The Yoga-Wellness Connection


By Jodi Mardesich   |  

When Andrew Marrus started practicing yoga, he thought he’d probably lose some weight—but he didn’t foresee giving up coffee, eating less meat, and becoming a raw-food cleansing aficionado. Talking to his yoga teacher about his “funky cramps” led them to discuss what he was eating and drinking. From there, his yoga teacher, Aarona Pichinson, who is also a holistic health counselor based in New York, restructured their private classes into a combination of yoga and nutritional counseling.

“I started thinking about what I was putting into my body, and what I could do differently,” says Marrus. He started buying live juices instead of double lattes from Starbucks. At a recent checkup, his doctor was so impressed he told Marrus he didn’t need to see him for 18 months—unusual advice for men in their 40s to hear.

The Yoga-Wellness Link

The mindfulness that yoga teaches spreads from the mat into other areas of students’ lives. Yoga naturally cleanses the body, and working on specific health programs speeds that up. It’s only natural for students to seek out health and wellness advice from their teachers. Yoga teachers and studios can provide a beneficial service and expand their business by offering wellness services, such as nutritional counseling and guided cleanses, while also improving students’ lives and building community.

“It’s a great way for a studio to increase business and stay solvent,” says Mary McGuire-Wien, founder of American Yogini, which offers juice cleanse retreats and author of a forthcoming book on yoga and cleanses called The 7 Day Detox Diet. In order for a studio to pay the rent and stay sustainable, the owners have to be able to serve customers and students. It’s all about service.”

CorePower Yoga, with locations in several states, hosts lifestyle programs that dovetail with yoga, including the LiveLean nutritional program that combines healthy eating with a consistent yoga practice. The popular Bootcamp is an intense two-week, off-the-mat body strengthening program.

“The nutrition program, Bootcamp, Yogi Training, and teacher training programs help us diversify streams of revenue rather than relying entirely on yoga classes to produce profits,” says Holly Brewer, marketing and communications manager at CorePower. “We see about a 10 percent increase in revenue by offering lifestyle programs and teacher trainings.”

Besides benefiting the teachers and studios, group programs can benefit students as well. “Right now, in our economic times, for someone to work with a nutrition counselor every week or every other week is very costly,” says Susan Kaden, president of Weigh2b, a holistic nutritional counseling service based in Long Island. “Students [in a less-expensive group program] can get the knowledge and education, plus group support,” she says.

Having nutrition or wellness credentials is a plus (Pichinson and Kaden are certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, for example), but some teachers, such as McGuire-Wien, have made nutrition, cleansing, and wellness their life’s work, and are self-taught. “I am teaching and leading it from personal experience and from having learned from other teachers who also teach only from personal experience,” McGuire-Wien says. “There has never been any sort of certification or training program for yoga teachers who wish to offer these practices to their students. That is why I have been developing this program for future teachers.” McGuire-Wien advises clients to check in with their doctor in some cases, but not all. “The main check in is with oneself, just as in any other practice of pranyama or asana,” she says.

Making It Work

To best guide your studio’s offerings toward wellness and nutrition, consider these basic tips:

Build a network. Get to know practitioners—healers, teachers, nutritionists, and others—whose work complements your own, and promote them. “It’s always a good idea to have a links page on your website that shows you have resources and good taste,” Pichinson says. Those practitioners will likely return the gesture with a link on their sites that leads people to you.

Invite outside teachers and practitioners in. Kula Yoga Project, with locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, invited Jill Pettijohn, a raw food chef, to lead a cleanse. Paired with five yoga classes, the package encouraged participants to practice yoga each day, and they could pick up their juices or blended foods at the studio each morning. It spread the word about the studio to Pettijohn’s network, and opened up the range of services the studio offered to its students, says studio director Shuyler Grant.

Promote your own teachers. Often yoga teachers have other talents, like holistic health counseling or acupuncture, Pichinson says. Promote them—and let them promote your studio. They may attract new people who sign up for a consultation or session and then become regular yoga students as well.

Create packages of wellness services and yoga classes. “It’s good for everyone,” Grant says. “Add a complimentary class on a regular basis to build interest in alternative practices, even if attendance is small at first.”

Promote wellness via retail. Selling healthy drinks and snacks in the studio helps students make better lifestyle choices, at least when they’re attending class. Yoga teachers and studios naturally serve as examples, Pichinson points out. Focus on eco-conscious clothing, reusable water bottles, nutrition, mind-body awareness, health enhancements, massages, and essential oils, she says.

Learn new skills. Individual yoga teachers can give their students more of what they want by getting training in new areas. McGuire-Wien, for example, offers a teacher training for leading juice cleanses.

Students look to teachers when they have health questions or want to make a change in their lives. “Somehow, we emanate something they want to achieve,” Pichinson says. “They want some of what I have, and I’m happy to share. This can expand business simply by offering what we are likely already doing anyway. As yoga teachers, we have the gift of living our work.”

Jodi Mardesich is a writer and yoga teacher in Cedar Hills, Utah.