Beyond the Pale • 8 May 2008

Los Angeles is segregated by ethnicity and by wealth. Very generally, the two residential indices of affluence are (1) elevation and (2) proximity to the ocean. The elevation peaks in the north and runs from west to east—along the raised spine from the Pacific Palisades through the Hollywood Hills, with some southerly heights in Mar Vista, Inglewood, Boyle, et cetera. Beachfront property is prime from north to south, though in general the money hugs closer and closer to the shoreline as one moves south away from the hills.

I will cop right now to the fact that my present studio sits on the most affluent, whitest commercial corner in town. Ashtanga ends before the Porsche SUVs quite fill up the valet parking, before the skinny ladies with their perfect children arrive to shop the kiddie shoe store housed in a quaint Tudor cottage, or the specialty chocolate nook opens in the back of the oh so provincial Country Market. We enter our own building before first light by a side door and, being ashtangis, tend to represent for the bohemians, the working professionals, the world-traveled, the somewhat ethnically and economically diverse, the hot chiseled bodyworker-yoga teacher service sector. So I’m sheltered from the full force of white Brentwood affluence, even as—when I leave each morning—I enjoy the deeply middlebrow string quartet that Le Pain Quotidien pumps into the building's passageways. The double provincialism of a restaurant calling itself “The Daily Bread” in French, for white people reaching for the sense of “the cosmopolitan they find in packaged French country aesthetic is pitch perfect for this corner. Mass produced rustic benches, artisan nut butters packaged in China, lattes in ginormous (supersized) bowls. Which is not to say I don’t like le P.Q., which enfranchises within a block of any respectable ashtanga shala with a global clientele and has thus made itself—in London, New York, Santa Monica—an official home of the traveling  ashtangi meetup. Tasty, with chagrin on the side.

Anyway, why am I talking about geography of affluence and whiteness?

It’s Yogaworks, itseself franchising down in the South Bay in a way that crosses way, way, way over the line of getting off on your affluence. Fellas, I’m writing this so you will know what the seasoned people in the community are saying about you. People who know yoga, or simply know LA, who know your expansion is inevitable and are ok with this but nonetheless find the current wrinkle extraordinarily disturbing.

The new location is just off the industrial zone near LAX. Miles south of the east-west axis of rich that is the northern hills, down in the South Bay you find more economic and racial diversity, more quickly, as you move east from the oft-gated exclusivity that is Manhattan Beach. Indeed, the new studio in rent-cheap El Segundo sits midway between the health club set on the west and Inglewood on the east. Inglewood is an awesome, historically rich, cohesive zone—home to a lot of middle class people and, due to the heights on which it is built, some excellent real estate. There’s no major yoga studio there. Also, Inglewood is black.

Down the hill from Inglewood in El Segundo, Yogaworks—which in its other locations takes in its steepest revenue from drop-in students—is experimenting with a new visitor model (see another blog discussion here). Traditionally, Yogaworks franchises in exclusive zones: Manhattan, Santa Monica, Westwood. But again, El Segundo—with its unique geography and social diversity—is home to an innovative new model.

No drop-in students whatsoever are permitted. If you want to attend YogaWorks in El Segundo, you can buy a “membership.” So what is for sale is not exactly yoga instruction. It’s association.

Given the way I’ve laid this out, you now know exactly what people are saying.

Except, of course, for the corporate conservatives, who say it’s your “right” to pursue whatever markets you want or envision to be most “productive.” After all, the South Bay is an “untapped yoga market” and you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

But those of us who understand that markets are not asocial, amoral autonomous forces will tell you that every “market experiment” is a social experiment. There is no passive, inert “yoga market” waiting for you to exploit it. Rather, there is whatever market you choose to create for your business. You, mighty corporation, have the power. You have the freedom to choose how you provide your service and whether your “serve” anyone at all. For now, you have chosen… exclusively, affluently, whitely. And the tastemakers–who have every "right" to judge your matters of taste–think it’s creepy.

The “bottom line” in the sands of El Segundo, like in any market, will always shift: there is more than one way to make money in that zone.

When the experiment ends and you change the policy, let me know. I’ll be more than happy to post a follow up praising you for taking yoga back off the gated community model.