Working with yoga teachers is a treat — they are usually compassionate, thoughtful, and joyous souls who care and live deeply. However, as I said in a recent Instagram live with Harriet McAtee, CEO of Nourish Yoga Training, personal branding for yoga teachers is more complex than any other industry. Something I understand from firsthand experience, having previously been a yoga teacher myself.
Yoga has a long and culturally specific history — one that is often at odds or misrepresented in contemporary yoga. Some yoga teachers avoid or struggle deeply with personal branding as it feels in conflict with what yoga means to them, whilst others may not be aware of how troubling their branding strategy is.
This blog chews through some of the critical issues that need addressing when we explore the words yoga and branding in the same breath. It also offers strategies for yoga teachers to successfully and respectfully define and communicate their personal brand.
Branding Yoga vs Branding for Yoga Teachers
“Yoga is not a brand to be sold but a practice to be devoted to, honored, learned over a lifetime.”Susanna Barkataki, Embracing Yoga’s Roots
There is no denying that yoga has become an aestheticised, body-centric, and culturally appropriated practice whose traditions are often distorted for financial gain. And yet, everyone that I personally know who is a dedicated yoga practitioner has a relationship to the practice that, in some way, resonates with the roots of yoga. Yoga as a lived philosophy; yoga as a path of growth, self-knowledge, and compassion; yoga as a means to connect more deeply and authentically with ourselves, communities, and broader world.
So why when we think of yoga, do we think of handstands and the splits? Or a completely organic and ‘clean’ lifestyle? Or esoteric states of higher consciousness?
In part, it is because visually and verbally representing the nuances of yoga is challenging. However, it is also because contemporary yoga has become a highly lucrative business that promises a certain body, mind and spirit. The yoga industry is worth A LOT. Teachers and studios are estimated to be worth $29 billion, but considering yoga’s close proximity to other aspects of the booming $4 trillion wellness industry, yoga is at the cross-section of a highly profitable market.
Yet most teachers and small studios don’t encounter anything like this level of wealth. The people profiting the most from yoga are companies and investors interested in exploiting its financial potential. In doing so, they are attempting to brand yoga.
Yoga as a brand looks athletic, predominantly female, and white. Or exoticised and steeped in mysticism. Or about ‘optimisation’ and complete ‘clean’ holistic wellness. In all these instances, yoga is being sold as something that will give you a certain quality of lifestyle when purchased.
Susanna Barkataki is one of the foremost thinkers and critics in understanding how yoga has been culturally appropriated, often for financial gain. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned yoga teachers end up accidentally perpetuating the appropriation because they have been sold the brand of yoga by the companies who dominate the yoga market. Not only is this harmful to the traditions of yoga, but, above all, actual yoga cannot be branded. Any attempt to do so is misguided and exploitative.
So, where does that leave yoga teachers and studios?
As I said, personal branding for yoga teachers is more complex than any other industry — but it is also vital. The reality is that we live in capitalist societies, and therefore we must participate in its structures to earn a living — and marketing is a part of that. However, we do have a say in how we participate.
There is a huge difference between using yoga as your brand and personal branding for yoga teachers. Personal branding for yoga teachers authentically communicates your unique relationship with yoga and how you share it with students. Personal branding for yoga teachers should be culturally sensitive and nuanced, avoiding the damaging tropes of branded yoga, and in doing so, help reclaim yoga from commodification.
Why Personal Branding is Important for Yoga Teachers
Branding is not about selling out, it’s about cohesive self-expression that does justice to your personal and business values. As a business, branding is about giving yourself a platform to express your authentic self, beliefs and creativity, whilst attracting clients who resonate with those aspects.
As a yoga teacher, the question ‘am I creating a personal brand for myself or studio, or am I attempting to brand yoga?’ is invaluable. Not only does it make sure you are engaging with yoga respectfully, but it nurtures the expression of your own brand.
Well-being, physical movement, and sharing your spiritual beliefs may be important and authentic values of your business. However, it is possible to communicate these without falling back on reductive tropes, especially as these are often more about a feeling than a look. Artwork, pictures of nature, you smiling or goofing around, or a creative interpretation of asana, and some considered words are often more effective. Each image should align with something authentic to your relationship with yoga and something you aspire to offer your students.
Before your next social media post, or as you re-evaluate your marketing strategy, consider what yoga means to you and how you can honour the traditions of the practice by sharing authentic and joyful messages free of harmful ideas.
Personal Branding for Yoga Teachers Tips
Some practical guidance to get you started…
- Define what yoga means to you. Journal, doodle, or talk it out with someone. Now take a look at your social media, website, or teacher bio — does your personal reflection on yoga align with your public expression of it?
- Trash or treasure your brand presence. Get rid of the messaging or images that are appropriating yoga or attempting to brand it. Don’t be hard on yourself for something you did when you didn’t know any better, and resolve to offer more mindful content in the future.
- Overhaul your grid. Instagram and yoga are in a messy relationship, and it’s where a lot of appropriation occurs. One of the most effective things you can do to make sure your content is an antinode to harmful yoga messaging is ensure that your grid shows more than just asana. Curating your grid is a great way to creatively communicate your brand and potentially attract more students.
- Take some yoga pictures at home that capture more than just fancy asana.
- Get inspired. I offer loads of profiles on my blog of yoga teachers I have worked with who all have strong personal brands. Try analysing some of the yoga teachers you respect and see if you can define their brand.
- Invest in a photoshoot with someone who understands the complexities of being a yoga teacher (HI!). It’s a great way to get both creative and critical about a wider, respectful, and more authentic representation of yoga.
I have a ton of resources available if you need some more help with refining your personal brand. These tips are a great place to start, my foundations of personal branding mini-course will take you deeper, and I offer business and branding mentorship.
As a personal branding photographer and mentor, it is my duty not to perpetuate any appropriative or harmful practices when working with yoga clients (or any client). This is a core value of my business, so when working with yoga teachers I make sure to capture pictures that do justice to both them and the practice of yoga.
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