The other day, teaching at a community centre, I did an elevated Chatushpadasana (Bridge pose), feet on chair. Props are minimal, but include thick mats, foam blocks, and straps. I resorted to supporting my shoulders with a folded-up mat. During my demo, I immediately realized that one mat was inadequate, but nevertheless worked the pose. After exiting, I directed students to use more height.

220px-Trapezius_animation_small2That afternoon, my upper trapezius was aching. Did I hyperflex my cervical spine?! I regretting holding my demo at the expense of my body. My fault, I know. Ironically, I escaped whiplash when rear-ended at a stoplight last summer, but perpetrated my own neck injury.

The following [un-yogic] thought flitted through my mind: “Well, this is just terrific. I’d better make enough from that class to pay for the massage I need now.”

Within two weeks, my neck healed, but I continued thinking about the risks and rewards of teaching yoga–especially the delicate money aspect. How much do yoga teachers, including myself, associate teaching with profession, career, and earning a living? Would we be teaching if it were pro bono? I am perfectly happy as a yoga student, so what is motivating me to teach?

I’m still gathering my thoughts on yoga and money, but here are a few…

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I divide my work among writing, editing, and teaching yoga. I enjoy the variety (a far cry from practicing law!) and prefer not relying only on yoga to earn a living. Most of my Iyengar yoga colleagues are part-time, not full-time, teachers. Some have other occupations; some share household expenses with (or are supported by) a spouse/partner. To fend for oneself in Vancouver and other destination cities is unrealistic on the average yoga teacher’s income.

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Law school was more expensive than Iyengar yoga teacher training. But I spent just three years in law school, plus one summer studying for the California bar exam, while I’ve studied Iyengar yoga for over 15 years, including three years training for certification, and could spend a lifetime preparing for assessments. Why should lawyers necessarily get paid way more than Iyengar yoga teachers?

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Modern-day yoga is a pursuit of the privileged. People with dispensable time and money go to pleasant studios wearing name-brand yoga pants. Even yoga teaching is somewhat of a luxury, a lifestyle choice. If I needed to support a household, could I afford to be teaching yoga?

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I once read a piece by Prasant Iyengar advising yogis not to taint their practice by teaching for a living. Well, I know outstanding teachers who are supporting themselves by teaching. Simply by who they are, they’ve ended up with a thriving student base. If one’s intentions are good, I see no reason why yoga should not be a primary income source.

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Marketing oneself… it either comes naturally or it’s a pain! To me, hard-core marketing feels too commercial and crass, but spreading the word, one to one, is marginally doable. I recently chatted with a friendly barista at a cafe that I frequent; she ended up joining one of my classes at The Yoga Space!

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Teaching is intense work. I put much thought into preparing original sequences (despite the likelihood that they’ll be revised on the spot!), and in class I’m 100% present, never mind injury or exhaustion. Teaching requires me to be “on”! If I teach a morning class, I have no time for my own practice; I end up plunging into poses, cold.

Sometimes, knowing that I’ll be decently compensated is a relief. Perhaps making money from teaching “justifies” the time and energy I spend on all things yoga. Otherwise my “hobby” would seem like mere indulgence.

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When I first began teaching, I didn’t care about money. I wanted students: a decent number, a keen and consistent group. If I’d had the choice of either $100+ per class or a dozen regular students per class, I’d have chosen the latter. Of course, the two go hand in hand. Once you establish a group of regulars, you earn a decent rate and the group has enough critical mass for stability (and growth).

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Even breaking even requires some profit because teaching is far from expense-free. Obvious costs include transportation and time, but there’s also paying for substitute teachers, ~$60-100 per class. Imagine owning a studio and incurring the costs of rent/mortgage, renovations, maintenance, gas/electricity, props, cleaning, supplies, etc. And don’t forget a teacher’s continuing education and “maintenance,” including those massages.

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In a money-based society, people typically take things more seriously if money is involved. Students who pay for classes are more likely to show up. Economic studies have shown that paying more for a good/service influences a buyer to value it more.

I sometimes offer discounted or free classes to those who are new or cannot afford full price. But I tell them that they’re expected to show up. In lieu of money, they can give me their attendance.

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What are your thoughts on making money from yoga teaching?

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