Dan SchwartzmanWriter, Yogi, Cyclist
I've practiced at a lot of studios — probably hundreds. For all the painted Ganesh images on the wall, a great studio is built on a foundation of excellent people and attention to detail, particularly when it comes to the basics.
- The Teachers. First thing’s first. There is no class without a teacher. Even in Bikram Yoga – where the postures and even the words are the same – the teacher can be the difference thing between a poor class and an excellent one. This does not necessarily mean an experienced teacher. Everyone starts out somewhere (teachers and students). Often it is just the teacher's attitude that it comes down to.
- Cleanliness. A good studio should be cleaned daily — sometimes even more regularly. Clean bathrooms. Clean towels. Clean yoga room. Sure, sometimes a cleaner may miss a shift or the studio is out of something but if the studio is not being cleaned, you can tell.
- Lighting. I’ve practiced under bright lights and, if the class was engaging, I was working hard, the lights were something in the background. But staring up at the ceiling in sevasana, a bright fluorescent can really harsh the vibe.
- Air flow. For me, this is a must. In order to create physical health, the space in which you are practicing must be a healthy aerobic environment. A space with sealed windows, doors and no ventilation means you are breathing other people’s CO2 all class. Anything they got, you’re gonna get if the space is anaerobic.
- Welcome. This one may seem a bit intangible. But think about it. When you step into the space. Does it feel like a space that is full of love, warmth and positivity? How are you treated? How do the students treat you? The teachers? The owners?
What is imperative for you that makes a studio great?
I recently started receiving a magazine called Mindful Studio. On the cover are a handsome couple of Californians, who casually discuss their empire of yoga studios as though their studios' successes were as sure as the California sunrise. The article made it seem like cash grew on the limbs of the trees that adorned their studio's walls and earning it was a cakewalk.
The reality of owning a yoga studio is far from this sun-dappled story.
Here is the reality of owning a yoga studio:
Low Pay. If you think teaching is a poor paying job, try owning a studio! Some teachers are paid hourly, others by the class and some by the number of students attending. As a teacher, if you can lock in a gig or several gigs with a steady pay rate, you have it made in the shade.
Weird hours. 6 am class not staffed? Wake up at 4:45 am! Can’t find anyone to teach Friday night? That’s you! Christmas morning? On it!
High Stress. This job – like all jobs – comes with its stresses. Managing people. Customer service. Overseeing vendors and contractors. Making payroll.
Competition. You're not the only one who wants to quit their day job and move to the beach.
For 4 years I taught yoga part time and spent the remainder of mine time pursuing my interests – reading, surfing, cooking. You know, relaxing! For the past two years as a studio owner I've made less and worked waaaaaayyyyyy more.
Sure, there are some perks (discount coconut water, Tuesday afternoons off, etc) but any studio owner who is really going after it to try to make a studio work knows it means working hard – like any other small business owner.
What advice would you give to someone seeking to become a yoga studio owner?
I just dreamt I met my hero, Jon Stewart. I made a good impression and we ended up going for a short walk. He was wearing a funny T-Shirt and said something self deprecating about how everyone was wearing these shirts and how they had ostensibly become the new ‘life is good.' I started talking about myself and, although he liked me, he unexpectedly hopped in a cab and headed home to NJ before we exchanged contact information. I woke up and immediately regretted not asking more about himself and asking him a good question or two about his life.
Who is your hero and what would you ask your hero?
As a departure from my normal serious spiel about yoga and mediation, this week I am writing about free bok choi. Yes, that leafy, leafy green associated commonly with asian stir fry. Bok Choi.
I love Craigslist. It’s the best.
I recently posted this ad:
Hello Bok Choi Enthusiasts!
We have some fresh Bok Choi here and cannot possible eat all of it.
This Bok Choi just came out of the soil this week, freshly grown.
In less than 24 hours I’ve had 5 responses of people wanting to swing buy and scoop up our extra ‘choi.
Have you posted anything funny to craigslist lately?
Here is a funny bit from Jessi Klein about missed connections.
How can I be a hot yoga studio owner and an environmentally minded person? How can I reconcile burning fossil fuels to heat the room with my passion for combating climate change?
After 5 years teaching and a decade of practice, hot yoga may very well end up being my life’s work. And to think that my life’s work is/was a net contributor to the wrong side of things (contributing to climate change)…. that’s a tough pill to swallow. So for the most part I choose not to speak about the dissonance I feel.
When I started hot yoga 10 years ago, climate change was irrefutable. But the interceding 10 years of news media and science has added to it’s immediacy.
I noticed one studio bought carbon credits to offset their usage. But even this act does not offset the fact that the hot room requires — demands — the burning of carbon. And so often this means coal, oil or frickin’ fracked gas.
It’s ironic that yoga studio owners — the leaders of communities supposedly striving towards a higher consciousness — could also silently partake in the hot practice without considering the effect of heating the room on the environment. For me, the pleasant feeling (and perhaps the good I can do in the world from myself and others feeling good) potentially offsets the fossil fuels it took burning in order to practice hot yoga.
For me, the path of the yogi bends towards enlightenment or at least elucidation of that which is true and important.
For me, it’s true and important that climate change is THE NUMBER ONE THREAT TO EVERYONE AND IS THE PROBLEM OF OUR LIFETIME. And, to be working day-In and day-out in an environment that doesn’t acknowledge that (let alone do anything about that and actually worsens the problem) feels bad and wrong.
If all students felt this way, then we would be out of business (or we’d just need to turn the heat down.)
I think that someone passionate enough about combating climate change would probably simply stop coming to hot yoga.
But (virtually) everyone drives everywhere here on Cape Cod. Almost everyone flies everywhere to travel. Certainly all these activities contribute to climate change in a major way.
So, here I am running this small town shop and what am I supposed to do in the face of this climate crisis?
How do you reconcile being a hot yoga practitioner and an environmentally minded person?
Feet. Sweat. Grime. Bacteria. This is the reality of the yoga mat you own and practice on everyday. As for the random yoga mat you get out of the bin at the airport’s “meditation room” or at the Library? Fungus. Herpes. You name it… These mats are NEVER CLEANED!
This is not an ad for mat spray. This is just what it is.
Honestly, when is the last time you cleaned your mat?
Yoga has a perception of clean white linens and breezy models flowing through warrior poses on clouds of lavender.
Funk that. Yoga is funky. Yoga is stinky. Those zephyrs are farts. This is NORMAL. Yes, it is gross. Reality is a little funky.
Ok, so here’s where I tell you to do this thing or buy this other thing. Look, I went through 5 mats in 5 years of practice. One mat was so stinky I kept it in the basement of the apartment complex I lived in and neighbors complained that they thought something had died down there.
Advice? What to do?
Clean your mat. Use a quality mat. And reuse your mat!
Here are some ideas on how to reuse old yoga mats.
- Yoga mats are perfect for painting.
- Cushion stuff. We have yoga mats in some of the areas of our garage — underneath surfboards and lining the walls.
- Insulate. I just thought of this one. Insulation is such toxic crap… think of houses (or at least sheds) insulated with old yoga mats!
- Surf Rack pads. I actually tried to turn old yoga mats into a surf rack pad. Why spend $25 bucks for some crappy pieces of foam in a poorly sewn canvas bag?
- Supposedly the yoga mats from the teacher training I attended were donated for pets in some way. I'm not sure the use … perhaps you do?
How do you reuse your mat?
I remember when a teacher in San Francisco added this line of dialogue to the half moon posture: “Look Snooty at Yourself in the Mirror.” At first it was kinda cute and got accross the idea of lifting up one’s chin — by lifting up one’s nose.
Then the strangest thing happened. I started hearing it all over town. And I thought to myself, San Francisco already has enough snooty people. We don’t need anymore. We need students to lift up their chin. The line of dialogue that accomplishes this is: “Chin up.”
(For all my San Franciscans, I love you and I’m just jealous that you get to live in SF and I no longer do.)
I’m no purist. (Well maybe I am;) I think teachers should teach their class and, after a few hundred classes, the dialogue can just be one of many tools a teacher can use to lead the class. It is particularly a valuable tool when teaching beginners.
Especially as a new teacher, I’ve noticed the tendency to add unnecessary stuff to the dialogue.
Instead of adding to the dialogue, I encourage new teachers to look closely at the dialogue and stick with it. It’s not important to say every word in every set. Instead, try to start connecting the words with the people and their bodies around you. Sooner or later you'll start to have thoughts and you'll be able to think on your feet even as your saying the dialogue. Form these thoughts into what you want to say and your first corrections will form. Then return to the dialogue again.
Over time your class will change and evolve. That’s natural and there comes a time when the dialogue is just one of many tools you can use to teach the class.
A new teacher is a lot like a new student. And, as a teacher, you will know the most important tool to use is the breath. Be sure as a teacher to breathe through your nose as much as you can. Having good posture and smiling will also help you!
If you feel the need to add something to make the class your own, add your ATTITUDE and ENERGY. When it comes to the words, often times as a new teacher you will run out of time just trying to say them all. You will have to rush just to say most of them. Instead, say some of the words in one set and some in the second set or on the left sides.
What advice do you give to new teachers and what helped you when you were new?
I was recently chatting with a local who regally drops by a nearby coffee shop. He told me how — in the summer — the yoga studio opens and there is a throng of students careening into the parking lot at the last minute to catch class. In addition to parking up all the spots, the students would often do lots of other things without (seemingly) any regard for anyone else.
It got me thinking about some of the ironies of how “yoga people” are perceived by non practitioners.
Here are some of the ways that I suspect yoga people come across:
Self obsessed (Egotistical)
In a rush
Of course these qualities are THE EXACT OPPOSITE of the way a yogi really would like to be.
Certainly we all have rough days. But, in general, I would say there is a lot of truth to these perceptions. (They are mine, after all!)
How do you think non yoga students perceive practitioners and how do you try to change the negative parts of this perception?
Does your body hurt during or after teaching class?
I’ve heard of new teachers locking their knees for 90 minutes while standing on the podium. I remember after teaching some of my first classes how the muscles of my neck and jaw were exhausted from talking for an hour-and-a-half straight. Recently, I’ve noticed teachers extend one foot in front of the other and kind of rock from hip to hip.
Just like a student, a teacher must maintain proper posture and cultivate good form in order to maintain health and well being.
Teaching is exhausting and to replenish your teaching energy, here are some helpful practices.
- Stand on a yoga mat. Just as the students do, standing on a yoga mat can provide some cushion from the hard floor. Bend your knees a bit from time to time can also help.
- Walk. As long as you do so in a way that is not distracting for the students, it can be very helpful to keep you from locking up and creating tension.
- Sit down. Some studios prohibit sitting. Certainly sitting can cause the energy level to drop. So, perhaps just at sevasana or maybe longer if necessary as long as you can keep your energy and connection with the students and their struggle. Bonus: sitting in a hip opening stretches like cow face or lotus can be very helpful to open the hips.
- Keep you chest up and shoulders back and down. This instruction comes regularly throughout the class for the students and should be practiced by the teacher as well. A lifted chest can create space for you to…
- Breathe! Teachers stress how important it is for students to breathe. For a teacher, this goes double! Both to help you and to model to students. As a new teacher, if you are struggling, try breathing in deeply whenever you say “inhale.” Especially if you feel pain, try to breathe and relax into that space.
As a teacher, it’s important to move your body in class and to maintain good posture and practices. Of course the class is about — and for — the students. So be sure to move in a way that does not distract students or make it about you.
What do you do in class that helps you?
You walk into a coffee shop, pay for the coffee, it’s now yours — you get it and drink/consume it. You walk into a clothes store, pay for the clothes, they're now yours — you get them and wear/consume them. You walk into a car dealership (aka your neighborhoooood foooord store), pay for the car, it’s now yours — you get it and drive/consume it. You walk into a yoga studio …
In almost all markets, the process I laid out is how it goes down. (Yes, there are other models, like restaurants but stay with me here.)
Why is it with a yoga studio that consumers — customers — are confused? How is it that OVER and OVER yoga consumers DO NOT pay for their yoga?
With each of the products described above an energetic exchange occurs. The coffee is grown, harvested, shipped, roasted, packaged, shipped again (normally), brewed, packaged, served. The cotton is grown, harvested, shipped, processed into fabric, shipped again, processed into a garment, shipped again, packaged and sold. The car… you get the point! Each one of these processes require ENERGY. And the exchange we pay in our culture for this energy is ALMOST ALWAYS money.
With yoga, the studio space is rented, built out, the teachers are trained, the utilities are paid, the mats, towels and other products are available for rent or to buy and the instruction is provided. ENERGY. Some students pay for their class with energy — like cleaning the studio. This is an energetic exchange. Energy for energy. Most of the customers pay for their yoga with money.
Why would a consumer of yoga would expect something other than the same model that exists in every other marketplace? How is it possible for a person to walk into a yoga studio, take class, and walk out WITHOUT PAYING?
I have my theories as to why it is possible a person can walk into a yoga studio, NOT PAY for the yoga class, and walk out of the studio still without having paid and having set up no agreement to pay. Without getting into them, I ask you. As a studio owner or teacher, you certainly have seen this OVER and OVER. Why do you think this occurs in yoga? Does this make any sense?