Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Make your Yoga Business an Ethical Yoga Venture
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? The yoga market size is enormous; there are over 300 million people estimated practising yoga worldwide. Over $80 billion a year revenue is generated, 50% of this revenue is in yoga classes. More and more people are offering yoga teacher training courses (even only after a few years of teaching), and recently trained yoga teachers are taking their career path serious and see yoga as work. However, there is a huge difference in "work ethics" in the corporate sector, and often this gets also reflected in the "yoga business world": some act ethical, some unethical.
First of all, I must admit I dislike using the word "business" for my yoga venture or way of life, but hey it's a word I am not getting stuck up with. It seems people are using this term and so I will write about what it means to me.
It can be rather disappointing to see unethical behaviour in the yoga world. Is yoga not all about love and kindness, forgiveness and transformation?
The "business of yoga"
Sometimes, the business of yoga drives others ruthlessly out of the market. It's like if you get too many Starbucks, it will always be more difficult for an independent cafe to attract more customers. Yoga teachers are tired and don't feel validated and appreciated and struggle to survive. At the end of the day, it's big business that has the finance to pay for a lot of marketing and expansion, but who is behind this big business? Are they kind and loving? or see an opportunity to cash into this billion pounds/dollar business?
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 way of life 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 every studio. I also met some very kind people, but unfortunately, those you could count on one hand. Yoga is a constant transformation, and we have to stay open, and also humble towards the changes other people experience. To expect everybody to be a yogi just because they do yoga is naive. I would even argue that some people get less tolerant and more judgemental on their path.
You google “ethical sales & yoga”, and all you get is clothes and yoga brands trying to cash in. As mentioned before, teaching yoga can soon be leading to burnouts and frustrations, and you can be so good at it, but without a little bit of help, it might be not easy. Still, if you are NOT getting people to come to your classes, workshops and holidays, and f you rely on the income you make as a teacher, you soon become exhausted. This is such a shame because this means those that are dedicated and loving and kind are not able to offer necessarily society their services. Of course, on the other hand, if you are lucky and you don't need the money, or you happen to have a partner who is the main breadwinner or you are well immersed in your community and know a lot of people, you can also take it with a pinch of salt.
So sales and marketing in an ever-growing rapidly “business venture” as yoga has become, is significant 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, and I also don't believe that the universe will provide for everybody. Too many geniuses have died in the past from hunger.
So, let's stay real and see how we can still offer our love and kindness, but also get some monetary reward for this so that we can continue doing what we love and not getting chased out by business!
Furthermore, if we go the path of self-employment, we need to know how to submit self-assessments, how to write invoices, learn about tax deductions, expenses and benefits and much more. We need to get insurance and be the first aider. Unless we get an accountant, we will have to deal with those things on your own.
We find ourself being a PR, Marketing & Sales Executive, Web designer and developer, content writer, receptionist, administrator, etc., although some all too hastily like to call themselves “Director” of their venture without having any direction. We ask ourselves, how can we increase visibility and web traffic without having to pay expensive ads, how to acquire digital marketing savvy, podcasting and filming video clips, producing images etc. etc. All this can be very daunting, especially in the beginning.
You may have some transferable skills, use your multi-talented skills, and you will have to deal with all those aspects to get yourself going unless you are fortunate 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, even thus 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 may spend some time and effort devoted to writing blogs, but if they are not getting shared and read by “new” as existing students, your marketing efforts are for nothing.
Hardly anybody tells you this when you enter a teacher training, get the golden handshake or certificate with a smile, on top some training providers lurk you and tell you that your earning potentials would be huge. You finally found the purpose of your life to be a yoga teacher, and there you are suddenly – ON YOUR OWN and STRESSED.
It's ok to accept money - but how to be ethical?
Let's be clear! To run a business and accepting money as a modern yogi is completely acceptable. You invested so you should also receive compensation 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 business venture. For some reason, "light and love" is too easily said by some and we assume people to be "good", "fair" and "honest".
Combine your yogic principles with an ethical business plan
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 they 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.
As mentioned before, we have the 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 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 not-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 financial 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 may be).
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, and you would assume that the teacher or yoga venture would be caring about you and the environment.
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” "I am so positive" trip or even to pronounce that “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. Cares? Gives a "f___" about the right things.
What can you do? Discern well . . .
If you see teachers being exhausted, working long hours, the question arises “does this gym or studio pay a living wage to their staff”? Can this person possibly survive with getting paid one hour of teaching, or does the venue support the teacher also in other ways?
Do you see knowledgeable and experienced teachers suddenly disappearing from the timetable, and when you ask the receptionist for this person, 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 apply a mixture of newly qualified teachers and long experienced ones. Overall, there would be an open payment structure, and every teacher knows what the other earns for the same services.
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 yoga to people. In the long-term people will find more trust in ethical yoga. Be fair, honest and work hard and all is coming. Lastly, don’t constantly forget why you are doing it and be honest 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, 2020 and 2021, and we will cover aspects of yoga business / ethical yoga 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. I also offer a Yoga Business course in January 2021 online for all those that have graduated and wish to learn a few tricks.