Yoga Body, Business Mind

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It's tough making a living as a yoga studio owner. Randi Beck, founder of Yoga Place, now among Yoga Works' Orange County locations, was looking to expand but knew she couldn't do it without more help. Lamar Rutherford, the former owner of Yoga Time, the Beverly Hills studio bought by Yoga Works, had dreams of growth, too—but breaking even was hard enough. Mark Stephens, former owner of LA Yoga Center, says running a studio was more work than he expected and he wanted to teach more. The reasons they sold to Yoga Works vary, as do the prices paid for them. (All parties involved are legally forbidden to reveal the figures.)

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Ironically, the lucrative teacher-training programs that have helped yoga centers pay the bills also exacerbate their financial struggles. Every month, it seems, a few hundred yoga instructors are minted. And all these teachers, particularly those trained by successful centers such as Jivamukti, Om, and Yoga Works, are heading out to teach. Now, gyms have class schedules filled with teachers trained at respected schools, most studios have more prospective teachers than classes to fill, and some graduates open their own shops as well.

As a result, some cities are saturated with yoga. Seattle's Queen Anne neighborhood recently exemplified how this is playing out: By mid-2001, the historical neighborhood was home to three yoga studios: Jai Ma Yoga Studio, Moment Yoga, and Queen Anne Yoga all opened within a few blocks of each other. By early 2004, Moment had closed, Jai Ma had relocated to a space the teacher and owner rented by the hour, and only Queen Anne remained—under new ownership.

Even without competition, some owners find that a love for teaching yoga doesn't translate into a love for all the business aspects—permitting, worker's compensation, accounting—that come with the territory. Former Yoga Works owners Chuck Miller and Maty Ezraty, for instance, were tired of working long hours and wanted more time to teach. "We were spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with administrative tasks," says Miller. They were ready to give up ownership and even turned down offers from people who wanted to partner. When Whole Body came along, they liked what it was offering: outright acquisition.

Of course, not every studio owner wants to sell. Beverly Singh, owner of the Atma Cen-
ter in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, acknowledges that her business is in the red half the time, but she says, "If someone said, 'We'll pay you a million dollars and you can still run the center,' I'd say no. To me, that's not what yoga is. Yoga is supposed to go beyond the material aspect."

Laura Shin is a writer and yoga teacher in New York. She's a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Health.