Making money from yoga teaching

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…

*****

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.

*****

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.

*****

What are your thoughts on making money from yoga teaching?

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19 thoughts on “Making money from yoga teaching

  1. You’ve ‘vocalized’ many of my thoughts on the matter so much better than I could. I work full time, I teach ‘part time’. I sub-contract through one studio and am considered a ‘part-time’ employee at the local YMCA. I teach 4-6 classes a week. I have never had the desire to become a full time instructor simply because teaching is a hobby for me and I wish to keep it a hobby. Yoga simply cannot provide the long-term benefits that I can get from my job (retirement account, health care, stable income).

    When I started, the money was a bonus. I was coming off of 8 years of Middle Eastern dance where I was NOT compensated for *any* my dance costumes (bought or made), the time I spent rehearsing, travel costs, music, lessons, etc. The idea that I could make money doing something I enjoy was an epiphany, a delight, and I put those funds into an account to be used for music, trainings, etc. I would have taught for free at that time.

    Now, it’s become a bit more complex.

    My continuing yoga education – something I take very seriously – is becoming more expensive as I’m seeking out more advanced sessions. I take trainings, to become a better instructor, and I feel I should be compensated for some of that knowledge. It costs gas to get to the studio. I’m taking time to teach when I could be spending that time at home with my family (remember, I work full time too). It costs money to find good yoga music – if I wasn’t teaching I wouldn’t be buying yoga music.

    I don’t spend a lot on ‘yoga clothes’ so that’s negligible. All my pants are at least 8 years old and still in good condition. My tops are from Old Navy. I bought a couple pair of long fitness pants for half price about 6 years ago for when the studio is cold (old building/cold winters). I don’t need to be dressed in the latest/greatest yoga fad.

    Ultimately, yoga pays for yoga. I teach yoga, to take classes/training, so I can become a better yoga teacher and practitioner.

    We live in a society where nothing is free – someone has to pay for leasing/renting that yoga space, the heating bills, the taxes on the property, the electricity, the equipment (mats, blocks, stereo), the computer that tracks students, the gas or bus pass to get to the studio, etc, so ultimately, all of these costs get passed down. The fancier the studio, the higher the cost. Not to say you can’t teach through community education in a gym and still have a devoted following, but even there is a cost of someone advertising, collecting the money, and making sure the building is open which often means a maintenance person is there to lock up.

    So… making money doing yoga is complex.

  2. this is a great post and echoes a lot of my own thoughts about teaching yoga and making “a living”. If I didn’t have my “day job” I couldn’t support myself. I consider myself “successful” in my teaching that I have a dedicated group of students who have been with me a long time with that trickling in of “newbies”. I also discount classes for individuals who can’t afford them or offer them for FREE if I know the person. I have never regretted doing this and am so surprised sometimes regarding the non-tangible rewards that occur. Teaching yoga IS a priveledge and my students ARE priveledged in that they have the time to come. In this economy time and money are really intertwined…

  3. I definitely struggle with the idea of making money off of yoga as well. I’m a relatively new yoga teacher and frankly, I feel weird/guilty/awkward about asking money for my services. True, there is value to what we do as yoga teachers and we should respect ourselves and our time but at the same time, I do worry if money gets in the way of yoga is really about. I worry about my state of mind in the future – whether I’ll start to think about breaking even instead of just focusing on the task at hand – which is to help people through yoga. But I guess like you mentioned in your post – if the intention is good – then there’s nothing wrong with earning money.

  4. I have sooo much to say on this topic, especially as I am going to pick up one child from school and running to teach kids yoga. How about the fact that we get no medical, dental, or maternity benefits? And all the physio we need after a cold demo goes wrong? But with a nagging toothache, I must run and teach. But I do love it.

  5. I personally don’t like the idea of making money off teaching something that I am so blessed to have in my life. I was counselling for three years and I incorporate this with my one on one sessions with those I teach and I feel that for that time I am happy to take a gift if that is money that is up to the person. I work full time and I will eventually go part time so I can dedicate my time to both teaching and counselling more. I feel as most of the people who have commented that if the intention is good and it is to help and support and teach others and your love is for what you are doing then earning something from it is a positive and only encourages you to want to give more. (my personal thoughts though) 🙂

  6. Sostener un grupo importante de practicantes y acompañar a los alumnos en su proceso de crecimiento constituyen un trabajo de mucha dedicación personal e integridad absoluta por parte del instructor. Y sabemos lo que la práctica otorga. Entonces, lo que se abone por la transmisión de éste conocimiento nunca será equiparable. Adhiero y como parte también de la práctica al concepto de pago regular por lo menos 10 meses del año se asista o no a las clases. Sabemos que nadie quiere pagar lo que no usa. Y también elevamos la consideración de los aspirantes a tan alto conocimiento. Puestos a analizar gran parte de los practicantes deben pagar aranceles muy superiores por servicios mucho más superfluos. Tendrán que elegir.
    Y esa decisión ya forma parte del trabajo. Desde ya es bueno atender situaciones particulares. En mi caso, jamás alguien dejó de tomar una clase circunstancias económicas. Pero siempre que sean CIRCUNSTANCIAS.
    Cariños
    .

  7. I am co-owner of a small studio and work as a Physical Therapist Assistant on a PRN basis. I think of going to the hospital as ‘going to work’ and to teach “as going to the studio”; it simply doesn’t feel like ‘work’ in the soul sucking sense we associate with most jobs. But, it is intense work of the highest order and I enjoy it and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m also in the Iyengar methodology and love that it is expected that we have a lifetime of study ahead of us to be effective teachers. (This training is far more demanding than that of my PTA training.) Because of what I put in, I have no qualms about accepting money for teaching because I value what I do and know that it positively affects my community and if my students value what I provide, then they can show that by fairly compensating me. I keep my classes small (equals smaller income per class, but I don’t want to neglect my duties as a teacher by having too many people at a time) and I have no delusions of becoming wealthy at this, but I think it’s fair to expect that I can keep a modest roof over my head and eat. I also offer work-study and barter opportunities to students and sometimes provide instruction to individuals for free on a case by case basis.

    This notion that we shouldn’t feel OK about accepting money or that money de-values what we do is toxic to our souls. Money is not inherently evil. I see this situation with artist friends who are asked to provide work, performances or services for free because “it will be a great opportunity for marketing”. That may be true in some way, but it doesn’t pay the bills that exist now. If we value beauty and art in our lives, we need to suck it up and pay for it instead of insulting the talented people who provide it. Asking for free services when you can pay tells that person that what they provide doesn’t have value or isn’t worthy of compensation. To my fellow teachers of all types be it yoga, dance, theater… to my friends who paint, sing, photograph… We have value and we matter. We are part of what makes living worthwhile. We need beauty in our lives and in our communities. Don’t apologize for the rates you have set for your services; when you collect payment, smile and say ‘thank you’ because you have earned it and we are a vital part of society. There are times when you will choose to make a gift of your services for little to no monetary compensation, but let it truly be from a place of generosity not from feeling guilty for what you charge! We have a right to exist and be fairly compensated.

  8. I really like this post Yoga Spy and in particular Kat’s response. It seems like ‘work’ has become a dirty word – particularly in yoga circles; and that is not surprising given the alienating nature of work in our consumerist economy. Society and governments can’t SEE the results of our work – even the western health care system rewards service providers where treatment can see tangible, visible results – be it a sprained ankle, a tumor detection, CAT scans, EEG’s, a pregnancy. So our work (there’s that word) is undervalued. But it means that those trained in prevention, wellness and well being are apportioned virtually none of government’s health care budgets.

    Why aren’t yoga classes tax deductible, for example, or why can’t they be claimed under extended health care plans? There are innumerable incentives that governments and corporations could adopt that would legitimize our work in society’s eyes. This enhancement I think would, in turn, mean more yoga teachers could dedicate themselves more fully knowing they could pay the rent without having to work a second job – no longer working as contract or piecework workers as we do now. But we also have to develop a way that those who wish to teach as a hobby, very parttime, or as a community service, etc, feel they can do so. Room for all.

  9. How will the next generation of masters come to be?
    Although I learn from all yoga teachers I study with, the teachers that have been the biggest influences on my practice, my teaching, and my life were full-time teachers. Through their dedication and passion, their practice is deep and their teaching experience broad. The insights they have gleaned, when shared with the rest of us, enrich our yoga experience. They are masters. I believe they would not have reached the level of insight they have if they’d been paid under the typical business model of today’s studios. They would have been too busy working second (or third) jobs.
    How will the next generation of masters come to be?

  10. Great writing! Lots of food for thought…

    I had a studio outside Toronto (I think you know) for 5 years. It was expensive. The rent was really high (higher than I’m paying in Toronto), advertising was expensive (and most of the time did not work) and I spent literally 24/7 teaching, creating workshops, classes, incentives, ads, notices, emailing my students (individually sometimes) etc., only to have to close after the grueling 5 years when students dropped off like flies that summer all over the area (too many studios opening up without any consideration of who they were encroaching on and a lot of them closed after that).

    You wrote: “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 couldn’t agree with you more here. That’s why I loathe Groupons – I wrote about it here (http://restlessspiritshop.com/2012/10/14/why-i-loathe-third-party-coupons-and-the-people-who-use-them/). Strong words yes, but I do not hesitate to call out things that I feel take advantage of those who feel desperate to use those “services” to garner a student base and exploit those who want to get something for nothing. I get calls every now and then from these groupon companies and when they ask me why I’m not interested in using their services, I do not hesitate, using careful, thoughtful words, to rip-them-a-new-one. I tell them that I think they are parasites feeding off of the backs of harding working very skilled labor and services, and cheapen our worth and value, etc..

    At the same time, people will not value what we have to offer unless we value it ourselves – so what you said is right on.

    I had an ad in the “Prana Pass” you probably know it. I joined because it was a good local way of advertising. I started with them when they were first starting out and there were only a few studios involved. But when it got bigger, it didn’t work at all. I did not get anything out of paying them $500/year but a few – not even a lot of – students who were judgmental, whiny, and what I would amount to as, users.

    Groupons do not foster commitment in these students so they do not bring positive energy to the studio. They use you and drop you for the next free thing. Not at all the atmosphere you want to create in your studio or character you want to create in your students. (Besides I think if you’re using groupons then you’re not confident in the value you’re bringing your students and then I ask, why are you teaching?)

    To me, there is nothing wrong with doing “yoga for a living”. But I say, know its worth! I’m not saying don’t give deals – but I believe that the studio should be giving the deals for incentive, not some third party business grad.

    My studio broke even and I can say that the only thing that put me into debt was the fact that I started carrying clothing to see if that could help weather the lull in attendance.

    I am still selling clothing but in Toronto now. The studio is not yoga-centric, but has a lot of elements that are. Some people have another job. My full-time job is to bring the promise of YOGA through different avenues. I’m glad I changed the focus – it is more freeing to me.

    Sorry that became a long “I hate groupons” diatribe. 🙂

  11. Why is it that when we talk about money and yoga some people think that it’s commercializing yoga? Gurus used to get accommodations, food, even some luxuries. They were taken care of by the community or the householder for the value of yoga in their lives. Does someone pay for your home? Food? Gas? No. This is how we translate that. It doesn’t matter if you’re given a lifetime of shelter or cash in your pocket, it is the same. It didn’t corrupt most of them (yes some people can be corrupted – but not all). You can only corrupt yoga if corruption is in your heart.

    Really – IMHO – the commercialization of yoga is this:
    1. huge franchises which hire ill-prepared teachers with little to no experience.
    2. teachers who teach yoga as just a physical workout and nothing else.
    3. teachers who claim to know more than the teachers that came before them.
    4. students and teachers who think yoga is only about that “feel good” groove and relaxing, and not also about hard work, dedication and service.
    5. teachers who change practices to appease themselves and their students because either it was too hard or too slow or they didn’t like it, etc. That’s what not yoga is about.

    If commercializing yoga means that I can put food on the table, have a roof over my head and I can keep the studio doors open another month (for the sake of the students) – then I’m all for it.

  12. Reblogged this on IYENGAR YOGA BLOG and commented:
    Somethings to consider. I did law school, myself, I know what she is talking about. But I have to agree with one thing she said and that fits any kind of teacher: “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?” Teachers must earn more money to support their living and turn possible improving themselves.

  13. Hi Luci

    Great post, and great subject – one that we all need to be more willing to discuss if we truly desire to transform the way we work as yoga teachers.

    I think that one of the main obstacles to yoga teachers earning a decent living, whatever that means for you personally, lies in the fact that when we train to teach we’re focused solely on the teaching credentials.

    No one ever comes out of a teacher training saying I’m an entrepreneur. They come out and say, I’m a yoga teacher, and rarely if ever are we invited to reflect on what ‘kind of business’ we really want as a teacher. Instead, we step into an inherited model of business, and one that is broken in many ways.

    I taught for many years and as time went on I became more aware of the impact teaching was having on my body and began to think about what I would do if I didn’t want to use my body in that way anymore. How would I support myself using my skills, without using my body?

    Then I was diagnosed with cancer and learned real quick that I had to have an exit strategy. I had to have a plan for how to make my business earn enough money to support me, without having to be physically present.

    Now I an on-line business coaching other teachers on how to build successful businesses ,and the first thing I ask them to focus on is – What do you want to do, and How much do you want to earn? Then we build a business for them going backwards from their income goal.

    If there’s one thing that I would have liked someone to tell me when I first began teaching, is that being a yoga teacher means that you’re a business owner. Had I known that from the start I think I would have been much more empowered to step into the role of business owner and designed my own business, rather than learning the hard way through trail and error.

    Even when you’re teaching for a studio, a corporate client or a local gym you need to know how to negotiate your wages and contracts, and deciding beforehand what your goals are, allows you be in a much better position to do that.

    Great discussion! I hope you are all living the life you dreamed of.

    Siobhan
    http://www.stirringthesoul.com

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