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Market Value: Is Your Yoga Worth $2000? The Reality of Making a Living as a Yoga Teacher

in Business of Yoga, For Teachers, YD News

Can yoga teachers make a living? Ha, what a silly question. Oh, you’re not charging $400 a session? $2000 for a 5-pack? That’s how much private yoga with Tara Stiles is going for according to the amusingly named shopping site ahalife.com. (you also get 2 Tara Stiles/Deepak Chopra DVDs with your purchase.)

These days when fresh yoga teachers are churned out by the dozens from training, studios keep springing up like amoebas in fresh water and its popularity has celebriyogis like rocker Adam Levine and even the Kardashians are in on the down dog, teaching yoga should be wedged in the income bracket squarely between wedding planners and divorce lawyers, right? (It’s not.)

True, a select few lucky dogs like Stiles and Mandy Ingber ($1400+ for a 3-day weekend) are high-profile enough to vinyasa in plenty cash flow for million dollar homes and presumed personal sweaty mat moppers, because why not. And we won’t even get started on Bikram‘s Rolls Royce and Rolex fancy. But what can the average, hardworking yoga teacher expect to make? Brace yourselves.

A recent Well+Good NYC article has some interesting insight on the topic. A quote from Ava Taylor, founder of YAMA, the premier yoga talent agency behind traveling teachers like Sadie Nardini (and consequent maker/crusher of dreams) stood out:

[YAMA founder Ava] Taylor’s stable of super-established and highly credentialed yogis earn anywhere from $40K to $400K. While the salary range is huge, “most yoga teachers in New York can expect to make $35K or $40K,” Taylor says. “Even if you become a really popular instructor, with 50 people in your class regularly.”

We think that’s a bit generous, and somewhat misleading. “Most” yoga teachers can not “expect” to make this much, at least not for a while. Let’s break it down. As a starting teacher in NYC, we’ll be optimistic and say within the first year or two you teach (and sub) 10 classes a week at $35 a class and 4 privates at $100 each (again a bit generous). That’s $750 a week, $39,000 a year, BEFORE taxes, and accounting for things like sickness, vacations, holidays, additional training, fancy yoga pants, paying your talent agent and interruptions also known as life.

Aw come on, we’re not here to bum you out, though perhaps some perspective is in order for we blue collar yogi educators. We wholeheartedly believe anything is possible if you put your heart into it – hey we spend our days writing a yoga blog! But the truth is, we’re not all Deepak Chopra’s personal guru. That’s not to say we can’t live our dreams as yoga teachers, we just have to be practical, mindful and clever.

Your yoga practice has the potential to help you find clarity, to let go of what is unnecessary and to uncover your true self. And listen, if your true self is found teaching yoga AND selling handmade jewelry, painting foot portraits for toe fetishists or using your marketable skills to craft world peace projects then by all means do it all. Teaching yoga is a privilege, and expecting to make a million dollars (or even $40k) a year isn’t entirely unachievable. There’s an opportunity for you to reach that $100-200 a class or become LeBron James‘s personal guru, but if that’s your primary goal then maybe this isn’t your gig.

Perhaps a not so silly question is to ask yourself why before how much.

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23 comments… add one
  • I think what I teach is priceless and I teach for enjoyment part time while keeping a full time job. In my full time job I find the service in it the same way I do in my teaching.

    It’s all yoga in the end.

  • I think people often shy away from the banal, yet super-important, topic of money when determining whether or not it’s worth it to pursue YTT. As someone considering it myself, I have to ask myself if and when I will recoup my investment. Thanks for taking on this sometimes controversial topic!

  • When I started my teacher training I only knew that I wanted to make sure yoga was a regular part of my life. After I finished the 9 months (200 Hour Level) I found that I really loved to teach.

    It would be nice to get paid more, but I have found the most satisfaction and fulfillment from some of my free or lower paying classes.

  • Yes, it is hard to make ends meet teaching mostly public classes and money discussions are always uncomfortable. But the joy that comes from teaching is priceless.

  • I started teaching full time after getting certified some years ago and found that it wears me down. In order to make a living you have to teach so many people, all the time, every day – there’s hardly any time left for your own practice. Without pursuing my own practice and with having to teach people almost like on a conveyor belt, I’m just not being the best teacher I can be. I went back to the office and teach part time now. Students can expect the best for what they pay – and not an overly tired, exhausted teacher!

    • Sam

      I really identify with you Andrea. I too left full-time yoga teaching and returned to office work. My part-time yoga gigs are a delight as I don’t feel like I am just going through the motions during the 20 – odd classes I used to teach in a week!

      With so many yoga studios grinding out freshly minted teachers every day, it won’t be long before the average annual salary for a yoga teacher will plummet. Supply and demand win every time.

  • great perspective!
    as is suggested with the rest of life, i find balance and moderation to be the key. as one of the many yoga teachers who is a slashy – yoga teacher /slash/ ft-brand director – i do find that i get the most joy (and possibly the most money) when i work with a schedule of what makes be happiness. i love both career paths and find that they do balance each other out, each giving me something unique. self practice is a super important part to carve out and as i find my schedule filling up, i find it more and more important to schedule this part in (yes, i’m a bit type a as far as yogis go)!

  • Jack

    I’m always pleased to see somebody tackling this subject – I’m working towards becoming a teacher and although money isn’t a central consideration, it’s quite important to a certain extent. I don’t care for a big house or even expensive yoga pants, but the electricity needs to be covered somehow!

    That said, no matter how financially treacherous the yoga terrain may be, no matter how scary it is to contemplate meeting even the baseline obligations in my life… something tells me that I won’t be able to move forward until I give full-time teaching my best shot. There’s something so powerful there. Yoga is the light in so many of our lives, why wouldn’t we want to make that light what we devote ourselves to? I suspect many people experience that feeling.

    As with most things, it’s experiencing these difficulties and persisting that makes a true career yoga teacher. Will I be one? The only way I’ll know is by putting those cards on the table.

  • NCDan

    A fellow psychologist plays bluegrass music on the side because he loves to play this music. His band plays many free gigs and a few paying gigs. From a financial perspective, his band is a loser. He loves it!
    I teach yoga on the side because I love to teach this tradition. I teach some free classes and some paying classes. From a financial perspective, my teaching practice is a loser. I love it!

  • Heather N.

    I liked reading your view of things on this matter. However, bringing teachers names into the subject (Well + Good ,NYC, kept the names of there sources nameless) like Tara Stiles, she charges $10 a class/every class/everyday. In summer 2010, she offered a Teacher Training at $1,500. That is nothing compared to $3,000 & up for others. I took the teacher training- and at the time, being a mom of 2 and a husband who is a musician, I couldn’t afford it- Tara let me take the TT anyway. Some teachers make more than others, yes. But who are we to judge? I am a yoga teacher on the shore in NJ. I make at one studio $40 flat-rate, then $3 extra per person after 5 people. At another studio, I get paid $30 and $15 if class is empty (never happend yet, thank god). So how much do you get paid for writing a blog/website on YOGA? Truthfully? And if you didn’t slander peoples/teachers names? how much would you make, then? Hmm. Jealousy = bad Karma

  • Heather N. – There are very legitimate questions worth asking when a tiny crew of uber celebrity yoga teachers are raking in millions, and have the gall in the case of Bikram, to sue others over his “pose sequence.” Yoga is not a capitalist tool, and frankly it’s imperative that more people deeply examine how to ethically work with money in the context of teaching.

  • It’s true, yoga teachers do not make much money. Where you live and teach is also a big factor – I live and teach in a VERY small town, and my yoga teaching brought me in about $5000 in total last year, teaching on average 3 classes per week. Seriously. That’s it. Certainly not enough to live on.

  • I made a living as a self-employed yoga instructor for over a decade before I opened a center in Brooklyn four years ago. Its not easy but can be done. Definitely a modest lifestyle. I wrote a series of essays for the IAYT chronicling my process. In particular, “Financial Realities and Occupational Hazards” and “Making of a Yoga Therapy Center.” They can be read here: http://yogijbrown.com/essays/

  • Elizabeth

    The joy of teaching and sharing is awesome, but joy doesn’t pay the electric bill.

    In our desire to defend wanting to teach yoga, I think some of us have missed the point of this article: teaching yoga full time is not a partiuclarly lucrative career, and for many of us it is not reasonable to expect it to even pay our bills (at least not in the beginning).

    Tara Stiles was not slandered in this article. (To slander someone is to say something untrue about them.) In fact, there isn’t even a single mean comment in there. No one is doubting her generosity. That said, let’s have a reality check: one of the reasons she can be a full time yoga teacher and afford to offer classes for cheap and TT for cheap or free is that she has multiple other sidelines that pay her big bucks. These include the ads for Nissan, writing/consulting for Women’s Health Magazine, book sales, DVD sales, private lessons, retreats/workshops/etc., and her work with/for Deepak Chopra. It is highlighly likely Ms. Stiles earns more from those projects than most of us do teaching yoga (and I’d bet it is more than I make practicing law full time).

    Teaching yoga can be a beautiful career choice that is both satisfying and financially rewarding. But just like you don’t arrive in Hollywood and become a full-time working actress immediately, most people do not start teaching yoga full-time and have all their finances taken care of. I feel that honest conversations about all of the aspects of money and yoga are valuable. My TT teachers were very honest about what it is like to start teaching, what it is like to transition to teaching full-time, etc. and I thank them for their bluntness and integrity.

  • I agree with the points you made…. thanks for sharing it with us

  • Yoga is a science that has been practiced for thousands of years. It is contains ancient theories, observations and principles about the mind and body connection which is now proven by modern medicine.
    http://200hrsyogattc.com/

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