Andrew Tanner, the current spokesperson for Yoga Alliance, led a discussion on the future of yoga at this year's Yoga Journal Conference to an audience of around 50 eager listeners.
The lively and charismatic entrepreneur spent the first several years of his yoga career in NYC and helped launch and run four Bamboomoves studios, four Dahn Yoga studios, and also YoGanesh YoGa. Then he became director of Kripalu’s Schools for Yoga and Ayurveda while serving on the Yoga Alliance Board during its recent restructuring.
As anyone who follows the yoga news knows, YA has come under some serious heat for their unwillingness and inability to help studios fight off a multitude of threatening laws—laws that are trying to regulate and tax yoga on a governmental level. They’ve also been criticized for an ineffectual teacher certification process.
Tanner said that Yoga Alliance has made a lot of changes over the last couple of years, which he has been a part of.
When YA started in 1997, with 24 teachers from different lineages, they agreed on what should become the 200-hour teaching credential standards. The current membership—as of the most recent 2012 data—stands at 60,000 regsitered teachers and 3,000 schools.
Organized under the umbrella of a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status, Tanner says this was a restrictive designation and only allowed them to act as a credentialing body that registered teachers and schools. To fix this, they now have a separate designation as a 501(c)(6). This new designation allows them to work to protect both studios and teachers. So far, they've helped lobby in Colorado and are currently looking to overturn a law in Missouri to fight the regulation of yoga on the state level. Just last week, they won a case in Encinitas, California where it was decided that yoga can be taught in schools in a non-secular way. This is a big change from the old days when they wouldn't lift a finger to help.
As for the future, Tanner, who is now a business consultant and author of So You Want ToOpen A Yoga Studio, believes that, according to the standard stages of business growth, studios are moving towards a state of “maturity growth.” In other words, those that have figured out their particular niche in the yoga market, while maintaining quality standards, will survive. Those that don’t have something distinctive or special to offer probably won’t make it—especially with New York’s rising rents.
Surprisingly, according to Tanner, only 11% of yoga that is practiced in America happens in studio settings, with the rest happening in places like gyms, YMCAs, private sessions, etc.
As for the question of YA’s credentialing, and it’s potential value, it's clear that Tanner’s group is trying to get a handle on it. Recently, YA retooled their site and now see it as becoming an invaluable resource for interested practitioners, teachers, TT programs, and those looking to take teacher trainings.
The newly updated site allows YA to act as an unbiased third-party, where people can come for trusted information and reviews. According to Tanner, they use a term that they have coined: social credentialing.
Studios are required to upload information about their TT programs. Any teacher that registers with YA is now required to fill out a review of their TT program. YA has created their own system of “checks and balances” so that they can verify if a teacher that is reviewing a program really is a graduate of that particular program and if the review is authentic or not.
Once registered, teachers have a new profile page where they can upload their certifications, teaching hours, and continuing education credits for potential students to view.
Interested practitioners can come to the website to look at the teacher's profile page and get a fuller picture. YA hopes to eventually add a teacher review feature, similar to the TT program review feature. Tanner says that YA is passionate about ensuring the integrity and authenticity of the reviews (for instance, no anonymous reviews or glowing friend reviews that are posted just to boost ratings, like the ones that can be found on many social media sites). Since they haven’t quite figured out how the “checks and balances” would work for this particular feature, they aren’t willing to add the feature quite yet. Tanner says that they’re working on it and are confident that they can make it happen.
No matter what happens with potential changes in where yoga is being practiced, or how practitioners are marketed to in the coming years, with 100 million people interested in yoga who haven't yet practiced, it is guaranteed that there is still a lot of business to be had in the future of yoga.
Tanner is probably right: You have to know who you are to be a winner in this business, which will only get tougher. Tanner says, "In my opinion, teaching good yoga is simply not enough to survive in a mature market, so I think the businesses that will survive will fall into one of five categories:
1. Big boxes (YogaWorks, Pure, Exhale, etc.) that have sales strategies and a corporate structure that help them make more intelligent business decisions.
2. Personality driven studios (Jivamukti, Laughing Lotus, Iyengar, etc.), where students tend to follow their teachers as long as they are on a path of growth.
3. Neighborhood studios that grow from small-time to medium-time. The common thread among successful small yoga studios is that the owner spends more time running the business than teaching.
4. Studios/teachers that cater to niche markets (Yoga for Seniors, Christian Yoga, Boomer Yoga, etc.). As yoga becoms more mainstream, there are scores of people who want to try it but feel uncomfortable going into a studio, so those that market effectively to growing demographics can succeed.
5. Highly-skilled teachers that learn basic business skills like budgeting, communications, and networking. It’s not just enough to know how to teach. You have to understand the business aspect."
Allison Richard is a yoga instructor, lifestyle coach, and writer. She always asks "why?" and strives to have each day contain some feelings of rainbows and unicorns. Follow her journey here or on Instagram.