The Economics of Cheap Yoga Don’t Really Add Up

yoga

Earlier this year, Sarah Maslin Nir’s exposé in the New York Times revealed the low pay and atrocious working conditions that exist in many of the discount nail salons that dot New York. Essentially, Nir made all of us who are willing to ignore the price that must ultimately be paid by someone in order to obtain discounted goods and services. Nir’s piece inspired close looks into other New York industries, like dollar slice joints, which thrive on bargain basement prices that are only made possible by underpaying workers. And then today, New York magazine writes about another common and surprisingly affordable New York institution: cheap yoga.

As anyone who likes to work out in classes—whether yoga or pilates or ballet barre or whatever—knows, it can get really expensive, really fast. Many premium classes (i.e. SoulCycle, Xtend Barre, etc.) cost $34 (not including the price of rental shoes or grippy socks!) each, making those of us who don’t have a few hundred bucks of disposable income every month out of luck when it comes to getting a professionally toned ass.

And that’s where cheap yoga comes in. As New York points out, “while boutique fitness studios like SoulCycle cost upwards of $30 per session, prices for yoga classes have remained closer to $20. There’s too much competition to charge more.” In fact, yoga studios have gone the same way as nail salons and pizza places, wherein because of their ubiquity, most studios can only stand out by offering steeply discounted services. There are, of course, always going to be some elite outliers, but, for the most part, New York yogis can shop around until they find a class that fits their schedule and their budget.

As can be expected, the cost of this type of bargain hunting is actually paid for by those who are lowest on the yoga studio food chain—the teachers. While the hourly rate that New York cites for many yoga teachers ($50/hr), is nothing like the exploitative numbers uncovered by Nir within the manicure industry, it’s still primarily a benefits-less hourly wage situation with little job security and a real chance of physical wear-and-tear. And that’s not even mentioning the thousands of dollars many yoga teachers paid in order to be trained for a job that there’s little to no promise of obtaining.

So what’s a yoga teacher to do? Well, some yoga teachers have cashed in on a little thing you might have heard of called the Internet. Once on the Internet, these yoga teachers employ social media to get thousands of followers who will then pay lots of money to be taught online, which, as someone who has taken many yoga classes that have involved multitudes of seemingly minor yet totally alignment-altering adjustments, has to admit… seems like not the best idea. Sure, the convenience of doing yoga from home is seductive, but it’s not a wholesale replacement for attending classes in real life. (Side note: Everything is better—and worse—in real life.) And it’s not the best solution for those yoga teachers who don’t want to use this new means of promotion—or even any means of promotion. It’s not necessarily consistent with some yogi philosophies, after all.

And then, perhaps more importantly, what’s an ethically concerned yoga student to do? Is it suddenly as unethical to take a $5 yoga class as it is to get a $5 manicure? Well, no. It’s hard to argue that someone earning $50 an hour at a job they trained for with the full knowledge of how saturated is the yoga teacher market can fairly be called underpaid, so I’m not going to do that. I am going to say though, that much in the same way that it’s worthwhile to thoroughly check out the type of place where you’re getting your nails done (or your hair cut or your back massage or you pizza), the same is true with yoga studios. Some discounts just aren’t worth it.

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