Teachers at the Forefront of Conscious Yoga Business Models

October 14, 2016    BY Summer Allyger

The yoga landscape is rapidly shifting, with individuals and organizations increasingly engaged in constructive dialogue to support efforts to diversify representations of yoga and yogis, and to create accessible and welcoming spaces for every body. The Conversations with Modern Yogis discussion series seeks to further widen the discussion—at the level of the local yoga community and beyond.

As the popularity of yoga grows, it’s becoming increasingly important for teachers and studio owners to maintain authenticity and integrity while teaching and managing their organizations.

“The Business of Yoga: Aligning With Our Values” was an illuminating conversation about the innovative business methods four women use to share the priceless teachings of yoga.

Hosted by the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, Yoga Shala West, and Piedmont Yoga, panelists for the discussion included Micheline Berry of Inhale Venice, Raja Michelle of Green Tree Yoga and Meditation, Kayoko Mitsumatsu of Yoga Gives Back, and Pranidhi Varshney of Yoga Shala West.

The conversation focused on core values such as the importance of community, the use of financial transactions for mindful services, and the important interplay of business and intentions.

The discussion offered a diverse sampling of business models within the yoga community. For example, Kayoko Mitsumatsu of Yoga Gives Back started her nonprofit foundation when “[she] saw the worst imbalance of capitalism happening in yoga.”

She was paying $20 for a yoga class in L.A., when one day she realized that the cost of one yoga class could make a significant contribution to alleviating poverty in India. Thus, Yoga Gives Back was founded on a simple micro-donation model.

“For the cost of one yoga class, you can change a life.”

Mitsumatsu’s core belief in Yoga Gives Back is that the global yoga community can express gratitude for the gifts of yoga by giving back to Mother India and empowering mothers with local business funding, while also providing education and scholarships to children and young adults. Through Mitsumatsu’s vision, Yoga Gives Back is now supporting over 900 people and continues to grow its outreach and support.

On a local level, Pranidhi Varshney, Raja Michelle, and Micheline Berry saw a need to provide yoga for all communities, regardless of the financial challenges. Their core values include diversity, culture, and ubiquitous access to yoga and meditation. While these women have similar values, their yoga offerings are packaged in different business models.

Pranidhi Varshney began her shala, or studio, valuing trust over transaction. She encourages students to offer a monthly contribution on a sliding scale of $100 to $200—with the belief that this model brings students, teachers, and studio owners more into alignment with the practice of yoga and the spirit of service. The contribution model also opens yoga to a diverse group of students and instills a sense of community and support for one another.

Raja Michelle provides another great example of a progressive business model.  Wanting to create positive change in communities where yoga was not accessible, she founded a donation-based model in South Central L.A. called Green Tree Yoga. All classes have a suggested donation starting at $7, but Green Tree remains open to accepting any amount each individual can afford. Raja believes this approach can dissolve barriers to the teachings of yoga and meditation. She completes her vision by giving back to the community by way of teacher trainings, community outreach programs, and a safe haven for inner work.

At Inhale Venice, Micheline Berry dove into her studio endeavor with the goal of providing a space for the thriving Venice yoga community that honored integrity, diversity, and inclusivity. Out of this core value, Berry opened Venice’s only donation-based studio.

“We need[ed] to change the commodification of yoga and share a system of empowerment for the teachers, students, and communities,” said Berry.

While the need for yoga and meditation in these communities opened a non-traditional path within the business of yoga, the flow of money in the business is, of course, still crucial for its sustainability and growth.

Yoga and money can be hard to blend in one practice. However, each panelist believes that when faced with a financial opportunity, their decisions were always made with their core values at heart.

One business model is not necessarily better than another. The teachings of yoga, money, and self-care are interdependent, and success happens when clarity of intention and sustaining core values are well blended. Similar to the way we assess our physical, emotional, and mental state as we step onto the mat, these panelists cultivate such self-awareness in business—staying committed to their own daily practice, and listening to both the needs of the community and their own values.

The Conversations with Moderns Yogis series is an ongoing project between Piedmont Yoga and the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, intended to participate in shaping the future of "yoga culture." Through honest, compassionate, and thoughtful dialogue and action, we believe that we can make room for individual and collective healing and transformation.

Summer Allyger
is a certified health and wellness coach in Los Angeles. She is an Ashtanga yoga practitioner and Nike Training Club coach for Nike Women. Summer also leads lectures and mentors high school girls in Compton and East LA for Girls Build LA wellness programs.