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Yoga wars: A yoga warrior wonders why the price of yoga is so high

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Yoga, it seems, has finally arrived. Twenty-five years ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find the variety of yoga, let alone the sparkling new studios, that today dot the local landscape.

While the number of venues has mushroomed, giving devotees many more options, this competition has not translated into any financial benefit for the typical practitioner.

In other words, there are more yoga studios than ever, and the prices are higher than they've ever been -- in fact, some studios charge two or three times more for yoga classes than the price of an annual gym membership.

Lately, some studios have been offering short-term deals to lure new customers. Some of these deals are so much better than the regular rates that many people are switching studios en masse.

The result is a yoga war where studios are in a price battle to gain new patrons but only make temporary gains because most customers are just moving back and forth between whichever studio is offering the best deal.

It's similar to the way all gas stations raise their prices at the same time -- no outlet wants to lose out on earning the most profit; there is no studio brave enough to lower its prices and burst the bubble.

According to Dorothy Guerra of the Yoga Network in Ontario, yoga should be affordable. She owned three studios, now two, with a monthly unlimited rate of $69-$75. In her opinion, prices are high because yoga has become about beautiful studios and fancy change rooms -- all of which cost money. She said that 14 years ago, before there was a yoga studio on every corner, some of the best studios were modest facilities.

Violet Pasztor Wilson from the Yoga Alliance in British Columbia also weighed in on the reason behind the pricey memberships. She said that the minimum international standard for training as a yoga teacher is 200 hours, so instructors are educated in a variety of subjects including anatomy. She also said that yoga instructors earn between $40-$75 per hour.

Although she agreed that the prices are high and yoga should be for everyone, she added that western society is a monetary culture so yoga instructors can't be expected to have alms bowls or accept a chicken in exchange for yoga. She believes that karma (pay what you can/donation) classes are an important part of yoga and that these classes help maintain the practice's good name.

However, when a new yoga studio offers a karma class at the exact same time as another studio, using a former teacher from that studio, I wonder if karma is karma or if it is just about good old competition.

Personally, I feel there is a large untapped market of people wanting to pay less who aren't going to yoga just yet. The car companies seem to understand this. More people can afford a Corolla than a Lexus, but a Corolla still gets you where you want to go.

I've only managed to get one deal so far, because I started before the advent of the yoga war. I've still tried many types of yoga, so I thought I would share my experience in the hopes of helping others figure out the differences from the perspective of a layperson.

I'm not affiliated with any type of yoga. Actually, I'm a perpetual beginner who likes to mix it up by trying different types and switching whenever I feel like it. I'm not trying to become a yoga master. I'm not really trying to become anything. All I'm doing is getting a particular type of exercise that really helps my body and my mind. For me, it is exercise, not a path to enlightenment.

As a result of this attitude, I've been able to observe various types of yoga as an outsider without getting too caught up in any particular way of thinking. Since yoga is so popular, I thought it might benefit others if I shared my thoughts. I will also share my bias, which is that I prefer athletic types of yoga because I like to get maximum workout in minimum time.

Here are my positions (get it?) on the most popular types of yoga:

Ashtanga Yoga: This was my first yoga love. Classes are energetic and the series of patterns are approximately the same every time. I like the sameness because I know what to expect from week to week. (In other classes, I would often feel disappointed because sometimes it would be a good workout and sometimes it wouldn't.) Also, because of the repeating pattern, all the teachers provide good classes; although you can have favourites and there might be minor differences, you'll always get a good workout.

In Ashtanga, students are encouraged to join the Mysore class. This is where you learn to do the practice on your own. You work at your own speed and the teacher provides corrections. This is a fantastic way of gaining skill. However, the teacher will also prevent you from exercising past a certain point if your poses aren't up to snuff or you can't remember the sequence. In my opinion, it's great that they want you to learn the poses properly. However, for me, when I'm paying exorbitant rates, I expect a full workout and I don't want to wait weeks or months to get there. In the end, I don't think I was serious enough for this type of yoga... although I still show up sometimes.

Moksha Yoga: Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would try a hot yoga. However, I did and I was surprised that I liked it. Whenever I thought about going to Moksha, I would never try to convince myself to leave my lazy state and go to yoga. Instead, I would tell myself to leave my lazy state to lie down and rest in a warm Moksha studio. Moksha starts in sivasana (corpse pose). Because of this, it is always easy to motivate myself to go. The reason I started going to Moksha, even though I was against hot yoga, was that they had a great schedule. Whenever I felt like exercise, there was a class available.

Unlike Ashtanga, I found a real variety in the classes depending upon the teachers. Most teachers started their classes with words of wisdom, which they referred to as setting an intention for the class. Since my intention was to exercise, this talking merely took away from exercise time, sometimes causing teachers to leave out key poses. My favourite teacher talked as little as possible, always completed the sequence and found time to add in extra abdominal work.

Moksha flow classes are different than the regular classes. Initially, these flow classes were left up to the creativity of the teacher (at least that's how it seems). It has been my experience that only an extremely skilled teacher can give an excellent teacher-designed flow class. Since Moksha training is much less vigorous than training for other types of yoga, I didn't like the classes at first. However, one thing I love about Moksha is that it is a new and ever-changing style of yoga so the (owners? leaders? gurus? instructors?) are willing to look at what needs to be improved and change things. My last flow class was much improved because it was standardized. Hey! It was even a little like Ashtanga, which is a standardized flow series.

Also, in order to help with the price and also aid charities, Moksha offers a couple of Karma classes a week that are by donation. At least they recognize that some people can't afford the exorbitant fees. However, I still think the price should drop.

Bikram Yoga: Many years ago, my friend threw a Bikram yoga party. I'm actually surprised we're still friends because I hated the class so much that I walked out in a huff. Recently, some friends convinced me to try it again (over a decade later). Since I was in between yogas, I decided to give it a try. I'll be honest. I was quite frightened the first time I went.

Bikram is very hot and very vigorous. It's a great workout and I really like it, so far. But (and there are a lot of buts), there really are a lot of rules to follow if you're going to get the most out of one of these classes. What you eat, how much you eat and when you eat all come into play. If you're a little off, you'll end up feeling nauseous. Also, when you're done, you're as wet as if you've been swimming in a rainstorm. This is not an exaggeration.

Bikram, like Ashtanga and Moksha, is a repetitive series of postures. In Bikram, even the words the teachers say are prescribed. Therefore, every class is exactly the same. Of course, some teachers have a certain "je ne sais quoi," but the classes are as similar as they can be. I like this because I always know I'll get a good workout, providing I don't spend the entire class lying on the mat recovering from last night's pizza.

Iyengar: I've spent the least amount of time doing this type of yoga. However, they require that you do every pose correctly. Prior to attending Iyengar, I thought my triangle pose was fine. It wasn't and they got a lot more stretch out of me by insisting that I do it the right way. This type of yoga also makes a point of doing everything equally on each side of your body. Other yogas will require poses on both sides but Iyengar is more precise. Ashtanga teaches you to do things properly in Mysore but Iyengar teaches you to do things properly right in the class. (Bikram and Moksha rely largely on you listening to the teacher and looking in the mirror.)

I didn't stick with this type of yoga very long because the schedule wasn't good for me. Also, they use a lot of props and I didn't like having to leave what I was doing to get props several times during the class. I'd still give Iyengar a very high rating as a form of yoga, though. If I had a physical problem and my favourite yoga of the day couldn't cure it, I would return to Iyengar.

There are many other types of yogas and many studios that teach a variety of styles. I prefer one style at a time but that's just me. Some people love props. I don't. People with nine-to-five jobs might not care about schedule as much as I do. Some of my friends will never consider hot yoga. Others wouldn't consider anything else. Some find repetitive patterns boring. Others love it. There is probably a type of yoga that would appeal to everyone.

That is, if they could afford to go.

Paula Newman has been doing yoga on and off for around 15years. She thinks she was doing it when she was married to her ex-husband, but she's not sure and she doesn't want to phone and ask. Either way, she wishes yoga was less expensive.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 31, 2012 C1

History

Updated on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 4:33 PM CDT: Corrects price of Rady membership.

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