Yoga Los Angeles / Yoga Musings

Why is Yoga So Expensive?

Yoga classes in New York City now regularly go for $20 a pop. In L.A., it’s not much better, with the average price tag being somewhere around $17. Why is yoga so expensive?

At first glance, you’d think that yoga ought to be quite cheap. There is no equipment involved. You don’t need a tremendous amount of space or an expensive facility like you do for, say, tennis or golf. And with so many studios around and with so many gyms offering yoga these days, you’d think that competition would be driving prices down, not up. But the reality is that yoga is very expensive, and the cost of it is prohibitive for many people.

I think part of the problem is that yoga (and health more generally) is intentionally marketed towards people in higher income brackets, and not much effort is made to reach people of lower income brackets. Of course, there are some good programs out there that do bring yoga to disadvantaged children, poorer communities, and even prisoners. But this kind of thing is definitely the exception, not the rule.

In the end, through yoga, a certain lifestyle is being marketed/sold to a very specific subset of the consuming public. I remember reading an article last year (maybe in Businessweek?) about how marketers LOVE yoga as a way of reaching the most profitable segment of consumers in America. The typical yoga practitioner in America is a 30- or 40-something white woman who is married, is either a stay-at-home mom or a working professional, cares about her health and her appearance, and has lots of disposable income. So who wants to market to people like this? Just about everyone, it turns out. Women make the majority of household purchase decisions, and this is especially true when it comes to expensive items like cars and vacations. Throw in costmetics, “natural” health products, organic furniture, organic cleaning supplies, even “conscious” banking/investment products, and you can see pretty quickly that there is a staggering amount of money to be made from well-to-do yogis.

So what’s the problem with all of this? Well, basically, people who don’t have lots of disposable income get left out. Sure, a lot of studios have what they call “community classes” or “donation-only” classes where people with limited financial means can take yoga. But, from what I’ve seen as a teacher, this is often just lip service. Frequently, these classes are offered as a way of getting people in the door who might not initially want to pay $20 per class. But once they see how great yoga is, they’ll start coming back for more. It’s kind of like the “Happy Hour” concept at a bar. In the end, the business is only offering the discount because they stand to benefit/profit in some tangible way.

I know this is a very cynical view of things, and I’m sure there are many counterexamples to what I’ve said here. But I think the general trend in America with yoga is undeniable. It’s about a lifestyle–a lifestyle of good health and wealth–that requires a person to have a considerable amount of money if he/she wants a taste of it.

Of course, yoga is a business, and we do live in a capitalist society. It would be absurd, for instance, to expect yoga studios to offer classes for free or at a rate that is not profitable for them. What I’m lamenting here is the alignment of yoga with a culture of (often material) affluence in this country. Why is yoga like this? After all, there are many other fun, healthy, enjoyable activities in this country that are available to everyone. Baseball and basketball, for example, are very profitable businesses on the professional level, while still managing to be very much “sports for the people”. The fact that yoga and the yoga lifestyle have become so exclusive is, I think, utterly out of line with the spirit of yoga. I wonder if the irony of all of this is completely lost on the yoga consuming public…

45 thoughts on “Why is Yoga So Expensive?

  1. speaking of happy hour what if busy studios charged more during ‘peak yoga hours’ and less during class start times that are less frequented. Might just be a win-win – if marketed right – especially with shift workers and students who are often off during the day. That way, just maybe, the business can further expand with it’s own walls without having to create more space. I know personally, with me, if it is too crowded I loose interest fast. Just a quick thought.

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