Running an Ethical Yoga Business

Updated: Sep 8

There is a lot of talk about morals and ethics in yoga and at the heart of yoga we have the sutras, but do teachers and studios act kindly to each other? Sometimes, yoga has become a business that drives other people ruthlessly out of the market. Teachers are tired and don't feel validated and appreciated and struggle to survive. The essence of being ethical in a world that relies more and more on social media and drives out good competent people gets more and more important. From the first day I started teaching, I realised the lack of ethics in what became my job for the next 15 years. I kept saying that I found more ethical behaviour in some multinational companies than in some of the teachers and yoga studios/gyms I met along my path. Of course, this does not count for everybody and eery studio I met and worked in and I also met some very kind people, but unfortunately, those you could count on one hand.every

You google “ethical sales and yoga” and all you get is clothes and other brands, yet teaching yoga can soon be leading to burnouts and frustrations if you are not getting people to come to your classes, workshops and holidays, so sales and marketing in an ever-growing rapidly “business venture” as yoga has become, is extremely important and sooner or later you will have to deal with it. Love and Light do not tend to pay your bills in our modern world.

If you go self-employed, as most people tend to do, you need to know how to submit your self-assessment, how to write invoices, you learn about tax deductions, expenses and benefits and much more. You need to get insurance and be the first aider. Unless you get an accountant, you will have to deal with those things on your own.

You find yourself being a PR, Marketing & Sales Executive, Web designer and developer, content writer, receptionist, administrator, SEO Executive (increasing organic traffic through effective measures), although some all to hastily like to call themselves “Director” of their venture without having any direction.

Effective link – building and ensuring your visibility and traffic increase without having to pay expensive ads, digital & social marketing savvy, local as general SEO, podcasting and filming video clips, images etc. etc. All this can be very daunting, especially in the beginning, although you may have some transferable skills and are multi-talented, you will have to deal with all those aspects to get yourself going unless you are very lucky and rich and can employ all those people to do the job for you or you have so many friends in your local environment that you don’t need any new people or ads to get people coming to your classes.

You may have to learn the basic of google analytics, google search console and how to write an effective ad. You hear things such as PPC, SEO, SEM and you were just so happy that you passed your tests to be a Yoga Teacher and learnt Sanskrit words, such as Ardho Mukha Svanasana and Trikonasana.

You have to get visibility and traffic to your website or blogs, unless you have a huge local following already because you have lots of friends, family, neighbours etc. supporting your ventures and you have never lived anywhere else, those things become increasingly important.

You may spend some time and efforts devoting to writing articles and blogs, but if they are not getting shared and read by “new” as existing students, your marketing efforts are for nothing. After all this, finally, you have to get up and go teaching in various places and often unless you are one of those popular super yogis you may experience burn out and frustrations.

Nobody tells you this when you enter a teacher training, get the golden handshake or certificate with a smile, on top you were told your earning potentials would be huge and you finally found the purpose of your life to be a yoga teacher and there you are – ON YOUR OWN.

Business and accepting money as a modern yogi is completely acceptable for your services. Who else is going to pay your rent, mortgage or food? At a workshop in London, a famous Ashtangi said to us “you have to recycle yourself” – so what if you end up earning not enough to continue going to other yoga retreats and workshops?

Yet as it seems (at least in my opinion) is that a lot of business ventures are less ethical than a multinational bank. For some reason in this "light and love" fields, we assume people to be "good", "fair" and "honest".

I remember temping during University in the City of London and there was a huge board at the entrance listing ethical conduct and how to treat your multicultural colleagues. There have been many times in my little journey as a teacher, in which I felt very disappointed at the treatment received from gyms, yoga studios or even other teachers or students.

Many business people open a yoga studio and are formally trained in business and marketing tactics and are lacking the yogic philosophy behind why we do it all or are yogis who lack business and marketing tactics but get confused that the yogic way on its own does not get them to make it month over month.

What we have thus fundamentally as yogis is something very important. We have the Patanjali Sutras to guide us in moments when we doubt life and its obstacles. It even lists how to overcome those obstacles, not that an ancient yogi had to worry about their social media presence but experienced certainly other similar obstacles. The yoga sutras speak about the “Eightfold Path” (eight limbs) of yoga and how to use them to live a life with meaning and purpose. They are some kind of ethical guidelines and cover mindfulness, kindness, truthfulness, giving without taking that what was not given to you in good intent and some other amazing things. The first limb Yama translates a little bit into “don’t do what you don’t want others to do to you”.

Even a non-for-profit organisation will need a good marketing strategy and certainly apply an ethical treatment of their employees, especially if they are advocating empowerment and fair justice in this world. There has to be an effective person behind it all, because otherwise the NGO will not survive, and nobody will give their money to them. Overall, an NGO or finance institution needs a business plan that has to be drawn up and revenue and expenses have to be watched in the long term with giving leeway to making changes and improving one’s image to their stakeholders (whoever that maybe).

So let’s have a look first at what an ethical business versus a non-ethical business means. We can summarise it as “Do they only talk the talk of “love and light” but not walk the walk? Your business should care about the transformational element Yoga brings to the physical, emotional & physiological level of those who practice it. The teacher or business, therefore, has to provide a safe space for practice and live and work with integrity. It’s all about the right attitude and certain action of compassion, inclusivity versus I only care for my tribe kind of thing (I could write a whole article on this one) and certainly being caring.

Yoga for me is constant growth and providing an environment in which you can experience this growth. This does not mean to be on a constant “high” or “love and light” “Namaste” trip “everything is a lesson” – tell this to somebody just having lost everything after a bombing or something even less dramatic, such as having lost a job or broken up with a partner. The difference thus is, the ethical business owner, shows compassion, stays real to what life is and helps to alleviate this pain.

If you see teachers being very exhausted or other staff members in a gym where a lot of yoga is offered or studio, working long hours the question arises “does this gym or studio pay a living wage to their staff”? Do you see knowledgeable and experienced teachers suddenly disappearing from the timetable and when you ask the receptionist why the answer is vague?

Does the studio or gym issue crazy cheap classes when they need a quick income? Do they replace teachers with novice teachers so that they can pay the minimum?

An ethical business would consult or have a one to one with a teacher before deciding to cut a class or see if they can change the class or promote it together? An ethical business will pay a decent wage and yes, sorry, newly qualified teachers, this could mean possibly to get a higher pay depending on numbers in the class. Overall, there would be an open payment structure and every teacher knows what the other earns for the same services and it’s no bad surprise!

So my advice is to draw up an ethical business plan (base it on the sutras) and be flexible for changes, feel your worth and charge for it. It is not enough to be creative, but you have to develop some business savvy. Encourage other teachers, show gratitude to them and overall don’t be afraid to sell your ethical business to people. In the long-term people will find more trust in ethical business. Be fair, honest and work hard and all is coming. Lastly, don’t forget constantly why you are doing it and be honestly yourself in all of this with the same joy and passion you had when you discovered the wonderful art of yoga.

Sundara Yoga is holding a yoga teacher training in 2019 and we will cover aspects of the ethical business (inter alia), designing your website, basic SEO and digital marketing. We will help you with all aspects of how to design this business plan, sales and mentor you afterwards. Find out more about it here.

#ethicalyogabusiness #yogapose #business


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