This week I closed the door to Adore Yoga’s Mosman studio for the last time. For nearly two decades, the students and teachers at the studio have woven yoga into the fabric of our lives, finding encouragement and inspiration as we raised our families and faced life's challenges. After 17 years at the heart of a caring and supportive community, it feels like the end of an era. So why did the Adore Yoga studio close?
The challenges of studio ownership? Nup.
As every studio owner knows, running a yoga studio is a big job with big responsibilities. From paying the bills to doing the paperwork, it’s not all incense and savasana. But it wasn’t the trials and tribulations of business management that lead me to close the studio (after 17yrs, I had that covered). It was a combination of intense passion, curiosity and a deep conviction that I can be more useful in the world.
Moving into yoga, but away from commercial classes
A lot has happened since the Adore Yoga studio opened in 2002. As well as having two children and completing a Master’s degree, I continued to deepen my study and practice of yoga. Paradoxically, this deeper engagement with yoga moved me further away from the role of 'yoga studio owner'. As the yoga industry boomed, I stepped back from the model that was being adopted by studios across the world: bigger classes, more retail products and ‘pile ‘em high’ teacher training programs. Yoga studios stopped being, well, yoga studios and turned into retail outlets.
I kicked back against the trend. We capped the number of students in classes at Adore Yoga at 8, had a ‘no retail products’ policy, scrapped our 200hr yoga teacher training and gave Yoga Alliance back their credentials. The world simply didn’t need any more 200hr trained yoga teachers. But that didn’t mean the world didn’t meed more yoga.
Having seen how yoga transformed the physical and mental health of students at our studio, I was curious about how yoga could be adapted to support more people. I don’t mean adapting poses to suit different individual needs – as a yoga therapist I knew how to do that. What I wanted to know was how the model we have been using to teach yoga could be adapted to reach more people.
The yoga elite
I was uncomfortable with the fact that, generally speaking, yoga is only enjoyed by those who are lucky enough to have the time, money, good health and geographical location to be able to access classes. Most yoga studios are not inclusive. Because studio owners have to pay the bills, students have to pay a fee. Not only that, yoga studios are usually clustered in areas where they are likely to attract more students. If you live outside of a metropolitan area, are financially disadvantaged, live with a physical or psycho-social disability or have a significant health issue, yoga classes are often less accessible to you.
Then there’s the question of what gets taught in yoga studios. Yoga teachers are increasingly making claims for the benefits of the classes they teach (‘this pose is good for back pain’; ‘this breathing technique is good for anxiety’; ‘this sequence is detoxifying’ etc.) As a yoga therapist, I’m skeptical of such claims – where’s the evidence that a particular pose or breathing technique will fix anything?
I started to scour Google Scholar for high quality research papers. The good news is that the evidence base for yoga therapy is growing, especially for health conditions such as depression and the symptoms of cancer treatment. The bad news is that the advice offered by many yoga teachers with base-line qualifications is unhelpful. There are no magic postures that fix particular health issues. Detoxification isn’t even a thing (eat a healthy plant-based diet in moderate quantities, do a bit of exercise and your body does the rest for you, with or without yoga).
Yoga for the people
The more questions I asked about how and what was being taught in yoga studios, the more I realized that there had to be a better way to share high quality yoga with those who need it most. I started building relationships with public hospitals and non-profits, exploring ways to make yoga therapy accessible to more people. I developed evidence based yoga therapy programs, delivered in public health and community settings. Through creatively sourcing funding I found ways to make sure that the yoga teachers got paid without charging the students.
I acknowledge that yoga isn’t everybody’s path. It doesn’t cure cancer and it won’t fix a broken leg. But, for many people, it is a profoundly transformational practice that not only supports them to manage their health, but sets them on a path of self care, discovery and development that can bring a lifetime of rewards.
But it can’t just be for the privileged few. If I believe that yoga can have a significant positive impact on people’s wellbeing, and there is empirical evidence to back that belief up, I have an obligation to make it accessible to everybody who wants it. My vision for making evidence based yoga therapy accessible to every Australian who wants it feels urgent.
Ultimately, this is why I took the decision to close the Adore Yoga studio. It's time for me to work towards making the benefits of high quality yoga therapy accessible to everyone. I'm doing this by training Yoga Therapists who are not only experts in their field, but who understand that accessible yoga is a question of social justice. I'm finding new ways to develop programs that are freely available to people who who wouldn't usually be able to access yoga therapy.
Adore Yoga is dead; Long live Adore Yoga!
The Adore Yoga studio in Mosman may be closing, but Adore Yoga is far from over. Accredited Yoga Therapy and Meditation teacher trainings continue at our professional training studio on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Our regular overseas retreats are still gathering like-minded yogis together in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and beyond for adventure, learning and discovery.
As we enter a new era, Adore Yoga finds itself at the forefront of developing and delivering the very highest quality yoga therapy trainings and programs that will support everyone,regardless of their physical capacity, geographical location, cultural background or financial status, to heal through yoga. That’s a vision worth believing in.
PS. Thank you again to all the wonderful teachers and students who supported the Adore Yoga studio in Mosman over the years. I am extremely grateful for all your kindness and humbled by your generosity. I will miss you and wish you health and happiness for many years to come xoxox
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.