But for many of the people behind the city’s studios, which have been opening at a frenetic pace over the past few years, the yoga industry is turning out to be more than they bargained for. With a surge in interest in the practice has come unexpected side effects, including business disputes, legal showdowns and financial stressors.
“I didn’t get into it for the money. There wasn’t any,” says John Schumacher, who founded Unity Woods Yoga Center in 1979. When he started teaching yoga, he made $8,000 a year and lived in a bus. Gradually, he built up enough students to open the studio. “People saw you could make a living doing this,” he says. “But now it’s become a struggle.”
Survival of the fittest
Yogis don’t like to talk about competition, and most owners will deny there’s any tension among local studios. But Schumacher acknowledges that the businesses are vying for students’ attention.
That’s one of the reasons his locations in Bethesda, Woodley Park and Ballston are participating in Yoga Week. Another is to strengthen the bonds within Washington’s yoga community. Studios can happily coexist when they’re offering different things to different people. “We have to cooperate to stay alive and prosper,” Schumacher says.
Already, Schumacher looks around the yoga landscape and sees many studios scraping by and on the verge of closing. Several seem likely to follow the lead of Ashtanga Yoga Center in Tenleytown, which is shutting down May 31. The studio, founded by David Ingalls in 1997, was once the only place in the city to do Ashtanga, as well as the morning Mysore practices the style is known for.
A few reasons factored into Ingalls’s decision, including the $50,000 a year he has been paying in rent and the increased difficulty of attracting students to a specific form of yoga. “Every time a new studio opened up, there was some attrition. One or two people would say, ‘That’s right in my neighborhood,’ ” Ingalls explains.
The other problem? His landlord let a second studio, Hot Yoga, move into the same building in October.
All yoga studios have been hurt by the explosion of such companies as Living Social, says Mike Graglia, a management consultant who’s been teaching yoga in the District since 2006. The online discounts encourage people to studio-hop. “The spiritual stuff in the background takes time. So they never get enough time to know the teacher, and the teacher doesn’t get to know them,” Graglia says. “It kills the community part of yoga.”
Studios are also learning the hard way what happens when they run teacher trainings. In the short term, they earn cash fast (typically about $2,500 to $3,000 per student). But they wind up with proteges who open their own studios and create a glut of instructors.