business

Careening Down a Dangerous Path

So, I’m perusing through my Facebook feed the other day and I see this post:

“Sometime soon, we may reach a point where half the women in America will be teaching yoga to the other half…”

An interesting quip from a man I worked with at a California newspaper in the early 90’s.  To my knowledge, he’s a PR executive and not a yoga teacher. Hmmm, even non-yogis realize things are out of control and there’s no end in sight.

I touched on this in late 2013 when I wrote an article that evoked much discussion in the yoga community. My honest reflection resonated with many, ticked off some, and got people thinking.

Icicles on studioSo, here I am watching the snow fall outside my window in Massachusetts. It’s been about two years since I traveled to 40 cities in the US and Canada in the course of 15 months. I got a realistic pulse of the yoga landscape in America and hit classes in strip malls, YMCAs, intimate settings, large chain studios, gyms, and pretty much every place in-between. When I returned home, I reassessed where I wanted to go with my studio, Breathe Joy Yoga, which sits behind my house in the woods.  After witnessing the state of the yoga industry, I knew it was time for a change. I was done operating a full-blown studio where part of the job was competing for yoga newbies who are more concerned about sweating, low prices and convenience than immersing themselves in the practice. So, instead, I focus on teaching two to four classes a week at Breathe Joy Yoga. Everyone is welcome and every class is engaging and unique as I never have a yoga pose playlist prepared. I also oversee Pretzel Kids® trainings and classes, and I have returned to freelance journalism. Once in a while, I offer PR and marketing consulting services to other yoga professionals trying to navigate this rocky landscape.

So why revisit this topic? Well, because we’re no better off than we were two years ago. In fact, we’re much worse off. And this, my friends, affects how and where we practice yoga, as well as the integrity of our community as a whole.

Today, I would guess 30-50% of yoga studios offer 200-hour yoga teacher trainings. It’s no surprise as these courses generate fast cash and help pack studio classes. Now, don’t get me wrong. Studio owners deserve to earn a living and hopping on the teacher training gravy train is a sure-fire way to ensure that they do so. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. But, here’s the problem: As long as students continue to drink the Koolaid served at the closest yoga studio, teacher trainings will multiply like bunnies in a highly unregulated industry. Seems a little harsh, I know. But let’s peel off some more layers here.

DSCF0442Yoga in America isn’t what it used to be and we, as a yoga community, should stand up in Tadasana and take notice. It was only 11 years ago when I opened Breathe Joy Yoga. I offered a comprehensive teacher training course as much out of need as desire. There were simply no programs in my area. The market wasn’t saturated and skilled yoga teachers were in high demand.

Flash forward to today: If you throw a ball out a window in any major US city, it will hit one yoga teacher on the head and bounce onto another instructor’s asana. Taking classes and teaching yoga is the “in” thing and many students wear rose-colored glasses and think that, if they become a yoga teacher, they too can open a successful studio (just find an empty corner, start a Facebook page, and viola!) or at least teach a few classes a week (good luck finding a studio without a two-page list of subs). The plot thickens. Many still think they can quit their day jobs and make big bucks teaching yoga. Now, I know…..some of you are thinking I sound cynical or this is just sour grapes. But, let me tell you right here and now: I sure as heck don’t have sour grapes. I love to practice and teach yoga. And, I enjoyed the challenge of turning a small, community-supported studio into a thriving business. I wouldn’t have chosen any other life or livelihood for the eight years I ran a yoga studio full-time.

Here’s another thing: I love that yoga is now readily available. I just wish we were more responsible about this mushrooming growth. One of the pitfalls of working and practicing in an unregulated industry is that many businesses offer yoga classes and have no idea whether their own yoga instructors are skilled. A certificate from a crash course is sometimes all a health club needs to hire a teacher. It’s even become commonplace for prospective teachers to “audition.”  Here’s a common scenario: A club owner sits through a slate of “auditions” and then, regardless of whether this “casting director” knows the difference between yoga and Pilates, a yoga teacher who fits the “part” is selected from the lot.

And then there are master classes. What defines a master class? Well, nothing really. At least not anymore. Any newly-minted, recent 200-hour graduate can throw together a workshop and call it a master class. Scratch that. No 200-hour certificate is necessary as anyone can teach a master class. It certainly sounds impressive and many students take the bait, especially when they see this so-called expert on Instagram striking a perfect pose. Our industry has run amuck here. In my opinion, there are only a small handful of teachers who should be considered “masters” in any field. Yoga is no exception.

About now I’m probably pissing off some of you. But, put your egos aside for a moment. I’m saying it like it is. Satya for ya in its truest sense.

To that end, I’m going to tell you a story that may help illustrate where our industry is headed. I’m warning you: It’s a doozy.

A couple of months ago I received a pitch for a workshop from an out-of-town teacher whom I had never met. I usually only offer workshops taught by experienced teachers I know. This way, I feel comfortable about what I’m selling and confident that my students will take away something valuable from their time and financial investment. But, it sounded good so I decided to give it a go. The teacher sent me a description of the workshop for beginners, which would include backbends, arm balances and inversions. She then explained that the inversions would encompass variations of headstand, shoulder stand and maybe handstand. Further information indicated her method will help students reach happiness faster. Ok. Let’s stop right there. Reach happiness faster? By doing a headstand? Wow. Now you really got me going.

Call me crazy. Call me responsible. I don’t care. I had to put my foot down and question her proposal. Here’s our email chain:

The “teacher”: “Regarding inversions, I am skillfully trained to teach them in a very safe and attentive way. I realize that not a lot of instructors feel comfortable teaching them (and thus they go untaught which I believe is a shame), but I feel that if proper alignment is taught, modifications are given and safely precautions are taken, inversions are not only extremely beneficial but tangible to even the most beginner of yogis. (INSERT HERE THIS TEACHER’S STYLE, PURPOSEFULLY LEFT OUT) places a strong focus on inversions and without them, I wouldn’t stay true to its homage….”

I agree that inversions are beneficial, however, kicking our egos to the curb: Even with modifications and the best instructor in the world, my experience is that it’s impossible to watch everyone at the same time in a large room filled with upside-down beginners who you don’t know. I was getting squeamish just thinking about the possibility of someone falling over on my hardwood floor. I also wasn’t feeling too warm and fuzzy about a teacher who felt that, without teaching specific inversions, she was not staying true to her yoga lineage. I mean, c’mon, really? Aren’t there plenty of other asana choices out there? Um, yes.

Here’s how it ended peacefully as I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt:

Me: So, here is my position: From a liability perspective, I feel it’s not responsible or safe for me to offer this at my studio.  I understand that you would prefer to stay true to your homage but I need to stay true to safety and health. Are you able to offer rabbit pose, basic tripod and/or modified shoulder stand with legs up in an “L” (like legs up the wall without the wall) as alternatives? Let me know your thoughts. Thanks again.”

She wrote back: I understand your concerns. Yet on the other hand I ‘respectively’ [sic] disagree.

That was that.

So let’s talk a little about homage and lineage. What does that even mean? Back in the heyday (meaning hundreds and even thousands of years ago – long before lululemon pants graced our yoga classes), yoga teachers were taught by true experts to pass down this ancient tradition.

Take my primary teacher, Diane Lagadec. Diane is the real deal. About to turn 71, Diane runs Maha Yoga Center in Bridgewater, Ma. and you can often find her in a safe backbend or inversion. She trained with Shri Khanna, who was one of the yogis who came to the states in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s to learn and teach.

“He came to Boston to complete a doctorate and while he was here he created a small ashram in a home in West Newton. He was friends with Yogi Desai, Dr. Mishra (also known as Swami Brahmananda Sarasvati), etc. We got to meet and learn from wonderful teachers. Shri was from the Maha Ananda Ashram in Simla, India. I studied with him for years,” said Diane.

I realize there’s no one path to anything, but I am fairly certain that enrolling in a 200-hour teacher training for a handful of weekends or taking classes in a hyped-up studio with packed classes and hotshot teachers is not going to help you reach nirvana faster. What to do? For starters, do your research.

If you practice yoga, inquire of yourself: Why am I choosing this teacher to guide me? Maybe you have no idea whether he/she is skilled. Maybe the time works for your schedule. Maybe the quality or safety of the class doesn’t matter to you. You still should ask.

If you’re considering enrolling in a teacher training, ask yourself:  Why do I want to take this course with these teachers at this studio?

If you’re a yoga teacher or studio owner, ask yourself: Why do I want to teach? Why do I want to run a 200-hour course? There is no right or wrong answer.

The point is: We should all be digging deep. Or, as we yogis say, it’s time to practice self-study, a.k.a. Svadhyaya.

I may be going out on a limb here but we are careening down a dangerous path. Literally. Yoga students are blowing out hips and shoulders regularly. I’m thinking Patanjali didn’t have this in mind. Take a look at the Yoga Sutras. Depending on your interpretation, only about five of the 196 sutras (II: 29 and II: 46-49) discuss anything to do with asana. Let’s sit on that for a while.

Robyn Parets, a journalist and yoga teacher, is founder of Pretzel Kids® and owner of Breathe Joy Yoga studio in Massachusetts. A former writer for the Los Angeles Times, Inc. Magazine Group, Investor’s Business Daily, and many other publications, Parets turned to yoga and meditation in 1999 after her life was interrupted by a neurological disorder. Bedridden for nearly two years with two children under four, Parets credits her dedicated practice with helping her gain back her health. She recently traveled across the country, documenting the changing yoga landscape along the way. Parets is now focusing on blogging, reconnecting, and creating her next chapter! Find inspiration at: www.awayfromom.net

 

Categories: business, business of yoga, Etcetera, get real, humor, journalism, Philosophy, That's Life!, Truth, Uncategorized, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Oh Yeah, Life Goes On

As I sit here reading the Sunday paper — the one hard copy periodical I still read regularly — I begin thinking about when my kids were little. Things weren’t always easy for them, for us.

When my oldest son Ethan was two, we moved across the country, from Los Angeles to Boston. Soon after that, I got ill with a neurological disorder. Noah, my youngest, was only 5 months old when this happened. I was in bed for two years and missed his first steps and many other firsts. Then, when they were in 2nd and 5th grade, their father and I got separated, then divorced. I got remarried a few years later and my sons got a new step-brother out of the deal too. In the middle of all this, I changed careers – went from a journalist to a yoga studio owner.  A lot of changes and I worked a gazillion hours a week. When things were finally starting to settle down, Noah got cast in a Broadway touring show. I was running  two yoga businesses at the time but I knew what I had to do: leave it all behind and go on tour with Noah. But, I also left behind my husband, two other sons, my businesses and my dog.

3 Boys

My big boys

When I came home five months ago and 15 months later, I had a lot of decisions to make and catching up to do. Should I build my businesses back up to where they once were? Should we move out of this house if I no longer need the yoga studio that is on the property? At the same time, I had a lot of catch-up work to do with Ethan on his college applications and visits. Then it hit me: Where did life go and where is it headed?

Honestly, it feels like a blur. Next year this time, Ethan will be out of the house, living at college and starting his adult life. Noah will be a sophomore in high school while pursuing his dreams of a dance and theater career. Yes, I was there for my boys, always encouraging them and supporting them. But yet, I don’t remember a lot of details. Life changed and moved too fast.

Lake Massapoag

when things get quiet, you see clearly

So I decided to put the brakes on – at least in the best way I knew how in this ever moving forward swirl of life. For the past five months I have committed to making no major decisions for myself. That’s right: None. Rebuilding Breathe Joy Yoga was just too big of a decision so I decided against it. Been there, done that. I just wanted to spend some time “being.”

Not rushing, not racing, not having to do a million things at once. For the first three months, this felt, well, weird. I woke up every morning thinking I had to be somewhere, but I didn’t. I raced to my computer to open my email fully expecting messages from yoga students wanting information on classes and workshops. Nothing.  In my new experiment of “nothingness”, I didn’t even practice asana every day or even 4 days a week like I used to. Sure, I exercised BUT I made sure I didn’t take myself too seriously or put pressure on myself to do any one kind of exercise. And, I will admit this openly now: I let my meditation practice go by the wayside. You see, when I meditate and get quiet, I hear what I need to hear and do. I just didn’t want to listen to advice, not even my own. I was afraid of what I’d hear, like “You are spending too much time doing nothing. You should be running a business. You should be making more money. Yadda, yadda, yadda.”

This little experiment has been one of the biggest challenges of my life. I’m a “doer” by nature, not a “be-er.” I had no idea how hard this would be and it doesn’t help when even my kids say: “Mom, what are you going to do next? Are you going to get a job, start a new business, go back to the studio? What do you do every day?” They aren’t used to this new me.

Ironically, this little experiment was not intended to actually be an experiment. I just wanted to slow down. And, in doing so, opportunities have come into my life for myself, my family and my children. Amazing how that happens when you commit to nothingness.  You actually become more receptive to positive change AND you leave room for new opportunities to come into your life. Imagine that?  And, by the way, isn’t this a form of meditation of sorts? Isn’t this being present?

In this moment, this is my yoga – sans asana and all. Seeing life as it is: right here, right now.

Categories: Accidental Stage Mom, Billy Elliot, business, business of yoga, get real, letting go, Philosophy, That's Life!, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Wake Up and Smell the Incense

By Robyn Parets

Holy savasana!

It’s time for yogis to wake up from resting pose — the English translation for the Sanskrit word pronounced shiv-asana — and smell the incense.  In the latest salvo proving big business is here to stay in the yoga world, a company received a patent last week for its technique of filming yoga classes for online distribution.

On December 10, Santa Monica, Ca.-based YogaGlo, Inc. was issued a patent claiming that its technique for YogaGlo class renderingfilming a yoga class is novel. In a nutshell, the patent gives YogaGlo exclusive rights to film yoga classes from the back of a room with a camera about three feet off the ground. It also requires that there be a “no mat zone” or “corridor” from the camera to the teacher whereby students are situated on mats on either side of the corridor. This enables a clear view from the camera to the instructor.

Yogis aren’t the only ones wondering why a patent this general and certainly not novel was granted in the first place.

Joel Lehrer, a partner at Goodwin Procter LLP in Boston, said it didn’t appear as if there was any legitimate invention in the way YogaGlo films its classes. Filming from the back of a class with an unobstructed view of the teacher is commonplace. Yet, YogaGlo managed to get the patent probably because the patent examiner didn’t quite understand the dynamics of a yoga class and that filming a teacher down a center aisle from a specified height is not unusual, he said.

“This patent (US serial number 8,605,152) gives YogaGlo the right to restrict others from doing what their patent covers and gives them a government-granted limited monopoly if they choose to enforce it,” said Lehrer, who specializes in patent and intellectual property law.

Oftentimes vague patents in other businesses do get approved. The software industry has been grappling with this for years, said Lehrer. In fact, even software companies with valid inventions are sometimes hesitant to file patents for fear of alienating their customer base. He explained that there is a stigma surrounding what some consider “inhibiting the advancement of technology.”

“Some companies in the software space choose not to pursue patents for fear of the backlash. They are afraid people won’t want to work for them or do business with them for ethical reasons.”

This industry backlash, said Lehrer, is something a company like YogaGlo could face if it chooses to enforce its patent.  In fact, while waiting to see if its patent would be approved, YogaGlo did send companies cease and desist letters, including the non-profit organization Yoga International.  Now, however, YogaGlo also has the right to charge licensing fees to companies that want to continue filming videos in a way consistent with the patent.

YogaGlo, which did not respond to inquiries for an interview, has been radio silent on this issue since last week’s news. But Lehrer said the company could also decide not to police the patent at all. “They are under no legal obligation to enforce it,” said Lehrer.

Todd Wolfenberg, executive director at Yoga International, said his organization removed 14 videos from its website in response to YogaGlo’s cease and desist letter.  “They were filmed in a similar way (to YogaGlo’s classes). Our cameras were about five feet off the ground but we also had aisles with students on both sides and a teacher in front.  Many people have filmed using this orientation before. Without an aisle, you can’t see the teacher,” said Wolfenberg, who said his organization, part of the 400-acre Himalayan Institute, does not want to get embroiled in a court battle.

Yoga International, said Wolfenberg, has the means and ability to film classes from different angles and is in the process of doing just that.  Visitors to the site usually have to pay for video content. Yet, while Yoga International is re-shooting certain classes, all video content is free.

“We think it serves you better in the long-term to take the high road. It’s better than lashing out and getting angry,” he said.

Yoga International is not the only one that this patent may affect. Companies in the business of filming yoga classes are plentiful and include Gaiam Inc., a publicly traded corporation that recently purchased My Yoga Online (MYT); YogaVibes; Yoga Download; and Yoga Today.  All of these companies charge fees for viewing content. There are also plenty of yoga teachers and companies that provide their streaming classes for free or by donation, such as DoYogaWithMe.com.  Still other large studio chains, like YogaWorks, now offer their own online system for viewing classes taught by their instructors.

Jamie Kent, president and founder of Denver-based Yoga Download, couldn’t believe a yoga company received a patent of this nature.

“This is far-reaching and goes beyond the yoga world. It has implications in the film industry, fitness business and other markets as well,” said Kent. “If one company can patent a camera angle, what’s to stop others from doing the same thing?” she said.

Yoga Download, with 9,000 monthly members, both creates its own content with a group of teachers and works with content partners who wish to stream videos on the Yoga Download platform.  About fifty percent of its business comes from membership and the other half is generated through single downloads or other non-member purchases. Kent said the company will now diligently convey new filming guidelines to its content providers.

Kent, as well as others in the yoga video streaming field agree that as the industry grows, smaller studios and yoga teachers will need to be aware of this patent and its ramifications.

Tania Neild, founder of StudioLiveTV, works with yoga studios to create a platform, or channel, to deliver online classes.  Since StudioLiveTV handles the technology end for its partners, it will ensure that classes are filmed in a way that doesn’t infringe on the patent, said Neild.

So far, the YogaGlo patent has only affected a couple of classes on the company’s Fitness for Action channel. The fundraising channel was launched to raise money for victims of the typhoon in the Philippines and other charities. YogaGlo, as well as other yoga content providers, donated classes. YogaGlo asked StudioLiveTV to remove a couple of the classes that infringed the pending patent and StudioLiveTV obliged, said Neild.

“They were very polite and were also generous in donating to our channel,” she said.

Nonetheless, it was a wake-up call that expertise from companies like StudioLiveTV and Yoga Download will be in high demand. Neild and others also note that the patent flies in the face of what many consider yoga to be all about: a healing art meant to help people on their path to wellness. Despite this, yoga is emerging as a business, not unlike any other industry. And with that comes potential lawsuits. In fact, the only way to challenge this patent entails going to court or a filing at the Patent Office, said Lehrer.

One way to invalidate a patent in court is by proving the existence of “prior art.” Essentially this would mean others, or even YogaGlo, used the same filming technique before August 2009, at least one year before YogaGlo initially filed for its patent in August 2010, said Lehrer. Yet, simply challenging the validity of a patent, regardless of its merit, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said. The only other legal alternative, also costly, entails going to court as a defendant if YogaGlo threatens a lawsuit, he said.

The buzz in the yoga community is that perhaps Yoga Alliance, a non-profit association representing yoga teachers, will step up to the plate. Yet, YA isn’t sure what it will do next.  Although YA opposes the patent, President Richard Karpel stated, “I can’t provide more details about our plans because they haven’t been determined yet.”

As ugly as all this may sound in a business built upon peace, love and flowers, this may not be the last patent for yoga related businesses. ”Sadly, exclusive feels good to some. It’s contradictory to yoga, but it happens,” said Neild at StudioLiveTV.

According to Wolfenberg at Yoga International, it’s important for those involved in the yoga and business community at large to educate themselves. “It’s a very strange type of situation and I don’t know where Pandora’s box is going to open up next,” he said.

There’s one thing Wolfenberg knows for sure: “Yoga is changing.”

Robyn Parets is a journalist, editor, yoga teacher, and owner of two yoga-related businesses: Breathe Joy Yoga studio (www.breathejoyyoga.com) and Pretzel Kids, a trademarked children’s yoga brand (www.pretzelkids.com). She also blogs about yoga, business and life in general and can be found at www.awayfromom.net.

Categories: business, business of yoga, Etcetera, filming, get real, journalism, patents, Truth, Uncategorized, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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