How to Start a Yoga Business
Have you considered starting a yoga business of your own? It takes hard work and dedication, just like the practice of yoga itself.
Yoga is an ancient Hindu philosophical practice that combines body movement and fixed postures with meditation, spiritual, and holistic exercises. In recent years, many enlightenment seekers have jumped on the yoga bandwagon, lured in by donation-only sessions, and inexpensive one-off classes. There is even the Gawker-esque blog YogaDork, profiled in kind by The New York Times, that covers the frivolous nuances of the increasingly trendy $5.7 billion industry.
Don't be fooled by its whimsical exterior - the business of yoga comes equipped with the joys and pitfalls of any other business. Before you make that career change, read on to discover he best ways to go about founding a prolific and profitable practice.
How to Start a Yoga Business: Yoga Certification
Your first step should to obtain certification as an instructor from a Yoga Alliance affiliated institution. Yoga Alliance is the organization that presides over the national standards when it comes to yoga and, although it is not mandatory that a teacher or a school be certified, it is the industry standard. Yoga Alliance lists the certification requirements for individuals and institutions on its Web site.
For an individual to be certified, Yoga Alliance requires a one-time $25 application fee, along with a $55 annual fee. If you desire to instruct teacher trainings at your school, a Registered Yoga School (RYS) certification is required to conduct 200-hour level teacher trainings. This registration requires a one-time $350 application fee and a $200 annual renewal fee.
Your next step should be to draw up a business plan for yourself as a sole proprietor or as an institution. "If someone wants to open up their own studio, they definitely need to, like any other business, look at the working capital. And they've got to have a business plan," says Donna Davidge, a New York City-based yoga practitioner for over 26 years and founder of the yoga retreat center Sewall House in Maine. "You've got to have projections." In terms of projections, you also need to make yourself aware of the going rates of classes in your area. Yoga class fees vary greatly by area, and are often made more competitive in urban locales due to free and donation-only classes and an excess of existing studios and private instructors.
Dig Deeper: Does Certification Matter?
How to Start a Yoga Business: Sole Proprietor or Owner?
Due to the popularity of the activity, many practitioners have ditched their briefcases in the hopes of teaching students of their own how to live healthy, stress-free lives. However, before trading in your suit for drawstring slacks, beware that your "stress-free" existence may be affected by a pay cut. Davidge estimates that new teachers, on average, only make about $20,000 to $40,000 a year.
There are many avenues that one can take with respect to starting their own practice. You can opt to work as a sole proprietor, servicing private clientele on a one-on-one basis. This, in fact, is one of the more lucrative ways for yoga instructors to make a living. You can also work for a private health club or existing yoga center, also as a sole proprietor, with a built-in clientele. As an added bonus to this option, fitness centers such as Equinox and New York Sports Club offer health and retirement benefits to their yoga instructors.
Finally, you can open your own brick and mortar establishment. This option comes with far more responsibilities that include rent and utility expenses, managing staff, and assuring that your place of business adheres to zoning requirements depending on the type of yoga that you'll be teaching.
Dig Deeper: Money or Passion?
How to Start a Yoga Business: Build a Clientele
Before you start your own business, brick and mortar or not, it's best to work for an established yoga outlet. This will allow you to gain more experience in the craft, and also to build a loyal following of your own out of the pool of existing students. "I think you need to get loyal clients," says Davidge. "If people don't know who you are, it's going to be pretty hard to do." In addition to working for an established studio, you may also choose to offer a free class or donation-only class every so often in order to heighten customer interest in your instruction techniques.
Dig Deeper: How to Run a One-Person Business
How to Start a Yoga Business: Choose a Type of Yoga
You need to determine what type of yoga you're going to teach. Yoga is a generic term that, in the West, may refer to thousands of cross- disciplinary forms with different physical and spiritual objectives. However, some are more popular and therefore more lucrative than others.
In addition to her retreat, Davidge instructs a course on Kundalini yoga at New York Open Center in New York City, the form that she began practicing back in 1985. Kundalini is oriented on breathing techniques and working with the chakras, which are energy points on the body. She notes that Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Vinyasa yoga are also popular choices. "They're very good workouts. So when someone doesn't want the rest of the lifestyle, spiritual, whatever, they can go in a class and just get that," she says.
Anna Winkler, founder of Shakti Yoga and Living Arts in Maplewood, NJ, has similar yoga offerings. "Hot yoga and Vinyasa yoga are very popular right now because it's very much like going to the gym. The people understand it and [what they really want is] a workout and to lose weight and look good," she says. Winkler recommends that yoga studios specialize in one style so as not to confuse customers. "Studios that offer one type of yoga may have a better success ratio because students know that whatever class they go to, that's what they're going to get.'
Dig Deeper: What Kind of Business Are You Running?
How to Start a Yoga Business: The Bikram Option
As Winkler mentioned, hot yoga is one of the most popular forms of contemporary yoga. The most popular form of hot yoga is Bikram Yoga, founded by yogi Bikram Choudhury in the early 1970s. The system is presided over by Bikram Yoga World Headquarters based out of Los Angeles. Unlike other forms of yoga, the Bikram practice - the specific sequence of poses - is trademarked, and one must go through a formal process in order to teach Bikram and to open a studio dedicated to instructing this specific form of yoga.
Raffael Pacitti, owner of the Bikram Yoga Manhattan studios, says that while a franchise agreement is being worked out with the governing body of Bikram Yoga, all studios that teach Bikram are currently classified as affiliates and do not currently pay fees to headquarters. Pacitti explains that in order to teach Bikram Yoga, one must obtain Choudhury's written permission. This is done through full-time teacher trainings that Choudhury presides over in Los Angeles that are completed over a period of two-and-a-half months. The Fall 2011 teacher training is $7,000 for the entire session. Housing costs are an additional expense for out-of-area students. If you wish to open a studio, you must again obtain his permission.
The requirements for a Bikram training facility mandate that the room be heated to 105 degrees fahrenheit, with humidity levels at 40 percent. "It's pretty difficult to get that kind of controlled condition. You also have to have pretty sophisticated ventilation systems so that the area doesn't smell. Also you have to have shower and bathroom facilities," says Pacitti of the Bikram organizational requirements for studios.
With these stipulations come additional expenses and zoning requirements. Where it may be possible to launch a start-up Kundalini practice in an apartment, for example, this would be impossible for a Bikram practice. Also, the space that Bikram Yoga requires would generally result in higher rents for one opening a studio. "[Chodhury's] mission is to get as many people doing it as possible. So, if you open up a studio in a city and it can't accommodate 30-40 people in a class, he will not approve it," says Pacitti.
Dig Deeper: What Defines a Professional?
How to Start a Yoga Business: Choose a Location
It may be highly unlikely that a Bikram studio can be started on a budget, but ventures centered around other systems can be gotten off the ground much more easily. The costs of a yoga start-up are mainly dependent on the rental rates in your area, or the price of real estate if you wish to buy a studio. 'To get a lease in New York City is very expensive. Most landlords are going to want about six months [of rent] up front,' says Pacitti. 'When taking into account the space that would be required for a Bikram studio and the additional expensives of adding heating, ventilation, and shower facilities, Pacitti estimates that it would cost at least $300,000-$400,000 to begin an operation such as this. However, he says that starting a Bikram practice in a place other than New York City would be less than half of that estimate due to cheaper rents and renovation costs.
Davidge began Sewall House in 1995 for less than $10,000. She purchased a house in Maine and paid for its expenses and operational costs by funneling her income from teaching yoga in New York City into the venture until the business became sustainable. During the first summer of operations, she only taught out of the Maine house for one month. She gradually built the business to the point where it is currently; Davidge now spends six months of every year instructing revolving groups of participants and conducting teacher trainings onsite. She runs the retreat along with her husband and a full-time staff member. Sewall House is operated in a style similar to a bed and breakfast and can accommodate up to 11 people. The retreats usually run for five nights at a cost of $1,000 for participants.
Winkler chose another route to starting her own practice. She rented a room in the studio of an existing practice for $500 a month and starting teaching classes of her own. From there, she began having other teachers instruct in-house on behalf of her business. In order to keep her expenses low, she didn't pay her initial teachers a set salary or rate. "I paid them a percentage of what they brought in for however many students they had. And that's the way I still do it," she says. Aside from instructors, she currently has three part-time employees who work for her in the evenings and on the weekends, and four other staff members who assist on a service basis in exchange for classes. Her operational costs run about $100,000 per year.
"My recommendation is to just start small, in a little room, a little reception desk, and that may be as big as you ever get," says Winkler. "Sometimes getting bigger just means getting bigger headaches and not necessarily bigger profits."
Dig Deeper: Sharing Office Space
How to Start a Yoga Business: Expand Your Brand and Be Unique
Yoga's popularity has caused some instructors to fear that their pool of potential clients is becoming diluted as more and more schools and programs enter the scene. How can you set your yoga business apart from other competitors in the market? Take your practice out of the studio and integrate it with a cool activity.
"One thing that seems to work that's very popular and trendy with the younger crowd are things like yoga and surfing. That's one that I've seen a lot and I think it's fairly popular," says Davidge. She also mentions that many yoga instructors organize retreats by taking groups to exotic locations and practicing yoga onsite.
A simpler, more cost effective option may be to operate in a calming public location. The instructors at New York City's Central Park Yoga preside over sets of classes in the stunning park, along with maintaining teaching gigs at other establishments.
Other unique options may include (but are certainly not limited to) yoga with pets, AntiGravity yoga, foodie yoga, and prenatal yoga. Davidge has expanded the Sewall House brand by opening an online store that sells a Sewall House cookbook, DVDs, and T-shirts. The options are limitless.
Before going into the business of enlightenment, make sure that you have all of your bases covered and that you've done a thorough vetting of your environment. If you're in a major city like New York, you may have more leeway with the types of classes that you offer. However, if you're in a suburban or rural area, you may need to cater to a more targeted demographic such as stay-at-home moms during school hours. Above all, make sure to keep your overhead expenses low. Start small and allow your business to grow along with your clientele, not the other way around.
Dig Deeper: Banking on the Bacon