In the fall of 2019, something new happened: teachers at YogaWorks locations in New York City sought to unionize.
As reported by the New York Times in the article, “The Yoga Instructors vs. the Private Equity Firm,” it would be the first union in the U.S. to include yoga instructors. Whether a union forms or not, one thing is for sure: the yoga industry is evolving.
“It has a lot to do with how the industry is changing and because people can make a living off of it,” said Sarah Larson-Levey, the founder and CEO of Y7 Studio in New York, on the issue of the union.
The truth is, Larson-Levey said more and more teachers are making yoga their livelihood. At Y7, there is a threshold of hours needed to be worked in order to become health benefit eligible. With a range of instructors – from those who teach one or two classes a week to those who max out at 12 classes – they are trying to meet teachers where they are at.
But, offering benefits didn’t just happen. Larson-Levey said it begins with creating employee handbooks, writing up guidelines and categorizing your teachers as employees. From there, Y7 was able to offer health benefits, as well as the ability to accrue paid sick leave.
“We really try to be at the forefront. We’re really a people business,” said Larson-Levey. “So for us, we really want to treat our teachers right, know that they do put a lot into their classes and they are really giving a lot. It’s only fair they should be compensated and treated as you would any other job.”
In terms of teachers, Leslie Davis, the owner of Yoga Goodness in Lynchburg, Virginia, said she sees the trend of deeper practices, mixing different types of yoga and finding the balance of being a versatile teacher while also specializing.
Diversity, both in staff and students, is also trending upward. Davis said when she began practicing yoga 10 years ago, she was usually the only person of color in class. “Now I see more diversity happening in yoga, which excites me a lot,” she explained. “I feel like even more people want to have diversity in their space, have all different types of people practicing together.”
And it seems, according to Larson-Levey, students are hungry for community. Bringing people together from all backgrounds and building a space where they feel connected is going to propel your studio forward. But you do that through a consistent brand.
If you have multiple spaces, that means no matter what location a member walks into, it feels familiar. “When you’re building a brand, it’s all about consistency in terms of your clients and who’s coming through the door,” she said.
Perhaps the biggest trend in the yoga world has to do with what’s happening outside of it. Jill Jerome, the owner of Yoga Loft Studios in Oak Park, Illinois, said there’s been a big shift from gyms to independently owned studios and larger corporate entities that focus on yoga. And that shift has made its way into many modalities.
“Boutique fitness has become a big business,” said Jerome. “It used to be only gyms offered group fitness classes, but now every type and style of class can be its own entity.”
But as the boutique industry grows, so do the franchises. This impacts the independently run yoga studios, said Jerome. “They have to be able to compete with much larger scale marketing, branding and general resources available to a bigger cooperation or franchise group,” she said.
That means more amenities. Larson-Levey said Y7 just redid one of its first locations to add showers in order to keep up with the cycling and boxing studios out there. “We do have to be providing the same type of amenities even if our price point isn’t as high,” said Larson-Levey. “We’re slowly making upgrades to our studios as we can afford them, but the standard is set quite high, because boutique fitness is on every block now.”
For Jerome, that means full-service locker rooms, showers, free towels and water, lounges with clothing boutiques, etc. She said that’s the biggest trend she’s noticed in the industry of yoga.
And with so many offerings in the boutique fitness world, it seems students want options in the yoga studio as well. Davis said a coming trend is that of expanding beyond just traditional yoga in the studio. Classes like aerial, acro, etc. have become quite popular. Yoga Goodness offers classes like prenatal yoga, as well as trap – a mix of yoga and urban dancing. Trap has been great for many of Davis’ students, creating confidence in their practice. And accessible yoga is growing, opening the door for different body types.
Hot yoga is one specific trend Jerome has seen to still be at the forefront. She said it’s being recommended by plenty of doctors and healthcare practitioners for a plethora of reasons: back pain, anxiety, depression, detox, weight loss, etc. Plus, people love to sweat. Students, she said, will continue to want options and a variety of offerings from a yoga studio and in the fitness realm.
While yoga used to be seen as something you didn’t have to do, Larson-Levey said the mindset shift has changed to where people understand the importance of pairing yoga with their strength training, cycling, CrossFit classes, etc.
Jerome agreed. “I still believe yoga is appealing and on trend, but most people will want to complement it with fitness style classes, including strength training and cardiovascular conditioning,” she said.
So, as 2020 plays out, the trends in the industry will continue to evolve. There are studios nowadays that were never a thing 10 years ago. Who know what trends will come in 2021? “It’s really interesting to watch and see what’s going to stay, what people are really going to gravitate toward and get a real benefit out of,” said Larson-Levey.