Coke machines atop Mt. Fuji. A go-cart park on the Great Wall of China. And now: CorePower enters the indie yoga environment of Santa Barbara. Maybe it was bound to happen. The Santa Barbara crowd put up a good fight. Word on the mat is, when some local yogis got wind CorePower was looking to buy the beloved Santa Barbara Yoga Center, they bought it first. Of course, that can only go on for so long. CorePower was finally successful and recently opened its Santa Barbara location.
In my talks with local yogis, instructors and business owners, I’m not sure they know what’s hit them. I’ve noticed that class sizes are down– some by a third. What is conspicuously missing: the younger students, the 20-somethings (and no, it wasn’t Spring Break). Perhaps they want to be able to buy their Lululemon where they yoga, then check their outfits in the mirror during class. I wonder… if I had never experienced yoga in Asia, had a pierced belly button on my 20-something body, maybe I’d think CorePower was slick and sexy too?
So you lose a few college kids, so what? The problem is, you also start to lose control of the media messaging. With their huge budget, CorePower starts to redefine what yoga is. They start to slowly change the criteria for what constitutes “yoga” and what makes a “yoga teacher.” The 20-somethings become 30-somethings and think that a 60 minute class with music so loud you can’t hear your breath is “normal.” That said, there is no doubt many students are in superb shape, able to perform advanced postures–and postures are the essence of “Hatha” yoga. Advanced breathing and meditation is really the realm of “Raja” yoga. The chaotic environment of these studios full of mirrors and ringing with new age music isn’t conducive to these deeper practices. What concerns me is that these students may not develop an appreciation for the more meditative side of yoga and trying to “sell” it in the marketplace of ideas is difficult for the independents.
I’ve found that many CP at Fitness Yoga students don’t realize the importance of yoga nidra, as they only get a few minutes of before the next class starts snapping yoga mats and moving into the space. Students may feel like they’ve “gone deep” in the near 100-degree heat, but is it just a short cut to turn the room over faster? All that heat, while helpful to stretch muscle, isn’t great for the joints; and, besides, the heat is supposed to come from within via pranayama breathing, for which there’s little time in a typical 60 minute class.
In spite of the mass marketeering, the CP price tag is pretty steep ($13-20/class for 2-3 times/week), when you consider the brevity of both the classes and typical teachers’ training. There are some groups in Minneapolis and St. Paul who do use a large/short class model with affordability in mind. When you pay $12 for a drop-in, you expect part-timers or teachers-in-training. CorePower, while charging top-dollar, has many teachers of under 5 years’ experience who probably can’t make enough to quit their day-jobs.
So where does the money go? Management, marketing, advertising, interiors, inventory. The deeper practices of yoga drop off while yoga merchandising takes off. If you’re on FB, check out the CorePower posts–not a lot of thought leadership, but sure a lot of shop leadership. Sure, some of the better teachers will break out and break away. This doesn’t trouble the organization–there’s a whole new crop every few weeks to take their places. They’re all taught the same sequences and “cues” or scripts, so teachers become interchangeable.
Of course, many of independent teachers won’t want to speak ill of a competitor. Many of them got into yoga to avoid “Corporate Power” and don’t spend their time thinking about market positioning. Nor does CorePower need to take on traditional yoga –it’s just easier to drown it out, to eclipse it with “mass and flash.” Seasoned teachers may even underestimate how enticing a convenience-oriented “fast food” yoga is to the up and coming… at first. There were probably cooks and grill masters a plenty who wondered, “How could a place like McDonald’s ever catch on?”
Sure, we’ve all hit the drive-thru in a pinch. I still feel the need to “sneak” my kids some fiber and veggies when we get home–usually a shot of carrot juice alleviates my guilt. No doubt, they’ll make fun of me when I’m long gone for the roar of my juicer. Similarly, when I pick up a one-hour fitness yoga class at the gym, or a place like CP because it’s my only option, I feel like I have to go home and stretch, meditate and breathe–for real. CorePowers, LifeTimes and the fitness yoga style they perpetuate are here to stay in our convenience-oriented society, that’s for sure. At the end of the day, it’s a great workout. The thing with yoga though, it’s all about the work-in so don’t forget the veggies!