Music: 00:04

[Intro Music]

 

Sarah Dittmore: 00:04

Hi friends. My name is Sarah and you’re listening to the beginner’s mind, a podcast about all things yoga ish. Way back when the, unionization conversation first started and I released that episode. I promised you guys that I’d be coming back with more and you know, we touched on it briefly on with episode 10 with my conversation with Luvana, but I wanted to, to explore it from a new different angle. So as you know, the yoga instructors at YogaWorks in New York City have been coming together to form the first labor union in the industry of yoga. And it’s sparked a lot of really interesting and fascinating dialogue that, that I’ve enjoyed being a part of and have learned so much from. And this conversation is one of the conversations I had back before YogaWorks teachers had actually announced their effort to unionize. It was still secret, so we might make some references to it, but we don’t really talk explicitly about the movement because it wasn’t public yet. But I was interested in exploring this yoga unionization concept from yet another different perspective. And specifically that of the yoga business owner. So there’s a lot of concern whenever any industry organizes that it will affect the ability for a business to succeed. And one of the conversations that this unionization effort has inspired is this question of “Can we have a union and have healthy yoga studios?” And kind of the response from the union movement has been “If a studio can not function without paying its employees well and having ethical practices, then that’s a flaw in the business model and something needs to change.” So I decided to reach out to a yoga studio owner here in New York City, who’s well known for having one of the most ethically run yoga studios in the city, Amy Quinn Suplina. She is the founder of Bend & Bloom. And whenever I would speak to any other yogis in the city about looking for someone to interview about a good ethical management of a yoga studio, everyone brought up Amy and Bend & Bloom. It’s sort of the gold standard of what a studio should look like and how they should treat their employees. So Amy has been teaching yoga for 13 years and she founded Bend & Bloom in 2008. She teaches a breath based, contemplated Vinyasa that challenges us to find space in our bodies so that we can find room in our lives, to live well and more fully. Her early days of teaching were balanced by her career and social justice and human rights organizing. Amy believes contemplated practices like yoga and meditation are essential components to transform our habits so we can build an embody new skills to manifest what we care about in our lives and the world. She’s also trained in Trauma Sensitive Yoga by the Trauma Center of Boston and she completed two years of embodied anatomy and physiology course at the breathing project with Amy Matthews. She’s also a certified physio yoga global practitioner and a mentor of the Africa yoga project based in Nairobi. When I reached out to Amy, I told her, you know, I wanted to speak about the unionization efforts happening and her thoughts on those as well as what a yoga studio owner can do to run a company more ethically, regardless of whether or not their employees are unionized. Amy had a lot of really interesting insights. So let’s dive in and hear what she had to say and let’s get curious.

 

Music: 04:03

[Transition Music]

 

Sarah Dittmore: 04:15

So I’m here with Amy today who’s going to tell us a little bit about her perspective. To give us some context, Amy, do you want to introduce who you are and what it is you do in the yoga world?

 

Amy: 04:25

Sure. My name is Amy Quinn Suplina. I actually own and teach at a studio called Bend & Bloom Yoga in Brooklyn, New York. And we’ve been around for 11 years. We have a thriving yoga community and so yeah, I both run the studio, manage the studio and uh, teach classes as well.

 

Sarah Dittmore: 04:49

And how long have you been teaching and how long have you been running the studio?

 

Amy: 04:53

I first started teaching after I got certified in 2001 so coming up upon uh, 19 years soon. 

 

Sarah Dittmore: 05:03

Wow. 

 

Amy: 05:04

Yeah. And I teach a lot less often than I did in my early years. I’m, I’m, I just teach a handful of public classes now and some private classes and spend the majority of my time running the studio and planning our programmatic offerings and teacher trainings and all of that. Um, all those additional things that yoga studios do.

 

Sarah Dittmore: 05:27

And you know, I’ve been talking to, it’s interesting, I did not do this on purpose, but I’ve been talking to a few different people about, you know, ethical management of a studio. And a couple of people said, well, you know, there’s like, there’s Bend & Bloom, which is just like the star child. It’s the ideal setup. 

 

Amy: 05:44

Oh, that’s nice to hear. 

 

Sarah Dittmore: 05:45

So I’m really excited to talk to you about that. 

 

Amy: 05:48

That’s heartwarming. And it makes me feel good. I’m doing something right. I like that.

 

Sarah Dittmore: 05:52 

Definitely. You know, this is all in context of a conversation I’ve been having with a few people throughout the United States and even in the UK who have been considering the possibility of unionization and what that would look like in the yoga industry for teachers and for studios. 

 

Amy: 06:09

Yes. 

 

Sarah Dittmore: 06:10

And a big part of that has been sort of the treatment of teachers. And so I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about your experience as both a teacher and a studio owner and what you’ve seen as you know, some of the ways in which teachers may be aren’t well treated as employees and what you as a studio do to try to counteract that.

 

Amy: 06:30

Sure. Well first of all, I think that, you know, a lot of yoga teachers become certified because their lives have been so profoundly transformed by yoga and they love the practice so much and are seeking an alternative to their chosen profession or the rat race they’re in. And they’re imagining that like life as a yoga teacher will be so much more easeful and meaningful when in fact it’s a really, really difficult line of work. Often they are entering the profession with some sort of debt from teacher training. Often that can be, you know, the teacher trainings can be $3000 – $5,000, sometimes even more. And they’re entering a market that’s really saturated with a lot of aspiring yoga teachers. So if you’re just from the gate, it’s very difficult to initiate your teaching career and then to make a living teachers hustle, you know, they hustle from studio to studio all over their cities to piece together a schedule to pay the bills and quickly they, you know, get the reality check that this is going to be a lot more difficult than they envisioned their life to be as a yoga teacher. You know, some teachers teach 25 classes a week, sometimes more in between public classes and private classes. And you know, in New York City in particular where my studio is, um, people are teaching, you know, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. And then taking a close to an hour train ride to Brooklyn to teach at my studio and then back to Union Square. And then sometimes over to Queens. And you know, if you start to, um, factor in all of that, it’s a really difficult line of work. And first of all, if you, if you think about the way that yoga teachers are compensated, there’s different models. Some studios pay like a flat fee. So no matter what you do, you’re getting say $35. Some pay a per head. So if you get five people in a class X times $3 or something to that effect, you’re getting $15. So there’s different ways that studios structure their payment for teachers. But if you factor in addition to your time in the studio and what you’re getting paid, you factor in the time it takes to prepare a class. You take into consideration the time it takes to travel to and from each studio, each class and the payment is, and then the class itself. And sometimes we’re talking to like a three to four hour gig and then divide that by, you know, dive divide your pay by that amount of time. And teachers are almost always getting paid close to minimum wage if not under minimum wage, unless you’re like a real celebrity teacher or you’re in a studio that you’re able to give back to back classes and, and the, and the model of your schedule just makes a lot of good sense and you’re able to be efficient in the way you teach.

 

Sarah Dittmore: 09:07

Yeah. 

 

Amy: 09:08

So those are some of the challenges. You know, in, in most cities, teachers are paid as independent contractors, so they have no paid holidays, no sick leave, no benefits. So if you get sick, you have no income, you know, and if you have, have you get pregnant and you have to take maternity leave, you time off for your, to have your baby, you have no income and these are not easy. These are not easy questions to solve because the model of the way we structure classes and the way clients pay for classes, students pay for classes. It doesn’t make it easy for studios to offer benefits. But these are some of the challenges that independent contractors face. 

 

Sarah Dittmore: 09:48

Yeah, I think you know it’s interesting, one of the conversations that’s been coming up is that it is, it is like you’re saying it’s about more than just the pay. You know, the pay is definitely part of the conversation, but it’s like you said, you know, I’ve heard so many yoga teachers talk about teaching on crutches or you know, ignoring the fact that they were sick because if they didn’t go to class, they didn’t have an income that month and it really makes it kind of a constant physical exertion and mental exertion for teachers.

 

Amy: 10:21

Yeah, that’s right. And it is shocking to me. You just mentioned how my studio Bend & Bloom often gets props because they just say like, I’m a nice studio owner. I don’t even know if I’m doing it particularly like on the structural level. But when someone calls and they say, you know, I have a stomach flu and I can’t teach. I’ve heard countless stories from my teachers teaching other studios that that folks are like, well really how sick are you? Like can you make it work? And like they give, they get a lot of pressure and sometimes penalized if they don’t show up for class even when they’re sick. And by the way, we’re often touching people and we’re in close proximity to students. Like if you’re sick, I don’t want you to come into my studio. I don’t want you touching our props and mats of our students. So we try to do our best whenever someone’s in a jam, you know, whether it’s a family emergency, illness or any other situation to be compassionate with those people and to help them to find subs for their classes and get in and on the process. And we often incentivize it at our studio where we, if it’s in like within a 24 hour period and we’re trying to quickly find a settled, we’ll up the rate and you know, I just, you know, eat that cost of like, instead of paying $50, we’re paying $80 or $100 for a class just so that we can get someone into support that teacher and in kind what happens is you create a culture at the studio where people want to help each other out. You know, they know that the karma so to speak, or the, the Goodwill is going to come back to them if they help out their colleague or their friend and step up and teach that class for them. So it just creates just a better community, a better culture. And in the end it’s, it helps my studio to thrive. You know, it helps our, you know, our bottom line, our ability to pay our rent and keep the lights on, makes that much more possible. And then it also makes for happier teachers, which in turn creates more longevity and sustainability in our teaching staff, which students really appreciate. They get to teach. You know, some of my teachers have been with me for 11 years since we opened our doors so…

 

Sarah Dittmore: 12:22 

Amazing. Yeah, I think, I think that’s such an important thing that it needs to be a part of this conversation is kind of debunking the myth that you know, studios can’t afford to treat their teachers better because there’s so many ways to kind of value and care for your teachers that won’t cause a studio to go under.

 

Amy: 12:42

Yeah, that is definitely true. I think we can do more. I think we can give a bigger, bigger slice of the pie to our teachers, but I also think there’s, there’s some challenges in the larger industry that need to be addressed in tandem with this effort to unionize. For example, you know, one thing that’s been a real challenge for my studio in the past say like, five years is the growing control of third party vendors in the yoga scapes. So, for example, things like ClassPass and Groupon and Zenrez and these types of businesses, some of which I work with. So to be fair, but that undercut studios uh, bottom line and they you know, are getting a greater and greater market share of, of the way that consumers students sign up for classes. But the studio is getting a small fraction of what they would get if the, if the student was buying direct from the studio. So like sometimes less than half of the cost of a drop-in the studio we’ll get. So it makes it harder and harder or it seems like, okay I got 20 people in this class, I should be compensated accordingly. But you know say a quarter to a half of them are paying well under the drop-in rate for the studio. So there’s these additional like market forces and just the, the kind of the corporatization of the fitness world. And in turn the now the yoga world, we’re seeing that it’s this real like corporatization of the way that business is done that’s making it more and more difficult for studio owners to sustain their studios. And in turn what you see as a lot of doors closing, which is sad to see that the, that the small independently run studio which has, which was the, the roots of yoga was this beautiful thing where these small pop up studios and communities open their doors and they rent were run very organically. And I’m not, not to idealize it ‘cause I think some of the challenges with underpayment of teachers or mistreatment of teachers have been there for, for a very long time. But that more kind of intimate conversation that happened when you have, you know, neighbors teaching with neighbors and there’s, you know, there’s more of a community feel to it. It was much easier to, to air grievances than when you’re dealing with a giant company that has, you know, 50 studios across the country and you might not even know who the owner of the studio is. It makes it a lot more difficult. And that’s where I think this idea of unionization comes in. The idea of of collective bargaining and bringing, bringing the industry together to just create some sort of foundational principles on which to guide a studios is super important. 

 

Sarah Dittmore: 15:25

Yeah, I think, you know, what do you, when you think about that unionization, what kind of benefits do you think that brings to this side of things and then to the industry as a whole rather than, than just, you know, I think, I think absolutely the employment benefits for teachers are really important and I’ve talked to many teachers about that but I’m interested in how the unionization efforts can benefit the industry as a whole and not only the teachers.

 

Amy: 15:57

Well, I mean it’s taking one step back from like, the actual like economic benefits of unionization. I think like reflecting upon like what yoga is about and why we all entered this space, why we signed up for that first teacher training, why we fell in love with the practice.. I mean we’re talking about the yamas and niyamas and and these principles of non harming, non stealing, non possessiveness. All of these ideas that are, are really foundational to the practice of yoga. So if we are running businesses that do not even aspire to adhere to those foundational principles that should be guiding the practice. Like we really need to reflect on what it is we’re really doing. Is this really yoga? So I think that’s one kind of foundational way to think about it. But I think that if the benefit to studios as I see it is your, you’re basically, it’s a, it’s a way of gathering best practices to say, okay this has really worked well for, you know, this studio in Des Moine and this has worked really well for Bend & Bloom and Brooklyn. And you know, this is a little trickier. What can we do together? Beause I could imagine that there is a counterpart to the union that’s a, that’s like a consortium of yoga studios that is there to mutually support each other through the process of defining what this unionization plan looks like, where you kind of, where we really do share like this has worked really well for me. This is how I manage this element of dealing with, whether it’s like utility payments or structuring relief pay for, for new parents or dealing with people when they’re sick. Like just trying to share like how successful models have worked and therefore like the businesses themselves, the yoga studios, even the chains are getting or getting some ideas of how they can do things better. And I think in turn eventually it will benefit all yoga studios. Um, in doing so, you know, I think on a teacher perspective, the way that it will benefit is it’s a way to protect teachers from potentially being targeted. Um, and even fired for lazing labor concerns, which I know has happened. You know, it’s, it’s maybe not always super explicit, but Oh, we’re not going to, you know, offer that class anymore because it’s not doing well. There’s suddenly things start to arise when teachers rumble and, and to be honest, we’ve had these conversations in my own studio early on. It hasn’t, it hasn’t happened in many years, but early on teachers came to me as a group and said, Hey, now that the studio’s got its footing, here are our ideas for how we can change the structure to feel a little more fair to the teachers. And it wasn’t an easy process. We all got together, we sat around, we hammered out our different ideas. I shared my perspective. I shared very openly like okay, this is what it costs me to, to run a class. You know I need to have seven warm bodies in the room and even to just to pay our basic expenses, you know, before, before even your expenses, like the cost of rent, the cost of, and when you start to have those conversations and are a little more open about the way things are done, you know, just better outcomes are possible. People can start to really kind of share and find common ground. It’s not that we are going to get, have to give up the farm in order to make everybody feel like they’re well compensated and valued.

 

Music: 19:21

[Transition Music]

 

Sarah Dittmore: 19:33

Hi friends, welcome to the studio shop. I am here to sell you tea. It’s delicious tea. I’m drinking it right now and it’s giving me all this wonderful energy that I’m infusing into my ad. Specifically I’m drinking. Oh my gosh, this is so exciting. So I’m on the Plum Deluxe page for the tea that I’m drinking, the strawberry Earl Grey tea. It’s called their gratitude blend and they have this little notice that says, “As this month is the month of giving thanks, enjoy some gratitude from the Plum Deluxe family with our $5 featured tea of the month.” So I didn’t even do this on purpose. I just loved this tea a lot. It’s a Earl Grey Tea, which I am generally obsessed with. It’s what I drink most mornings is some version of an Earl Grey. It always just makes my heart very happy and fills me with delight for the day ahead. Specifically this Earl Grey has black tea, orange peel, blue cornflowers, which are, you know, your standard Earl Grey ingredients. In addition, it has strawberries, raspberry leaves, bergamot oil, strawberry essence and love and gratitude. Those are actually on their ingredient lists, which I think is really cute. It’s really good. It’s, I feel like a little sweeter than most Earl Greys that I drink. It’s probably the Berry flavor in there, but it still has all that like classic Earl Grey flavor that I love so much. Also, when I just first read this thing about the month of giving thanks, it took me a little bit too long to realise they were talking about Thanksgiving, I was like, wait, it’s November month, like national giving Thanks month. And then I realized they meant Thanksgiving, um, which is coming up. So get this Tea. It’s a great thing. You know, you could serve it in with your morning. We have pumpkin butterscotch muffins Thanksgiving morning, so you could serve it with that or whatever you do. It’s only $5 for an ounce right now, which is usually $7. So that’s awesome. And you know, they’re giving a little bit of gratitude back to you. So head over to plum deluxe.com that’s plumdeluxe.com. And try out their gratitude blend. And when you check out, you could get an additional discount beyond the $5 by using TBM 10 that’s my personal promo code for all you listeners. Whenever you enter TBM10@checkout, you save 10% off on any tea you order. So go get some tea, get grateful and have a lovely November. But that’s not all. No, we have more exciting things to share specifically. I don’t know why I’m so like in boozed about my ads today, but I’m feeling happy about it. Anyway. The second thing I’m happy about today is shut up and yoga. They are an independent digital magazine and a collective of yoga teachers, writers and illustrators. As you know, I write for them. This podcast is created in partnership with shut up and yoga and very much their voice is a lot of what you get from the beginner’s mind podcast. You know, they do a lot of practical, visual and funny articles and well, I don’t know if I’m that funny, but I’m definitely practical. Maybe not visual, but that’s why you got to go read their articles to get all those funny visual content that you’re missing from the beginner’s mind. They really take a humorous approach to dissecting popular ideas on health, yoga, and self-development. And it’s a really refreshing way to just engage with these topics without all that really heavy, serious feeling that you get from a lot of the way yoga articles are written. And not that they don’t take these issues seriously. They do and they’re very fact based and um, well researched their articles, but they remind us that we can study these things and grow and learn without losing our sense of humor. At shut up and yoga, it’s about quality over quantity and honesty over being liked. And their mission is to use words and art to question, inform, educate, challenge ideas, and debunk myths. In other words, they’re ready to have uncomfortable conversations, which I love. I love uncomfortable conversations, especially the ones that really push us to think differently and push our boundaries. So join the conversation and head over to www.shutupandyoga.com. That’s it for this studio shop today. So let’s get back to Amy

 

Music: 24:25

[Transition Music]

 

Sarah Dittmore: 24:37

Absolutely. Yeah. And I think, you know, to your point about, you know, you were saying earlier that there’s sort of this corporatization of the yoga industry and I see there’s this expectation with teachers to live in accordance and act in accordance with the, you know, philosophies of yoga and the ideas of yoga. But I don’t know, see that played out to the industry as a whole. You know, we don’t see those same expectations from studios or studio owners. They are living in much more of a corporate business world and they aren’t expected to hold up these same ideals. And so that idea of, kind of turning back to what is yoga about, like you said, and having that conversation of why do studios exist? Why, what do we need from them? What do we want them to be? And kind of reshaping that, that identity, I think is really an interesting and exciting opportunity. 

 

Amy: 25:33

Yes, I do agree. I think, and I don’t, I don’t think it’s across the board. There’s not like all studios are moving towards this more corporate model. I think there’s a lot of push back. There’s a lot of small studios that are still blossoming and still opening their doors, which is great to see. And then there’s others that aren’t able to make it and they’re shuttering because there is, you know, a chain moving in down the street and suddenly their numbers get super small. But I think, you know, a challenge is in the New York market at least, and I know in most major cities the boutique fitness studios, like I don’t want to call them boutique anymore because there was just like, soul cycle and some of the orange theory that these places are charging, you know, $35 sometimes even $40 a class, you know, sometimes lasted somewhere somewhere that’s much higher than the average price for a drop in. And I think part of that is about how yoga studios came to be that there was this, you know, more organic, community oriented, often done in a, you know, basement of a community center. Maybe, you know, 15-20, even 30 years ago. And then we started setting up more formal studios in a much more organized fashion. And so I think there is this, this student expectations/consumer expectation that that yoga should be under $20, $20 or less or so. And you know, on the one hand, I agree with that because you want yoga to be accessible, right? Going back to the yamas and niyamas and the foundational principles of yoga, you want it to be a practice that’s accessible to all people. So you don’t want it to be this elitist thing where you, it’s you know, $35 for an hour or hour and a half yoga class. But on the other hand, I feel like experimenting with ways that those that can afford that price for yoga class is if, is there a creative way where there can be more of like a sliding scale model where those that can afford a $35 class can be paying? Because you know what it’s actually like, I think the value is there. I think it should be a $35 if everybody were able to pay that because for all the reasons I said that yoga teachers, first of all, you know have their training, a lot of training that’s much higher than a lot of these boutique trends that we get a lot more training and then are required to continue doing training throughout their careers or should be doing training throughout their careers and then all of the challenges with traveling and no benefits and all other things that are kind of inherent to being an independent contractor that really we shouldn’t be able to charge those who can afford it a higher price. But we have this tricky situation where the culture of yoga and also the goal of being, having yoga be accessible that we keep things closer to the $20 or less mark is something that I think the yoga studio consortium of sorts needs to really kinda grapple with and look at that question really quite carefully.

 

Sarah Dittmore: 28:30

Yeah, I’d be interested to see, I’m going to do some research. I’m wondering if there are any studios out there that have tried this sliding scale model and and how it’s worked because I think that’s a really interesting and appealing, you know, perspective because it does make it accessible to everyone but it also means we can charge more and kind of value the teachings more. 

 

Amy: 28:50

Right. We have, at the Bend & Bloom, we have several pay what you can classes that are taught by seasoned veteran yoga teachers. Often studios will have a pay what you can option, but it’s often like brand new teachers who are teaching which is super important too and we have that as well. But I’ve been teaching a class at my studio on Wednesday mornings. It’s a pay what you can class that makes it more accessible. But I wish I could counter that with asking those who I know can afford more to pay, you know. 

 

Sarah Dittmore: 29:21

Yeah, because I find pay what you can usually ends up meaning everyone pays the minimum, like suggested donation. 

 

Amy: 29:28

Right. Or close to it. 

 

Sarah Dittmore: 29:30

Yeah. It’s interesting. I do feel like, you know, the more I have these conversations with different teachers and studio owners, the more it seems that the idea behind unionization is really just about elevating yoga as a whole. Right? It’s about showing that we value our teachers and we value the practice and we want to make standards in the industry that reflect that level of value. 

 

Amy: 29:56

Yes, absolutely. And I would imagine that the model might be different than like a United Auto Workers or the Teacher’s Union or one of these other major unions in that it’s um, it might be something similar to like actor’s equity, like where you are saying like, I am part of this yoga union that’s Alliance of yoga teachers and if you’re going to hire me, these are the principles you agree to. And I, I, ‘cause I don’t think it can be very rigid where it has to be like, you know, X dollars per hour or something because that the communities where yoga has offered are so vastly different. Like the New York market. Like we just, we both need to charge probably more, but also need to pay more than somebody who’s in a small rural town, you know…

 

Sarah Dittmore: 30:43

Of course in.

 

Amy: 30:44 

…in different parts of the country. So I don’t think it can be a very rigid structure. But like one way that we have addressed the question of, Hey at our studio is, I think we pay a higher base rate than most yoga studios so that you just by showing up, you know that you’re going to get say $50 base rate and it’s tiered based on your experience. But I think the lowest base rate is I think $45 or $50 and then you get a little jump in pay every 10 students. So the highest paid teacher at the, you know, primetime classes is getting paid more, but not so much more than the person who teaches our 6:30 AM Wednesday class, which is the smallest class, you know. So it’s like the idea is like, share the wealth a little bit and, and that there isn’t this big pay gap between like our all star teachers who pack a room and the teachers who are newer or have like the less Primo time slots. So they think that’s just like, it’s like a model that’s something to that effect. And I’m open to other ideas that’s just like, okay, here’s how it’s worked well in this, in this studio. It could be useful to other studios. And so I was saying about actor’s equity. You can hire actors equity, actors for say plays that are written by emerging artists and are not going to be blockbuster, you know, Broadway ladies. And there are exceptions to the rule. So, but it’s got to be like a mutually agreed upon. 

 

Sarah Dittmore: 32:21

Yeah. 

 

Amy: 32:33

You know, situation where they get, but they get exemption from the, the basic rights of actors equity, but the actors also agreeing to do it. So I think there’s, there’s ways of working around it when there is like, where there needs to be exceptions to certain foundational principles. 

 

Sarah Dittmore: 32:41

Yeah or like I’ve been talking to, um, I’ve been talking to a union person, I guess I don’t actually know his title now that I think about it, but he’s basically like a union representative and he helps people figure out how to structure and create unions. And um, he was explaining that, you know, one way to kind of do it in, one of the ways that might work for the yoga industry is you can unionize as a group of employees for a studio. And that doesn’t mean every studios employees are going to go unionize. But then it creates this sort of standard that other teachers can say, Hey, at this studio where I work that has this union set up, this is how they structured, this is what they pay me. And this is now what I expect when I go to other studios. And this is sort of now the new standard so that, you know, newer studios that maybe can’t do it exactly like that can at least have a new model to work with without having to, kind of commit to the, the financial side of that not may be the bigger studios can.

 

Amy: 33:47

Yes. I think that makes a lot of sense. And then it can be modified regionally or modified based on you know, the number of teachers at a studio or the number of sites that a particular company has. If it’s a single yoga studio versus you know, 10 site yoga studio, then the expectations from the like larger national union might be different and the guidance might be a little different. But like you said, some studios might, it may not even be a question at some studios that are already, you know, well run and the teachers are happy with the structure of the studio. Another big piece of the, of the question of, of unions and it’s like you said, it’s not just about pay, it’s also about being clear about policies and procedures. And I think that’s something that teachers over the years have appreciated about our studio. Whenever you get hired onto the sub list, which is often where teachers start and then eventually some, you know get offered a regular classes. You get a policy and procedures, teacher’s manual from day one and it has everything lined up really clearly and who you contact for what and what you get for a private, what percentage, how you, how we run workshops, what percentage you get for that. You know what our structure and pay is, when you get a raise. All those things are really clearly laid out. Also our policies and procedures around discrimination. We’re a nondiscrimination studio. Making yoga accessible for all. I think all those things like people like, Oh wow, I’ve never gotten one of these before from a studio and I’m like really? Like just seems like so foundational to me that you would clear with the people you’re hiring and who are representing your studio, how you’re in a, how you’re running your studio and what the expectations are for teachers. I think like just like a super simple thing that can like really improve communication and a feeling of like that there’s like a collective vision for the studio is just sharing like how you’re running the studio and what your expectations are and how you’re supporting teachers and, and their benefits. That may not be like health care, but it can be you get free classes and you get, you know, 50% off of all workshops. And another way that I think we have built a great community of teachers that our studio is, we prioritize the expertise within our own teaching faculty for workshops and higher education within yoga offerings, through our own expertise and really tried to showcase the amazing faculty teaching faculty that we have on staff instead of bringing in, you know, yoga celebrities from Instagram, which I think is often how like studios think, Oh I, you know, I should be a good…

 

Sarah Dittmore: 36:32

Yep, I used to work in a studio which did that…

 

Amy: 36:34

All the time?

 

Sarah Dittmore: 36:35

Yeah.

 

Amy: 36:37

I’m not saying that you can’t ever have guest teachers. That’s amazing to have guest teachers, you bringing in a new perspective and a new way of learning. We’ve certainly done that and we’ll continue to do that. But our teacher training is run by, our teachers are, you know, 98% of our workshops are run by our teachers and we try to offer and, and encourage our teachers to participate in other people’s workshops. Because it’s like you’re sharing information instead of making it like there’s like, you know, the 1% of yoga teachers continued to reap the benefits of, you know, of teaching higher learning, higher education and learning workshops within the yoga world. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

 

Sarah Dittmore: 37:13

Yeah. I think that’s, that’s a big part of the conversation, right? It’s like how are there other ways that we can show our teachers that their experience and their knowledge and their years of training is something that we value and appreciate. 

 

Amy: 37:27

Exactly. 

 

Sarah Dittmore: 37:28

Yeah. And then the last kind of element of it that I have been thinking about a lot and I’m interested in, in talking about to all different people, is how this all plays into making yoga more diversely and scape as well. You know, we’ve talked a little bit about the accessibility to students, but one of the first things you mentioned is how many yoga teachers go into teaching with debt towards their trainings and how many people are working these crazy hours to barely scraped by a living. And something that’s been coming up a bit in these conversations is the fact that the way we have it structured right now makes it so that yoga teaching is much more accessible to people of privilege. People who can, you know, have a partner that helps pay for their, you know, life or have, you know, family… money to help support them until they get to a point where they can support themselves. And so I wonder how creating a more equitable industry would allow for more voices and perspectives to join the teaching community. 

 

Amy: 38:38

Yeah, no, I fully support the efforts to create more equity in diversity in the yoga and all fitness industries for sure. I think again, it’s a challenge. Part of it is about the history and the way that yoga studios grew in and were developed in, in cities. But part of it is just about the kind of replicating the culture, you know, and the accessibility as you mentioned to both pay for classes and then those that are interested in becoming yoga teachers, how to afford teacher trainings and ongoing teaching requirements that are, you know, education requirements in the, in the industry. So, I mean, part of the way that we’re trying with mixed success, but we’re trying to address that is, you know, one, making sure you build in scholarships to wherever you can for teacher trainings, continuing education and workshops, trying to offer scholarships and make people aware that they’re there. And so trying to get into, you know, share the information widely. We also do a lot of payment plans for our teacher trainees that sometimes either lasts the whole duration of the training or sometimes go multi-year. So you might not be able to afford, you know, $3,000 or $4,000 within one year, but we can work with you to structure your payments over, you know, 1-2 year period. As long as there’s an agreement because we, there’s definitely been moments where, where I tried this early on and we never got paid. Um, but so you gotta be clear and make sure it’s clear to all parties and that you have, you know, a credit card or some other form of payment on file. All those things I would certainly advise by other, other studio owners to be careful about. But um, I think the combination has been fairly successful of offering both scholarships and then payment plans brings a little more diversity to teacher training programs. The other way is, is mentorships that maybe people aren’t ready to dive into, you know, full on training program, but there can be some sort of mentorship program with teachers and aspiring teachers or teachers and new teachers is another way to kind of just support teachers of color who are trying to get more experience and you know, lower income communities who are also trying to like get more experience and exposure in the, in the yoga world. So those are just a couple ideas that optimal…

 

Sarah Dittmore: 41:12

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I mean when it comes down to it, I think it really is just about looking at ways to make the yoga industry more like yogic, you know? 

 

Amy: 41:23

Yes. Aligning our actions with our principles. So aligning our actions with a, um, you know, well the ideas that we’re teaching in class and certainly something that I would hope and expect studios to be striving for.

 

Sarah Dittmore: 41:37

Amazing. Well, is there anything else you feel like is an important part of this conversation in regards to, you know, the teacher welfare, the studio welfare, the industry as a whole with all of this unionization talk?

 

Amy: 41:50

The only thing that pops to mind is I think we can’t look at the challenges that both yoga teachers face and studio owners face divorced from the larger socioeconomic structures that we’re faced within the country. That we’re in this moment where these conversations are happening everywhere and the rights of workers are being undermined in every industry across this country. And so I just urge everybody to stay active in politics and see that the, you know, this conversation we’re having in the yoga world is happening in a time when, you know, 1% of the country owns an enormous go with this current statistic is with some enormous percentage of the wealth. And so, you know, I would hope that we just have this conversation and look at it and in the larger context of the need to build workers rights across the country and for us to think creatively about how we can restructure our, our businesses and our local economies to help share a little more wealth and be a little more equitable in our practices.

 

Sarah Dittmore: 43:08

Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think it’s really important. You know, it seems to be coming up a lot in this conversation I’ve been having with people and actually just in a lot of my different conversations about the yoga industry is the, the sort of reflection on, you know, being a organization that exists within this capitalist late stage like culture. That’s really, it is, you know, we can’t keep putting our head in the sand. And I think as, as yogis, it can be very easy to want to disconnect from the political sphere because we want, there’s sort of a, a culture I’ve found that’s not everywhere, that’s not everyone, but there definitely is a culture within the yoga community of sort of, Oh that’s, you know, that’s the material play and like I don’t worry about that stuff. And it’s, I think it’s really an important conversation and element of the conversation to keep in the forefront because it is our reality at the present and it is something that affects a lot of people’s lives and wellbeing and hopefully, you know, remodeling the yoga industry can be sort of a way of exploring how we can remodel working culture in general.

 

Amy: 44:30

Cheers to that. 

 

Sarah Dittmore: 44:31
Yes. Cheers to that. Wonderful. Well thank you so much Amy. This was great. I really appreciated the perspective you brought to the conversation. 

 

Amy: 44:41

Thank you, Sarah. Excellent. Thank you so much. 

 

Sarah Dittmore: 44:45

Of course. Have a great day.

 

Music: 44:47

[Transition Music]

 

Sarah Dittmore: 44:59

Thanks again to Amy for speaking with me. I think it’s really important for us to remember as all of this happens, both the unionization, but also just more discussion about like treatment of yoga instructors in the United States. I think it’s really important for us to continue to reflect on the fact that it is possible to have a responsibly run ethically managed yoga studio and not go under. And it’s important for us to look with yoga studios as well as with any companies or businesses that we support. It’s important for us to look at not just what they are offering, but how they’re producing that offering and consider what elements of that we weigh in deciding whether or not to support a business. Especially, you know, in, in one of my recent teatime time talks, we got into a whole conversation about social responsibility in the environment and I just think it’s really important with everything that’s going on in our environment and our political climate to continue to be thoughtful and mindful about who and what we support and why. Next week we’re gonna hear from another New York City based yoga studio owner. On November 20th, I’ll be talking to Marcela Xavier who runs “Bread and Yoga,” which is my personal studio, the one that I, I go to and love. Um, sort of on a similar topic. We speak more about kind of honoring experience and what we look for in creating a overall, you know, positive studio environment that honors and, and supports teachers wherever they are in the process. And that’s just a tea time talk. It’ll be a shorter conversation, but it was really an interesting interview. And uh, if you’re based here in New York, definitely go check out Bend and Bloom or if you’re, if you’re over in Brooklyn or you know, if you want to make the track and if you’re over here and I’m in Inwood Harlem, you can check out Bread and Yoga, which we’ll talk more about next week. And yeah, wherever you are, just keep asking, who are you supporting and what are you maybe supporting with the decisions you make without even realizing it? And how can we be more mindful about those decisions and hopefully work on making this world at least a little bit more thoughtful. Any who, I’d love to hear your thoughts on, on this or really anything at all. So please reach out to me. My Instagram is at tbmpodcast. Facebook is at The Beginner’s Mind Podcast, and email is Sarah, s-a-r-a-h Ditmore, d-i-t-t-m-o-r-e, sarahdittmore@gmail.com. In addition, if you enjoyed this episode, learned something or just want to support the beginner’s mind podcast, you can do so by rating and reviewing, subscribing, or sharing this episode. You can also support the beginner’s mind by supporting my sponsors and thank you to my sponsors who helped make this episode possible. I’ll talk to you guys next week and until then, stay curious.

 

Music 48:23

[Closing Music].

 

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