Starting a Yoga Studio

Dr. Bidyut Bose founded the Niroga Institute in 2005. The Niroga Institute is a non-profit organization that does outreach, education and research to bring yoga to needy communities, like high schools, juvenile halls and hospitals that would not otherwise have access to yoga. Dr. Bose founded the Niroga Center in 2008 to offer yoga classes. The proceeds from the Niroga Center classes support its yoga teachers and community outreach work.

Dr. Bose began teaching yoga to seniors in 1998 at the Downtown Berkeley Y.M.C.A. in California and later contacted drug rehabilitation programs, juvenile halls and schools to teach yoga there. As of 2010, the Niroga Institute teaches over 100 classes a week through its community outreach, teacher training programs and several classes each day at the Niroga Center.

Female yoga instructor with hands between feet

Tell me about your experience starting the Niroga Center.

Niroga Center came up 3 years into our life cycle. The thinking there was that most of our work is in the community, in schools, juvenile halls and cancer hospitals, but that it might be useful to have an urban training center that would serve a couple of purposes. One was consolidating our training activities for certified yoga teachers, for training people to become certified yoga teachers, to train minority youth and young adults to be exposed to the practice and training stakeholders like school teachers, mental health professionals.
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Another was to send the message out into the community that a practice that helps us to change from the inside can also be used to change the community outside us. The idea was that we would be different from other yoga studios in that we would operate on a donation basis and that any profits we did make would go directly to support the programs we run for the underprivileged in the community: a form of socially responsible consumerism.

What challenges have you faced along the way?

One of the challenges we have faced is sustainability. In this culture, many people believe that receiving something for nothing is like winning something. It is challenging to turn that mindset around.

Another challenge has been for teachers who are capable and competent to sustain regular classes in a fledgling yoga center. It takes some time and energy to stabilize a class and many yoga teachers who are good, but relatively young and don’t have much of a following have trouble sustaining their classes.

How have you dealt with these challenges?

We are surviving financially thanks to our yoga teacher training programs. We are also building a mindful community and attracting new students through mindful movies, mindful music nights and mindful discourses. By holding these events, we are striving to involve people who are not just interested in yoga, but in living a mindful lifestyle.

In terms of our problem with the teachers, it is just a matter of getting the word out. We’re short on staff but are slowly designing fliers and building a separate website for the Niroga Center.

Have you thought about doing a regular yoga studio model to sustain the center?

We may be forced to do that at some point.
We’d rather not do that model because the yoga business is already so culturally elite that the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable not only cannot attend classes, but are not particularly welcome. We’re trying to keep our offerings as open as possible to special yoga client populations including people who are in wheelchairs, people who are old or sick.

We don’t want to look at this as a major moneymaker. As I look at most yoga studios around us, we didn’t want to add another traditional yoga studio to the mix. A key differentiator and value proposition for our studio is that it is a service opportunity to give back to vulnerable people and the community and to build awareness for our work inside schools, juvenile halls and hospitals.

Do you have advice for others looking to serve the community through having a center like this?

Approach it cautiously. It is not enough to just be a good-hearted yoga teacher. Renovations can be expensive. It requires a lot of bandwidth to stabilize the schedule, teachers and administrative work. You also become responsible for a long-term lease, which you take on with a certain amount of uncertainty.
Keeping all this in mind, I strongly encourage those interested to go forth without compromising the quality of their studio while still trying to keep it affordable.

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