Lucas Rockwood’s first yoga instructor told him that it was impossible to earn a decent living teaching yoga. He was wrong. This $37-billion-dollar industry is growing at 10% annually. For savvy business-minded teachers, there are more opportunities than hours in the day, offering the potential for a life of financial freedom, and stability.
Traditionally, yoga studio owners served as gatekeepers for teachers’ business opportunities but today, independent teachers can choose where to live, when to work and how much they earn. Yoga Business Mastery is a practical guide to the business side of teaching yoga. You’ll learn the mindset, positioning, sales, pricing, and packaging strategies needed to launch or expand your career.
If you’re serious about turning your passion into a sustainable lifestyle, this book offers insider knowledge that will increase both your income and your impact. Here’s my conversation with Lucas Rockwood.
Welcome to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host, Benji Block and, today, I’m sitting down with Lucas Rockwood, who just authored a new book, called Yoga Business Mastery: Earn a Great Living Doing What You Love. Lucas, welcome into Author Hour.
Lucas Rockwood: Great to be here, thanks for having me.
Benji Block: Yeah, it’s exciting to get to chat with you and it will be fun to talk about this book. Tell us this: For those unfamiliar with your work, how’d you originally get passionate about yoga, Lucas?
Lucas Rockwood: I was living in New York City and in my early 20s and I was living a really unhealthy lifestyle. I had unhealthy friends and drinking a lot, doing a lot of worse things than drinking and eating badly and I kind of had a health crisis in my mid-20 or my early 20s and long story short, I ended up in the back of an ambulance. I had a grand mal seizure, a drug-related grand mal seizure and I kind of got scared straight is the simplest way to describe it.
I didn’t really know where to go and I kind of wondered into a yoga class in lower Manhattan on Spring Street in Soho and it was kind of horrible in a good way and I kept going. It really helped me get my head right and eventually became a lot more than just a short-term thing.
Benji Block: Okay, so I wanted to double back on something right there. So horrible in a good way; take us into that experience, what does that mean?
Lucas Rockwood: I think a lot of people focus on yoga practices and mind-body wellness practices as like an escape or an oasis from their life and that’s what you do it for, that’s great. For me, it’s always been miserable, it doesn’t matter whether it’s meditation or yoga or whatever it is, it’s always the worst part of my day and I mean, the biggest struggle, internal demons, want to leave, want to stop, want to do anything else and that’s when I get the most benefits. So I think there is the stereotype of a Zen bookstore with some sprinkley fountain in the corner and some patchouli burning or something.
For me, it’s just been sort of hell and torture for an hour or an hour and a half, whatever it is, and then afterwards, it’s kind of the worst moment of your day and then the rest of your day is a bit lighter. So in my early yoga classes, I couldn’t even make it through the class. I was doing hot yoga at the time, I was just flailing around and literally blacking out and crawling out of the room. I go down to the street and smoke afterwards.
I was so unhealthy and still to this day, it’s really not enjoyable. I mean, I enjoy doing it but I don’t enjoy it while it’s happening. I deliberately do mind-body practices that are uncomfortable, so the rest of my life becomes more comfortable, which I understand is not typical for everyone but that’s kind of the role it plays in my life.
Benji Block: I actually think we need to have more of those types of conversations because when people realize, you don’t have to have that type of perfectly calming experience right from the get-go — or maybe ever — but it still adds so much value to you. There are a million different paths you can take to mind-body wellness and wholeness and some of it is sitting with uncomfort or the frustration of not being able to just be with yourself, right?
Well, I want to jump forward in your story because I guess my curiosity is piqued on what takes you from, “All right, I’m doing this yoga practice” to now, “I’m actually going to help others” and more of like the business side of things and obviously, that’s this book. So where was that transformation, where did that switch for you?
Bringing Business to Yoga
Lucas Rockwood: I think a lot of people in business have always loved business and they kind of feel like they were born entrepreneurial or whatever. For me, it was just necessity. So I got really excited about yoga, I started teaching yoga. I start teaching health and nutrition and a lot of people new to it, I just had a lot of passion and I decided I wanted to travel. So I thought, “Oh, I’ll go to Southeast Asia, I’ll go to Thailand and I’ll go spend six months.” I saved up some money and my girlfriend and I, we got on a plane with one way tickets and we went to Thailand and couldn’t really work there without a job and so, I needed to get a job.
I started working in restaurants and then I ended up teaching yoga and I thought, “This is really great, drop out job. I can travel and teach and go to some different places and be a yoga teacher.” So, that’s really the way I thought about it. I thought, “Hey, this is a good, sort of drop out job” I tried teaching English and that didn’t work, so I was teaching yoga and that was working and I didn’t take it seriously until I had to.
Basically, I got to my late 20s and I started looking at my future and I realized my girlfriend wanted to have kids and I wasn’t there yet but I realized like, I wasn’t really at a forward trajectory here. Like, I wasn’t — I was wearing flip flops, I had a beaded necklace and a guitar, that was like my life, you know? I realized, I had a couple of options. I can go back to New York, I can go back and get a job and I was definitely somewhat employable still at the time and/or I could kind of carry on with this international travel, adventure thing that I was doing and the latter option seemed a lot better.
So I started studying business basically and I just started trying to figure things out and I couldn’t figure anything out so I opened a yoga studio. I got some people to lend me some money for about one year, which is really stressful when you borrow $60,000 for one year and I opened a yoga studio and I just — it was horrible. It was very similar to my yoga practice experience, it was really, really painful.
I didn’t know what I was doing, I had hard money loans. I had one year to pay them back and you learn really fast when that happens. So I blew up a relationship, I was working 14, 16 hours a day, hurt my back, all the worst things but through that process, I started getting help and in the same way I got yoga teachers, I got business teachers and I learned marketing and I learned sales and I learned to price and I read curriculum from MBA programs and I taught myself how to build a spreadsheet and profit loss statements and, I ran a business.
I paid myself and I paid my staff and I hired staff, I paid my taxes and I always made money, right away from day one, we were always profitable. I have no experience running cash-burning businesses, I have never been able to afford to do that. So that’s been a really good lesson, there’s not many people in business who can say that.
So I learned how to do business and then little by little, I started making what I would call “better businesses”, meaning, ones that were a little bit more forgiving, margins and with adding value rather than just competing in marketplaces and over the years, I have done pretty much everything in the yoga market except make yoga pants. So yoga studios, I’ve had —
Benji Block: Maybe that’s next.
Lucas Rockwood: Four of them. Yeah, I hope not, that would be a disaster. I’ve had four yoga studios, we had a nutritional supplement company, we still have fitness products company. Yoga retreats, yoga events in five different countries. So I’ve done pretty much everything in the yoga business. I’ve sold pretty much everything. Online courses, offline courses, all of the above except apparel and I’ve done it all profitably and I’ve done it all self-funded.
So I bootstrapped the whole thing and along the way, just a lot of hard lessons learned and as these things go, like, my biggest goal is to help people save the pain that I’ve gone through and there’s really a glorification of entrepreneurship right now. Every time you go online, there’s somebody telling you to quit your job and go out on your own and I just kind of, cringe and wince because not many people make it through that alive.
You really get beat up along the way and with hindsight, a lot of people glorify the experience. Behind closed doors, people are crying and they’re up till two in the morning trying to fix some stupid websites, there’s a lot of misery there and so if I can give people shortcuts and a much simpler way to success and in many cases, I think if people scaled back their top line ambitions, their bottom-line ambitions will actually grow and so that’s kind of where I’m at now.
So, 20 years into a yoga teaching career, I’ve been traveling around the world, living in different places and I now still train teachers and still teach a lot but I like to help teachers who are so inclined, people who want to, like me, support themselves as a teacher. I want to give them the skills and the resources to be able to do that.
Benji Block: Yeah, this book is going to be fantastic for those people. You give this stat in the book, you said, 97% of certified yoga teachers don’t go on to teach and so, I’m new to the world of yoga and you even say, this mean for the millions of new students entering the world, there are only a few thousand new teachers able to meet the growing demand, so you have a supply and demand problem.
Explain that to me, why is that? Why are there so many certified yoga teachers that aren’t teaching?
Lucas Rockwood: Yeah, so like, I was — let’s say I was 26 years old or something, hanging out in the islands in Thailand hotel, I went and became a scuba diving instructor. I’m never going to teach scuba diving, right? Never. Never plan to and so, there are scuba diving instructors all over the place, you know them, I know them.
So this is what the yoga world is, it is like two ski instructors or something and so, people go to these courses for the most part for personal development, which is awesome. I love personal development. They want to you know, take a break from their life, have a sabbatical, go to Bali for a month and connect with people their own age and have an adult summer camp experience and I love all that stuff.
I’ve done all that stuff but there’s a very, very small but growing group of people who go, “Hey, that’s cool but what if I want to make this into a career?” and that’s really what my work focuses on is that very small group of people who actually want to join the service industry and have their service — yoga as a service essentially, not just as a lifestyle or a hobby but turning it into a service — and you can find this with any kind of lifestyle activity.
There are tons of surfers and snowboarders, very few people actually treat it or even think about it like a career but for the ones that do, there’s a surprising amount of opportunities out there. I know a couple and for yoga teachers, there’s this huge, huge demand for highly trained, qualified service-oriented professionals but they’re just really aren’t that many people taking it seriously.
Benji Block: Then I imagine too — and you speak to this but — you have this really small group that are actually raise their hand and go, “Okay, I actually want to do this, I want to go into yoga as a service.” But then, you are met by all of the mindset pieces of this. You hit all of the roadblocks essentially going, “Okay, I don’t know how to figure out pay. I don’t know all these… I’m not good enough” feelings or I’m wary of the business side of things you alluded to, you know, your younger self with the guitar and all — I guess, the stereotypes of some of the yoga stuff.
So what do you run into the most as you work with people? What are those mindset shifts that have to occur for someone to be able to do this effectively?
Lucas Rockwood: There’s a lot of head trash that people have in all industries but especially in the yoga world, people get into these ideas that yoga should be free or that nobody should pay for it and I guess, my thought is on this: If you have the luxury of that thought, I would say, indulge, meaning, if you’re okay with working for no money, do that, somebody else is paying your bills. People who work with me, they’re like me, I got three kids, I got bills to pay, I got to put food on the table.
I’ve never — I don’t know what that feels like and so like I mentioned before, all my business has, they’ve all been profitable. I didn’t realize there was another option but for people who are stuck on the mindset thing and they are serious about business, I mean, they’re okay with making money but they’re still having a block. For those people, it usually comes down to something physical and they are worried that they’re too old or they’re carrying some extra weight or they’re not flexible enough or they can’t do handstands in the middle of the room.
What I usually tell people is, all of your insecurities, they’re usually true and that’s okay, do it anyway. I like to just be really, really raw and real with people because usually when we’re feeling insecure, it’s usually based on a nugget of truth and so yeah, maybe you are a little bit older than the other teachers. Let’s see if we can turn that into an advantage rather than getting hung up on it.
Yeah, maybe you are carrying some extra weight, you know what? There are a lot of students who would like a teacher who is carrying some extra weight too. This like pump people up, your perfect, you’re golden, you’re a star no matter – I don’t really buy into that. I think it’s much more important that people get really real with what they have to offer and a lot of times, your challenge can be spun into something that really becomes an advantage, you know, an example as I was always really, really stiff like embarrassingly stiff.
Through the process of gaining mobility, and flexibility, I mean, I can’t tell you how many times my colleagues and friends in the business would just mock me for teaching this and really this is really so superficial. I have a huge audience for flexibility. I mean, absolutely enormous. I didn’t even know there were that many people and so this is the thing that I always tell people, you got to get really honest with who you are and what you are worried about and then just do it anyway.
You’re probably worried that someone is going to troll you online, they definitely will. You are probably worried that someone is going to ask for a refund, they’re not like your class. That will definitely happen. The alternative has to be worse. If the alternative is not worst, do the alternative, maybe if you have an option where you can work for no money do that but I got to the point where I wanted to have an impact and I wanted to teach and I wanted to have a message and an audience and with that comes, it comes some compromise and you just have to figure out if it is worth it.
But I think for people who are stuck on the mindset bit, I would encourage people to just assume that all of their insecurities are true and then throw up their hands and say, “So what? Let me do it anyway” and I think that makes it easier to embrace.
Benji Block: That brings me to — I want to talk about soft skills for a second for someone who wants to scale or do yoga as a business. What are some of those soft skills to be aware of that you need to continue to develop? You don’t obviously have to be excellent at all of the things like communication or something like that from day one but things that you are going, “Okay, if you really want to do this seriously, you should be thinking about these soft skills.”
Yoga Teachers vs. Yoga Teaching Professionals
Lucas Rockwood: Yoga teachers put a lot of emphasis on alignment and anatomy and adjustments and sequencing and all of those things are really important and probably the first three years of my teaching, I was convinced that if I knew every pose and I knew the correct alignment and I knew why it was sequenced in such a way and if I knew the lineage and where all these stuff came from and I knew how to adjust people, I just kind of assumed that things would work out and to some extent, they did.
My classes were full and you know, I did well as a teacher but when you switch into like a service business, when you go, “Okay, this isn’t just my 7:00 class on a Thursday” I actually want to make this into a business, there is a whole bunch of other things that I hadn’t developed like learning how to not be super awkward around a group of people in the waiting room outside the yoga studio like, learning how to send a professional email.
Learning how to give and answer you phone and just be a professional and a lot of that stuff gets neglected, whether that’s public speaking skills, whether that’s proper attire, organization I think is a really huge one. A lot of yoga teachers are just so unorganized, they just can’t get it together and so there’s a big shift when you go from being a Tuesday and Thursday night top teacher at 7 PM.
When you switch from that to being a service provider, there is a whole bunch of stuff that people are reticent to learn that are really important. I mentioned like learning how to do a spreadsheet, learning how to keep track of your finances, maybe getting QuickBooks, doing some basic business stuff and everything comes with a price.
If you want to move ahead as a yoga teaching professional, not just as a yoga teacher, you are going to have to develop some, both some soft and hard skills, which are almost certainly not going to happen on accident. You’re going to have to train yourself or get some professional training to make that happen.
Benji Block: Was there a book or was there a mentor, someone that really kicked it off back when you have about the loan and you’re like, “Okay, I’m flipping the switch. I am being really intentional. I am starting my own practice, my own service”? Was there some resources that you found to be particularly helpful? Now you have this book, obviously we’re going to point people to go read it but I wonder what those things were for you as sort of a guiding light?
Lucas Rockwood: Back in those days, I used to read over a 100 books a year. Now, I still probably read between 30 and 40 a year and just really desperate, just like clamoring for any kind of information because I didn’t have any formal education, you know? But the two books that I usually recommend for yoga teachers specifically, one aside from mine, which is hopefully is helpful but How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie’s classic book, which the title of it always makes people giggle.
It’s just an incredible book for anyone in the service industry. It’s kind of one of the only books I think I have read like I literally read about five different times, really invaluable for anyone dealing with the public. I just can’t recommend that one enough and the other one is Robert Cialdini’s Influence, which is a book about persuasion and it’s about pricing and it is about pricing psychology.
This, How to Win Friends and Influence People, will probably make everyone quite comfortable and cozy and Robert Cialdini’s work will make you quite uncomfortable when you realize that silly little things like something that costs $2.99 just makes people buy more than $3.12 and this very bizarre psychology triggers are really, really important for business. And again, when you make that shift from Tuesday-Thursday teacher to an actual teaching professional, how you price your class it really matters.
How you position things really matters, how you structure and present offers really matter and so those are the two books. There is lots of great books and ideas and resources and lots of things that get you pumped up and kind of think about things from a motivational perspective but I’ll assume people can find those on their own.
Unique Teaching Positions
Benji Block: Yeah, it’s always nice too to have that good mix, right? Where it’s like you want people that are specific to your profession and your field of expertise and then you also want business more broadly so that you can round out the way you’re thinking about your business and hear what other people are doing. One of the things is even around positioning, Lucas, that you bring up is this UTP, unique teaching position and for me and the podcast space, we often talk to businesses about developing our point of view.
Being able to share your point of view to the market, so it’s like just a slightly different thing but you are niching down essentially is what you are doing in both cases, knowing who you serve. Walk us through why you think this is so important and maybe do you see yoga teachers getting this wrong often?
Lucas Rockwood: Yeah, so I’ll give an example, my very first yoga retreat that I ever did, an older colleague convinced me to do like a smorgasbord approach. So I taught like five different styles of yoga in three different days and it was this –
Benji Block: We help everyone.
Lucas Rockwood: It was really like and it was fine, people love it. They enjoyed it and nobody came back, none of those people who came to that retreat are still clients of mine and instead what I should have done is just ashtanga yoga or just back bends or just hips or something like that. It took me a really long time to realize that less is more and that as a service provider, the more specialized you are, the more value you can add and the less you become a “me too” offering.
People don’t get really excited about specialization until I help them understand that they’re a “me too” teacher, and what I mean by that is there’s already a hundred of you knocking on the doors of every studio in town and as soon as you stop competing, which a lot of people get excited about and just start adding value, not only do you make more money, not only do you get more gigs but you can really stop fighting so much and things just come to you.
So the first example is I had this colleague of mine and she was teaching yoga for scoliosis and I met her, I think she was in her late 50s. I was like, “How long have you been doing it?” She’s like, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years” I’m like, “Is that a thing?” It’s all she did. All she did was work with people with scoliosis, teeny-tiny studio, teeney-tiny practice but she was supporting herself making a living, competing with nobody.
Absolutely nobody, there’s just nobody else to even compete with her and that’s where I sort of realized, “Okay, I don’t like — I am not a competitive person. I don’t want to compete, I don’t want to — my Tuesday and Thursday classes are full but you know, someone younger and more charismatic are more energetic. They’re going to come and take over my classes and not only that, they should take over my classes if they are more popular.
What can I do that really adds value and I find when people think about it that way, not like this is some kind of money grab situation where I’m going to be a plastic surgeon because they make ten times as much as a GP, it’s not about that. It is about how can you really go into your community and be valuable, not just be another person on a substitution list that they’ll call if the other guy is sick and that’s when people get really excited.
Then we start doing marketing and promotions and everything is just easier and suddenly you realize, “Oh, this is what I am supposed to do. Find a way for my skills to fit with a real need in the community” whether or not that fits into the traditional yoga mold or not, it doesn’t matter.
Benji Block: Yeah, it’s scary but there is so much clarity and niching down and if both for you and what you want to continue to grow in and your expertise but then also for those that are going to come to you and you are going to serve. So that’s, man, that’s such a big part of all of this. I want to start to wrap up with a quote from the book. You say, this is kind of speaking to the community piece as well that you just mentioned.
But you say, “Anyone can spend an afternoon picking up yoga props and essential oils for their bathroom” — so that made me laugh when I first read it — “But very few people will sit down and dedicate themselves to real business growth. You and your community are the only assets that matter. These two assets drive revenue and they’ll the only things that you’ll be known and remembered for.”
You even say like kind of right after that quote like, “This is something that you have to continue to remind yourself of,” but I want to end with that piece. What are you calling people to do as they leave reading this book, as they hear that, man, “it is about you and your community as the assets that matter”?
Lucas Rockwood: So the story that I always tell when I first moved to Bangkok, there was this guy teaching yoga in Lumphini Park, it was a long time ago before yoga in the park was even a thing and definitely not a thing in Thailand. Lumphini Park is an extremely urban park, extremely urban and he would have these five, seven, eight students there every day and I am working at one of the only studios in Bangkok at the time.
I just remember sitting there thinking, “Well, why do they show up here? What do they pay him?” because you know, they are flopping around on a bamboo picnic blanket. They don’t even have real yoga mats and then I realized, they just don’t care. They just don’t care and as I say this, I am wearing a branded t-shirt and I am looking out at my window, which has a giant yoga body thing. I don’t even know how big it is, 10 meters wide and literally nobody cares.
In fact, if you asked my kids, the name of my company, they’d probably hesitate. They might even falter, really nobody cares and it’s not that nobody cares in every industry. In shoes, it really matters. Nike really matters, in yoga, it just doesn’t matter and the best way to think about it is if you think about Beyoncé or Bruno Mars, what label are they on? You have no idea and if you do have an idea, you don’t care.
You don’t care at all, why would you care? It doesn’t matter, you like the song and the same is true with yoga teachers, some of the most famous yoga teachers, the most successful, most popular teach not just in crappy studios but disgusting studios. I mean, gross like dirty and filthy, nobody cares. So, when you start to talk about business these days, people love to talk about personal branding and slogans and logos and color schemes because it’s fun and shopping for these things and hiring designers is all fun.
But really, it doesn’t add any value. Absolutely none of my students woke up today thinking about my logo and they never will. They don’t care and so once you wrap your head around that, it is both sobering and also really intense because you realize, “Oh, I have to make a good class.” It doesn’t matter how cool the music is, it doesn’t matter how much essential oils I get, like you mentioned before, it’s got to be the class.
If my class can stand on its own outside, indoors, big city, small, then I’m in business. Otherwise, I am just playing business and that doesn’t end well.
Benji Block: Well said. Well, the book again is called Yoga Business Mastery: Earn a Great Living Doing What You Love. Lucas Rockwood, thank you for being here. Tell people where they can connect with you man, where they can check out more of your work.
Lucas Rockwood: Yeah, everything that I do is at yogabody.com.
Benji Block: Wonderful. I love how succinct that is, easy to remember. It’s been a pleasure to get to chat with you, thanks for creating this resource. It is going to be benefit to so many, so thanks for stopping by Author Hour.
Lucas Rockwood: Thanks so much. I appreciate the questions.
Cleared Hot: Lt. Col. Brian L. Slade and Michael Hirsh