In one of the comments following my last blog entry, a reader told me that she would rather hear me speak directly about the realities of the yoga world we are all living in than to pretend to be above it all. (Not a direct quote but you can read it all for yourself. And you can see that this entry is based on my initial response back to her.)
Here is the thing. I have been dabbling in the field of personal growth and body-centered consciousness studies since I went to treatment for depression and bulimia for 18-months at a program based on the EST programs back when I was 18 years old. Along the way in and through my recovery process, not only did I get into yoga and teaching yoga, I also waited tables, cleaned houses, worked as an addictions counselor, a wilderness instructor, a fitness intructor, a personal assistant and as a marketing and admissions counselor at a therapeutic boarding school. I also spent a lot of time owning and running a coffee shop /cafe with my husband and I had a yoga studio for 6 years. Since 2006 I have made my living as a yoga teacher piecing work together from local workshops and trainings to what has become an international and increasingly web-based endeavor. I have done all kinds of things over the years to earn a living and have gleaned a little bit of knowledge about marketing and business along the way.
However, I am not trained as a marketing person and I am not trained as a branding person and my education in those areas is not as developed as it is in the arenas where I have spent more time and in which I have given more of my attention. That is my discalaimer right up front-- I am about to talk about branding and I am going to do my best to get it right but I want everyone to know up front that I know that I know that I am not an expert in the field. I know about work. I know about the Path I have been walking internally and in business and I know how these paths relate to, compete with, clarify and confuse each other.
It’s alchemy, right? We are combining different elements to make a thing that is entirely new. We might make gold and lose interest in the Path. We might go crazy from the toxic agents needed to create the necessary combustion for transformation. Or we might just succeed exteriorly and interiorly and through some combination of luck and skill learn how to bring our passion to life, to join dharma and vocation, to serve others and ourselves and to join the inner and outer practices meaningfully. That is the aim, as I see it-- the age-old adage of “be in the world, not of it.” Or, kick-ass in business and stay true to your yoga.
Okay, back to branding--
So my understanding about branding is that you can craft a brand and make a product fit into the brand that you crafted. Seems like I remember that Republic of Tea did this. They were not really passionate about tea so much as they were passionate about creating a brand. It did happen to be great tea, but their branding was stellar and somewhat radical at the time. No longer were these little cardboard boxes of tea bags cluttering up our kitchen cabinets, now these mystically-inspired round cans with images of harmony and nature were suddenly showing us how to live life at the pace of tea, not coffee... and so on. So that is one avenue you can go down. Find a niche in the market that needs filling, create a brand and a product that fills that niche and away you go down the road of business success.
Another approach to branding, as I understand it, is to really know your self and your product and create a brand identity that matches the identity of said product you are selling. In this case, the brand represents the product in the marketplace, much in the way a persona represents the psyche in the world of human relationships. (I told you, I am more of a psychology student than a marketing student, thus the metaphor.)
And, knowing our product also means knowing what it cannot do, what it is likely to be criticized for, what its shortcomings are and where our product stands in relationship to the other products on the market. So some branding even succeeds by making fun of these criticisms and turning them to their advantage. Didn’t Radio Shack actually just knock it out of the park at the Super Bowl with a variation on this theme? Anyway.
Part and parcel to branding and marketing is that the product needs to be placed well in the marektplace so a keen understanding of the marketplace and the consumer is also needed for the branding to be most effective.
So-- even though I so boldly stated that YOGA IS THE BRAND in my last entry and even though there is a way that is true (or at least a way that a part of me wishes it was true) it is only part of the story. When we are selling ourselves as yoga teachers, when we are promoting our work as teachers in a crowded marketplace filled with both talent and skill and less-than-developed-talent-and-skill, it simply is not that easy, right? Of course not.
Much in the same way that there is no yoga that is entirely seperate from the one who is practicing it, there is no yoga class, workshop, retreat, or training that is entirely seperate from the person who is teaching it or leading it. Teaching yoga is a very particular type of product that has both tangible aspects and intangible aspects to it. That is the greatness of the job. That is also difficulty of the job.
A great place to observe this principle is in a Bikram yoga studio that uses the dialogue. I am always amazed by how different the class can be depending on who is teaching even though the outer form is always the same: twenty-six poses, in the hot room, done in the exact same order, led with the exact same script. So, how each one of us teaches the yoga--that means who we are, how we are, and so on-- all become part of the product, the brand, if you will. I get that. Even in a same-brand studio like Bikram Yoga, where all the teachers teach the same style of yoga, some teachers’s classes are better attended than others. And because of the way resonance works, we are naturally going to be suited to work with some teachers more than others and this just makes sense.
And look, when we, as yoga teachers, really dig into who we are, what we are good at, what we love, what we want, what we are not good at and perhaps, even what we criticize about ourselves, we are often doing the work of branding as an exercise in soul-searching. I am all for that. One of my students, Jess Boylston-Fagonde, even developed a program called Brand Thyself which is actually more “Know Thyself-- make peace with your inner critics, claim all of yourself and turn it to your advantage to bring your passion forward in business and make some freakin’ money while you are at it, because as the title of this entry stated: A girl’s gotta eat.” Her program, if I understand it correctly, is about soul-searching through the lens of branding, much in the way, I think asana is about soul-searching through the lens of physicality.
All of a sudden, conscious business can be a doorway of, well, consciousness, and the lines between yoga and business and personal and professional get blurry. That can be a great thing. That merging can truly be the gold of which I was speaking in my previous entry- the gold of financial return, sure, but the gold of living a life involved with your passion, of sharing the Teaching, of helping other people, of working in a meaningful way.
It can also be the mercury if we are not careful. Whenever boundaries get blurred, my inner radar goes off, because my personal sanity has always been somewhat linked to my ability to create meaningful distinctions, to establish proper boundaries and limits and to stay clear on which domain of truth I am speaking and living from. (Please read: This is a nice and positive way to say that I have gone crazy in more ways than one and for more times than I can count and have hurt myself and other people inadvertently due to fuzzy, blurred, messy and/or unmanaged boundaries.)
So, the business of yoga might be the gold of true meaning, it might be the gold that the lesser self seeks be it money, authority, power, fame, acknowledgement, and it might be the mercury and take us into its grip of our various forms of crazy. Yoga teachers everywhere are under more pressure than ever not just to preserve the teachings well but to pay the rent, get the numbers, carve a niche and to find a place of integrity for themselves in a crowded and noisy marketplace. I want us all to be smart business people, I really do. I want us to have great personas as teachers and marketing materials that represent that creatively and accurately and I want yoga teachers to put their kids through college (or themsleves), to buy organic food, be able to pay for medical insurance and so on and so on. Yes, we need business help!!!
And for me, I also need to remember who I am as a practitioner. To use a personal example-- I do a lot of buiness online these days. I enjoy interacting with students and friends via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It is a great interface between the business and personal that I enjoy. However, just this week I watched my compulsivity with checking my online accounts be more in charge of me than I was of it. As a buiness person “I was managing my accounts well” however, as a practitioner, I was being eaten by the entitiy of Facebook and as a mate, I was distracted at dinner. Facebook was the mercury- a great agent of alchemical blending- gone toxic in my life and in my consciousness as I felt scattered, preooccupied and disctracted. And knowing this, “a girl’s gotta eat” and Facebook helps me get business done. It is also wrrecking my inner state a bit. So... I have some boundary work to do.
Here is another one-- how much to share? Stick only to inspiring yoga quotes and we are kinda full of shit. Share too much about a few too many drinks and few too many times, and our authority is compromised. Don’t say enough about some of that and we have some secret life. And on and on. Listen only to the critics and we will feel terrible about ourselves. Listen only to our fans and we will miss out on valuable potentially growth-producing feedback the world is trying to offer us.
I could go on with tons of my examples but this is already too long. (It is part of my brand-- “long-winded but generally insightful and often downright inspiring....”) Besides, I don’t think that any of us ever get it 100% right or find some place of perfect balance in all of it. I think marketing, branding and the subsequent managing of our businesses in yoga is messy. To varying degrees we are participating in making an inner process a commodity and I think that is inherently problematic. To some degree we are taking something deeply personal to us and putting a price tag on it and putting it on a shelf next to others who are doing the same. And then we hang our liveliehood on it. And our family's financial stability. Yes, I think it is fraught with problems from the git-go and I think this is the situation in which we find ourselves. I don’t think any of it is easy.
I also think, however, that because it is difficult and problematic, it is also inherently full of potential for growth. We don’t get clarity from clarity, usually. We get clarity when we bring light to our fuzziness. We get boundaries after things have blurred.
And while this could be its own article, my marketing friend who told me we needed to make the yoga more relevant and I had many conversations on this topic over many years. At the end of one of my more outrgaed rants, he quipped with a glimmer in his eye, “Well Christina, sounds like no-brand is your brand then, huh?” So that is the full circle irony of it when we are in the business we are in where we are part of the product. I am okay with that but I am cautious and I worry.
And sometimes I think I might not be worried enough. I see in myself how easy it is to get swept away into the stream of business and out of the stream of my deeper values. And I also know that empowering and humble place in teaching where a magic occurs when my unqiue personality with all its quirks and idiosycnchrasies is serving the needs of my students and the alchemy has happened. It is me and not me. And you better believe I want more of those moments for myself. In fact, I want more and more of those moments for anyone who stands in front of room of people and endeavors to bring them deeper into a relationship with themselves through yoga because if a girl’s gotta eat, those moments are tasty food.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."