“The cure for burnout is not self-care. It is all of us caring for each other.”
[Amelia and Emily Nagoski, Burnout]
Places of work for yoga teachers are closing down: studios, gyms, leisure centres. I know of at least 10 such places that have permanently closed their doors in the last 18 months just in greater London. The UK’s largest yoga studio — Triyoga — has merged with United Fitness Brands, a venture capitalist-funded corporation. Plenty of yoga teachers are demoralised, highly anxious, disillusioned. Many have lost work and some have packed away their teaching tools in despair at what is happening. “I’ve just had enough” is a frequently heard statement from many teachers — and from numerous others. More victims of the pandemic and all its consequences.
Those teachers who survive have increasingly turned towards their own self-organised classes, whether in-person or online. This can potentially mean more fragmentation of an already highly individualised and isolating industry, maybe more fuel to the flames of dog-eat-dog rivalry. In these deeply difficult days, imagination, pragmatism and solidarity are vital elements for our sustainability as teachers. Some practical suggestions include the following
• transparency around pay and conditions
• consciously avoid undercutting fellow teachers
• yoga TTs inform all applicants of the precarious state of yoga industry and the diminishing likelihood of finding appropriately-paid work as a yoga teachers
• teachers restrict giving away too much material too cheaply (eg recordings), as this can devalue our work
• most studios and many teachers share similar interests: now is the time to talk about how we can best work together rather than studios suddenly shutting or teachers criticising a studio without offering positive options
• pressure is put on government to support the health and fitness industry — as perhaps we could be lessening risk of illness and ill health
• teachers make connections with other teachers
• keep asking ourselves this crucial question: “how do we stay well when working in the wellness industry?”
I believe that meaningful change and deep transformation comes less through recorded material, online petitions, social media threads and more through live interactions, people coming together in public spaces, face-to-face discourse. In my opinion, this greater three dimensionality is more sustainable for most teachers and more including for most practitioners. Currently, there are significant restrictions on our abilities to do the in-person classes and this coming together. But change is a certainty.
This is an ongoing situation with many variables. In the UK (and also in the US), state-funded social support systems are frayed and battered; this can be another source of stress for those desperately attempting to keep heads above choppy waters. In countries like Germany and Sweden, supportive services are easier to access whereas in the UK, it can be a success just to get a telephone call, while in the US even that minimal support is a rarity.
Let us not pretend that everything was rosy in yogaland pre-pandemic. Nor let us perceive the glass as being doom and gloom half-empty. There have been many positive changes since I started teaching yoga in 2001; yoga landscapes have changed substantially, often for the better. In stormy seas, it is good to cultivate appreciation and recognise the positive shifts. Such shifts include fewer gurus, more openness to mentoring/solidarity, greater transparency around pay/working conditions, less yoga dogmatism. Practice has possibly become less about forcing to achieve particular postures. Practices that emphasise inclusivity, sustainability, awareness off mats are becoming more common. One teacher commented: “These times are certainly fertile ground for taking stock and assessing values…How do we, as individuals and as a yoga community, hold our ground against the money-driven greed of capitalism and global brands?”
I do not believe in social structures that undermine community and solidarity, that celebrate an individualism that comes at the cost of ruining other people’s lives and catastrophically damaging the environment. I do not believe in survival of the fittest where a few are vastly rewarded and many others struggle to keep going. I do believe that human beings are inherently good, I know that this is a very beautiful and precious world. I believe that we can collaborate together; that instead of conflict and binary confrontations, we can look for areas of agreement and cooperate. We have the capacity to encourage constructive and creative shifts that could benefit us all.
I have spent decades campaigning, practising, struggling for positive social and personal changes. Definitely this is true: three steps forward, two steps back…and sometimes five steps back! Progress is neither inevitable nor linear. I aspire to be grounded in ethics and integrity and do my best to do my best (knowing that plenty think what I believe to be best is wrong). An aspiration is that at least we can say — as the Jennifer Lawrence character said in that excellent film Don’t Look Up: “I’m grateful we tried.”
7 January 2022
I posted the below piece on social media on 6 January 2022:
Things are extremely difficult for yoga studios at the moment (understatement). Many have closed their doors. My heart goes out to all those running yoga studios. The many mountains that studio owners must be climbing; with no guarantees of survival or success.
The UK’s largest yoga studio – Triyoga – has just gone into partnership with United Fitness Brands, a venture capital funded corporation. Triyoga’s accounts for 2020 are (in the words of a financial expert) “gruesome reading”. A loss of £2.1 million; a drop in turnover from £8.6m in 2019 to £4m in 2020. God knows what the figures are for 2021. Jonathan Sattin wrote in a message to Triyoga students (4 January): “we looked for a partner to help us both secure our future and enable us maintain our values”. Putting a brave face on these highly challenging circumstances: the pandemic; current economic situation; the substantial decline in people attending yoga classes; the fact that Triyoga employs nearly 100 people plus all the teachers (who are freelancers).
Behind United Fitness Brands there is Pembroke VCT (Venture Capital Trust) which has assets of about £160 million. In their own description: “Pembroke VCT is focused on growth investing, typically backing consumer brands with premium pricing potential”. Behind Pembroke VCT, there is the Oakley group: “a privately owned asset management and advisory group…has £4.8 billion under management”. Oakley’s founder, Peter Dubens, is a major donor to the Conservative Party, donating £50,000 in 2017 and £250,000 for the 2019 election.
United Fitness Brands has fitness centres such as Boom Cycle, Barrecore, KOBOX – and now Triyoga. One of UFB’s founders, Joe Cohen, said (October 2021): “I think we’ve all become a lot cleverer with how we run our studios. We used to have two front of house and two cleaners. We’ve cut that in half and become a lot cleverer with costs… It’s all about saving costs.” YogaWorks in the US had a similar trajectory: from yoga studio to being taken over by venture capitalists – and it is not a promising picture.
Back to the financial expert: “I suspect it’s a step to more commodification of yoga into fitness world, and I’m sure students and teachers won’t see the benefit! It is a blood bath out there for studios alas…What emerges I don’t know? Maybe less yoga froth, less practitioners, but more depth?”
Being in this ‘don’t know’ place is important. Staying informed, learning from the past, maintaining connections can be very helpful.