Capitalist Yoga.

Via Tanya Lee Markul
on Feb 18, 2011
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When one yoga shala isn’t enough!

So, you wouldn’t really expect capitalism and yoga to be in the same sentence, or would you? These days it’s certainly not uncommon. There seems to be many who’ve combined both and are making hundreds of thousands, even millions. From successful brands to known teachers, the toll toward enlightenment seems to have drastically gone up!

I have been practicing yoga for a few years now, but still feel like I don’t know ‘how much’ a yoga class should be. I just sort of take for granted that whatever the teacher or studio is asking me to pay is fair. Yogis, I would think, would be the last people to do one over on me, right? But is this always true? Is it truly necessary to pay a 100 bucks for a yoga mat, 20 bucks for a single class, 350 bucks for a weekend workshop and how about the thousands upon thousands for a retreat or teacher training? Perhaps you get what you pay for, but should it be that way when it comes to yoga?

Yoga has become big business and the numbers prove it. An article from Yoga Journal in 2008 shared that Americans spend close to 6 billion a year on yoga classes and products. Yowza.

Of course this isn’t for everyone, there are still many establishments and teachers that are teaching yoga for the sake of yoga, wanting nothing more than to make enough to live within stable means. They typically accept donations or whatever people can pay, but then there are those that with the accumulation of more students, they want to spend more and make more…another shala, more bathrooms, a second floor, etc.

I can remember a retreat that I attended to which the ‘gift shop’ was mentioned at the end of every lecture. I mean, at first it didn’t bother me so much as I didn’t really need anything, but as the idea of ‘shopping’ and ‘consumerism’ excited a lot of the students, I felt myself jumping on board and wanting to peruse and possibly purchase something I didn’t even need. I nearly convinced myself that I should buy something just to help the studio out. But, is this right? This definitely wasn’t a donation program and I had already spent a couple thousand on the retreat without much more left in my bank account. So, what to do?

Sure, yoga is what you make of it and it can certainly be a road to wealth for some, even fame, but where does the element of humility begin and end?

Am I jumping to conclusions when I think a local studio is making plenty, perhaps a bit more than plenty, when I hear they are opening two or three other locations within the same zip code? What does this do for aspiring teachers and studios? When is enough enough?


About Tanya Lee Markul

Luring the magic of what is natural back into our daily lives, Tanya Markul is a freer of creativity, of inner beauty + power, and an enthusiastic igniter of the wild spirit! She re-writing the wild flower sutras, and offers a refreshing & badass view on spirituality, wellness & authentic living. Sensitivity is her tree trunk, flower stem, and nucleus. It is her belly, and her heart. Tanya is an artist of life, a faery of trees, a wanderer of the dark, a writer of heart, a misfit yogini, and an Urban Priestess apprentice. She believes in the power of your personal weird, quirky, magic, and that only path toward inner freedom & light, is through the dark — eyes closed, heart open. Tanya is the creator of The Urban Howl, Yoga Write Now & Waking Wild. Join her free forum for monthly yoga & writing practices here. Join her free forum for 30 days of exercise for 30 days here. Join her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & get her free weekly & quirky newsletter here.


29 Responses to “Capitalist Yoga.”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by nolahola81, Red Fox. Red Fox said: Capitalist Yoga […]

  2. Yogini5 says:

    From a newly resurrected high-profile blogger, Om Shanti,

    Of course, the lid is starting to be blown off how much yoga teachers/studio owners can gouge …

    while not really teaching:

    The math is yours for the doing …

  3. yogiclarebear says:

    This is a hard thing. I am a yogi. I also believe in capitalism. But I believe in yogi-capitalism. Can I call it conscious capitalism? What does that mean? I’m not even sure. Everyone’s definitions of these “words” are a little different. For instance, I went to a yoga classified class yesterday that was 100 degrees, pumping Usher and Justin Beiber at ear splitting levels, throwing weights around, and there was pretty much 2 actual yoga “poses.” The week before I did a yoga class with no music, maybe 10 long held asanas, and lots of meditation/pranayama. Different yoga styles…different capitalism styles?

    Flux much?

  4. yogiclarebear says:


    I don’t have an answer to your question, when is enough enough? What is the gauge or measure? Is it a book or a plan…written by other humans? Is it a program, is it a constitution? These may be helpful, but of course the gauge is inside each and every one of us. It is most often NOT easy to connect to, which of course is what Yoga is meant to aid. I usually can’t face my own.

    But we can’t FORCE anyone else to tap their conscious, their gauge and we shouldn’t away the ability or the chance or the freedom to tap it.

    So we just keep balancing the flux as best we can…talking about it, questioning, like you have here. Encouraging self examination…business examination…exploration of intent and…the hard hard part is doing it without judgment.

    Sorry about the word vomit, your questions have me exploring! 🙂

  5. Thanks Yogini5! I'm gonna check out those links!

  6. Thanks for your response Yogiclarebear! I hear you with the questions…what is the gauge or measure, is it a book, plan, etc. I think SO many things in life shouldn't have to be structured or written in order for people to act consciously not only for themselves, but for the whole (and of course this is my judgment). Sometimes it freaks me out how many rules we actually do have and that perhaps some people need them in order to 'behave' so to speak. But, when it comes to yoga, there are also so-called rules…yamas, niyamas, etc. These can, if one wills, like you say, be applicable to everything one does. But, i agree with you….we can't force anyone to tap into their conscious.

  7. Now I'm contemplating the yama – satya, in a way (and of course if followed), could this also be interpreted to take only what one needs?! I suppose there is yoga with yoga philosophy and yoga without. 🙂

  8. April Arotin says:

    This article presents some interesting questions to consider. As a new studio owner (gasp, it's true) that has been open less than two weeks, there is so much to think about that has already come to discussion with myself and my non-yogi business partners. Our place is a humble, bootstrapping one, based in community and in support of local artists and urban farms. The questions remain. The answers? Balance and principles. Living your yoga. Giving, receiving and opening. Service, karma yoga and seva. Donating time and energy to make a positive impact. Willful and expansive generosity. Supporting everyone possible, students, teachers and the local economy while making room to support oneself. All the while, living full of life with a happy heart knowing there is a difference to be made. I see these questions and answers as things that I will personally ponder, probably for years to come. Thanks for the reminder – I see this article as a presentation of more ways to infuse our philosophy deeper into the fabric of our business.

  9. Hilary Lindsay says:

    You do what your heart tells you to do. You will attract the students who resonate with that. After that, you figure out how to support the kids and keep the house etc. and try to find the balance.

  10. I love what you have written – you do attract what you put out in the world and I believe if it's real, it will all work out. Thank you.

  11. Hey Yoga Grrl, are you saying that in order for a studio to produce quality that there has to be a lot of money involved? I'm just curious as I've been to a couple studios where it's only the basics…room, mats….and they've had some of the best teachers I've ever had. I've also tried spending a lot of money for a weekend workshop with a 'known' teacher and was totally disappointed. Maybe it's just my experience….

  12. Hi April, 'balance and principles', that sounds great to me. I can imagine that combining yoga with the support for such things as local art and urban farming will attract a great crowd to your studio. 'Supporting everyone possible', if you believe that you get what you give in this life, then I think your concept is going to do just that. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and wise perspectives. Best wishes to you and your new studio. it sounds very exciting!

  13. Capitalism as a concept is not a bad thing, it just depends on the players. Capitalism is about being paid for sharing something somebody wants, be it a yoga class or a yoga mat… The instructor has to pay for their education + on + on it goes. Yoga is not a charity, it can open hearts to do charitable things… Wake up from your Savasana folks, a yoga class IS a consumer product..

  14. Kimberly says:

    Replying to Yogagrrl about teachers getting paid a couple hundy a class…

    I'm sure there is a vast difference in yoga teacher pay across the country. I am a teacher who works at three different studios (all of them quite nice, well-known in the area and reputable). I get paid a $30 flat rate at 2 of the 3 studios, and at the third I get paid per head. The third studio is very, very small (although luxurious and clean) so I average about $30 per class. If a student requests a private session with me, the studio takes a whopping 50% off the top so I end up making about $30 for my time and effort.

    I know this isn't NYC (It's the suburbs and outer areas of Boston), but I am barely scraping out a living teaching 14 classes per week. At this point in time I am so grateful for the opportunity to teach and to share that I am making do, taking on additional part time jobs and making it work. But one day, I would love to be able to make a living where I can actually feed myself on what I make in my career of choice.

    I do hear about teachers inside of the city of Boston who pack rooms at the fanciest studios with a hundred students every class getting paid in the hundreds, but that is certainly the exception, not the rule.

  15. Zombie Yoga and Shady Gurus — really interesting perspectives from! ….'Can yoga actually be humble, affordable and wholesome?'

  16. Trash Adkins says:

    I enjoyed this post and all the discussion. I teach and often I find myself feeling like I cannot afford to take yoga classes on my yoga salary. Even though my hourly rate looks great on paper, once you take the time on lesson prep, the time driving, the gas and then taxes (I am an independent contractor), I really don't make much. Of course, if anyone got into yoga for the money, they were deluded.
    I often wonder how Yoga studios compete with local health clubs. Most health clubs seems to want RYT instructors (at least around here), and then members can take classes as part as their $40 month membership fee. Makes it hard to go to the studio and pay $20 for one class, with the same instructor.

  17. Trish adkins says:

    And my name is Trish, not trash. Sorry! Gotta love autocorect on my Mac.

  18. Emma says:

    As a studio owner for 5 years and a teacher for 10, I have a couple of thoughts to offer:

    1. Nobody goes into the yoga business for the money. Nobody. If they do, they are quickly disabused of the notion that it is an easy way to make a buck. Who is making that $6 billion dollars? It's not the teachers. It's not the studios either–most studios operate on a razor-thin margin. It's not the clothing companies, other than perhaps lululemon. Is it the accessories companies? Perhaps Hugger Mugger and Gaiam are making money, but everybody else is just scraping by. Is it the magazines? Probably Yoga Journal makes money…ask Waylon about how other, smaller publications do. I don't know how Yoga Journal got that figure, or what it means to say that it is a $6 billion dollar industry. Most yoga teachers can't even afford health insurance.

    2. Why do people go into the yoga business, then? FOR LOVE. That's why teachers teach, why studio owners own studios, why yoga accessory and clothing companies sell clothes and accessories, why yoga magazines write stories about yoga. Because they love yoga and want to share it. Just like people who love gardening become landscapers, and people who love architecture become architects, and people who love literature write. It's not sinful or unethical to love something, receive extensive training for it, get really good at it, and then make your living from it.

    3. If you know of a studio that is opening 3 new locations in the same zip code, then either they are SPECTACULARLY SUCCESSFUL and located in an extremely populated urban area that can support it, or they are (unfortunately) going to learn a business lesson the hard way. Before you decide which, wait a couple of years. It actually can take a long, long time for yoga businesses on a poor foundation to fail because the owners are so passionately dedicated to keeping them open that they will flush away money for years, hoping things will work out.

    4. Personally, I consider it my dharma to keep my yoga studio open. The studio serves a ton of people in my community, doctors, nurses, elementary school teachers, cops, students, etc., who would not have access to the teachers they resonate with in an environment designed for comfortable yoga practice if my studio did not exist. That means it's my job to advertise (even though advertising is not my strong suit and I have had to learn how to do it without having my skin crawl). It's my job to carefully price my classes so that the studio can pay for itself. It means it's my job to pay myself a living wage for the work that I do. Because I'm not an inexhaustible resource! If I don't pay myself, I'll burn out and have to close the yoga studio. I left a much more profitable career for this one. Why? 'Cause I love yoga. I wanted to share it. So I got trained how to teach it. Then I got really good at teaching it. Then I wanted to make it my life's work.

    5. Bathroom lines are a pain. If a yoga studio can make enough to add another bathroom, God bless. It's a public service.

  19. AMO says:

    Like teachers, doctors, firemen, ministers, everyone thinks yoga teachers should be in it for the good they can do AS OPPOSED TO earning a living doing meaningful work. The world is expensive and yoga teachers have kids who want to go to college and homes with mortgages and cars that run on gasoline and groceries to buy. Many of the comments above refer to the cost of "running a studio" as in "a studio can be run on a dime" "yoga room, mats and the best teachers" as if the studio owner has no right to make more money than just what it takes to "run the studio" or to "get by". Why should yoga teachers have to just "get by"? Stock brokers making millions and nothing but money. Yoga teachers making people well, happy, healthy and making no money. Quit bitching about yoga teachers who want to earn an abundant living and stop to figure out where your priorities are. I've watched people sit in NYC bar and bitch about the cost of a $20 yoga class over their 2nd $20 martini. Stop. Think. Live…

  20. (love your autocorrect on your Mac). 🙂 I think perhaps people are willing to pay for the experience of a yoga studio versus the thumping music and adrenaline hype of the gym, but then again, perhaps for some this is what they think the yoga experience is. But, the gym definitely competes with the solo teacher or studio. 🙂

  21. Yogini5 says:

    In the spirit of what you wrote in an earlier blog post (I think it was you, no I got you mixed up with ARCreated – brilliant blogger, too), either those bar hoppers were not interested enough in yoga or they practice any yoga they do at home and, being budget minded, they have their OWN priorities, and have the money left over to drink in NYC.

    This from a teetotaler.

    Thank you ARCreated, for that earlier blog post.

  22. Candice says:

    Yoga Grrl, it depends where you live. I live on the central coast, and it's most common that teachers make $30 a class. Actually, last time I polled, that is the highest paying class in Monterey. There is no "per student" option for a lot of areas. But in my experience, those studios are in areas where yoga is just emerging as a market and the money is not there yet, so even then,I suppose teachers are still making a large percentage of the money that is being exchanged.

  23. Thanks Kimberly. 🙂 Indeed, this seems an interesting topic of discussion and the sensitivity level ranges. I wish the best to you with your yoga teaching and really admire your perseverance…part-time jobs + yoga…keep it up, it will pay off.

  24. Hi Emma. Thanks for sharing your response! Your perspective comes from such a passionate place and I completely respect the intentions to prosper based on love and passion. It's a good question regarding the 6 billion – the article stated yoga and yoga products – I will see what I can find out…

  25. Hi Amo, thanks for your response. I'm sure that in today's world everyone would like to make an 'abundant living', but it's not necessarily possible, even for most professions. Perhaps even for most of us, that expectation is way too high. I'm not sure if I would put yoga teachers into the same category as stock brokers, but I get your point and perhaps for some it works. And there's no doubt everyone wants to earn a living, including yoga teachers. I don't know, I suppose I was just thinking more along the lines of 'only taking what is really needed', but I suppose one should ask questions like, what does that really mean and perhaps why should yoga teachers have the responsibility of living such a way, etc, etc. Thanks again. 🙂

  26. Laura says:

    Perhaps there's a link between the capitalist culture in the US and the idea that it's ok to charge the kind of money that allows only the middle class to benefit from what is essentially spiritual, meditation. just look at churches in the US – the more you give, the more likely it is you will be 'saved' . How did spirituality become related to money and capitalism?

    How much do ordinary indians 'pay' to attend a 'class' in India? I don't know but i'm guessing it's less than 40 USD. On the other hand living costs are much less in India so it's all relative. When we live in a society where we are bombarded with advertising, it's hard to differentiate between what we need (a roof, food, water, warmth, love) and what we want (new yoga mat, new yoga clothes to be able to perform the poses better and not sweat so much, new iphone, organis beauty products, the list goes on and on). I don't really blame yoga teachers for wanting to earn enough money to live a lifestyle they believe is their right and are used to- i do too! Yoga, in my ideal world would be exchanged, not paid for. We wouldn't need money and we wouldn't live in a consumer society but that world is just in my head for the moment and perhaps a little in Christiania.

  27. Hey Laura! Glad to see you here. 🙂 Interesting comment – the more money you pay to the church, the more likely you'll be saved. I can remember going to church with my grandmother back in the day (we didn't have a lot of money at all) and there was definitely an element of guilt that she felt when only being able to put in a couple of dollars into the basket. I'm sure this played on her heart and also perhaps how she was 'looked upon'.

    I don't blame yoga teachers either for wanting to earn enough money to be 'comfortable' or whatever that means to them. I suppose the question still stands – when is enough, enough? Given the circumstances of the planet and those going around with more than enough versus those that don't have any, how do we make balance?

    I'm also a little Christiania. 🙂

  28. […] the foundation of rampant capitalism is based on perpetual economic growth. Growth is sustained by consumption. Consumption satisfies […]