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…

42 thoughts on “Why is Yoga So Expensive?

  1. Thank-you for writing this article as I am getting ready to open a Hot Power Yoga Studio in Florida because the Power Yoga movement really hasn’t hit Florida like it has in other areas of the USA. (Orginally from Cleveland where it rocks). My question over and over is why is it so expensive? The average unlimited pass is $150 per month which is crazy for someone to justify if they are making a middle class income and that’s for one person. I have a Masters in Chemistry and have worked in Manufacturing for 20 plus years. What I find with the cost structure is that the basis for the high monthly income is seriously flawed. Owners are banking on students not going 30/31 a month. The less the student goes, the more the owner makes. I practice everyday and want students to come everyday. I now have a 500 hour cert which means I have invested more money than the “Gym” yoga teacher which is typically a weekend training certified teacher. To make yoga affordable is possible and this is the paradigm shift that needs to occur because everybody deserves to practice yoga not just the people with
    income. How do you do it? That’s my mission and I hope I can write next year on how I achieved it. I believe I can use the tools of Lean Manufacturing to make it affordable and profitable so that everyone can have a sustainable practice.

  2. Thanks a lot for talking about this! I want to take yoga and am looking for classes in my area but am really turned off by the prices. I totally agree that the cost does not align with the practice. I appreciate the comments about taking the classes initially to learn and continuing the practice on your own. I’ll try that! I like classes with experienced instructors who will actually walk around and help teach proper form. And want to learn about traditional yoga practices, for health and spiritual reasons. Wish me luck.

  3. Yoga is costed as it is, USA or UK, not for nothing. At least, this is my opinion. Some people do see it as a cash cow, no names mentioned. But as a yoga and Pilates teacher myself, I have to charge a certain amount to enable me to carry on teaching, and I don’t think it is too much. It depends on the teacher. I have heard of people charging £100 per hour for private tuition, and others charging £15 per hour for a class. I charge half this, which is the going average rate. If I don’t charge enough, I have to take up a full time job which leaves me too knackered to give anything to a class. Not to mention all the courses a good teacher takes part in to increase their knowledge and therefore give a good quality and SAFE class. Those courses are certainly not free. There is time needed in between classes to read and research on other techniques to bring into the class. None of this would be possible if I had a full time job to cover my costs, living expenses, travel costs, etc.

    I personally also am doing a Pilates teacher training course, which adds even more anatomical knowledge which I bring to the class. It is the type of knowledge that can help various postural problems, and when combined with yoga goes a long long way to helping people to feel better. The reason for studying this, to make sure i give a safe class that can help people, for that reason, I paid to do another teacher training course. I also feel this should reflect in the price that I charge.

    It is really not that forward thinking to say that yoga teachers charge too much, some do and some dont. But what needs to be considered is what they themselves have to pay for, the length of time they have been teaching, their market and their qualifications. At the end of the day, the yearly take home after tax is still not that much. Its not like (most of us) drive around in the latest Mercedes soft tops. Most of the teachers I know just about break even, making enough to survive, heat their homes, pay their bills, feed themselves, do the adverting needed to create the classes in the first place, take the courses…..

  4. Yoga classes in my area run $13 a class to drop in. How is that prohibitive if you have a job? People spend and waste hundreds on stuff they don’t need. Expensive clothes and restaurants, jewelry, shoes, phones, partying. Yoga is not too expensive, its about what you value.

  5. I would like to see a profit sharing with the instructors and the prices lowered considerably. Even at discounted prices the studios would still make a killing,
    provided most classes are well attended.

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