts showing one yogi in an oversplit (see image),Oversplit-400x269 another yogi in a jumping split (like a cheerleader?), a protein vegan bar, a model in a white dress (doing pout-asana? upward-facing duck-face asana?), a video of a student “nailing the straddle press” into handstand (while on Keramas Beach, in the yoga hotspot Bali, Indonesia), a student taking a selfie near her mat, a video instructional on bakasana, a  quote from the Dalai Lama, and a post on the law of positivism (whatever that is).

And that’s just for #yoga.  The second most searched #hashtag is #yogapants (and of the 9 top posts for that term only 5 appear to be wearing yoga pants), followed by #yogachallenge .

I don’t know.  Am I being too jaded, too cynical?  Is this the burnout speaking?  Maybe.  And I know that there are a lot of genuine, authentic teachers and inspired students out there.  These are the people that I look up to, that I love to work with, that I constantly refer to my friends.  So, it’s not all doom and gloom (or spandex and fairy dust?), and yoga, as a decentralized system of individual self-development, will persist, regardless of the plastic pantomime of the media monkeys and their junket junkies.

I am just trying to make sense of it all.

You know, my father passed away three years ago.  He was a computer programmer by trade, a genealogist by hobby, an archivist and memorialist by preference. He kept every paperback book he ever read, noting max alain yoga in red ink on the front cover his name, followed by the dates he read the book.  After he passed, I found a book called Yoga for Perfect Health by Alain (nom de plume of Max Alain Schwendimann, about whom I could find nothing else on great Google), written in 1961.  Alain seems to have been a student of Swami Sivananda. My father read it in February 1965.  I’ve been reading it for the past few weeks, and I’ve been imagining what he was thinking when he read it.  He even underlined certain phrases, such as “Much of the success in Yoga training depends upon this condition of affective (emotional) indifference to results.”

The front cover states that yoga is “a system of health and hygiene of body and mind that can help give you a vigorous and happy life.”

But is that what we are teaching?  Is that how we are representing yoga in our social media crazed society nowadays?

Is doing a one-armed handstand going to “give you a vigorous and happy life?”


So why are we doing yoga?  If you are teaching yoga, why are you teaching?  If you are a studio owner, why are you running a yoga studio?  And is teaching yoga as a profession really that sustainable in our current marketplace?




An important perspective on the business of yoga

The subject of “the business of yoga” has been on my mind for quite some time. It’s the proverbial tiger under the table in this industry, and no one really wants to discuss it at length.

Reflecting upon more than 16 years of teaching yoga, I’ve been writing an article about the trials and tribulations of being a professional yoga teacher. I keep revising it, because it feels too much like a rant, not enough like a reasoned analysis of the problem. And I’ve also been researching other articles about the same problem, to see if anything I have been observing has already been tackled more eloquently.


So for the time being, my own article on the business of yoga will remain unpublished.  (Update: you can now read that article I wrote here, A Cautionary Tale for Operating Yoga Studios).

Instead, I would like to direct you to this article by Michelle Marchildon.  It is one of the more insightful ones I’ve come across. I encourage you to read it. She hits upon a lot of the troubling aspects of this industry- high rents, low teacher pay (yet teachers demanding to be paid more per session), low revenue, low return on investment in teacher education, and competing demands between neighboring studios and local festivals. And there is a lively discussion in the comments section between readers and the author.

From my corner, here are a few suggestions if you want to turn this situation around for studios and teachers:

1./ Pay full price for classes and workshops. It shows that you value the information the teacher is sharing with you and support his or her work. Think about it: would you ask any other working professional for a discount on their service? Would you ask your hair dresser for half off on your haircut? (You might get half off your hair in the process). Would you ask your lawyer for half off his service? How about a discount on your surgery? (And teachers, stop giving away your classes for free! Studios, stop giving discounts on memberships. Pick your price and then stick with it!)

2/. Ask yourself why you practice yoga. If you love it and it has changed your life, then tell your friends about your favorite studio and your favorite teachers. Word of mouth is the greatest form of advertising.

3/. Be a student first before you decide to become a teacher. Practice for five or, better yet, ten years to acquire the experience and the discipline in your own practice before you decide to sign up for a teacher training (See 3a).  Once you find a style and a teacher you like, then stick with them for a few years. Feel free to try other classes and styles, but make your priority digging a deep well.

3/a/ Newsflash!  The world does not need more yoga teachers.  We need more yoga students.  Why?  Every yoga student who becomes a teacher wants to do what?  Teach!  Which means that these newly minted yoga teachers, who happened to possibly be your most dedicated students, now become your competition or your replacement, instead of your students.  Plus, from a purely financial standpoint, the return on your investment in your yoga education ($3,000, at least), will take a long time to pay off.  Say you start subbing classes at $25 per class, flat rate.  You will need to teach 120 classes to pay that off.  If you consider that you will be paid as an independent contractor for these classes, you will need to save approximately a third of each class pay.  So that one class is now really worth $16 per class, and now you have to teach 187 classes before you break even.  That being said, let’s say you teach one class a week.  It will take you three and a half years to pay it off.  If you teach two a week, then it will take you a year and a half to make a return. You would have to teach 3 classes a week, from the start, to pay it off in less than a year.  And teaching 3 classes a week from the start is highly improbable. (End of rant)

4/. Support your local businesses. Whether the studio says it or not, every yoga studio wants to be profitable. Yoga studios are businesses. The purpose of business is to make a profit while providing a service or a product. Businesses that don’t make profits end up closing. Simple.

5/. If you are a teacher and you think that opening your own studio is the solution to your problems (or the realization of your dreams), please do me a favor. Lie down and what until this feeling passes. (You do not have to be in savasana for this to be effective). Business is one thing; teaching is another. If you decide to take the plunge, know your downside.  And running a yoga studio is not the same as teaching a class: different skills, different expectations, etc.

You can reach Michelle’s article via this link.