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How I Went Broke Trying To Teach Yoga

in Business of Yoga, YD News, Yogitorials

bankrupt-yoga

by Jessica Pishko 

I came to yoga, like most people, because I hated my job and going to yoga class was easier than finding another career. I was a well-paid corporate lawyer and, as I watched the gentle office dust drift through the filtered New York City sunlight, I dreamed of being anywhere else.

At first, it started with one or two classes a week, but soon, like an addict, I was there as often as I could skip out of work early. The yoga teacher was an escapee from the world of public relations. She had luscious dark, wavy hair, milky skin and sturdy thighs. At the end of every class, she turned off the lights, and we students lay there in the dark underneath musty, scratchy blankets.

“You deserve good things!” she intoned in a throaty voice.

I wept silently. I desperately wanted to deserve good things.

Over time, I needed that positive affirmation more and more. I needed a teacher, a spiritual guide, someone to tell me that I was worth loving, that my body was fine just the way it was, and that, somehow, the universe knew what it was doing. I decided that the most efficient way to do this was to become a yoga teacher myself.

Yoga teacher training isn’t cheap. A class consisting of six months of weekend-long training classes cost nearly $3,000 over five years ago; now it’s more. My first yoga teacher training class had about twenty people in it: several actors and dancers, a special-education teacher, a nutritionist, and a woman whose husband had celiac disease. We met all day Saturday and Sunday, as well as Wednesday nights. My tuition allowed me to go to unlimited yoga classes and to learn the difference between internal and external rotation. I learned how to avoid rotator cuff injuries and finally achieved a handstand. I hoped that by becoming a yoga teacher, I would have better hair, better abs, and better self-esteem. Now, I was the one telling people that they were worthwhile, so I had to believe it for myself.

In the midst of all this bliss, I got fired from my job. It was 2008.

But, I’d gotten paid three months severance, which felt like a lot, so I decided to take the plunge and continue my yoga teacher training. The next level was called the 300-hour teacher training, which, added to the 200 hours I’d already completed, would total 500 hours of teacher training. I would then be able to register with the Yoga Alliance – a national organization that costs $55 a year – as a 500-hour certified teacher. (Yoga Alliance standards, incidentally, are non-binding and considered potentially inadequate.) I paid an additional $3,000 dollars for more training (in installments this time) and continued to attend yoga classes. I was so blissed out, I could ignore my expiring bank account. I figured the universe would send me a sign.

As part of the advanced teacher training, I assisted a teacher during one class a week: picking up props, doling out blankets, and learning how to pull on people’s hips in down dog without making them cringe. I helped light candles; I was basically a glorified personal assistant. I also got to teach a real yoga class once a week — without getting paid, of course. Up to this point, I’d made zero dollars teaching yoga. The teachers encouraged us to teach for free, to teach anyone, in fact, who would take their shoes off and stumble through a few poses listening to you ramble on how the hips hold deep-seeded feelings of guilt and resentment. Only by giving my skills away would I get something in return.

I did get something out of teaching the free class. I was no longer embarrassed to bellow “OM” into a quiet room. I could chant in semi-melodious tones while my students closed their eyes in corpse pose. I blasted Rasa while my students filed into class and placed their expensive-looking handbags along the side of the wall. One time, I opened a window in the perennially stuffy studio and a woman’s white athletic sock fell out onto the street below. The sock’s owner was focused on tree pose and didn’t see. (I told her, of course, but am ashamed to admit I thought about pretending like it didn’t happen.)

Luckily, the money I wasn’t making was money I saved by becoming a vegan. I eliminated all dairy and meat from my diet. When I engaged in deep meditation practice (also part of being a yoga teacher), I saw a hamburger on the inside of my eyelids, and my eyes watered. My meditation teacher walked by and told me, “This path is not easy.”

After the completion of my 500 hours of yoga teacher training, I was entitled to sub at the yoga studio for $25 a class, minus taxes. Most of the classes were early in the morning and late at night, so I sprinted across town from dawn to dark. I stalked pregnant yoga teachers, waiting for them to go on maternity leave.

The real money, I heard, was in private clients, who allegedly paid up to $200 per class. One experienced teacher gave me a private client, a dentist, whom I taught weekly for credits for teeth cleanings. I hoped my polished enamel would compensate for the lack of heath insurance. I got a coveted private client – a middle-aged executive with a tennis injury – whom I met at 5:30 A.M. twice a week. On my way to see him, more than once I encountered people having sex behind a bar, still intoxicated from the night before. I rode the subway with whole classes of people who inhabit the city before the white-collar workers roll into their offices carrying cups of Starbucks: people who serve food and clean floors and take care of children. I went to a family member’s elaborate and costly bar mitzvah – complete with acrobats and someone swallowing fire – and wished that I was working the party, rather than attending it.

Chasing after yoga classes was demeaning and brutal on the body. There was no sick pay, so I worked through the flu and food poisoning from a particularly nasty “health” salad. I picked up a class at 6 A.M. when a teacher left for graduate school and hoped it would turn into a regular gig. Sadly, after a few months, I was replaced with another young yoga teacher, no more experienced than I, but possibly less desperate.

I decided that some professional pictures of me wearing black spandex, contorting my limbs into impressive poses, were necessary for a website to attract private clients, so I shelled out $300 for a photography student to come and take pictures of me. There’s a great photo of me aligned with some mahogany walls, toes pointed in the air. I was able to balance long enough for the photo. But I never got the promised private clients. I stopped paying for the web host. I put the photo on Facebook and received many likes, so it wasn’t a total waste.

I asked my yoga teachers for advice, feeling that they owed me something. As part of the training, I was assigned a “mentor” who was supposed to shepherd me through the painful process of going from mortal to guru. Mine was an incredibly toned woman with tan limbs who yelled at me to straighten my legs in class. I liked her no-nonsense approach. When I asked her for help finding classes, she asked, “How bad do you want it?”

“Um, well, bad,” I said.

“You have to give things up and wait for your time. The universe will guide you,” she said. I wondered what she meant. I couldn’t always afford food for my dog and gave him half of mine. I asked my parents for more money, convinced that I would break into the business soon.

“Why don’t you just start back on your antidepressants and get a real job?” my mom asked.

Desperate for money and longing to be around luxury even if I couldn’t afford it, I took a job in retail. My phone rang constantly with the calls of credit card companies. I turned off the ringer permanently. I put all those envelopes I couldn’t pay in a drawer.

At my retail job, I soothed myself by folding sweaters and making neat piles, smalls on top, larges on the bottom. I rearranged the knick-knacks that made the store look like a cozy home rather than a place of capitalist domination. A lawyer I used to work with came in one day to shop.

“You work here?” she asked in marvel.

I explained my situation.

“That’s incredible,” she said. “I wish I could be like you.”

Just then, my supervisor pulled me to the side. Someone had stolen several pairs of earrings during my shift as dressing room attendant. A guard patted me down and checked the folds of my sweater and the cuffs of my jeans for stolen goods.

I began to attach myself to another yoga teacher in the meantime, reasoning that the toned one was simply not my true teacher. “When the student is ready, the teacher comes,” I was told a yogi once said. I thought this woman would be my true teacher. She had a round, open face, liquid dark eyes, and a perfectly proportioned body, softly round yet strong. While my old teacher’s moves were athletic and muscular, like a speed skater, my new teacher was fluid, popping into a handstand without seeming to flex a muscle. She wore hoop earrings and wrapped a beaded mala around her wrist.

One afternoon, I accompanied her as she went shopping in the West Village. We entered a boutique that specialized in drapey silk tunics with delicate embroidery, plush ethnic scarves, and soft cotton t-shirts that are sheer and just right for wearing over a Beyond Yoga support tank ($71). She fingered a turquoise wrap shirt.

“What do you think?” she asked.

I told her that I needed a job. I wasn’t making enough money to pay my rent. I was thinking about moving back in with my parents.

She bought the shirt without trying it on and proposed getting a tea. We sat in a café, and I continued talking. I cried and begged her for help, any kind of help, any kind of job. “I can’t make it as a yoga teacher,” I said.

She offered to put me in touch with someone who needed cater waiters. “It pays well,” she said. “It’s just for a few nights. I’ll send you his email. In the meantime, you should write down what you want on a piece of paper and set the proper intention. If you don’t set the intention, if you don’t really want it, it won’t happen for you.”

“I do want it to happen,” I said, wiping my nose on my sleeve.

I sent my teacher an email about the catering gig once, then twice, and waited for a response that never came.

Finally, one weekend scraping kale and faro off of a plate as a dishwasher at a yoga retreat in upstate New York (discounted price, $300), I decided that I had had enough. My fellow new yoga teacher/ dishwasher kept looking at my handiwork critically.

“Washing dishes is like yoga,” she said. “You have to do it mindfully.” She pointed to some congealed sauce I’d missed on a fork.

After that weekend, I filed for bankruptcy and ended the calls from creditors. I interviewed for a job with benefits and health insurance so that I could start back on antidepressants. I had to work in an office, but at least I could afford a beer after work.

I continued to teach yoga occasionally after that, but I no longer had the heart. It was wrong to tell people to “relax” and “let it go.” I was merely posing as someone who had a sculpted butt and inner peace. There was nothing on that other side, and I couldn’t look into their earnest, searching eyes and pretend otherwise.

~

Jessica Pishko is a writer living in San Francisco. She has a JD from Harvard Law School and an MFA from Columbia.

This article was originally posted on The Bill Fold and has been republished with permission.

[Ed. note: It was previously incorrectly stated that Yoga Alliance membership is $55 a month. It is $55 a year. The post has been updated to reflect this.]

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Earlier

 

59 comments… add one

  • Devta

    Amen sister. Speaking the hard truth about what the yoga industry has become. Impossible.

  • Going into this whole yoga thing with the intention of making money is like a pipe dream. It does happen for some, but not for all. Many teachers keep their day job and do it because they enjoy it.

    I have to point out an error; Registration with Yoga Alliance is $55 a YEAR, not a month, as stated by the author.

  • Vicki

    An honest and thought provoking article. We are constantly told “do what you love” by people who are lucky enough to actually be doing what they love, but the reality is there are bills to pay and often going in search of this can create a different anxiety, leaving you to question is the grass really greener.

  • Unfortunately, this is a common tale. Hate to say it, but while your teachers may have been well intentioned, you received some poor advice and a distinct lack of good mentorship. Not everyone’s situation allows for a profession in yoga teaching. It usually requires a transition period of at least a year (sometimes two) where you will need financial support either from another job or family member. Even with that it doesn’t always fly. Rule one: if you have a job that is paying your rent, don’t quit (or get yourself fired because you’re too busy trying to be a yoga teacher.)

    I have seen yoga teaching play many roles for people. Sometimes it is just a side thing that is shared with friends and family. Sometimes it is a refuge and beacon from the office job that makes ends meet. And sometimes it becomes your sole gig.

    The important thing is for people to have a clearer idea about what they are getting into when they do yoga teacher training. And get better guidance when they look to make a profession of it.

    Perhaps this well written and honest account will contribute to that.

  • I do hope Ms. Pishko was paid for this blog post, but I suspect she wasn’t. Writing is no more lucrative than teaching yoga is.

  • I don’t think she was writing this for the money. I thought it was a wonderful article. This is also the same experience in wanting to work full time in the aerial field. (Teaching and performing lyra, tissu and yes, the pole). Lack of money isn’t the only issue, but way more injuries than yoga.

  • Malinee Noreen

    Agree with the previous commentors, however I’d like to point out she acknowledged herself depressed and off her meds. Depression is a serious problem, and she clearly was using yoga as an escape while not addressing the underlying issue(s). If you’re depressed, you have to treat it — I doubt she would have been successful in any path that required much hard work and preserverance. Didn’t seem like her meds were helping her much, nor was yoga proper treatment for her. I’m sure yoga could help with depression for some people, but in her case it clearly sounded like escapism.

  • Jane

    I agree. The first sentence says it all: “I came to yoga, like most people, because I hated my job and going to yoga class was easier than finding another career.” I don’t think that’s true of most people. I came to yoga in order to teach myself discipline. It has worked for me for that reason. If your expectations are reasonable, so will be the results.

  • Amy

    I am a lawyer too. I feel your pain in the lawyer world. I am also starting my teacher training next month. Your story resonates with me. Drop me a line if you care too.

  • B

    There is an air of entitlement to this article that is supremely off-putting. I realize you went to Rice, Harvard, and Columbia – but getting up early, struggling to pay your bills WHEN YOU HAVE TWO IVY LEAGUE TERMINAL DEGREES, riding the subway with blue collar workers, and working retail does not make you “down with the people.”

    If mental illness has prevented the author’s success in what seems to be several fields with varying degrees of barriers to entry, I have the utmost empathy for how difficult it can be at times to maintain decent employment – regardless of your qualifications – but this article points to something…else. And, quite frankly, is exploitative of yoga. In any field, you cannot expect to put money and effort in and get success out. Life is not a gumball machine – and there are any number of varying factors (location, market saturation, network viability, and years of expertise – not to mention any number of qualitative personal factors) that one must consider. It is naive to expect to build a career in the way the author described – and on her time table.

    Additionally, the author’s public biographies and information easily found on other websites belie information in the article as presented. This article seems more of a cathartic, if misguided, exercise for its writer than it does helpful for the public. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been published, but even as a narrative account it is extremely indicative of the blindness of privilege, lacks self-awareness to a staggering degree, and – frankly – I expect better (that is, insight) of this site.

  • B, your comment summarized my thoughts exactly. It certainly isn’t easy to make a living as a yoga teacher but there seem to be many factors at play including but not limited to the attitudes of entitlement and materialism which remain present throughout the piece.

  • Lina

    Can you further explain what you mean by exploitative of yoga?

  • B

    “In any field, you cannot expect to put money and effort in and get success out. Life is not a gumball machine – and there are any number of varying factors (location, market saturation, network viability, and years of expertise – not to mention any number of qualitative personal factors) that one must consider. It is naive to expect to build a career in the way the author described – and on her time table.” I suppose what I meant was that, although fitness (and yoga specifically) is its own industry, yoga does not and has never existed solely for capital gain. I am a certified yoga teacher also (although it is not my career), but yoga for me is simply a joy – it is not a means to an end (that end, in the author’s case, being a satisfying and well-compensating career).

  • L

    B – Perfectly well said!
    Teacher Training coming before continued Yoga practice is a poor idea at best. Love the line, “Life is not a gum ball machine” but in this case not enough was put into training to get much out of teaching. Any teacher or school worth its gumballs will let students know that a course of yoga training, and so often of healing, is an individual journey that takes years, not 500 hours.

    500 hours or so of training on a long time student, hopefully someone in a health and wellness related field, may look very different than on a fed up lawyer who wants to buy into “Yoga” as a career. There is little understanding about the nature of practice or the art of teaching in this article and the only saving grace is that this path did not bear fruit.

  • Amen, sister.

  • Pam

    Sounds like she made a lot of bad choices; I love yoga and she said nothing that changed my mind…

  • Lauren

    I agree that it is a difficult field to feel financially comfortable in but I think more often than not most teachers lack a sense of business etiquette when it comes to negotiating rates, creating workshops, marketing and branding oneself, etc. I am in the process of figuring out how I can remove myself from my full time job to be fully invested in the yoga industry and I do not think it’s impossible but you have to be SMART.

    Take the teacher training. Pay the money. Deal with the tough road ahead. It takes years to become established and about 2 years to really get a solid following of dedicated yogis taking your classes. Even if you take the teacher training and decide teaching isn’t for you, the experience and wealth of knowledge you acquire through the training is invaluable.

  • Matthew Smith

    I’m a San Franciscan like the writer. I was curious about becoming a yogi myself! But, I didn’t, and here’s why: Every third person in San Francisco is a yoga instructor. And this city is so expensive. Crunching the numbers, it wouldn’t work. It’s just common sense, which apparently they don’t teach at Harvard.

    Also, she comes off as entitled when she talks about her yoga instructors owing her some advice. Honey, no one in this life owes you a thing.

  • Armanda DelBonis

    Obviously, You are a very intelligent person! However, your article depressed the hell out of me! I’m sorry your journey hasn’t been smooth. You may be a great with words but this particular article seems shallow and dull spirited.. I wonder if this energy is felt by your students? Something to think about. Not everyone is given the gift to hold a sacred space for others.

    Namaste and Blessings…Armanda

  • PS in NY

    Teacher training programs are cash cows for yoga studios. They are happy to take your $7000+ for a 500-hour certification and don’t care whether you even have the ability to teach when you are done (really, has anyone with the right amount of green ever NOT passed the course?). There is no honesty about whether you can make a viable career out of teaching. So, trainings grind out thousands of new “yoga teachers” per year, many of whom will find no paying work. Do not quit your day job; we all have to pay for food, housing, and transportation, and teaching yoga will not give you the wherewithal to do that. Teach as a sideline; you will gain experience, and you will also learn whether you have an actual calling for it. If you truly love teaching, you will keep doing it and will not give up, and perhaps in the future it will morph into a part- or full-time profession.

  • Samantha D

    I feel like there are a lot of people who write articles like this as if their experience was a cultural trend or something… This woman made terrible personal and financial choices. It doesn’t matter if you decided you loved yoga, or traveling, or literally any other hobby, if you think you can abandon all common sense and run away from your life you’re in for a rude awakening.

    Who spends money they don’t have like that? I feel like people love to talk about the consumerism of modern yoga when there are many many teachers who practice from a place of love and trying to help others. I can’t feel sorry for an entitled, well educated person who should have known better, sorry.

  • When I read this article the first thing I think is “Who goes into teaching yoga to make money?” I certainly didn’t. I teach for the love and the passion I have for how the practice of yoga has changed my whole being. If I were to go into teaching with the mindset that I needed to make as much as a lawyer would then I would be discouraged like the author was. Plus knowing that the author has depression that she feels like she needs to be on medication for is a sign that maybe she wasn’t ready to take on the responsibility of being a yoga instructor. It is hard even teaching part-time, but the reason it is hard is because you have to be accountable and work on self-study along with the other limbs of yoga. Yoga is a not just about the postures, it is a deep dive into the self. I teach part-time and go to school full-time (graduate in May with my nutrition degree) because I know that I need to make more money that teaching alone would provide. Unfortunately, teaching did not work out for this author, but I am sure there is another path that she is meant to be on. Hopefully the process she went through taught her something in the end.

  • I agree with most of your comment, but please check your assumption that being on or needing medication for a mental health issue affects the ability to take responsibility for oneself, or to teach or practice yoga in any way. It’s ableist and erases the experiences of millions of people making it work with depression and other mental illnesses every day. If you wouldn’t say it about a physical injury or disability, don’t say it about a mental one.

  • B

    Hi Sarah,

    I’m not sure what I wrote that came across as ableist, and for that, I earnestly apologize. I am actually living with type 1 manic depression, and have been stable for quite some time through the hard work of recovery and remission. I work as a national lead advocate for a foundation whose mission is to bust the stigma associated with mental illness and addiction. Please know that when I used the word “empathize” – I completely and truly meant it. If you’d like me to correct something in my comment, please let me know so I can make proper amends.

  • Hey Paige/B,

    I know this is a late follow-up, but I feel like this is an important theme in yoga culture and culture at large (and from your work and life experience, I think it’s likely that you agree).

    This is the line I took issue with: “Plus knowing that the author has depression that she feels like she needs to be on medication for is a sign that maybe she wasn’t ready to take on the responsibility of being a yoga instructor.” As someone with chronic depression and anxiety who was on multiple psychiatric medications for several years, I found this wording upsetting. I interpreted it as you saying that people who require medication to manage their illness are not in a position to teach yoga. I see now that that is probably not what you intended, and I apologize for misinterpreting.

    I felt compelled to comment because I think that American yoga culture has a big obsession with “helping” disabled/mentally ill people, but it’s not particularly interested in making it easy for people like us to deepen our practice through teaching. Even as yoga becomes more social-justice oriented (rightly so!) and creates more room and leadership opportunities for people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and diverse body sizes, I still see disabled/mentally ill people portrayed as victims who need help, instead of people who can take their practice just as deeply as anyone else.

    I played right into this narrative by making assumptions about your story and intention, and I’m very sorry for that! Thanks for doing good work, and good luck.

  • First, I do think it took courage for Jessica Pishko to share her story. But I do have to agree with the commenters who perceived an air of entitlement and thought her expectations were unrealistic. However, writing about her choices, which were not the most prudent, may be helpful to anyone else wanting to leave their stable career for teaching yoga… or any other freelance job, for that matter.

    To put unrealistic expectations in perspective, I’ll make this point: your first teacher training is 200 hours. That is nothing. Malcolm Gladwell’s magic number of hours for mastery of something is 10,000. So you graduated? Congrats, now you just have another 9,800 hours to go! I’m only half-joking here. I’d say someone who entered a 200-hr TT having already practiced consistently with skilled teachers for several years, and who also was a conscientious student throughout the TT, probably will maybe get the opportunity to teach 10-15 hours a week in their first year. That’s about 500-750 hours in year one. That’s barely a dent. Think about how many hours one spends in high school, then undergrad, then in many cases (and in Jessica’s case) pursuing an advanced degree… and then hours spent interning or working entry-level jobs for very low pay. Why would one assume becoming a skilled and well-established yoga teacher wouldn’t take some time?

    I do see people who’ve left prestigious jobs expecting teaching yoga to be a breeze compared to working in finance, law, etc. Sure, in some ways it is. If I have an off-day and teach a lesson that isn’t my best, my client doesn’t lose her life savings or go to jail. That kind of pressure isn’t there, but the pressure of having to be a self-starter and learning entrepreneurship is. If you have come from the structured environment of law school, to a firm, to this amorphous thing called working for yourself, that is probably going to be an overwhelmingly stressful transition.

    Humility in new teachers is key. When I first started out, I wished I had the confidence of some of my fellow TT grads who were adopting the fake it til you make it approach. “Don’t have experience? Just act like you do!” Or, “Don’t have skills? Use your personality!” That made me uncomfortable. I knew I didn’t know shit yet, and I wanted to teach, not perform, so I just kept plugging away at teaching those $25 classes, teaching friends for free, studying with older, wiser teachers, taking tons of workshops, and kept quietly observing the best practices of teachers who were just in their second or third year of teaching who were making a go of it.

    I also waited to do my 500-hr TT. In my opinion, teachers should really be out there teaching and putting what they learned in their 200 into practice for a few years before diving into a 500.

    Another reason for humility: I’m sometimes in a position where I have to pass off potential clients who inquire about privates that I just don’t have availability for, or I have to recommend teachers to for the sub lists at studios where I teach, or recommend teachers to owners of other studios. Most of my long-time colleagues are swamped, so I look to new teachers who show promise… and who display humility. They understand that they are new, they have a strong work ethic, they feel entitled to nothing. (That said, studio owners should not exploit them for this, but that’s another conversation.)

    It’s really disappointing to hear that a mentor’s advice was, “You have to really want it.” What? That’s not helpful. In fact, it’s kind of insulting and blamey. Obviously Jessica wanted it– she left a career as a lawyer for it, and went into massive debt for it. I’m sorry to hear this teacher you looked to for guidance let you down. She should have given you some more constructive ways to develop your teaching.

    And all of this said, not everyone is meant to teach. Sorry. I said it. Just because you love the practice does not mean you should be a teacher. But you would think anyone can teach from the way most studios indiscriminately accept trainees. As another commenter mentioned, many studios (not all), make a huge chunk of their income from TTs and churn out grads like a puppy farm. My 200 had 32 of us. Almost a decade later, I think maybe four of us are full-time teachers. And then those studios push the 200 grads along into a 500 right away, which as I said, is not the best idea.

    You know though, this was probably exactly the experience that Jessica needed. That may sound patronizing, but when I see people who are from privileged backgrounds and former careers that carried prestige having a challenging time as yoga teachers, it makes me wonder if they are just going through the frustrating and humiliating phase of struggling which the rest of us go through at a younger age. So maybe she made some bad decisions, but maybe, hopefully she learned a lot, and by writing about it, others will too.

  • John

    If you think the “pressure of entrepreneurship and having to be a self starter” is absent from finance, law, and other “prestigious” fields you’re judging from a place of total ignorance. Sure, some people go expensive college, traineeship, well paid job all thanks to connections but, for most, getting a job at all in these fields requires the kind of self motivation and hussle most yoga teachers are incapable of imagining. Usually, the problem is that they’ve been taught, by their yoga teachers, to expect yoga to be different. Listen to what passes for ” philosophy ” in the yoga world for 5 seconds and you can easily understand why they might think that.

  • Marie

    I think the main fallacy in the author’s approach is her belief that she was owed something because of the time/money/personal sacrifice she made for her practice.

    Despite the popular opinion and the milieu of the industry, yoga ISN’T something you do because you expect you will get something out of it. If you do your practice, you will, of course, reap many benefits but yoga is first and foremost about surrender, interconnectedness and union with a higher power.

    I decided to teach yoga not to make money through a steady studio gig or through wealthy private clients, but to share the the love, mindfulness and compassion that is garnered through yoga with my community.

  • Rupa

    This story really resonates with me, and my path to finding my career in this world. She is not entitled whatsoever – she was unemployed, and was looking for something that would make her happy. No matter what degrees or career one might have, life can take you whenever, and sometimes having a degree does not open any doors especially if the person does not see herself as a valuable contributor to that career (as others might). I too have very high-valued degrees (well, in business from one of the best business schools in the world), but I realize that I see myself quite differently from other people. Most view me as very successful and high potential – but I do not feel this way at all at least at the moment.

  • Jenna

    I think most responses here are a little harsh. Is it not reasonable to hope that all your time and investment and training and drive would result in reasonable compensation? It seems to me like she just wants to pay her rent and is “doing everything right” in terms of what you “should” do as a new teacher. I’m 2 years into teaching and have taught plenty of free classes etc to gain experience but there does come a point when the challenges in the industry for new teachers become understandably frustrating!

    I enjoy donating classes for a worthy cause or client, I’m more than happy to spend time before & after class with students answering questions etc, but YES I also want to make a living! And not a lavish materialistic living, but a “pay my rent & bills & eat healthy sustainable food” living. Does that make me entitled too?

    I’ve spent years practicing, training, studying, teaching, and generally devoting my entire life to a deeper understanding of health & movement to pass that knowledge on to others. I think it’s beyond reasonable, in fact I think it should be acceptable and even encouraged, to value yourself as a teacher enough to expect compensation for your skills and time that is adequate enough to allow you to live comfortably, or hell – even lavishly if you’re that good.

    Just give the girl a break, she’s just telling her story! The system of studios & teacher trainings + market saturation etc make this a challenging career path for most. I think her story may make some people reconsider why they are getting into this and reevaluate the system they are entering into as a teacher. So, great info to share Jessica! I feel your pain with the hustle when we want to be able to teach for free but have to eat! May the dedication and commitment you showed through this story carry you through to whatever you choose for your life next. I’m happy for you that it didn’t work so you can find your perfect passion! One love :)

  • NCDan

    The two best points in the comments so far are that yoga teacher training is a cash cow for cash-strapped studios and that you shouldn’t quit your day job.
    Please note that I love teaching yoga and have been doing it – part time – for 13 years. Yoga has been a gift for me and I want to pass that gift on to others. Corny but true. If you too want to pass the gift of yoga to others, I encourage you to go for it. But seriously…don’t quit your day job.

  • I am sorry that all this went sideways for you! I too am a yoga teacher. I never expected to make a living teaching yoga. I am also a medical professional who does love my work, but didn’t give up my day job because I could see the tenuous ground making a living from yoga is. Perhas finding a way to use both your degrees and your passion is the way forward.

  • Anne

    Whenever I read a tell-all like this one, I like to go back and check a TT page from one of the NYC studios.

    (checks). Yep, still there — the TT website that suggests that its graduates are earning 6-figures teaching yoga. I can’t even.

    https://sonicyoga.com/200-hour-yoga-certification

  • take yoga back

    People should email this studio and tell them how they feel about their claims of earning six figures off of yoga. The TT contact is Lauren Hanna. email often…

    teach@sonicyoga.com

  • Asananine

    Disappointing that a studio is selling their training in such a manner. Any applicant should demand documented proof of any of their graduates who make a six figure income by teaching 4 successive privates 5 days a week as they describe. Then compare the number of any such situations versus the overall number of graduates.

  • What is missing from this story?

    
Yoga.

    Yoga is a practice of quieting the mind, so that we can see who we are; and who we are not. It is a disciplined practice of challenging ourselves, observing ourselves without judgement, and accepting things as they are, not as we would wish them to be.

    This yoga is not the yoga of “wearing black spandex, contorting [ones] limbs into impressive poses.” Nor is it the yoga of cultivating “luscious dark, wavy hair, milky skin and sturdy thighs.” These things may come with the practice of yoga, but through the process of living they will surely leave us.

    Yoga, and ancient spiritual practice is the process of breaking our identification with who we think we are, of loosening our grasp on what we want, and relaxing about what we don’t want. This practice of yoga decreases our suffering and brings us closer to being truly free.

    So many yoga teachers, yoga studios and even yoga teacher trainings teach New Age platitudes such as, “You deserve good things!” I’m pretty sure that the yogic path is one in which neither good things, nor bad things really disturb inner peace.

    And, by the way, I’m not making this up. What I have written about yoga can be found in the Yoga Sutra-s of Patañjali, a 2000 year old text that defines yoga.

    It is true that yoga teacher training programs are run primarily to keep yoga studios making a profit. Consequently the market is oversaturated with “certified yoga teachers.” Thus it is hard to make a living as a yoga teacher.

    Becoming a teacher to gain inner peace and acceptance? Better to practice yoga and discover for yourself what yoga is.

  • Ed

    Wow.

    Ahimsa: for an ascetic observing the great vows (mahavrata), ahimsa entails the greatest care to prevent her/him from knowingly or unknowingly being the cause of injury to any living soul (jiva)[..] The interruption of another jiva’s spiritual progress causes one to incur karma—the accumulated effects of past actions, conceived by Jains as a fine particulate substance that accretes upon the jiva—keeping one mired in samsara, the cycle of rebirth into mundane earthly existence. Not only physical violence but also violent or other negative thoughts result in the attraction of karma.

    Right speech (Buddhism): “And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.”

    Five keys to right speech : “Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?

    “It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.”

    2 documentaries I found most enlightening for myself and recommend are “Breath of the Gods” and “The Century of the Self”.
    Again, wow.

  • Leaving everything to teach yoga and investing on an excellent teaching course is a tough decision. There are things that everyone needs to take in consideration before plunging head on as a yoga teacher. Like everything, it takes time to become established.

  • Big Om Daddy

    Obviously the reason the author went broke teaching yoga is that she wasn’t the most hot yoga instructor and wasn’t dating or married to the right people.

    Just go on to Instagram and check out any of the popular selfie posting yoga teachers. They seem to have a lot of “abundance” in their lives. They travel to exotic places, dine at the finest health conscious restaurants and have a Lululemon wardrobe collection to envy. When you dig deeper into their “story”, you will find that usually a man or several men are financing this lifestyle in some way.

  • ejesh

    I read all comments and still confused:
    Is it possible to make living by being yoga teacher? just pay rent for room or small flat and food…no luxury? it must be possible?

  • ae

    Yoga Alliance charges 100.00 for membership initially for basic RYT member (and higher for schools…. ) they add an application charge . It’s not just 55.00 to get signed up there fyi — SEE:
    https://www.yogaalliance.org/Credentialing/Fees

  • Have Your Cake

    To the Folks who are upset that yoga studios have “oversaturated” the market and made it impossible for you to make a living:

    YOU oversaturated the market. No one made you sign up for a teacher training. Studios have made it easy for you to do what you “love.” They are responding to market demand. If you believe what Sonic Yoga says when they advertise $100k salaries, you didn’t do even an hour of research before starting your new “career.” That’s on you. If you believe that you are entitled to make a living doing something you’re passionate about, that’s on you too. Passion doesn’t qualify you for work. Skill, grit, and time qualify you for work, and passion will at best keep you in the game while you cultivate those three things.

    Imagine if studios restrained supply so that every graduate could make a living solely from teaching. Trainings would be longer, more expensive, with many more prerequisites and far fewer spaces. Making it very, very likely that YOU wouldn’t ever have gotten the chance to become a teacher at all. People always want barriers to entry in their market AFTER they’ve crossed the threshold. If such barriers existed, most of the people complaining that there are too many yoga teachers couldn’t make it across those very barriers. Then they’d be complaining about that. Illusion of superiority.

  • S.

    Maybe teacher trainings need to be longer and more expensive. If people want to make Yoga a profession, perhaps they need to have the same level of prerequisites that other professions have.

    I spent about $30k and two years of intensive work on my Master’s degree. That has provided me with a living. In contrast, $3k for a teacher training is nominal, yet people are complaining that it will not afford them a “living.” Two hundred hours is nothing…just a few weekends.

    Other systems of Yoga require at least 3 years for minimum certification, and many more years after that before they can consider training other teachers. Guess which method will stand the test of time and guess which method will go the way of aerobics once another new fitness craze comes along?

  • John

    Interesting article and very interesting comments. No, it doesn’t “take two years to get established” there are too many teachers out there already, and more appearing all the time. The competition is willing to teach as a hobby pretty much for free, you’re never going to “get established”. Successful teachers are usually not good teachers; they’re people with contacts that get them free publicity, or teachers with an attention grabbing gimmick.

    Many, many, yoga schools and teachers are busy lying to students who want to become teachers, trying to convince them that one more teacher training, or workshop, or unpaid role as “assistant” will get them the “experience” and “exposure” they need to succeed as teachers themselves. When the big names start working 60 hour weeks for free for “exposure”, acting as unpaid servants to well known teachers for no reward but “experience” we’ll know it’s worth doing. Till then it’s exploitation.

    I’ve seen junior astanga teachers sold trip after trip to India in the name of “certification” that is awarded at random, assist morning after morning for free in the name of “experience” that amounts to nothing, pay for session after session to “deepen their practice” as an essential to teaching not knowing people next to them were allowed to practice free because the senior teacher had taken a shine to them. I’ve seen senior Jivamukti teachers offer junior teachers the “chance” to organise and co-teach a retreat with them – and then gradually make it clear to them after they’ve committed financially that they get to take all the financial risk, do all the organising, handle all the administration, and take a much smaller portion of the profits. Iyengar teachers put up with endless bullying and force themselves to believe that an over-priced teacher training that takes far longer than the competition but contains the same number of hours is the “gold standard”… the list goes on and on.

    How many teachers who appear to be making a living teaching yoga admit to themselves that it’s only possible because they’re a trophy partner, or because it’s a second “career” or because they know that, if it really comes to it, mummy and daddy will fork over the money to help them out? A small subset of the tiny number honest enough with themselves to face those facts are willing to spell those facts out for students considering teacher training.

    A few years ago a group of us were discussing an acquaintance who’s sole means of support appeared to be teaching yoga and thai massage and who lived a comfortable life travelling the world in between relaxed stays in Berlin. One of the group who knew the facts explained that it was all funded by selling illegal recreational drugs. It’s obvious why he wouldn’t explain the harsh facts of his life to any students considering becoming teachers based on his example.

    With dishonesty rampant and the abuse of what authority does come with being a recognised and successful teacher commonplace it’s no wonder the author was suckered. Criticising her for admitting it goes beyond tasteless into obvious self delusion. A number of these comments reek of “She must be ‘entitled’ because for me to admit she has a point would be for me to admit I’m headed in the same direction/deceitfully profiting from desperation”…

    Where’s it all end up? Probably with yoga going the way of aerobics, along with crossfit, the other current favourite certification farm. The primary requirement for being a yoga teacher is now to be wealthy or well connected, not to be good at teaching yoga. That’s going to create problems fairly soon. As long as a teacher could make a reasonable full time living by thoroughly understanding their subject and teaching it well, there was hope. I see a number of relatively new teachers desperately working to achieve that skill, and I hope they prove me wrong, but my observation from the sidelines (as some one who saw this coming and chose not to teach) is that they’re doomed.

  • Dear Jessica,
    The first thing I want to say, is thank you, for your vulnerability of what you share. It’s not easy to share when things don’t work out for us in the world with even our closest people, and can be even more difficult to share it publicly, with people who don’t know you, and who don’t understand any backstory than what you offer.

    To me, what you write speaks to a poor infrastructure within YTTs and yoga more broadly. The expectations we face as teachers are great, and we need more support. You clearly asked for support and were disappointed again and again, by either no pay, little attention, new age spiritual bypass lingo. I am so sorry that who you turned to could not hold you in your time of need. Rather than seeing this as you failing, I am so sorry that yoga failed you.

    I have colleagues in Rabbinical school and Seminary, and I view our jobs and aspirations as very similar, only my career and path as a yoga teacher has a clear embodied aspect that theirs do not necessarily. But what they do have involved in their education, I wish that yoga teachers (and Buddhist teachers) had included: business coaching, mentorship with roles and expectations clearly outlined, ethical boundaries, training in public speaking, and probably much more.

    I do believe that it is possible to make a living at being a yoga teacher, but it takes luck, commitment, mentorship with good mentors who open doors, and a keen interest in forever being a student of yoga. I attended a panel of South Asian women discussing what being a yoga teacher means in India, and one thing they all offered is great humility, and that in India to be given the title and role of teacher after 200 hours of training is just ridiculous for one’s self, for the lineage of yoga, and for our students. I agree. One panelist, Sheena Sood, also said that what she knows and teaches “is but one drop in the ocean of wisdom”. Given the industry that yoga has become, teachers are pressured and expected to be gurus, when in fact most of us are only advanced students.

    May you continue on your own unique path of yoga. May you be embraced and held, guided and protected. May you again and again return to your own practice, and the wisdom of yoga.

  • Mark

    “I hoped that by becoming a yoga teacher, I would have better hair, better abs, and better self-esteem.”

    Isn’t this all you need to know about what went wrong with the author’s tendencies to make poor choices in life? Becoming a yoga teacher just happens to be one of them.

    She also needs medication for her existing mental condition and chose to stop it before feeling well and balanced enough to actually be off medication. To be clear, I’m not saying people with mental conditions cannot teach yoga – but if you decide to get off medication, you must be sure you’ve achieved, key word is achieved past tense, alternative ways (meditation, prayers, yoga, etc.) so you’re well enough to handle life without medication. Life being a yoga teacher, a corporate lawyer, a stay at home mom, a medical student, a cook in a restaurant, a computer programmer, whatever.

    The author also jumped into ‘advanced’ TT shortly after having completed the ‘beginning’ TT. You are NOT a teacher unless you have taught – this is just common sense. Certification just means someone said you maybe have the ability to teach. Being an assistant is not teaching. So why take an ADVANCED (the word itself means you’ve gone further than normal) TEACHER training when you haven’t even taught? There’s some delusion at play here.

    Yes, I think the yoga industry is partly responsible for handing out teacher certification to many who really are essentially just advanced yoga students; however, I think the author’s unfortunate yoga teaching journey is just a coincidence to her life crisis, identity crisis in my opinion. It could’ve easily been a modeling agency or culinary school or an expensive master degree in some unknown and unheard of ancient language or art school….

    My yoga teacher, a person who’ve taught yoga for almost 20 years with a number of students who became well known teachers crediting him as one of their bigger influencer, said one of the most important thing a yoga teacher must have is an established and strong yoga practice (years is ideal) and must continue to practice yoga if not daily then almost daily. And meditate daily as a must. He thinks the 200 hrs TT is not necessary for people who are committed to teach yoga but could be beneficial for understanding anatomy and learning the equivalent of bed-side manner as a yoga teacher.

    The yoga practice is for everybody. Teaching yoga is definitely NOT for everybody.

  • Thank you, so much for posting this article. This is an awesome post, I must say you are very skilled at persuasive writing.thanks for information.
    Yoga Instructor course

  • It’s absolutely AMAZING to see so much judgment of Jessica Pishko’s perceived failure, by other yogis and yoginis. The critique of this article is 5x longer than the article itself, so maybe this is illustrating something fundamentally wrong with the lack of qualified guidance Yoga practitioners have been receiving in the west.

    Are the critiques of this article paralleling what the famous religions of the world do to each-other, and pick apart different interpretations of being in union with Source, and stoning anyone that isn’t perfect, or has found a different path? I didn’t see very many comments suggesting Jessica Pishko give it another chance, but instead a bunch of weedwackers cutting her down as low as possible when she fell down.

    I found this article on accident, and can see that cyber-bullying, and raw judgment of others, is proliferating even into spiritual practices, and maybe the real reason some are not successful in “their calling.”

    I’m the Temple Keeper at a historic Yoga Temple in southern California (that is currently only being used for tours), and I’m having trouble giving away a free place for Yoga. I want to reiterate a “free” place for Yoga, in a real Yoga Temple. If I was a Yoga instructor, which I’d love to become someday, I’d be teaching classes myself, and not found this article on accident. I’m recovering from a severe back injury I sustained four years ago saving a man that was falling from a tree, and I need to slowly get my lower back bending again, hence why I’m looking for a Yoga instructor that wants a free Yoga Temple for a studio.

    I believe my criteria for choosing an instructor shall start with reading their comments on this website.

    When the teacher is ready, the Temple Keeper appears.

    Namaste,
    :D rew Smith
    dreamingourworldintobeing . wordpress . com

  • Kathryn

    Hi there,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I could relate to many parts of it, and found a few parts amusing — only because I could relate to them and it was relieving to find someone else had something similar happen. In response to some of the others who have commented:
    — Please don’t judge people when they are share they are depressed or on anti-depressants. It takes courage to share this, and judging makes it harder for people to open up.
    — It is unyogic to judge any part of this person’s experience as well. Judgement is not yoga. We are all simply on a path, and even our mistakes teach us and are an important part of our path. This person’s journey and her blog here about it may actually serve to help and teach many other people.
    Once again, thanks for sharing. I wish you love and peace on the rest of your journey in this lifetime. K

  • goatstaog

    ahh thanks for solidifying my prediction from 15 years ago. it’s all a matter of time. when one gives up all gurus and thought you have something missing that someone else has, then you become the master.

  • So many truths. When we call in love with yoga we make,the mistake of thinking we can make living of it. Some can be successful yet many should be aware that they teaching to share the gifts of yoga not get rich off of yoga. It’s just not possible for everyone. How much do you want to be successful at yoga, the self realization and,peace part and how much money and business are you willing to do . So much competetion
    And you need to set yourself apart and have may yoga talants. No only ckasses, but conduct TT, sell yoga clothes and tools and such. Like my 11st teacher said if you decided to become a Teacher to make money your in the wrong business and intentions are not pure aka come,qith attachments. After 12 plus years I have been able to secure good classes 8 per week plus conduct 1 TT per year, make a base of 50 a class plus per head. It equate to 500 week not enough to sustain me. I am married and in normal,fashion my husband,is the bread winner and,it salary is supplemental. Like a part time job. I like it that way I am accountable, I balance yoga and life and keep it as real as possible. Yu made very valid points. I believe it’s important to know why you are in a program to become a Teacher. Enter at free will without expectations of monerty riches by worldly ones. Your path was not easy, the teacher was insightful.

  • Thank you for sharing your story with an open heart. It is a common story that I hear from yoga teachers (online and/or in person). I also loved the conversation that it opened with everyone who commented. I am a yoga teacher and a consultant. I look for the stories like this that pose the difficult questions and emotions and I look for stories and tools to help yoga teachers.

    Thank you for putting yourself out there and sharing. It helps us all to grow and learn.

  • I’d also like to learn a bit more about that. Although I’m about to graduate (won’t help much). If you haven’t covered this I think it would make a great tactical post Ramit. subway surfers

  • Cee

    I was also a bit distracted by some of the stiffy language . For example, riding the subway before the “white collar workers show up for work”. But nonetheless it’s so important to write the things we want down and speak on them affirmatively. When you say to your teacher ” I can’t be a yoga teacher” ” It’s not working out ” that’s the reality you create for yourself despite wanting it deeply

  • I feel the key is simple, honor the Yogic Path, you are here to bring light into the world, even if on the surface it does not look as though your Yoga ‘Career’ is unfolding ‘Successfully’, every effort you make towards liberation counts!

    Thank you for opening up this invaluable discussion, I’ve learned so much just from reading the comments!
    Namaste.

  • LunaMOM

    Hi Jessica,
    If it makes you feel any better … I am at the bottom of my financial threshold and things will go south very quickly, so will be climbing out all this year. NOT FUN!! I know you know.

    Also I saw a very popular Yoga Instructor from a popular NY Yoga center, networking social media searching for “any” work. So I think you made a good decision and I believe field is probably even more saturated than when you tried it! ( I was thinking of doing too, until I read this)
    So in event, I really like your writing and good luck and hope everything has kind of shifted toward the positive for you!!
    Maybe you can write an update!! :)

  • Thanks for this article. I have spent many thousands of dollars studying yoga for the past 16 years and am a professional level teacher. It incenses me to see teachers offering free classes. Teaching yoga is how I make my living. Undercutting each other by offering free classes is unprofessional. I can see doing a free class once or twice a year but I just saw a studio offer a whole week of free classes. How do I compete with that? I guess I do not. Perhaps people realize that any teacher offering free classes is not worth studying with.

  • I just wrote an article this week — “Making Money Teaching Yoga” — it is work checking out and I would love feedback on it. http://www.shannoncrow.com/making-money-teaching-yoga/

  • I think the mistake the author made is in not establishing her own yoga business while she still had a job. She needed to be networking with other business professionals in her area, getting referrals, doing workshops, etc. I do not claim to be any kind of expert in yoga or in business. I do practice yoga on my own at home, and am working on learning more and eventually getting certified as a teacher. I also recently became certified as a life coach to help people with health and wellness and weight loss. I owned another business in the past, and although it did bring in a little income, it never reached the level of success I had hoped for. And I think that’s the key. A person can’t just sit there and hope they will get clients and support themselves with any business they start. Success in any kind of business, including yoga instruction, has more to do with marketing than anything.

    This post’s purpose seems to be to discourage others or to whine and complain. It doesn’t deter me at all from pursuing becoming a yoga instructor, and I hope it doesn’t discourage anyone else either. If you want to do something, DO IT! Don’t rely on outside sources; no one is going to do it for you. YOU have to take action–learn everything you can about how to do what you want to do, and then DO IT! It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

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