The economics of Ashtanga

After a long time away from posting to his blog, Eddie Stern returned this weekend with a pretty fascinating one — albeit it is easy for me to be merely fascinated because its contents don’t affect me directly.

Here’s a link and a central point:

As many of you know, we have not had a price increase at the school in over 10 years, due to our rent remaining at a fixed level of $6,500 per month. Unfortunately, that is ending on October 1st, and the rent of the school is increasing to $12,983.62 per month. As it is, AYNY is not a tremendously profitable venture, and the school will not be able to survive this increase without a shift in our pricing structure.

Nothing hidden there. It’s pretty rare for someone to be so transparent about costs and business expenses. It’s not necessarily a very businessy thing to do, but I think for a yoga shala (with a Hindu temple within, no less), it is the yogic thing to do. So kudos to Eddie for being so up front about the reason for the changes.

He goes on to offer a variety of options to help people manage the increase, which at its most basic is going from $260/month unlimited to $300. Drop-ins go from $20 to $23. Given the near doubling of his rent, that doesn’t strike me as too big a jump. (I actually double-checked because I thought it must be more.)

What his post got me to thinking about was the bottom-line cost of Ashtanga. When I talk about how much a month of classes costs, which I’ve found to be in the $180 range most places outside of New York and its super high rents (maybe San Francisco is in that range, too?), non-Ashtangis get a little yoga workout for their eyebrows: They rise and fall and twist and turn.

Shala-goers spend a lot.

But they also get a lot — or should. That money is paying for — in the sense that we now are talking a customer relationship, a topic I seem to remember has bubbled up from time to time on yoga blogs — daily adjustments and assistance as well as the teacher’s knowledge of an individual’s practice. And it includes paying for the experience and expertise of the teacher.

That’s a lot different than getting a few routine adjustments in a flow class from a teacher one maybe sees twice a week.

You get what you pay for, in other words. (Or, again, should.)

The high cost to Ashtanga is another reason why, I think, it won’t ever be hugely popular. Because down the street there’s a corporate yoga studio that’s charging $50/month for unlimited classes, with your first month free!

That’s some serious competition.

It’s why building a community among the practitioners is so important. The fundamental nature of the relationship between Ashtanga teacher and student demands a deeper level of engagement and understanding than can be fit into a profit & loss sheet. And it is one that doesn’t pencil out very easily — a teacher has got to have enough students willing to pay a higher price for that higher level of service. A teacher has to make it worth the cost; I doubt there’s going to be much economies of scale coming into play (except in the case of the institute in Mysore).

Eddie, from our experience at AYNY, has built that community (as is reflected in the way he has announced the price change). Tim Miller has down in San Diego. Those are the successful ones I’ve had personal experience with over the years; obviously there are others.

Maybe your shala is one.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

2 thoughts on “The economics of Ashtanga”

  1. so true, I don’t even teach a weekly class anymore. Plus many western yogi’s seem to lack the openess to learning, humbleness, and deep respect that is integral to traditional yoga practices. I also enjoy my practice now being focused on what I need to do/learn/practice, I really missed that alot.

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