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Climbing the Ladder of Yogapreneurship: Can You Earn a Living Teaching Yoga?

in Business of Yoga, Recession Yoga, YD News

Soo how is that yoga job going? ahem. Ya know, it’s funny. We saw this article go up days ago, we knew it was coming too, and still we procrastinate in commenting. It’s been like stretching our psoas after a long day of chair sitting to gather our thoughts. Torturous! Why? Have we said all we can on the subject? Hardly. Besides that’s a laugh, you can’t quiet these yoga mouths! Does it hit too close to home? Yeah, kinda.

yogapreneur-lotus-ladderWe’ve experienced the plight of the yoga teacher not only personally, but via the experience of colleagues and our hardworking teachers trying to make ends meet. Some are modest part time teachers, some struggle while others make a reasonably comfortable income full time, and a handful are high-level seekers with sights set on world notoriety. The more we think about the question “can you make a living?” the more we find the real question to be “what does ‘a living’ mean?’ OR, in other words, WHY are you a yoga teacher and what level of ‘success’ will make you content? Nowhere in the Bhagavad Gita or Light on Yoga does it say you need to be an international sensation with an onslaught of books and DVDs for your merch table on your world tour, to be a yoga teacher. But in a Western capitalistic society, growth and diversity seem to be the only means to a righteous success. Why would yoga be any different?

The DoubleX article sheds light on this with profiles of 4 different yoga teachers, and 4 different levels of earning a living. What we’ve gathered is that yoga teachers fair differently all over the country (right, it’s not rocket science), and that there are varying levels of “yoga entrepreneurship”. Mmhm… what is that then, yogapreneurship?

“It was always a choice of do I pay my bills this month, or do I fill my fridge?” says NY’s Paula Lynch on her beginnings as a yoga teacher. Now over 4 years later Lynch has achieved a certain level of comfort, making her living teaching 16 classes a week and 10 privates, earning enough money to pay rent, bills and maybe a new handbag she’s been eyeing every once in a while. Hardly the big bucks, but, one could say, a success? In any case, she’s happy, and we know it.

But what about this Recession? Private clients have dropped like lead feet from headstand, and somehow this yoga business is still booming. What’s the natural progression then? Open your own studio! Which is what David Morgan of Knoxville, TN did after losing “about 90 percent of his students” due to the bum economy. Of course now the workload multiplies being a studio owner and full on business owner, and so far with New Moon Yoga, Morgan has found it difficult to support himself.

Meanwhile, April Woody, another studio owner (Folding Leaf in W.Va) has had better luck, but admits she could not have pulled it off without her husband’s steady income and support. “It would be a burden if there was more pressure to contribute financially, because I don’t do that very much,” she says. Lucky indeed, and easier for her to say something like she believes in “spiritual economics” and leaving the cash box sitting out. A little salamba success if you will.

And then of course, there’s the go get em mantra of Sadie Nardini, whom we know to be the fierce defender of reaching new heights in yoga successdom with a full plate of videos, teacher trainings, workshops and public appearances, now with the help of her agency.

…Sardini is unabashed about treating yoga as a cash cow. “There’s a myth that you can’t be spiritual and rich at the same time,” she says. “But it’s not spiritual to be broke and stressed out about your rent.”

We beg to differ, things can get pretty damn spiritual round here when it’s scrounge for rent time!

Sadie adds, “It’s totally more than possible to make six figures a year teaching yoga.”

Hm, not entirely true. Selling concepts, dvds, yourself, at events and conferences perhaps, but not simply teaching yoga. Sure, there’s always money to be had, and the celebriyogi stardom and 6 figures are there if that’s what you want. For some yoga teachers, and awesome ones at that, it’s an issue food and shelter first.

[DoubleX]

EarlierSelling Out: Yoga Talent Agency Seeks A-list Yoga Teachers Seeking Fame

Teaching Yoga, the New Waiting Tables for the Non-Rich

25 comments… add one

  • “Sadie adds, “It’s totally more than possible to make six figures a year teaching yoga.”

    I want what she’s smoking.

    this is what I had to say about this topic last summer:

    http://lindasyoga.blogspot.com/2008/08/price-we-pay-part-2-how-much-is-yoga.html

  • Celebrity teachers arise not only from those X factors (from charisma to good looks to dumb luck) but from a desire to be famous. It is a lifestyle choice to focus on worldwide workshops and conferences (the key to fame and money), instead of on cultivating long, regular relationships with students back at home.

    I wonder what fame (travel, crowded classes, [ghost]writing books, mega conferences) does to a person’s actual yoga practice. If yoga was originally taught one-to-one, the modern yogi’s mass-class phenomenon couldn’t be more removed; of course, even the Indian icons teach mass classes now.

    See my blog post on yoga and fame: http://yogaspy.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/the-call-of-the-fame/.

  • This is an interesting (and sobering) debate. For someone who is basically panhandling for money to pay for a teacher training, I wonder what the real benefit would be in light of this kind of information. And what about teaching part-time? Is that at all enjoyable or does it just become more stress, etc tacked on in addition to what comes with a ‘regular” day job?

  • Nothing is sustainable without currency, and life is about balance, so let’s free ourselves from the artificial constraints of Hollywood, stardom, fame & fortune and find contentment in the true beauty of the practice. It lasts longer and will get us ultimately where we want to go.
    Chopra asks, “If you had all the money in the world, how would you express your unique gifts and talents and how would it serve the world?” If the answer is teach yoga, then the money will be sure to follow because it’s your dharma.

  • I would love to make a living teaching yoga, I’d be lying if I said otherwise. However, I have to agree with Yoga Spy and have also wondered if the top $ yogis/yoginis ever spend any time on the mat themselves. Also the thought has occurred to me that if you look carefully at the websites of some of the presumably six figure yogis, they are traveling nearly all year long. Gotta say, that’s not why I got into this and definitely not how I’ll be promoting my teaching in the future. I’m happy that there are people who can spread the benefits of yoga to the world, but I’ll be thrilled to do it on a local level so I can also be at home and on my own mat.

  • a.

    Interesting article. I think that like most other things, getting to a really high income is going to come with some self-promotion. Even if you were the most popular teacher at your yoga studio, there is still a maximum number of students that can fit in the room. At some point to make more money, the only option is the kind of stuff that Sadie does. Also I imagine that it’s got to be somewhat hard on the body to teach tons of yoga classes per week.

  • What does making a living mean is a great question, for me its how can i live as a yogi. My wife and i are both yoga teachers ,we teach classes, i do some admin work, i clean toilets, so we can live simply, and do what we love the most , share the joy and inspriation of yoga with others. We have taken the simple path, it pleasent and rocky at the same time, for other who take the super express highway i wish them all the best, its probaly just as hard for them to get on the mat each morning as it is for all of us. We do our best not to turn yoga teaching into a job but have it as way of life simple, uncluttered, basic.

  • Kai

    I’ve worked as a full-time yoga teacher for six years. I’m not making six figures – far from it. I live simply and I certainly don’t have the disposable income that my corporate friends do (and yes, I’ve had to do a bit of temping and admin stuff on the side to make this work). But am I successful? Let’s see…every morning I wake up excited about my work. I’m never bored. I’ve built amazing relationships with people in my community. I’m happy. For me, that’s the success and the big payoff of being a local yoga teacher. Living simply so I can do what I love. Sadie can keep her six figures.

  • Rock My Soles

    Yes six figures in fitness/yoga it is done.
    Oh I’m not smoking anything I don’t need to.

  • This is my dream, to somehow find the time to get back on the mat (with a toddler and baby in the house) enough to get back on track to do teacher training. Then make some sort of living out of it. In the meantime, I’m trying to raise the funds for my little yoga habit with a bit of my own yogapreneurship and struggling with all the problems involved with that – ego, yoga-for-cash…

  • admin

    the thing is, if you asked these megastar yoga teachers why they teach they would probably give you a genuine answer along the lines of helping others by sharing yoga. surely they believe in their doing good.
    do they get to practice regularly? probably not. we’ve seen what fame (popularity, travel, etc) can do to pop stars, in extreme cases of course, but you can imagine practice becomes something different when it must be attempted in airplanes and strange hotel rooms, and then you’re fawned over by thousands of adoring disciples, rather than appreciated by a modest community.
    it’s hard on the body, and hard on the mind.
    it goes for everything really.. the bigger you get the less you can stay small. (am on a yogi berra kick lately)

    ps. everyone should read Linda’s blog post.. says it all about the cost of being a yoga teacher. and the worth.

  • It’s kind of interesting who is crowned ‘yoga star’. I don’t think these are the most accomplished yogis in the world. In fact when I first heard them speak, my thought was that they come off pretty unpolished. So it is interesting that they filtered to the top of the yoga heap. Of course the thing of interest to me is how much dough they are really pulling in. How much can they get for a conference? From my sources Yoga Journal are tight wads so they can’t be making that much money from that. Workshops in other cities? How much can they be making after plane fare, hotels and food? I think it’s more branding and multiple yoga income streams (they own a studio, have the required DVD and yoga book, endorsements from the Yoga-Industrial-Complex, ads etc. Except for ‘Don’ Bikram I don’t really think anyone is getting fabulously rich off yoga except those selling yoga stuff.

  • I can only speak for my locale (suburban Chicago), but I don’t know any yoga teachers who survive on only teaching yoga. they so other things like massage therapy, work part-time in other businesses, or depend on another’s income and health insurance.

    You can easily figure out how much the yoga masters make. Paul Grilley comes to Chicago every year. My teacher who hosts him charges $710 for a week’s training. Paul brings in anywhere from 25-50 students, then there is what my teacher has to make for the studio, so subtract about 30%-40%. I am sure Paul has a minimum show-up fee but that gives you an idea. And Paul travels all over the world. who is paying for flights and hotels and food?

    If I teach in Africa next year I’ll be happy to make back my airfare.

  • When Patrick and I opened our yoga studio in Japan four years ago we did it for the love of yoga. We did it as English majors with no business backbone. We did it by draining all the money out of our accounts that we had earned teaching English for a little more than a year.

    If I had to do it again, of course I would still do it.

    But I would do it differently. I wouldn’t just do my yoga teacher training. I’d do business training, too. We serve best when we know that we’re able to keep the doors of the business open and a roof over our heads. Even though our studio supported itself from the second month on, that’s unusual, and we still stressed every month for many months to make ends meet. That transfers into your teaching. That informs your personal practice and, like it or not, that informs your headspace.

    Opening a studio is hard work, but in the dark corners of yogaland, where teachers tell the truth, I think it’s traveling teachers that have it the hardest. They may never admit this to the studio owner, but those teachers that are getting paid per head are worried. And that really, truly, does make an impact on the yoga culture.

    This is a deep issue. I don’t know that a comment will suffice. I’ll blog it but just wanted to thank you for asking the hard questions. Shining a light on suffering is a good start. The next aspect is to discuss what we can be doing to alleviate the suffering (because, I will argue, having met a few “celebriyogis” myself, that even those “making bank” teaching yoga are suffering. They keep up heavy travel schedules and pencil in “me-time” between all the giving they do. Something to bear in mind.)

  • Elizabeth

    I don’t know about many “celebrity” teachers because I don’t know them personally. I’m not even sure any of my teachers would qualify. I can say that the Anusara teachers I know and have studied with personally (including but not limited to John Friend, Noah Maze, and Sianna Sherman, who I think are as close to “celebrity” teachers as you get in Anusara) ALL get on the mat and practice. I believe it shows in their classes. I believe that they teach me by example with what they do outside of class. Granted, I have a desk job and am far from an exemplary yoga student (which is part of why I am an RYT but not teaching right now). Also, classes and workshops I have attended with these teachers (not limited to those above) have been reasonably priced (esp. when I do the math of $/hour). While I know that some yoga teachers have the benefit of a trust fund or a spouse with a steady income, that isn’t the case for all of my teachers. I don’t care if they have DVDs or a book, I don’t care if they are in magazines. (In some cases I have purchased a DVD made by a teacher in order to support that teacher’s work.) I care A LOT that they are practicing asana, meditation, etc. outside of classes they teach. I care A LOT that they treat their students well, and that they seem to be trying their best to be good people, decent human beings. Just my opinion and my preference.

    I also think there are a lot of yoga class attendees who honestly do not care if their teachers are not practicing yoga outside of their teaching. That’s fine, we all have different values and different ideas of what is important or what qualities we seek in a yoga teacher.

  • Ok, this definitely sparked something for me. The rest of my collected thoughts on today’s post here.

  • BTW, y’all must read Gwen’s post. It’s another good one.

    Duuuude YogaDork, you are AWESOME. Thanks for this post and that one other one about the selling-out-talent-agency-one.

    You know what’s so interesting? All I want from being a yoga teacher is simply to share what it gave me. Yoga facilitated my ability to live my life as fully as I could, no BS. The practice and teachings allowed me to remember the sweetness of the everyday. I didn’t set out to teach yoga full time, but I ended up there.

    When I lived in LA I did make a living. Just enough. Nothing fancy. I chose to teach only within 7am-6pm M-F. No workshops. I missed all the prime times. What was important to me was getting home and cooking, reading books, taking walks and being with friends, having my weekends free to do workshops, while focusing on finding my ultimate love.

    Well, I found him. Now I’m in Pittsburgh, with an 11 month old. I teach 1 class at a studio for which (I kid you not) I earn LESS THAN $5 PER CLASS!!!! Ugh! I do it because I love to teach. I don’t take more classes because I pay my babysitters more than I earn :( . The studio is trying to make it…just eeeeking by and I really want to offer the studio it’s opportunity to grow, so I keep showing up and giving it my all. I also teach for another studio ‘on site classes’, those pay me a bit more and the paycheck from that studio is a blessed event every time it arrives. Our family is going through really rough financial times, and at this moment I don’t have the option of teaching more because like I mentioned before, childcare would basically eat up the paycheck, so, my sights have turned to my yoga podcast.

    Been podcasting for over 3 yrs and I have had OVER A MILLION DOWNLOADS!!!! My hubby always says to me, we would be millionaires if you had just charged a dollar per class, just a dollar. But I didn’t. I believe THAT is also a service. I want to offer those classes for free. So, in the interim, I’m trying to find a way in which I can monetize that content, and yet keep the integrity of the model of service that I started with. *sigh* I have a new iPhone App, I get a little snippet of money with that…we’ll see :)

    On we go.

    Thank you for deepening the conversation! ♥

  • One last point from me: When I wondered about how fame affects a celebrity teacher’s actual yoga practice, I perhaps meant his/her *teaching.* (I never doubted that celebriteachers place high priority on their asana training, to maintain their yoga bods, of course!)

    If a teacher is constantly traveling, teaching crowds of strangers (even repeat students are strangers if you see them only occasionally), and frequently doing DVDs/advertisements/media appearances, he/she cannot be developing authentic teacher-student relationships with long-term students (relationships where there is no payback except for the teaching itself). It is easy to impress people whom you see only occasionally, especially when you are already on a pedestal in their eyes. It is much harder to gain the respect of people whom you see week after week, in simple settings, where you cannot hide behind the bells and whistles of fame.

  • I believe we are entitled to make an income that we desire if it provides the foundation to be an authentic teacher that inspires their students. We all have a comfort level in terms of what to charge for our services. There are so many layers to yoga and why people come to it. I am about making it accessible to everyone – even those who are not likely practitioners. Everyone deserves to discover the many benefits of Yoga. There is nothing wrong with making a comfortable living at the same time if you focus on serving others and not your ego.

  • Hi all,

    You know, I think it’s hard to stay centered, authentic and walking the middle path whether you’re in front of 100 people at a yoga conference, or in front of the mirror with no one there but yourself to answer to. But then again, that’s the practice. I can honestly say that I give everything I have, whether I’m in front of a large classroom, or a nearly empty one. To me, being who I am is non-negotiable, and unwavering in the face of money or a photo in a magazine or whatever people think of me.
    I first made my DVDs to be able to share my classes with all the people who wrote me every day from my free YouTube stuff, and students wanting to take something with them on vacation. I did them myself, I distribute them myself. I had no idea they would be as popular as they have become. Also, I used to say I never wanted to go on the conference circuit, or become one of those traveling yogis. But you know what? I tried it, and the relationships (yes, they are possible to forge in just one soulful experience together) that I was rewarded with were immense, and life-enhancing. Even people I’ve never met, like the woman who lost one leg to cancer who I spent a couple of hours with online crafting a complete yoga practice for (for free) who wrote me crying because she could finally feel what all her friends were talking about, makes me want to make every effort to reach out to as many people as possible who might find some value in what I do, free, or DVD.
    And beyond that, if enough people are reached, especially in today’s crazy expanded classroom, that we yoga teachers end up making more money than we thought yoga teachers could make, then so what? I can now give to my sponsored child from Children International, and other charities to make other people’s lives easier. It’s not like I’m rich, but if I was, why the frown? Why are we giving our teachers the message that becoming prosperous from your dharma, or pure life’s work is a bad thing? Why the big downer about what number is on the bank account, or the implication that as yogis get bigger, they lose touch with their students? It’s really not how it is. All I can say is that those of us who, for some reason have been able to open a doorway to the world of yoga students, we better damn well take up our mantle, do our practice, be our Truth, and share our message of personal transformation with as many people as possible. Money or no money–I’d do it anyway. In my opinion, the world needs all the yoga it can get.

  • great discussion!

    I was stoked to get to the end of the comments too and find Sadie weighing in, after she was referred to in the article. I live in New Zealand, so aren’t so up on the who’s who of American yoga.

    my thoughts.

    there does seem to be some subtle judgment about well-known yogis. about fame. about money.

    do they practice? do they still have ‘good’ relationships with students?

    does it matter? surely whether they do or don’t, it will have results along their path.

    for those teachers struggling to make a living… maybe it’s not about the yoga per se, but about what’s going on for them as individuals.

    is this indeed their path?
    why are they teaching?
    what is a living?
    is teaching an opportunity to work through value/money/abundance stuff?

    plus … when yoga is everywhere… does it cease to have value?
    what is a class worth?
    more on this here -How much is a yoga class worth to you?”

    maybe as a community what we could be asking ourselves is… alright, this is how it is right now… how do we shift it to something else for all of us?

    that’s what i’m interested in.

    i don’t have any answers – yet.

    but i’m sure dropping limiting beliefs (i want/don’t want…) & running with opportunities (it’s there, might as well grab it…) has particular results.

    just ask sadie…

    unless it doesn’t resonate ‘cos you love where you are.

    and then you love it… so all is well anyway.

    right Kai?

    and that’s the beauty of diversity.

    different teachers filling different niches.

    and we as a community, helping each other do the best in our own niches.

    peace, kl

  • Great discussion.

    I am a new yoga teacher who quit a corporate job where I was earning a good income because I believe yoga is my dharma and I felt empty and uninspired doing a job just for the money.

    I’ve been teaching at a small studio, and the largest class I’ve had to date is 3…3!

    Despite this, I absolutely believe that the universe will provide if I am being true to myself and following my heart.

    Loved your comment KL where you asked the question “why are you teaching? Is this your true path?”…

    If something isn’t working for us – we shouldn’t keep pushing in a direction the universe isn’t leading us… non violence includes not torturing yourself over something you think you “should” be doing for any reason other than love or following your heart.

  • So interesting to read this, and oddly helpful to know that others are struggling to make a living in yoga. I love this blog!!!!

  • i’ve come late to the comment party by many months, but the topic isn’t any less interesting!

    i don’t formally teach, yet, but i’ll err on the side of not-limiting, and accept the challenges of both not having enough $ and having more than I need; both being ignored by potential students and idolized by random folk; be both a physical being and a spiritual person – and the continuum inbetween ;-)

    i won’t want to forgo either spiritual philosophical meditational studies, nor so-called non-yoga fun stuff like jazzercise, zumba, elastic bands, bicycling, walking, or having sex (does that last one count as the former or latter category? ;-)

    i’ll respect the east and yoga’s presumed roots, but fully accept i am of the west and all “its” assumed roots

    I’ll remember i’m already 60, but only half way to 120

    should be an interesting ride ;-)

  • Rosie

    I believe in supporting your local yoga teacher. They are your most inspiring teachers. Once you go out and try to earn a living, you’ll most likely write up a bio. Make sure that local yoga teacher, the one you studied with for years, the one who let you take classes even when you had no money, is on it! I think this goes a long way toward spreading the wealth. We create the yoga celebrity! Let’s make sure they are the best teachers we know.

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