Heavy Hitters of Yoga Biz at First YJ Conference

I walked around my Brooklyn neighborhood tonight trying to come back to earth. Breathe! I just got done with the 2-day "Business of Yoga" workshop at Yoga Journal's first conference in New York. I am way overstimulated.Judging from my texts and tweets from Thursday and Friday, I am super glad that I do not run a yoga studio. What a headache! I'm a writer not a marketer!

And yet, I do run yoga retreats, and I do want to write more about yoga and business (and the business of yoga).What I learned: the (global) recession doesn't stop people from opening yoga studios. When Bob Murphy of MindBodyOnline (the next inline to be a big stats provider to the yoga world) asked who was planning to open a studio, about half the people in a room of, oh, 50 -70, shot up their hands. Jeez.

Average annual profit at a yoga studio: 17%. Yes, ladies and gents, it's still a labor of love. And as Connie Chan, founder of Levitate Yoga (which, at 7 months pregnant, she just sold) outlined, owning a studio means dealing with: lawyers, accountants, landlords, NY State, and the Feds, and that's even before you've auditioned teachers, painted your walls, and installed check-in software. Oy! And then there are the licence centers that offer teacher training programs. (See Yoga Dork's astute rundown of the complex---and exceedingly compromising (perhaps crippling)---issue.)

People have come from Russia, Poland, Germany, Canada, Brazil and other parts of South America to learn how to either run their existing business better or how to start on the right foot. Charlie Barnett who left finance in America to open Yoga Flow in Sao Paulo said he couldn't imagine doing some of the (very practical) things that the (very experienced) presenters were suggesting---such as drawing up a budget for his studio. In Brazil, he said, things are about 15 years behind. (Not to mention that you have to monitor the banks down there (money disappears from your accounts) and internet service (including networked servers) cut out at least once a day, leaving you, jack-of-all-trades to get systems up again). As has been the case til recently in the US, in Brazil mingling money and yoga is very much frowned upon. But still a studio's gotta survive.

Ganesh Das, managing director of Jivamukti Yoga School, suggests thinking of money as necessary energy, "At Jiva, money is a form of energy that the center needs so we can use the school as a platform for change in this world. Therefore, you have energy coming into our school through purchases that keep operations going, and it goes to teachers as energy that then goes through their teachings and then comes back to us in a circle."

In fact in the US, says Brent Kessel, financial analyst, ashtangi and YJ columnist on money, says we're moving away from an Innocent/Idealist/Caregiver dominated way of running studios. As more people make career changes midlife, they're bringing more level-headed (Guardian), entrepreneurial skills (Empire Builder) attitudes to running yoga studios. (For example, see Yoga High and Mala Yoga in New York.)Ana Forrest's marketing manager Lynann Politte showed us how to brand: color! image! message! consistency! and Beverley Murphy (Bob's wife) demoed guerilla marketing techniques---yes, those postcards *do* have an effect; yes your most dedicated students are worth your love and attention; yes, you do need to have specials if you want revenue.

All in all it was a pretty interesting couple of days, but as I drift towards bed I've got dollar signs in my eyes where there used to be meditating yogis. Guess that's the bottom line talking, huh?