Yoga teacher trainings drive revenue for Charlotte studios—but at what price?

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A CorePower Yoga class

The phone rings and an automated recording responds. Soft, soothing music plays in the background as a woman’s voice directs you through options to reach your intended recipient.

“For yoga teacher training and other transformational programs, please press 4.”

“Yoga teacher training and other transformational programs” are precisely why the nation’s largest yoga studio chain, CorePower Yoga, has recently come under fire. About 1,200 former instructors and graduates of its programs have filed a collective-action lawsuit, claiming the company pays instructors less than minimum wage by requiring them to work well beyond the hourlong class sessions — if they are even able to become instructors, The New York Times recently reported.

CorePower is being accused of taking advantage of its students by selling them on thousands of dollars in trainings, often come during vulnerable, spiritual times during the practice. Instructors who properly tug at heart strings are compensated $100 per student they recruit for the $1,500 training program, the Times reported.

“We believe it’s without merit and are defending the company aggressively and appropriately,” CorePower CEO Eric Kufel told the Times. CorePower was recently sold to investment company TSG Consumer, which invests in companies including Comet cleaning supplies and Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewing.

Courtesy of Tai Dorn
Tai Dorn leads private yoga trainings in Charlotte.

CorePower’s program

Some students of the 200-hour yoga teacher training said in the lawsuit that CorePower has not fulfilled its promises of giving them the tools to teach within its studios. Getting in front of the classroom is exactly why the students in the collective-action suit took the initial training, the lawsuit stated. Instead, they are then directed toward paying for “extensions,” which are five-week sessions of three classes per week for those “ready to get in front of the classroom.”

However, other students have said this has not been their experience.

In Charlotte, CorePower has opened a location on the backside of Park Road Shopping Center and in Midtown along Charlottetown Avenue.

Matthew Watson, the studio manager at the Park Road location, also teaches there and has gone through CorePower’s training program. He said he’s aware of the allegations but was hesitant to speak about them, saying only that his “experience within CorePower has been positive.”

Luis Rodriquez teaches at a variety of studios around the city, one of which is CorePower. “Yoga teachers in general don’t get paid enough,” Rodriquez said. “Yoga is a female-dominated field, which traditionally means the pay is lower.” Although Rodriquez took his teacher training courses at YogaOne, he said CorePower has been the only studio to ever give him a miniscule raise.

As for encouraging his CorePower students to sign up for trainings, Rodriquez said he has “felt no pressure to sell it to anyone. Like anywhere else, CorePower has announcements at the end of class.” He noted that CorePower “just pretty much always has a training coming up.”

“CorePower is a corporate business,” Rodriquez said, “so while yes, yoga teacher training would benefit everyone, CorePower certainly has its blunders. Oftentimes when a business grows, it’s hard to stay ethical.”

Driving revenue, finding community

“All studios are not created equally,” said Sarah Cousar, a recent graduate of YogaOne’s 200-hour teaching certification program. Cousar, who said she had been wanting to teach yoga even before beginning a regular practice, stepped into the studio after some significant life changes. She was looking for community.

Though she knows teacher trainings are a way for studios to drive revenue and sees nothing wrong with pushing them, Cousar said she never stepped into the training looking to make her money back. She took the training for personal growth.

Tai Dorn, an instructor at both Okra and YogaOne, leads her own yoga teacher trainings and said she is almost too subtle about promoting her program.

“We are halfway through a training now, and people have been telling me they wish they’d known I was training,” Dorn said. She teaches trainees outside of a studio, in part to avoid any potential conflicts of interests with the studios that also host their own trainings. Dorn typically advertises on social media, but she said she is not very diligent about it.

Courtesy of Tai Dorn
Participants gather in a yoga training class in Charlotte.

Monetizing a spiritual practice

Cousar said the monetization of the spiritual practice of yoga in Western culture has “bastardized the way yoga was meant to be practiced.” Yoga is made up of different traditions, cultures and languages and should be accessible to all, she said. Though it’s not wrong to make money off the practice, she said that should not be the ultimate goal.

Studios under fire for making money also also make a point to give back to the community. Cousar, who currently assists yoga teachers at YogaOne, said her studio does its best to give back to the community, assisting with Time Out Youth and One Breath Foundation, with the help of Gambrell Foundation subsidizing some of its trainings. Cousar also teaches yoga to youth girls at a local Muslim center.

“In order to make money with yoga,” Cousar said, “you have to be willing to hustle and build a brand.” Anyone looking to make an income from the teaching of yoga should not rely on a studio for a teaching role, she said. “Studios can give you training, but if you’re looking to make your money back, it’s better to go off on your own.”

Essential Thrive owner Lauren McAbee, behind the ever-growing Chakti yoga craze in Charlotte, chose to go out on her own because she said studios in the area would not take well to her loud-music-low-light yoga style. Even if they had, McAbee said, “As a mom, getting paid studio prices would cause me to barely break even. I would literally not be able to feed my family.”

“The downside is that you don’t have a studio promoting you, and you have to go alone. It’s challenging in the beginning, but you have to build that support base,” McAbee said.

As far as the monetization of a spiritual practice, something that seems to be a taboo subject for yogis and teachers alike, McAbee said her conservative background contributed to her discomfort around the subject. “It’s a misconception that we’re supposed to be poor because we are spiritual,” McAbee said. “We should be rich and abundant in a variety of manners and should open ourselves to that possibility.”

When considering teacher training, Rodriquez said, “Ultimately, if you want to train, see what you like and what you align with.”

What’s the best thing a studio can do to avoid mix-ups and — worse — legal repercussions? “The best thing is to be clear, give choices and make sure people can make well-informed decisions with no financial surprises,” Cousar said.

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