–by Ann Chrapkiewicz
21 months into the pandemic, it is time for me to speak up. Well over 50% of Bikram Yoga studios in the U.S. have closed since spring 2020, and that wave of closures is not over. I have been doing everything I can to not be one of those who close, and I will continue to do everything I can. But at this point a broader base of support is required, and I am asking YOU to be a part of this.
I know that it is possible to save Bikram Yoga, but I have realized that an entirely new vision is required. And it is a vision that involves everyone who made it to this page!
For the shorter version, please visit the Become a Patron page on our site here.
But if you have a moment to dive into the background on how I’ve arrived at this vision, I invite and greatly appreciate your readership.
WE – all of us reading this, all of us who care about Bikram yoga – will be the ones to save this practice.
Not me as the studio owner, not market forces, not a health care system that finally recognizes this practice.
No. It can only be all of US.
How and why, you say? Isn’t it the business owner’s job to make the business work? How is it OUR responsibility to keep Bikram Yoga studios open?
I know. I get it. That’s where I have been coming from for over a decade.
But things have shifted.
Since March 13, 2020, I have thrown myself on a nearly-constant overtime basis into keeping Bikram Yoga available to those who need it everyday, both in person and via Zoom. It has been great in so many ways. You can read here about how so many of our students maintained their daily Bikram Yoga practice – even during the entire 8 months of shutdowns – and how we have kept our community together.
From teaching all of the classes for over a year, to adding daily livestream classes, to joining a global teaching group….
From hosting a virtual book club, to conceptualizing and creating the Bikram Yoga Members’ Classroom….and even creating the Bikram Yoga Online podcast….
Not to mention applying for every small business grant available (and ultimately receiving less than the equivalent of one month’s worth of expenses), trying to navigate threats of eviction and collection, doing a one-time fundraiser last year….
Let’s just say that without keeping up with my Bikram Yoga practice, I would really be a stressed-out mess.
But enough about me. This post is to be about us as a collective.
I am proposing that we as a group – in other words, everyone reading this, and even beyond – save Bikram Yoga.
I know that we can do it!
Again, if you want to skip to the main points and get right to the business of saving and supporting this form of art/science/medicine, please click here.
But if you’d like more of the story how I got to this point, you can keep on reading!
I will start from close to the birth of our Bikram yoga practice in Mid-Michigan. Somewhere between 10 and 20 years ago….
I didn’t open a Bikram Yoga studio because I thought it would be “cool” to run a yoga school
For better or for worse, I have been driven to provide Bikram Yoga to the mid-Michigan community since many years before I opened. I never thought this mission would would be easy, and I can’t even say it was something I thought would be cool. I simply knew it was needed. Since my first few years of teaching (well over 15 years ago), I realized that I was basically put on this planet to transmit and maintain this yoga practice to people who did not yet have access to it.
“We don’t sell cheesecake here.” (meaning: this is not for the faint of heart)
Running a Bikram Yoga studio and keeping this practice intact has long been a ridiculously challenging thing to do. I once even started a book chapter draft called “The Anti-Bikram Yoga Effect”, as I realized the many cultural forces (both local and national) that have pushed people away from the practice:
- a widespread habit of other American yoga studios & teachers talking negatively about Bikram Yoga, in and outside of their own classes, indirectly and directly
- other local yoga studio staff trying to create drama inside Bikram studios (in my case, it was early on, and luckily it stopped)
- the magazine Yoga Journal either 1) effectively disappearing Bikram Yoga, or 2) passive-aggressively dismissing the practice and calling it dangerous (I’ll finish that post another time)
- careless journalism that long painted independently-owned Bikram studios (like ours) as part of an aggressive and greedy corporate chain or franchise
- the civil lawsuits and Netflix piece on the creator of the series… (See my opinion on that here. In short: I haven’t heard of anyone banning all Michael Jackson songs from their lives.)
Keeping our studio afloat and healthy was already a very challenging thing to succeed at…but we did it!
The obstacles only made my faith and resolve stronger each time.
Despite all the noise and nonsense surrounding us, I kept my ears tuned into my students. Consequently, I had not an ounce of doubt that giving my life to this practice was the right thing to do. They’d tell me the stories of their cured kidney disease, or cured back pain, or reduced need for anti-depressants, or autoimmune disease that was made totally manageable. The stories just went on and on.
Our studio managed to cover its bills over the years and pay me a small but manageable wage, to support myself and my son.
When things felt too hard, or like too much work for so little pay, I’d always hear Bikram’s voice in my ears: “The right way is the hard way.” The intangible rewards have been endless. To this day, I have zero regrets about sticking with this practice and keeping it strong in its traditional form. I have had the privilege of watching it save, heal, & transform so many people’s lives!
I listed above many of the things I DID do to keep Bikram Yoga going since the shutdowns.
But I haven’t mentioned what I DIDN’T do.
- I DIDN’T close my doors in 2020-2021, even when we were not permitted to operate for almost 8 months.
- I DIDN’T give up, even when revenue dropped by 50% from 2019 – 2021.
- I didn’t talk about how I took zero salary from the studio revenue for over a year, because I thought it was too personal or not business-like
- I didn’t talk about the conflict between the demands of paying the bills in a meticulously built-out retail space and the needs of those who use Bikram Yoga as their/our primary means of health care.
I am now finding that keeping quiet about these things was perhaps a mistake.
If we want to save our primary means of health care, we have to speak up, and I realized that I might need to be the one to start the conversation.
People sometimes suggest that I hold other exercise classes to bring in revenue, and I understand and appreciate the thought behind it. But to me that sounds like suggesting to a martial arts teacher that he or she add Zumba classes to keep a dojo running. Or suggesting to math teachers that they start teaching English.
It might very well be that any traditional yoga practice is unlikely to succeed “market”. As soon as Bikram Yoga really spread around the country, others thought they could make a profit with all sorts of shortened, changed, and copied versions. (Thus the “hot yoga” boom happened.)
Then, most especially once COVID came around, this practice became something nearly impossible to sustain with the usual business model.
(Would Pre-Calculus survive if individuals had to pay for it out of their pockets? How about a public library? How about physicians’ practices and hospitals?)
The structural forces that handle public good and health (local taxes, “health” insurance, doctors and physical therapists, medical lobbies, pharmaceutical lobbies, etc.) are not going to help us.
There are other paths…other options….
But they change the whole purpose and focus of a yoga school, and they end up either diluting or diverting important energy from the yoga practice.
I didn’t convert our yoga school into a fitness studio (like most other places around the country did – even prior to the pandemic).
I didn’t ever start a yoga “teacher training” program to bring in revenue.
(Did you know that most yoga studios around the U.S. depend on “teacher trainings” to survive even in normal times…which has created tens of thousands of minimally-trained “yoga teachers” across the country?).
If doctors needed more patients to keep their practices running, would they start training doctors? Clearly not.
Yet here we are with a physical and mental health practice that is needed by so many thousands of people. It is not a hobby (although we end up loving it). It is not a fitness class (although it gives us the best fitness outcomes ever). It is not just a “cool” thing to do.
Bikram Yoga is our medicine.
The mistake of saying to me: “I’m so glad you made it!”
So here is where it gets real. I realize our doors are open, and I appreciate everyone who has made that possible SO MUCH! From the depths of my being.
But the reality is that we have NOT actually made it through. I have been stubborn and determined to keep going, and I accepted early advice that things should be “back to normal” by 2022.
But clearly that is not the case.
2021 revenue is much lower than that of 2020, and property owners are demanding eviction and collection.
From despair to a new model
This past week I finally felt broken. Like there was a crack in my spirit.
Having had a breakthrough COVID infection in October 2021 pushed me to exhaustion of my whole being, even though I had the most amazing support from my staff and students (THANK YOU FOREVER!).
And then the reality of being threatened with court & collections action pushed me to look ahead rather than behind.
It is Time to Become a Community-Supported Yoga School
What I am about to tell you was not new to me, but the pandemic has made it ever more apparent.
We subsidize certain things in our socio-politico-economic world. Roads, weapons, corn and soybeans, and mathematics education, just to name a few.
More specifically, our “health care” system subsidizes pharmaceutical and surgical interventions, and even physical therapy chains on most major intersections.
But what we do not support in our taxes, institutions, or laws is: a truly miraculous health-maintenance and improvement system like Bikram Yoga.
And why would we?
It really doesn’t fit in with the system. It actually challenges it in most situations….
Our health care system requires a certain (and growing) collective level of brokenness in spirit, body, and mind. It requires more and more of us to be on medications for life.
Profit needs to be generated, and it must grow. When they say “rising healthcare costs” on the news, there is this idea that it is a bad thing. But it is really, really good for many businesses and people.
Bikram Yoga is a way to shrink our needs for medications and surgeries.
Bikram Yoga has zero mass-earnings potential for any major corporate entity.
Bikram Yoga has no lobby or association with any sort of influence.
Bikram Yoga results in less “health care” expenditures for those who practice.
This is not a conspiracy theory, and I am not even angry at the system for being the way it is. (VERY IMPORTANTLY: I continue to have complete respect for my physician, nurse, physical therapist, etc. friends; I know that there is very important work happening in your fields and I love you very much!)
This is simply an acceptance of the fact that this yoga has no real place in the subsidized activities we call health care these days.
We’re not asking for extra special or exclusive treatment. We’re not asking for the pharmaceutical and medical-industrial complex to go away. We are simply seeking a chance to exist alongside of it. A chance to be here not only for us, but for the people who haven’t even walked in the door yet. The ones who at some point may finally decide to take action to relieve their pain or depression or stress. The ones who will otherwise only have medications to turn to when they don’t know what else to do.
So what does this look like in practice?
What we need is recognition on a wider basis of the importance of saving this practice.
This is different from trying to get our friends, family members, co-workers, and acquaintances to practice yoga. I know that just about every Bikram Yoga practitioner on the planet has nearly begged every important person in their lives to start practicing too. 🙂
What I am proposing is that we all have a new opportunity to take action.
The reality is that our yoga school needs a broader base of support in order to keep its doors open this next year. We have a sizeable deficit each month that needs to be covered if we are to continue.
First, please join our Patreon Community.
If you are a former student who wishes for there to be a hot room to return to, we need you to join our Patreon Community at a level of $45 or above.
Most current students are also joining the Patreon community to give additional support beyond their membership fees. Thank you so much!
Secondly, please consider asking for support from those around you who benefit from the yoga.
For it is not just Martha who benefits from Martha’s Bikram Yoga practice.
It is Martha’s spouse.
Martha’s family members.
Martha’s whole workplace.
The city Martha lives in.
Martha’s neighbors even benefit.
Strangers at the grocery store and drivers on the highway benefit.
“But Ann, it is really uncomfortable for me to ask for donations….”
To this I say:
- I completely understand. It took me 21 months and a crack in my spirit to clearly see this path as our best way forward to keep the hot room open.
- If anyone can handle discomfort – and then see the rewards and benefits that come from it – it is Bikram Yoga practitioners!!
- What is more uncomfortable: being initially uncomfortable in asking for community support, or having no hot room?
It is kind of a harsh comparison at first, but it is the reality of the situation. I think that we need to get a little uncomfortable in order to make this work.
“I am kind of stuck on this. I can’t imagine asking other people to support something they don’t get anything from.”
(side-note: We have some great student-led fundraisers going on already….if you have a skill or a craft that you’d like to donate in order to raise funds, please send me the complete details of what you are offering!)
But if you’re still stuck, I’d ask you to try to re-envision this yoga practice with me.
Bikram Yoga when practiced and taught with integrity is an art and a science. It can be even considered a form of medicine in the broader sense of the word.
I am asking that we start to shift our thinking about what is required to maintain Bikram Yoga in the world. Although local studios were very successful for many years, the many forces mentioned above – plus the generic “hot yoga” boom about 10 years ago – have made it just about impossible to continue in the “business-as-usual” model.
I no longer see this is a one-woman or sole-proprietor sort of operation. I ask that you walk with me on this vision of a truly community-supported yoga school.
I humbly request that you do not give me your sympathies, your “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time”s. I appreciate the thought, truly, but those words feel distant. They imply the sole-proprietor model of a for-profit business that succeeds or fails in the “market”. (Which, as I described earlier on, is not the type of “service” we are, and not the root of the problem.)
When I hear those words, I will say something like: “You can be a part of the solution.”
I also realize that we have an overall tendency to not participate in our political process, so I understand where the reluctance to participate comes from, and I love you all the same…
But now is an incredible and meaningful opportunity for your involvement. 🙂
The world NEEDS less stress and more connection, and Bikram Yoga is the quickest path I know of to those ends. If you’ve gotten this far in this post, I am guessing that we are on the same page about that. 🙂
The time frame at hand
Finally: although I love questions such as: “Why don’t physical therapists send people here? This works as good or better!” or “Shouldn’t doctors be referring patients here?”, the reality – as mentioned above – is that we are not recognized in that system, and we are not going to any time soon.
Our need for monthly revenue is immediate; it cannot wait for structural forces to shift towards these forms of health care, preventive practices, and curative options that demand that people put effort in for their own healing. (Additionally, there is no state licensing or consistent quality control for yoga teaching, so it is not currently realistic to even say that “yoga” should be covered by insurance, etc.)
Once the above sinks in… 🙂
I invite you to take this opportunity for action:
- Join the Patreon “Save Bikram Yoga” Community Page at the highest level you can manage.
- During holidays or for an early birthday present, ask family, friends, adult children, co-workers, neighbors for the GIFT of Bikram Yoga, by asking them to join the Patreon page…basically anyone who might ever give you a gift!
- Consider asking your supervisor/boss to join the Patreon page (they are most certainly benefitting from your practice!)
- Find out who to talk to in your organization, company, place of work, etc. who could seek corporate support for one of your main forms of health care. Find out how much they spend on employee health insurance each month, and request that they consider including other forms of direct support for your yoga practice (perhaps there is room in the organization’s budget for $45/month on Patreon. The only way to find out is to ask.) There might be several people – at various levels in your organization – to have this conversation with.
- Consider asking your doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist, nurse, etc. to Join our Patreon page. Share with them how this practice is responsible for the better physical and mental health that they directly witness….and how even more people will benefit if this yoga gets recognition and direct support from health professionals themselves.
- There are many famous athletes, movie stars, and other media personalities who practice (or have practiced) Bikram Yoga….
- Perhaps you have another creative idea for who can be a part of our collective. 🙂
- Or you have a craft or skill that you’d like to “share” in exchange for a monthly donation to our yoga school!
I will be providing various digital and print materials that you can share, but in the meantime, I invite all of us to get to work in whatever creative ways we can think of.
The “Become a Patron” page on this website explains this project much more succinctly and is a great link to share (click here).
I know that a world without Bikram Yoga – and a world without these hot room sanctuaries – is a colder, darker, lonelier, more painful, more stressful place.
And that together we can keep our world hot, bright, connected, and more joyful!!
Thank you so deeply and sincerely to those who have already joined or who have started communicating our project to Save Bikram Yoga.