Conscious breathing is rampant in my corner of Cambridge. There are more than a dozen yoga studios, within two miles of my house. Ashtanga, Baptiste, Bikram, Iyengar, Vinyasa, Yin: take your choice. Almost as many gyms advertise yoga. Given the peculiarities of urban geography, it’s no surprise that when the United States’ largest yoga company, CorePower Yoga, decided to enter the Boston market, they built a huge studio near my house.
I’ve been practicing yoga for ten years, first as a dabbler, then a Bikram addict. Last year I made CorePower my home studio, took their teacher training program, taught there for a brief time, and still practice there most days. Yogis from independent studios often grimace when they learn about my CorePower affiliation, but their scowl is misdirected. CorePower is a great place to practice yoga, once you shield yourself from the corporate veneer.
CorePower’s strength is the same as any good American corporation: they offer a well-conceived, well-executed product. The Fresh Pond studio offers four different styles of class: basic hatha (C1), intermediate flow (C2), yoga aerobics (Sculpt), and the Bikram series (Hot Power Fusion). My physical condition has improved since moving to CorePower because I essentially cross-train at a single studio. Just as Whole Foods never has bad lettuce or Starbucks bad coffee, CorePower classes are consistent.
Which means, while I never have a bad class, I rarely have an inspired one. CorePower champions the American penchant for doing over being; classes are more physically active than mentally focused. I acknowledge what CorePower does well and pursue my restorative yoga and meditation elsewhere.
CorePower’s mantra is to demystify yoga, making it mainstream accessible to all. Still, every class follows a prescribed sequence, lasts precisely one hour, and varies only within parameters that align with its chief demographic: young, attractive, fit women with disposable income.
There’s nothing funky or counter culture about CorePower. The facilities are spa-inspired, with crisp finishes, fireplaces, multiple showers, soaps and lotions. The studio’s mood can be modulated through music and elaborate lighting. Yet these amenities feel focus-group generic. Wiping muddy feet on the runner that proclaims, “Live an Extraordinary Life” is like arriving at a motivational seminar. The reception desk resembles one at any hip start-up. The Sanskrit / English signs reminding people not to steal in the locker room or talk in the studios are identical to ones in health clinics. I feel particularly sorry for the little Buddha statues that grace the front of each studio. Everyone sets their mat on the floor and lies down, feet first, oblivious of the fundamental disrespect that represents toward the Buddha.
The best thing about CorePower is its structure and consistency. I may not have emerged from their teaching training program with enlightened imagery to offer my students, but I can organize a cohesive class, and have landed every teaching gig I’ve pursued.
Many teachers who train at CorePower actually teach elsewhere because, like so many corporations, CorePower pays its front line workers less than local competition, yet expects more of them. CorePower extolls the community building aspects of having teachers staff the desk and thus create rapport between students and teachers, but in reality its a money-saving move that eliminates their need for a receptionist. I enjoyed teaching classes at CorePower, but detested the complicated computer inputs required to sell Lululemon tights.
Every CorePower yoga class ends with announcements, which the teacher makes immediately after the final Namaste; personal pitches for CorePower products and services. A few weeks ago I went to a hot power class where Michael skipped announcements. He left us in Savasana; lights low, and quietly exited the room. It was a welcome and relaxing alternative to getting a pitch for Boot Camp. Leaving the studio I heard the manager chastise him for omitting announcements (how did she know?), so I made a point to thank him, in front of her, for the yogic way he ended class.
The following week Shira included pitches for Boot Camp throughout her Sculpt sequence. Afterward, I explained why product placement during class is inappropriate. “Yoga is not about things, it is about embracing our value in the present. Advertisements during class suggest we are insufficient and need something more. That is not yoga.” She stopped doing it, at least when I was present.
The following week I got a weird email from the manager, written under the guise of open communication, that included, “I also encourage you to practice your freedom to attend classes at studios that give you what you need from yoga.” In other words, CorePower doesn’t need me. After all, I’m not a young, attractive, fit woman with disposable income.
The experience helped to establish my limits for CorePower’s corporate speak. As long as I get sixty minutes of unadulterated yoga, I can ignore whatever they spin before and after. But if CorePower’s thirst to sell me stuff permeates studio time, I will practice elsewhere.
I’m not opposed to corporations. I appreciate how they facilitate many of our country’s best attributes. We want corporations to manufacture and sell cars; items so complex yet commonplace benefit from corporate efficiency and mistake proofing. We accept when corporations sell us groceries; ma and pop stores cannot provide the variety Americans demand all year long. We shrug when corporations provide our healthcare and bemoan the loss of our family doctor. But CorePower has a conundrum on its hands; it’s a large corporation that sells a luxury service whose premise is antithetical to capitalism.
CorePower arrived in Boston with ambitious plans. In eighteen months they‘ve opened four studios, and I take advantage of the fact that I can practice in every compass direction from my house. But the consistency of the teaching is faltering as the number of classes grows, and my home studio churns through Assistant Managers like calendar pages. Does any other yoga studio even have a position called Assistant Manager?
I continue to practice at CorePower because it’s convenient and the yoga is good. But I can understand why others doubt my decision and can foresee a day when I follow the manager’s advice and move on. To be a truly great yoga studio, CorePower will have to become less corporate. But then, it would no longer be CorePower.