I ran a yoga studio from 2009-2014 much like many folks run yoga studios nowadays: I held the lease, paid the rent and overhead, taught most of the classes to keep that overhead down, did most, if not all, of the administration, balanced the books, and basically was a control freak about all of it. Several other teachers taught on the roster, a few classes each, and I did my best to pay them fairly ($5 per student with no maximum, and $25 minimum even if no one showed up.) I ran the studio this way because this "single owner" studio model was the only model of yoga studio I was familiar with. I took most of the risk - and yes, I reaped most of the rewards.
Or, so I thought at the time. Thing is, after about 3 or 4 years of running a yoga studio this way, I found it wasn’t feeling rewarding, either spiritually or financially. In fact, I was burned out. I was spending more of my time marketing the studio, trying to sustain existing students, and gain new students, and less time doing the thing I loved, which was serving human beings through the act of teaching Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga.
The space itself was lovely, but the building was marginal and in a poor location. The last 18 months I taught there felt like walking through waist deep water. And, I was going through a profound change personally as well, which prompted me to finally listen to and follow my intuitive voice that was screaming at me: THIS ISN”T WORKING! NOT FOR YOU, NOT FOR THE STUDENTS.
And, so, I closed that studio and, inspired by Marie Kondo’s, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, divested myself of 99% of the props, mats, and years of accrued paraphernalia of the old studio. I sold it all, because I knew I never wanted to run a studio again - but I still wanted to teach, so I subleased in a holistic center that provided a nice open space and yoga props on Main Street in Northampton, and taught Mysore five mornings a week, with a couple of Led classes at night. I also separated from my husband of 20 years and moved with very few personal items into a small, simple, austere apartment. This was the first time in my entire life that I lived alone, and I loved it. I was happy, and it was this time away to regroup - not unlike returning to samasthithi - that helped save my marriage, in the long run..
A giant, cleansing wave of radical change had swept through my life, both personally and professionally, creating a fresh, clean slate from which I could start again.
Part of my daily practice included studying Sanskrit, chanting Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and studying other ancient texts - like the Gita and the Upanishads - in addition to my asana practice. I accredit the strenuous mental effort of that sadhana - and the resonances of Sanskrit within my body - with my own personal evolution of clarity and purpose. I began to look more and more at teaching as an act of service, as devotion to something greater than running a “yoga business” designed to personally support me and “make money.”
I believe sincerely and have experienced personally that sadhana/practice, when done reverently and consistently for a long time, without attachment to the results of the practice, becomes a catalyst for positive change. I knew that letting go of the results - letting go of the striving to achieve financial success, and simplifying what I offered by teaching as a form of devotion and service - helped create an alchemy within me that lead to greater self awareness, compassion, wisdom and clarity.
But, old habits die hard, and after a successful year and a half in the subleased space, with a growing student community and apprentices who desired to teach, I found that I was falling back into something I didn’t want to do: running a yoga studio.
So, I tried something radically different. Over the course of a weekend, at the suggestion of my friend and fellow teacher, Georgiann Kristek, I developed a model for a collective or cooperatively based yoga studio - one where all the teachers would share. This meant sharing not only the risks, but also the rewards. Sharing the space, sharing the props, sharing the students - no teacher, including myself, would say, “These are “my” students” - but rather, “This is OUR yoga community.”
Here’s how it works in its simplest form:
-Each teacher pays a portion of the rent based on the ratio of classes they teach.
-Each teacher collects 100% of the income from their classes. (Yup, you read that right.)
-Each teacher is responsible for one of the administrative duties required to run the studio.
-Business decisions (i.e. schedule changes, marketing expenditures, etc.) are made collectively and put to a vote democratically; consensus is the goal, but every teacher has veto power if they are strongly against something.
-Teachers are invested in the success of the studio community as a whole vs. in competition with each other.
-Teaching is an act of service to support and help the students develop as conscious human beings.
-Creating a strong, healthy and conscious yoga community is the main purpose of the studio.
These last two are especially important for this model to work. It is not a capitalist model, based on extracting all the resources from the environment - those resources being students. (Remember, students are NOT dollar signs walking through the door, but human beings.) The intent of this model is to serve, give and love one’s fellow human beings, to become more conscious and self-realized - which is the goal of yoga, after all - and to help the students find that freedom, too.
Here’s a simple, practical example:
A group of 4 teachers wish to share a practice space and create a yoga community together. They find a 1000 square foot space that is ideally located and affordable at $1000 a month. After outfitting the studio with props and decor, a cost shared equally between them, the group chooses teaching slots and divvy’s up the schedule in a fair way through consensus. They will have a total of 20 classes a week in the space - three classes a day, two on Saturday.
Each teacher takes on a portion of the administrative duties based on their time and talent - i.e.cleaning, beautification, doing the books and payroll, social media marketing, the email newsletters, managing the schedule, updating the website, creating and distributing print media, etc.
The group also chooses to sublease the space in off-hours to two groups: a dance group and a singing group, who rent 2 hour weekly class slots at $100/month - thus reducing the gross rent to a net $800.
Divide the net rent of $800 by the 20 weekly classes the cooperative teachers share, and the rent per weekly class per month is $40.
Each teacher pays $40/month for each of their weekly classes.
Teacher A - 8 classes a week, $320
Teacher B - 6 classes a week, $240
Teacher C - 4 classes a week, $160
Teacher D - 2 classes a week, $80
Plus two subleases = $200
And, the monthly rent of $1000 is covered.
(Now, this is a very simple example, but, you get the gist, I hope. We all pay some small additional money each month to the rent ratio to cover any marketing costs. For start up costs, we split to costs of outfitting the studio equally (this was the “buy in” to be part of the collective.)
This model is the model that AYN has been following since October of 2015, and it works for us - even through a move to a new location. And, it has not lead to feelings of being “burned out” - because all the teachers are invested in the success of the studio. It works for a variety of reasons:
-The teacher relationship is collegial and supportive, not competitive.
-We communicate with each other.
-We know and trust each other.
-We practice together.
-We share with one another.
-We are generous with each other.
-We have the same goal: that of creating a positive, healthy, supportive space for our students, to serve them and help them grow through yoga sadhana.
A rising tide lifts all boats.
In our modern capitalist, post-industrial world, sharing is seen as somehow weak, foolish, or ineffective. Especially here in the States, the belief is that an individual needs to “fight” for their “piece of the pie” - and that the pie is finite and apt to be gobbled up by more voracious, “stronger” competitors.
Turning around my own personal attitude about what success "means", my own beliefs about sharing and giving, into believing that “the pie” is not finite, but in fact, abundant and infinite, and making community and service the main goal of teaching yoga - serving, giving and loving fellow teachers and most especially, the students - makes all the difference and has helped create a successful, fulfilling and inspiring yoga community of kind, conscious students - and happy, fulfilled teachers, too.
I’m proud of what we’ve created and sustained through this means, and happy to share this with inspired, curious yoga teachers who want to work differently - those that are willing to try running a studio not based on the capitalist “resource extraction" model, but rather, aligned with service and devotion and community - the sharing economy. It feels good to share! Email if you want to learn more.