All industry experts are sure of right now is that yoga’s popularity is at an all-time high and the number of studios will continue to skyrocket this year.
In its short history, 2017 has already proven to be an unprecedentedly unsettling year for many. Now more than ever, Americans need yoga. So it’s good news that the number of studios opening around the country is on the rise, continuing the growth pattern predicted in Yoga Journal’s 2016 Yoga in America Study. The 80 million Americans who said they were likely to try yoga for the first time in 2016 may be responsible for the subsequent and rapid expansion of national yoga chains as well as local independently run studios. And politics may help keep their classes full.
Yoga Studio Expansion in 2017
The Los Angeles-born chain YogaWorks celebrated its 50th studio opening in January. Boulder-based Yoga Pod currently has 10 studios, spanning Colorado, Texas, Nevada, and Minnesota, but plans to double its studio count in 2017. And Denver-based CorePower Yoga is slated to open its first New York studio on the Upper West Side in May 2017—with several more likely to follow in the next two years. With 165 studios in more than 100 cities nationwide, CorePower’s absence in Manhattan has long been notable. But does NYC, for example, really need more yoga studios?
When yoga companies grow, especially when they grow quickly, critics tend to call out financial motives and claim that corporate influence robs yoga of its more traditional and spiritual elements. But if the unified yogic mission is to spread the practice and its benefits as far and wide as possible, then expansion is inevitable. And apparently, right now, it’s necessary.
Sky Ting Yoga, the hip Chinatown yoga destination founded in 2015, recently opened its second location in Tribeca due to overwhelming popularity. “Our community quickly started to outgrow our space when we first opened, so that really drove our decision to build a second space, and we’ll continue to expand as much as we can while preserving that community feel,” says Sky Ting Yoga co-founder Krissy Jones.
With expansion and growth in mind, the key to success for yoga businesses centers on this idea of sustaining community. Yoga Vida, the company cofounded by Hilaria Baldwin in 2009, doubled its studio count last year from two to four studios across Manhattan and Brooklyn. “The rising popularity of yoga is one thing that makes us optimistic about our nation's future,” says cofounder Mike Patton, noting that this kind of expansion is tricky to get right, though. “The businesses that grow beyond a couple locations must create some form of infrastructure and policy for operations, HR, government compliance, legal, etc. The goal and inherent challenge is to build a community and client experience that stills feels like a community and not a giant machine run from a spreadsheet that only cares about the numbers.”
Why Americans Need All Kinds of Studios Right Now
“There is a real need for zen and calm,” says Melissa Hernandez, CorePower’s New York City Area Lead. “We’ve seen a real shift, in that formerly fringe concepts, like meditation and mindfulness, are becoming more mainstream. Our students find tremendous value in the mindfulness piece of our classes.”
Never have yoga’s philosophy, spirituality, chants, and meditative practices been more relevant. “We get a lot of new students who are unfamiliar with the more esoteric aspects of yoga,” says Alex Jarboe, Yoga Pod’s Director of Business Development & Studio Opportunities. “Instead of making those elements a staple of who we are, we incorporate them into our teaching method in a more accessible way.”
In an exploding market, studios of all kinds and sizes can offer this sense of calm in their own ways. While independently run studios may provide a stronger sense of local coalescence, established national chains might offer students the comfort of consistency and a dependable reputation. “Being a trustworthy entity known for high-quality teaching makes us appealing to both seasoned yogis and new students,” emphasizes YogaWorks CEO Rosanna McCollough.
Just as a Big Mac is a Big Mac no matter where you get it, CorePower practitioners, for example, know what to expect from their 60-minute classes wherever they unroll their mats. That may be especially appealing in 2017, when you can’t say the same about reading the daily news.
“In the two weeks post-inauguration, class attendance has been up since last winter,” says Patton. “While it’s not unusual for these numbers to rise each year, what is particularly noteworthy is that the demand for Teacher Training Programs is as robust as we've ever seen and not all students are looking to become teachers. Many just want to learn more about yoga, and perhaps seek happiness in places the capitalist machine doesn’t tell you to look."
While rapidly developing yoga chains are often perceived as generic and indistinctive, the most successful companies say a widespread presence, developed through a thoughtful and careful approach to expansion, is often what hones communities that are special and powerful and, ultimately, intimate.
“There is a real benefit to having studios all over town and all over the country,” says Heather Peterson, CorePower’s Chief Yoga Officer. “It makes it convenient to practice, and it makes you feel at home wherever you are.”