Making of Yoga Center, Pt. 2
published in June 08 issue of Yoga Therapy in Practice.
The center has been open almost two months now and so far, so good. I met my sales goal in less then two weeks, and at the end of the first month, I was able to cover my operating costs and start paying down the debt. I attribute this entirely to the friendship of long-time students who expressed their support with dollars. Considering that my business plan had me running at a loss for three months, expectations have been far exceeded.
Already, being the owner of a Yoga center has revealed the difference between students and sales. As a teacher, I always gauged the profitability of my class according to attendance numbers. Makes sense, as I was generally paid by attendance. What I've discovered in running a center is that these numbers do not necessarily correspond to sales.
To attract new students and bolster attendance, I started offering a special one-month unlimited card for $99. The promotion has been effective, and class sizes are steadily growing. Some days, all the classes are well-attended by cardholders, and sales are poor. On other days, there are several "no-shows" and attendance is weak, but someone stops in to purchase a gift card, and I end of with a better bottom line. In the long run, I think more students will mean better sales. But I begin to better understand the insensitive behavior I have witnessed over the years by Yoga center owners who have never been teachers. Looking at sales numbers, it would be very easy to disassociate the work of the teacher from the financial success of the center. I am curious to see how sales will trend as cards expire over the next few weeks.
Given the diversity and abundance of Yoga centers in the New York Metro area, defining and distinguishing the center for its therapeutic orientation has been essential. To these ends, I have included the following description on my promotional materials:: "Abhyasa Yoga Center offers personal, breath-centered, therapeutic yoga practice that adapts to individual needs, including chronic or acute conditions."
Remarkably, this does seem to dissuade those who would scoff at the absence of the word "vinyasa," "power," "flow," or "advanced," and instead attract a population of folks who are generally intimidated or disenchanted by conventional Yoga centers.
Take, for example, Maria, a fifty-something Latina woman with a chronic case of Lymes Disease who speaks English as a second language. Maria dropped in to a Basics class because she saw the word "therapeutic" on our schedule card. Fortunately, I was able to accommodate her, even in a group, and afterwards she held my hand and thanked me for opening the center. She told me she had been nervous after attending a different class previously where, as she put it, "They tried to make me do Yoga that I can not do." Truth is, someone like Maria can't just drop into any Yoga class at the average center or gym without considerable risk of having an unfavorable experience.
The Abhyasa Yoga Center Professional Training Program held its first meeting last week. Much to my surprise, a group of about twenty people have appeared out of nowhere and expressed a desire to study. We discussed the history of Yoga from its early shamanic origins to present day, examining the difference between dualistic and non-dualistic philosophies and identifying their modern day manifestations.
At the practical level, there were a lot of questions not about Yoga philosophy, but about certification and registration through the Yoga Alliance (YA). I have decided not to register the program with YA. While I am certified by a registered school and can substantiate thousands of hours of practice and teaching experience, enough to qualify me at the highest levels, I am not personally registered. To be frank, I've never felt the need to fill out the forms and send in the check.
People seemed a bit taken aback to learn that after completing the program, they can register with YA as a "graduate of an unregistered school." Especially considering that the only difference between registering through an "unregistered" school, as opposed to a "registered" school, is $75 and some additional paperwork. I acknowledged that things have changed since I was actively pursuing teaching opportunities. When they are "auditioning" for employment at the local gym or studio they will likely be asked about certification. So I informed them that if at some point we are mutually confident about their readiness to teach and they want to seek out work, I would be happy to provide them with necessary documentation.
My main problem with the YA registry is that it lends an air of credibility where there is often none. I hold myself, and the center, to high standards. I trust the program will speak for itself through the work of the teachers it produces.
Overall, my anticipation and anxiety have given way to purpose. Getting everything up and running, managing daily affairs, conducting a training program, and teaching a full schedule is a lot to juggle. But for all the difficulty and uncertainty that opening the center presents, I feel blessed and driven by the opportunity to be of greater use to my community, and to create a proper livelihood to support my family.