So you’re a yoga teacher. You probably make a million bucks, right? You’re not even reading this right now, your personal assistant is, scanning the internets so they can report back once you’ve returned from your lavender-infused Himalyan pink salt ‘personal aquatic retreat,’ aka bath in normal people speak. What’s that? Totally not true? You’re actually having a hard time making ends meet and working multiple jobs just to pay the bills? You’re not alone.
We got down and dirty with some bittersweet reality in our post Teaching Yoga As Second Career: 3 Tips to Make It or Break It. This latest blog from GOOD highlights the plight of one aspiring NYC yoga teacher, echoing the problems many, probably thousands, of teachers face as they’re churned out of training and thrust into the competitive pool of potentials, clawing their way through the crowds to eagle pose on top of the heap. And that’s just to buy groceries every day, nevermind healthcare or having a family (we won’t even go there right now).
Writer/actor/hence disenchanted service industry employee and eventual disenchanted yoga teacher, Sue Smith spills the woes of her journey and realization that, to her dismay, teaching yoga is just another service job.
The first few months were the worst. At the studio where I studied, graduates of the teacher training program were encouraged to teach their “Rising Stars” discounted classes—even though the studio only hired teachers with three or more years of experience. I taught Rising Stars classes for a year, with no pay and no promise of a regular teaching gig.
It didn’t get much better once I started getting paid. Because competition is so fierce, most new teachers will teach anywhere they can, and pay can be low if it exists at all. Startups and new places generally pay their teachers on a “bringer” basis: the teacher may have a base rate of five to 10 dollars, and then earn two to five dollars per student.
I realized quickly that private lessons were where the money was. Teachers set their own rates, and, if they’re teaching them in-home, they can be pure profit. I charged my private clients anywhere from $60 to $125 an hour, depending on how well I knew them and what neighborhood they lived in. But even that didn’t add up to a life of luxury. For me, it meant sitting with a pile of 1099s fanned in front of me on the ground at the end of the year, owing $3,000 in taxes.
And hustling to two, three, four classes a day (if I was lucky) left me with no time for my own yoga practice or my comedy. I became jealous of my students who could fit classes into their schedules. Even though I was teaching often, I still had to wait tables to make rent. I had no days off. I had no time for auditions or writing. Worst of all, I was still doing what I’d done waiting tables: catering to (usually rich) people, like the guy who demanded we do certain postures, or the woman who argued with me about the proper way to teach headstands, or the types who had never done yoga before and came in 20 minutes late. I was getting paid to look serene and keep my mouth shut.
Of course soaring to your perfect garudasana is different from earning a decent living, unless you’re Elena Brower, Sadie Nardini, Bikram Choudhury or John Friend before the fall. Need we break it to you? Nope, you are not one of these people. And even they have had to spin it to something broader than just ‘yoga teacher’. Not to sound fresh, but the increasingly common misconception that teaching yoga is your ultimate dream job and you will live happily ever after without some struggle, hustle and/or supplementary income is just not realistic.
“[Yoga is] like any other profession—it takes a huge investment of time and money to go pro,” says Bridgid Ryan, who studied at Yoga to the People and now teaches independent yoga classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.
Sure the industry is raking in $5.7 billion a year and stretchy pants providers can’t get their luon stocking shelves fast enough. But contrary to what opportunist constructs such as YAMA talent agency and sometimes the Wanderlust Festival might lead you to believe, we have to ponder the question, is teaching yoga not a service? Should we view it as anything but?
We’re going out on a limb here. Clearly we’re no pious cave dwelling gurutastic Gandhi reincarnates, and we don’t expect modern yoga teachers to be either, but good grief has the image of teaching yoga become a mogulriffic funhouse of ambition-driven fame whores.
We do sympathize with the sentiment that yoga studios may sometimes seem like greedy little hoarders hogging most of the profits (20 students x $20 a class= $30 pay?). It sucks, but unfortunately if you’re not ok with the pay split, there are plenty of other spritely, hungry, perkily naive applicants ready to step in.
The truth is, teaching yoga isn’t like any other profession or career path and perhaps we shouldn’t attempt it like it is. Then again, if you want a yoga TV show or your turn on the stage there are certainly agents ready to take your money make your dream come true. Nothing is impossible. Even still, bringing the teachings of yoga to one or many is providing a service whether you count your students, your dollar bills or your blessings. If that doesn’t serve you, maybe get out of the kitchen.
“We go into teaching for the outcome, not the income.” Paula Liberis, inspired NYC yoga teacher.
That’s our rant, the floor is yours…
ps. All is not lost. We’ll be including some yoga biz features and tips for teachers on YD in the coming weeks. Maybe you won’t make a million dollars, but at least you’ll have a decent website and a better handle on personal finances. Oooh…sexy.
- Teaching Yoga As Second Career: 3 Tips to Make It or Break It
- Sadie Nardini On Her New ‘Rock Your Yoga’ Show and Changing Reality TV
- Market Value: Is Your Yoga Worth $2000? The Reality of Making a Living as a Yoga Teacher
- Selling Out: Yoga Talent Agency Seeks A-list Yoga Teachers Seeking Fame
- Yoga’s Survival Guide: Does it Need to Grow Up? Does it Need Saving?