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Open Thread: The Yoga Man, Can He Be That Bad? Have Your Say, Share Your Experience on Business of Yoga

in Business of Yoga, YD News

We’ve heard from many readers about the pluses and pitfalls of trying to make your way today as a yoga teacher. We’ve also watched how yoga has grown beyond the traditional setting of Guru to student, to instructor to the masses in a studio, a festival or on a TV show. While some of this growth may seem heinous, we can in turn celebrate the expansion of yoga moving outside the boundaries of its sometimes exclusive or woo woo club.

In the recent case of Pure vs. Marco, positions, policies and egos clashed. We have to ask, was it the big bad corporation? Was it the stubborn yoga teacher? Or was it the culture and business of yoga today? Or maybe some odd combination of all three.

Because we believe in open discussion and that your voices are incredibly valuable for everyone to hear, as practitioners, teachers, studio owners and dabblers, we’d like to open the floor for your thoughts, concerns, questions, what have you, regarding the business of yoga.

Some questions to get the ball rolling:

How do you make ends meet as a yoga teacher?

In the struggle to make a living, would you swallow your pride when yoga corporate seems safer, even though it may rub you the wrong way?

What are your thoughts on the growth of yoga and the business side? As a practitioner? A teacher? A studio owner?

If you can, include where you’re from for context.



23 comments… add one
  • Garuda

    Question 1: I dont
    Question 2: Pride? What pride? when the corporation makes 14.00/student and the teacher gets a flat rate, what in the hell kind of motivator is that?. Where I teach, the company prohibits me from talking to students about private lessons. When the soul sucking corporate shills sell yoga and steal from the teachers, what has pride got to do with it?
    Question3: My solution is to give it away. Especially in an overly impacted area like So. Cal. Stick it in the ear of the boutique Yoga snobs and give free yoga away.

  • Elizabeth

    One argument the studios often make is that the overhead for running a yoga business is not cheap (especially in California): studio space rental, heating (esp. for studios that offer heated classes), AC, water (whether service or filters or municipal or some combination), space upkeep (cleaning and repair), receptionists (and other staff), advertising (signs, ads, promotions), web presence (site design, maintenance), software licensing, etc. I highly doubt there are more than four “big corporate yoga studios” making money hand over fist. While I have not seen their books, I’d be willing to bet those studios make far more money from retail and teacher training programs than they make from actual yoga classes.

    A solution that some local teachers have used is to form a co-op (teachers share expenses in proportion to their studio time usage, and take home whatever they bring in above that amount).

    I’m still sad there are areas with more yoga studios than they can possibly use (e.g. So Cal) and other areas where there is basically no yoga at all.

    • eric

      I am a former owner of a yoga studio, and I can tell you firsthand, it ain’t what it looks like from the outside.

      My rent was $7400 a month. That’s not even getting to payroll, insurance, TP, outreach, merchant service processing, TP, laundry, cleaning supplies, etc etc. If you charge $20 for a drop-in – just to cover the rent – that’s a lot of mats on the floor.

      My best month I grossed $23,000. After expenses, that left me with a gross of $8200. Considering I could have a job as a copywriter in advertising, and EASILY clear that kind of money with far far less hassle, what the hell is this for? (And, it should be noted, there are the summer months and February where arguably you will be lucky to simply break even.)

      I had some instructors who were amazing: reliable (as an owner, I must say, THAT is THE most important factor), sincere, courteous. But I also had prima donnas who will start arguments (in front of members sometimes), were chronically late, who would call in last minute to say they were in California, promote their own agendas (privates, retreats, etc) at the studio (regardless of the stated policies), everything.

      It’s true what they say about having employees: no one cares about the job as much as you do. But when those employees are only part-time (at most teaching 3 or 4 classes a week) and are aspiring actresses or dancers, the reliability quotient erodes significantly.

      Problems with members were also the norm. Every day – EVERY – I had to deal with at least three people trying to get me to honor their expired card. “I’ve been sick”, “I’ve been busy at work”, “I didn’t realize it expires”. Rreally? Sick for three months? Working so much that you couldn’t find time to attend a morning, evening, or weekend class? Those class-cards come at a discount from the drop-in price with the stipulation of the expiration. THAT’S the trade-off. And when I had to enforce the policy, not at all infrequent to hear, “Well, that’s not very yogic of you.” Oh, please. Tell it to my landlord.

      Another studio owner once commented, “If you want to learn how to hate yoga, open a studio.” I thought she had been joking and that it was a marvelous display of wit. Now, after the experience of owning a studio, I realize she wasn’t being clever: she was being terribly blunt.

  • Great questions!

    I grew up in a small town in Louisiana, but I now live and teach in Annapolis, MD, so my opinions are informed by a mix of those experiences.

    How do you make ends meet as a yoga teacher?
    Well, I’m lucky enough to have a full time job that I find reasonably fulfilling, which pays me well enough that I don’t have to rely on teaching yoga as my only income. I teach because I love yoga and I believe in the power it has to help people find peace in this crazy world! Having a full time job allows me to be picky about when, where, how, and how much I teach, so I don’t end up compromising what I believe in.

    In the struggle to make a living, would you swallow your pride when yoga corporate seems safer, even though it may rub you the wrong way?
    If I had to make my living just by teaching, yes, I would teach whenever and wherever I could, and I would most likely invent ways to make money by teaching at special events, retreats, and so forth. I would just do my best to live my yoga and teach with those principals in mind. It would be a lot more work, but I think it’s still possible!

    What are your thoughts on the growth of yoga and the business side? As a practitioner? A teacher? A studio owner?
    I’m bothered by the over-commercialization, the product development, the endorsements … When I first learned about yoga, I went to classes in pajama pants because it didn’t occur to me that there was such a thing as “yoga pants.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with buying pants to wear for your asana practice, but at the same time, I feel that something of the essence of yoga is lost in the translation. True yoga is not about pants. At the same time,I have a certain amount of faith that the meaning of yoga will come through a little bit at a time. People start their practice with whatever is appropriate for them at the time, and gradually it deepens into greater understanding. As a yoga teacher, I just want to assist with that, and I think the only way is to meet people where they are. If that means they came to class so they could look good in yoga pants, so be it.

  • The best yoga teachers and mentors, in my limited experience, are those for whom yoga is not their vocation. My favourite teacher only teaches one evening class per week and she has a full-time job. She’s got a very strong practice compared to most of the professional instructor subset. She is my teacher most of the time, but we do have a dynamic going and I do get to teach her too.

    The best professional yoga instructors that I’ve been to all are technically sound but it’s clear they are selling their services. Yoga is one of those things that seems to be heavily distorted by free market enterprise, sort of like health care or religion. The goals of yoga are really in opposition to that of capitalism. I don’t like it when the primary goal of my doctor is to sell me as many procedures as possible to make the most money. Similarly I don’t like it when my yoga instructor attempts to sell me as many yoga services as possible. That’s sort of the antithesis of me achieving some form of Dhyana (I think).

    • HY

      Some very good points here. I agree about the difference between “yoga as a service” and “yoga as a service industry”…

  • My hat is off to those trying to make a living teaching yoga. I have a full time job and teach yoga as my time allows. It is done gratis, I teach to share.
    I love that more people are engaged in yoga. I don’t love the commercialism that comes along with that popularity. For me, yoga is a life path. I know that is not the same for all I teach or all interested. I am not sure that in today’s world popularity doesn’t =commericalism and corporate involvement.

  • I am currently trying to decide if I should give up a full-time job to teach yoga full-time. If I did, I think I would have to couple it with a part-time gig like managing a studio. It is difficult to teach enough to make a living without getting burt out!

    I am hesitant to make the switch because right now I teach for the joy of it and the money I get paid is just an added bonus. I am worried that if I am depending on my classes to pay my rent that it might add pressure and take away the love and passion I have for teaching.

    These are great questions that come up a lot with fellow yoga teachers. I look forward to reading other comments!

    • eric

      Keep the full-time gig. Keep yoga as a passion. Yoga and the business of yoga are two totally different things.

  • abbylou

    I don’t teach, but I would like to talk about my experiences dealing with more corporate yoga studios and their teachers v. yoga teachers who try to make a living outside of the corporate environment.

    At the large corporate studio where I practice, the teachers are very skilled and knowledgeable both in asana and philosophy, professional, and always punctual. They all are at least 500 RYT and most have many more hours of training plus years of personal practice and teaching under their belts. Each of the teachers I have practiced with seems to have a strong personal practice that goes beyond just asana. They are reserved about their personal practices and subtly weave philosophy into class– you just have to listen. I have never had a teacher at a corporate studio pressure me to take privates, workshops, or go on retreats. Every workshop I have attended has been well designed and well executed.

    My experience with teachers who are trying to make a living outside of the corporate studio environment has been the opposite. None of them were consistently punctual. They often had to cancel. Sometimes you would show up to class, but they wouldn’t. Their classes did not seem to be very “planned.” There was definitely more of a “the more the merrier” approach to teaching, i.e.” I need the money so I’m not turning anyone away”, which is very kind, but usually not very conducive to dedicated students advancing their practices. I don’t just mean doing more advanced asana, but when you put a healthy 35 year-old in a room who practices several times a week with a few marathon runners in their fifties who “go to yoga” a couple times a month, the odd 20 something, and then several people in their 60’s and 70’s who need serious modifications and time-consuming assistance, class tends to be unfocused and not much happens. You could say that classes weren’t focused on asana (most likely because the students didn’t regularly practice or needed serious modifications), but the classes weren’t focused on meditation or philosophy either– there just was a whole lot of chatter and giggling. Not to mention that these classes tend to be expensive– maybe a $2o drop-in fee or a 10-class series for $160.

    My experience with the teachers trying to make a living outside the corporate environment is that they did pressure me to take privates. They also pressured everyone to attend day-long workshops and retreats. One workshop/retreat I attended cost $75. It was from 10-4. Another student had generously donated the use of his home and deck. We had a potluck. We did about an hour of asana, went on a hike, ate lunch for 2 hours, siesta and relaxation for an hour, and journalled for half an hour with closing remarks for another half hour. I honestly felt like the teacher was trying to make a buck off me.

    Many of these teachers are outspoken about their distrust of corporate yoga. I feel like the vocalization of this attitude is a subtle way to manipulate students into taking classes from these teachers instead of going to a place that might provide more resources to a student who wants a more serious practice.

    There is a small studio near my house that seems very cool. Classes are expensive. $150 a month for unlimited- but not many classes are offered. I probably would attend 2 classes a week based on what is offered. The owners seem like great people and I would love to support them, but it’s too expensive.

    So, yeah, as a student, I’m unlikely to take classes with somebody who is not affiliated with a corporate studio or at least a well-established independent studio with good attendance. I do not like being the teacher’s “patron;” I want to be the student.

    • This is really great, insightful information. That should help any yoga teacher.

      Professionalism is extremely important. 🙂

      • eric

        I’ll second that. Great posts, both of you.

  • Also, could someone please moderate my prior comment. Thanks.

  • Garuda

    Going to a corporate yoga provider is like going to a big box retailer for your spirituality.


    • abbylou

      I don’t know, Garuda. I think that’s short-sighted. My current teacher is the head of our studio, which is a corporate provider. She is very knowledgeable about the Sutras, Vedic philosophy, and the history of yoga. She is a wonderful at teaching pranayama and helping the student awaken and become more present. I have not encountered the same depth of instruction and tools from anybody else.

      Besides, I don’t go anywhere beyond myself for my spirituality, so why wouldn’t I go to a place that has the most resources.

      • Garuda

        Because understanding something is quite different than realizing something. And, if your spiritual practice is so Self contained, why do you need a teacher at all. Simply access the Akashic records and proceed.

        • Vision_Quest2

          You are so right.

          Now, you have to choose carefully.

          There are non-chain independent studios that have sincere and authentic intentions. Had quite a good experience at one such, although their style was a little old-school. Later a different non-chain independent, run by a generous soul–a true middle-pather–was good too.

          I’d had the worst experience at one of a small chain of yoga/wellness centers. And, actually, a better experience at yoga given at a chain semi-upscale health club.

          The yoga world obviously is a much different planet for us stiff older ladies. But, all in all, being in that orbit doesn’t skew these anecdata much …

        • abbylou

          If I want realization, shouldn’t I go to an ashram? We are talking about studios whose business is asana.

          • Vision_Quest2

            I go to satsangs (free and/or suggested donation – which is what I can afford), and my asana practice (semi-guided by distance teaching/learning online; in particular My Yoga Online) is at home …

            Asana is my business and until/unless unlimited expiry dates on class packs at a deep discount might return, it will remain between me and my online service …

  • eric


    When I first opened my studio, I offered unlimited expiry on class packs. From a business standpoint, it was an inadvisable tactic.

    There are only so many people who will practice yoga, and even fewer who will come to your studio. These people are your revenue stream. If they can’t be bothered to take 10 classes in 90 days, they simply won’t be that essential to your studio. I had people wandering in 7, 8 months since their last visit, and used only 2 of their 10-class pack. If they called ahead of time, I could have frozen their memberships.

    This, btw, is the genius of PURE. No class packs. Recurring monthly billing . Period. You know the money flow, you know it has consistency, you can invest in your studio knowing what’s coming in, what’s going out. Plus, from my experience again, those you purchase monthlies, almost as a rule, never complained that they only used the studio three times that month. They understood and accepted the contract. Those who bought class packs, FREQUENTLY, wanted a bigger, better deal (either extentions, steeper discount, etc.) all too often.

    • Vision_Quest2

      you forgot to say … “Not that there’s anything wrong with that …”

      Primarily home practitioner, and practiced regularly, years before I’d ever even thought of using an online service.

      There IS a backlash, and primarily-home-practitioner priced studios will come back … in some form .. if not brick and mortar …

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