As you all know, Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on the entire health and wellness industry, from massage and physiotherapy clinics to personal trainers and yoga studios. Almost overnight, the resourceful shifted to online platforms, but for many practitioners and teachers whose careers depend upon close proximity and hands-on attention, the pandemic took a massive bite out of their job and financial security. (Then, the powerful wave of anti-racism that followed lockdowns amplified conversations of inclusion, POC underrepresentation and cultural appropriation. It’s a critical topic I’ll save for another time.) There’s been a lot of behind the scenes chatter between teachers and “insiders” and I thought I would take this time to put a glass up to the wall of the yoga industry – for an industry it is – that is treading water and clinging to its shiny, happy life buoy.
To begin with, the studio system struggles at the best of times, particularly in a city like Toronto where rents and competition are steep. Class fees are relatively low and there’s consistent downward pressure from marketing promotions and that price-eroding force, Class Pass, which makes it tough to profit. There is rent to pay, not to mention teachers, cleaning staff, managers, and upkeep. While full-price drop-in classes hover around $20CAD, few time slots each day draw larger numbers of bodies. Furthermore, the days of establishing a dedicated relationship with a specific teacher and returning consistently to them until they can truly support you in your personal journey have been supplanted by the understandable urge to choose what’s cheap and fits into your dog-eat-dog schedule. Studios work hard to earn your loyalty and memberships make all the difference to the bottom line.
When Covid hit and studios closed, membership revenue stopped cold. Even with the switch to Zoom, it quickly became apparent that the usually programmed schedules could not be sustained as many students, especially those whose work became more screen-intensive, didn’t want to stare at a computer during yoga. Furthermore, as the weather improved and outdoor actives beckoned, and as childcare became a pressing issue, practicing in a park or going for a walk or ride en famille seemed to take precedence. Studios reduced membership fees; teachers, whose class loads were being cut, were beseeched by desperate studios to lower their rates and had to make a decision about whether to continue to teach the communities they love online or to accept government support but could not do both. And when they realized that their dear supporters were also slammed by financial concerns, they started offering free online content that made it even harder for studios to retain members. We simply wanted to do what we could to lift spirits, smooth frayed nerves and maintain community during desperate and turbulent times.
In the last few weeks, numerous Toronto studios have closed. As Phase 3 unfolds, it is doubtful that all students will feel comfortable returning to studios to breathe deeply and sweat in community. Teachers themselves must cautiously evaluate how safe they feel facilitating in such environments. Uncertainty plagues us as we are caught between the deep desire to serve, share and earn a living, and the desire to exemplify healthy practices and support studios that support us.
From a personal standpoint, I feel blessed that the teacher training programs I led, which finished in June, yielded some truly exceptional new teachers who committed to a journey that became unexpectedly complicated and nevertheless prevailed. Although I now only teach a fraction of the studio and private classes I taught pre-Covid, I feel fortunate to maintain the work that I do have and that I have enough years behind me to have some security. I feel grateful that I have had time to raise money for food banks, added to my education through online studies, continue to exercise and practice on my own, and that my family and friends are healthy and in touch.
But I am also exhausted. Emotionally spongey by nature, I have absorbed the turbulence around me, and been nourished by my impulse to give. While teaching normally fuels my strength and creativity, the decidedly one-sided energetic exchange onscreen is prompting me to pull back and rest for a bit. And so, I will be on a hiatus from teaching in August. I’ll be planning future programs, workshops and initiatives, and working on the books that have been simmering slowly on the back-burners of my daily routine. I look forward to seeing you once again in September, revitalized and excited to journey again in deep learning and ecstatic living.