Real Yoga is Smart Business

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I suppose it’s a natural impulse to want to feel relevant, to feel that the efforts I make are worthwhile and that something I produce will outlive this fleeting body. This year I poured a lot of myself into a weekly podcast not just because I find it a fulfilling process of learning but out of a genuine hope that others might also benefit from listening. I have not sought to paint a picture of myself that will best sell, but rather have attempted to ride a delicate line between self-inquiry and promotion.

In practice, learning how to feel less bound by this world even as I function within its boundaries has laid a necessary framework for joy and appreciation. It’s a shame that this inquiry alone is not enough, as addressing financial realities often proves to be the primary obstacle to striking this balance. I am passionate about the tools that I have discovered and believe that I have something helpful to offer others. But I am operating on shaky ground. Capitalizing on my ability to effectively communicate my experience of practice, without sacrificing the fundamental principles at its foundation, has become my greatest challenge.

Yoga practices based on contemplation more than accomplishment require business practices based on a fair exchange of value more than on growth.

The yoga world has been undergoing massive shifts and the allure of gross commodification has worn thin for many. As earnest practitioners become more interested in the depths of practice and skeptical of its trappings, alternative spaces that allow for teachers to retain ownership and have a more direct relationship to students are becoming increasingly attractive. Unfortunately, the conventional methods of marketing that the yoga industry has emulated are designed to be effective at generating short-term monetary gains at the expense of sustainable relationships and income.

I spent a decade as the owner of a single-room yoga center in an A-market, and the last year on tour as an international yoga teacher, and the hard truth is that the standard protocols for running teacher trainings and traveling workshops are inadvertently working against the interests of everyone involved. Profiting off of the false expectations that the 200-hour model has created, and forever coming up with new titles and descriptions to give the impression of different flavors, have turned teachers into “content creators” instead of mentors. In order to stop massaging the type of consumerism that undermines yoga pedagogy, we will need the courage to explore more innovative ways of conducting our business.

Yoga teachers have the power to shape industry instead of continuing to let industry shape us.

It’s hard to shake that voice in the back of my mind that says I need to become more well known so I can command larger groups and charge more for my trainings. That is certainly what the industry continues to cling to. But being dependent on the whims of social-media campaigns that promote once-off weekends or hyped-up trainings doesn’t feel like a good plan. When I view my work through a purely business lens and employ the techniques that normally govern that pursuit, the entrenchment of imbalance expressed in our economics invades my internal experience and leaves me feeling horrible.

The transformative power of yoga that I foster in my own inquiry is the thing that attracts anyone to studying with me, whether it’s at an in-person gathering or via digital technology. Attempts to grow my “brand” have always failed. I develop more meaningful connections, and steadier income, by fostering engagement among a smaller group of people who are more genuinely interested in what I do. By not giving in to industry pressures, and viewing my work through the lens of yoga first, I feel more aligned with my principes.

Real yoga is smart business.

I didn’t get into yoga to make money. Few teachers do. But educating myself about making money has become necessary. What I have learned is that the established ways of generating wealth are often at odds with my sense of humanity. It’s easy to rationalize playing the same game as everyone else with different notions of reality and a fear-inspired conclusion that I have no other choice. But the smartest people out there are all pointing to unconventional possibilities of commerce that actually support people instead of exploiting them.

I believe the yoga world is ripe territory for out-of-the-box economics. Certainly, we are up against unreasonable odds. Embodying a sense of purpose despite the crushing injustice and greed that prevail is enough to break anyone's heart. However, there is a long history of yoga bending the curve of human evolution towards wisdom. Having faith that integrity will reward prosperity is a bet I am willing to make. I trust that not only will my bottom line be better but that the resonance of staying true to my convictions will serve a greater good.

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J. Brown

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, New York. A teacher for 15 years, he is known for his pragmatic approach to teaching personal, breath-centered therapeutic yoga that adapt to individual needs. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, Elephant Journal and Yogadork.

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