For the modern yoga world, 2015 was a time of reckoning. The veneer of yoga lifestyle branding dulled further and the un-photoshopped belly continued to garner greater market appeal. Both grassroots and corporate entities that staked claims in the once vast frontier are now scrambling to stay ahead of the digital winds that are shaping the new paradigm.
Looking back at last year’s round-up, Brave New Yoga World, my optimism proved to be warranted but did not account for unforeseen difficulties and trends that only time can reveal. The move away from coveting an idealized notion of a “yoga body” towards more intangible and profound benefits is where my intuition and hope most held true. But as the industry has adapted to economic shifts, the opportunities for this new direction to find its financial footing is being undermined by external forces.
People are over being boot-camped by yoga.
I’ve been touting a Slow Yoga Revolution for the last decade but this is the first year that I actually felt like it wasn’t just my own wishful thinking. For as long as I can remember, whenever I’d write something that called into question the convention of overworking our bodies in group classes, the majority of responses would be derogatory. I was generally viewed as a “hater” who was bashing opportunities to expose people to yoga who might not normally be interested. This still continues to be a line of reasoning, often to justify many common hypocrisies and misgivings. But in the last six months, I have come across a range of other voices that are also saying as much, and the comment threads are marked by a chorus of amens.
Of course, there are plenty of folks who are still in it for the sweat and don’t give a lick about anything that I or anyone else might have to say. And more power to them. There are enough people coming to many of the same conclusions I have that the old entrenched debates are becoming irrelevant. The more that people are applying yoga practice to contexts and populations beyond the physical fitness model, the greater public knowledge is being gleaned as to the distinctions and purposes behind different approaches. The end result is that those who want to do poses for fitness still have ample opportunity and those who might be looking for something more are finding alternative avenues.
Where things have begun to unravel is that, more and more, financial survival requires yoga teachers to obtain skills that don’t have anything to do with teaching yoga.
Last year, I was talking about the fall of the old guru- and brand-based models. I suggested that the future was going to be about individuals, value and personal integrity. This has borne itself out in many ways. People have become largely desensitized to coercive click-ads and email campaigns. The only thing that is able to pierce through the white noise of our many different-sized screens is something that feels authentic and human, something that can strike a chord in us loud enough to trigger an undeniable emotional response.
Yoga teachers are creating experiences and content that are marketable in ways that have never been seen before. But in order to turn that skill into a livelihood it needs to be marketed. The marketing gurus have read the tea leaves and are exploiting this for all its worth. And the workshops that claim to help folks become “Yogapreneurs” tend to be more of a bait-and-switch that plays right into the hands of the hidden movers. It’s not just a matter of having a website and a Facebook page and a Twitter account but knowing what to do with those media outlets. Yoga teachers are ill-equipped and loathe to develop marketing prowess because it is an entirely separate skill that is largely in conflict with the process of teaching yoga.
Like in other sectors of the economy, the ability for small business to compete with larger scale is diminishing. However, all is not lost.
It's understandable that yoga teachers are not good at marketing. It's disheartening that they need that in order to be able to teach — thus, the appeal of portals and services that seek to take the burden off them. But what might be gained in outsourcing the marketing needs can never match the kind of scale that Yogaworks and CorePower have in their favor. Not to mention the insidious nature of e-commerce that requires independent businesses to willfully allow the likes of Amazon to co-opt their hard-earned wares or become invisible.
For so many years, yoga professionals worked tirelessly to bring yoga into the mainstream. Succeeding in doing so has also brought with it repercussions. Yoga no longer exists on the margins. Yoga is no longer counterculture. Yoga business is subject to the same market forces that it once operated outside of. It has to be faced whether we like it or not.
But despite this somewhat bleak prospect for independent yoga teachers to thrive, there is one thing we have going for us: As the scaled operations continue to grow and overshadow the lone players, there is no way that they can provide the same kind of experience. The pendulum is going to swing back. When it regards personal needs and health, trust in the humanness of the provider easily outweighs the illusion of security that ordering from the big box gives us. What has become devalued in the swirl of our new digital universe will once again become cherished.