by Rachel Meyer
Ok, I know we’re not supposed to talk about money + yoga because that’s taboo.
Yoga’s complicated. It can be at once an ascetic spiritual practice, an embodied meditation tool, a commodified secular fitness regimen, an ancient ethical philosophy, and a New Age approach to wellness.
And yes, lots of people teach yoga only for the joy of it, as heart service, with no expectation of anything in return (e.g. payment).
(And that’s AWESOME.)
But, after 14 years in the yoga world, and having witnessed the explosion of the yoga-industrial-complex, I also know more and more teachers who are turning their yoga-teaching labor of love into the kind of vocational/professional labor of love that also helps to pay the bills.
And that’s ok. That’s great! That’s fine.
(Um, right? Is it? Erm, ok, that’s another conversation.)
More power to any worker bee who manages to get paid to do what she loves, amirite?
But there’s something I’d like to put out there for every full-time yoga teacher who’s thinking about getting pregnant anytime soon.
This is what it’s like to teach yoga after kids.
It’s really hard.
It’s really friggin’ hard.
I’d go so far to say: it’s a super-gendered microcosm of the well-documented American problem of affordable childcare (and the lack thereof), and the way in which women’s careers often go in the freezer once they have children.
I don’t know any parent alive who doesn’t struggle with the push-pull complexities of childcare. The huge expense, the non-stop sickness from all the kiddie germs, the guilt over having someone else raise your kid, the aching for your sweet one when you’re stuck doing a job you hate just to pay the bills and keep your insurance; and on the flip side, the mind-numbing daily routine of being a stay-at-home-parent, the loneliness of spending your days isolated from other adults, the grief and frustration of watching your career go down the tubes while your colleagues speed ahead, the ache for the professional work you love that you no longer have time to do because you’re home making sandwiches and wiping butts.
It’s so damn hard, for everyone, truly.
The relentless dukkha of parenting is trying to figure out just the right balance of letting the tribe raise your child whilst missing said kid and maintaining a toe in the water of your professional self and managing four hours of sleep a night, all at the same time.
But what I’ve witnessed in the yoga world is that: when they hit thirtysomething, full-time male yoga teachers (yes, even the ones with children) continue to successfully build their careers. Full-time female teachers get pregnant and quit teaching (or scale back dramatically) after the little bambino comes along.
Why? Because it’s next to impossible to maintain teaching yoga full-time as a viable career path once you have children.
Not being dramatic here. Just being real.
Let’s break it down.
As a 30ish singleton in SF, I made it work, with ease. Teaching 5-6 days a week (11-12 classes) and bartending two evenings a week, I made a comfortable six figures annually, up to the point where I could quit bartending and just teach full-time. Privates, studio classes, corporate classes, non-profit free classes, you know the drill. It was all viable, joyful, inspiring, sometimes exhausting, and largely rewarding.
Sure, there was an urban hustle involved, zipping from class to class and studio to studio a few times a day, but that’s part of what you sign up for as a budding urban yoga teacher, right? Teaching like this provided a more-than-comfortable income that let me shop at Whole Foods, pay for health insurance, travel and train internationally, buy fresh flowers for my kitchen table, and cover my Nob Hill one-bedroom rent and then some.
The key to that financial success, though, was the fact that in the Bay Area, an established yoga teacher can make $250+ teaching a popular class that’s paid by the head, privates pay $200 give or take, and corporate classes pay upwards of $150 an hour.
(Ohmigod, she’s talking about money, I feel so awkward right now.)
Deep breath, you’ll be fine.
In B-markets, places like Austin or Portland or Asheville, the numbers shift dramatically. The same class that paid $250 in Oakland will pay $40-50 there. And that’s a fair wage, since the economy is so much smaller there vs. larger A-market cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or NYC. So although the cost of living is much cheaper there, your wages are also adjusted accordingly.
I can think of at least four amazing, beloved, high-caliber female teachers who’ve fallen out of the yoga scene completely after having kids. I’m not sure whether that was by choice or not, but I can tell you this: it’s damn hard to make teaching work, or to make it worth your time.
But WHYYYYY, you say? Why are you pissing on my dreams? Where is your positive yoga attitude, mmmhmmmm?
One word: CHILDCARE.
Just like so many Americans these days, your access to affordable childcare will determine whether you’re able to continue working as a full-time yoga teacher after you have kids. I can’t emphasize that enough.
Here are your options for teaching yoga after having kids:
1. Have family or friends nearby who can provide free childcare. If you’re getting paid $35-40 a class, it doesn’t make financial sense to pay $15-20/hour for a sitter. By the time you commute to the studio, pay for parking, get there in time to check in and greet students, teach a 75-minute class, say goodbye to students, and drive home, you’ve spent at least $45-60. It’s a wash.
2. Teach in the evenings and weekends (or a similar complementary schedule to your partner’s work schedule). This is what worked for us, and was the life-saver/game-changer that allowed me to jump right back into teaching when my son was 10 weeks old. He’s three now, so since he was teeny, I’ve always taught evenings and weekend mornings, so that my husband and I could trade off childcare. It has worked really well for us, thank you baby Jesus.
But what if you’re a single parent, or if your partner travels often for work? Forget it.
3. Bring your kid along and give them an iPad for an hour while they wait in the lobby. Ugh. Not an ideal solution, but I’ve seen a lot of mamas have to do this as a last resort. But what happens if your child is under age 5? Or has special needs? Or is puking? Or needs to poop and be wiped in the middle of class? I for one know I couldn’t relax and be fully present teaching a class if I had one eye on my little guy out in the lobby flying solo the whole time. That’s tough.
4. Teach at a studio that offers childcare. THIS IS HUGE. Studio owners, you have to know: childcare availability is make-or-break. You have a boatload of new mamas who’d love to come practice yoga but can’t afford to pay a babysitter $15-20/hr on top of the $20 drop-in class rate. Offer childcare. If you build it, they will come. And it just may allow your veteran teachers to continue teaching, too.
5. Have a partner who has a high enough income that you don’t need to teach for profit. Your teaching becomes essentially a service offering or a professional labor of love. You do it for fun, or for charity, or for the greater good, or for the joy of it, but not for the money it contributes to your family’s bottom line. This is not sexy, nor does it feel particularly empowering nor feminist nor politically correct to admit. But it’s the truth for many yoga teachers I know.
Right now, this is me. I’m fortunate to have a partner with a great corporate job, who’s doing good things for the world. (Amen.) Not everyone’s so lucky. If he didn’t have that reliable job (with benefits, that rare and blessed beast not often seen in Yoga-land), I’d need to quit teaching and get a steady 9-5 gig. With his solid employment, I can afford to be an independent contractor and freelance writer, teaching 3-4 classes a week and writing on the side, and caring for my son when he’s not in school.
In other words: PRIVILEGE. Gah.
(I realize how lucky I am. Enter the guilt. Even more reason to create systems to support yoga teachers to continue to teach when they’re NOT in such a privileged position.)
6. Take some time off teaching til the kids are old enough to go to school. ‘Nuff said. I imagine many yoga teachers will go this route. (How does that feel? Do you miss it? Are you taking time off by choice, or because you have no other choice?)
7. Stop teaching altogether. At some point, after you pay for childcare and effectively lose money to teach a class, you realize it’s not worth it. So you decide to keep your personal passion for yoga, drop the vocational aspect of it all, and shift careers in favor of something more lucrative and/or flexible in terms of hours and childcare. There goes one more wise and experienced teacher who’s no longer sharing her gifts and helping people feel better in their bodies. 🙁
8. Teach for free, and/or not as your main vocation. Honestly, I recommend this, a thousand times over. If I could give every single bright-eyed eager rookie teacher graduating from teacher training one piece of advice, it would be this: get another job (or keep your current one), something reliable that has benefits and sick days, and use that to pay your mortgage. It will take the pressure off your yoga teaching to be the primary source of income, and empower you to teach a class or two a week because it brings you joy and serves folks who are suffering, not because it puts food on the table. And you won’t be stressing about numbers or feeling the pressure to teach 17-20 classes a week just to make it. (That’s a recipe for BURNOUT, baby!)
In all seriousness: I think full-time yoga teachers should consider the childcare factor very mindfully (dare I say soberly?) when making big decisions about babies and careers and five-year plans. Make a plan now. If your heart is in this work, figure out a way that you can make it happen while raising your little sweet pea. Ask veteran teachers for advice. Reach out to mentors who’ve done it before you. Make friends with children the same age and plan childcare swaps.
It’s do-able; it just takes some creative planning and a little gumption and the recognition that your teaching career may ebb and flow as your wee one grows.
Don’t get me wrong: raising kids as a yoga teacher is friggin’ AWESOME. I mean, what better environment for your children to call a second home than the warm, loving, open-hearted buzz of a yoga studio? And what better community than one that’s focused on living mindfully, consuming simply, walking gently upon the world, and treating one another as if you’re all God in drag?
It’s the best. So much goodness, in so many ways.
(Not the mention the cuteness when your little cherub finally starts to put his hands together and sing OMMMMM for the first time.)
But financially, take off the rose-colored glasses. Think seriously about how you’re going to make it work. If you’re going to be a yoga teacher in a B-market city or smaller, and you want your income to actually contribute to your family’s bottom line, you need to have family or friends around to watch your children or rearrange your teaching schedule or figure out how to make $150 a class. Because otherwise you’re working for free.
What do you think? Yoga-teaching mamas, how do you make it work? What’s your magic recipe for success? Did I forget any other options? And male yoga teachers — especially those of you with young kids — am I being unfair here?
Love to hear your thoughts.
Rachel Meyer is a Boston-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, Yoga International, YogaDork, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga.
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