Let Me Break it Down: My view on the whole yoga teacher pay thing

The Internet (or a very very small corner of the Internet) has been talking a lot this week about the real deal on what  it’s like to be a yoga teacher. I think it was all sparked by this article in Good magazine where a woman gave her first hand account of what a no money making hussle trying to teach yoga is, and how in her opinion it was a crappy job than waiting tables. This understandably got all the Internet yogi’s a talking. Some saying, yeah it does suck to most of the time basically break even or pay to teach, while others chastised here attitude and said you shouldn’t become a yoga teacher as a job or a career to make money, it’s a calling.  Read some of those opinions here and here.

So as an underemployed yoga teacher let me add my two cents and break down my view on these opinions:

1) First off nearly all of the yoga teachers kvetching in all of these posts don’t have it as bad as it can be. Here’s a glimpse into my own personal yoga hard knocks story:

I completed my teacher training in July 2011, registered with Yoga Alliance, got my libility insurence, started my website, got my business cards, and spent 100s of hours practicing, promoting, comining up with sequences, playlists, visiting and paying for classes at studios, gyms, etc, reading books. I bought a lot of yoga materials (Yoga Journal subscription, books, mat, strap, block, clothes). All said and done I have spent over $5,000 and probably over 700 hours in pursuit of being a yoga teacher. I have auditioned a few times (and three of those times I have been offered positions only to have the class cancelled before it started, the studio go out of business, or the owners change their minds in favor of a teacher “with a following.”)

I’ve done a little subsutitue teaching, but mostly I’ve been passed over for those already on staff or with more teaching experience. I taught free classes, then I rented a space and charged a very affordable rate ($10/class) since I don’t think you should have to be a rich yuppie to do yoga, yet the most consistent job I’ve gotten in the past year is teaching an after school yoga class twice a week for kindergarteners at a charter school in Brownsville Brooklyn. I didn’t know anything about teaching yoga to 5-year-olds, so I taught myself from reading, dvds, and volunteering for several months. For this job I spend several hours a month doing lesson plans, paid $105 to get a finger-print background check required by the DOE to work in a public school, and commute over 2 hours on the subway and a mile and a half walking for each class (class is 45 mins but my commitment also includes parent pick up, meaning my total time there is 1.5 hours) for this I am paid $35.

The most I have even made for teaching yoga is $40, the least was negative $5 (when what I paid to rent the space was more than what my students paid me).

So long story short: making $150/day between classes and private clients and getting a scholarship for my teacher training sound like the easy life to me.

2) I was never under the illusion  that yoga was going to be my new career. Granted I had no idea how hard it would be to make ANY money. But I’m a journalist first and foremost, a journalist who is majorly feeling the pinch and figured that since I have been practicing yoga several times a week for over seven years, teaching yoga would be a good side job. I like teaching, many students and teachers have told me I’m good at it.  I even live in the neighborhood in NYC with the highest concentration of yoga studios in the city. Yet I’m unable to make more than $70 a week. I think the “there are right and wrong reasons to teach yoga” arguement  is kind of moot–if you became a yoga teacher because you wanted to be some sort of wealthy guru, you are just a crazy person. Most people go into teaching yoga because they like yoga–seems like a pretty valid reason to me and wanting to make a living at something you like is kind of the American Dream.

3) My story and all of the others in these posts (regardless if they are whining about not making enough to pay for their $98 Lululemon pants–hint go to Old Navy–, or wearing their “it was a calling, I don’t do it for the money I do it for karma and warm feelings”) are all saying the same thing in a different way: This shit ain’t right. Yoga teachers are for the most part freelancers and it’s really hard to cobble together any sort of living as a freelancer but that’s made even more difficult when you make what ends up equaling about minimum wage  and commuting hours for one hour jobs.  There are some yoga teachers who make a decent living and teach many classes in the same place, but it seems the exception to the rule.

4) I’m not sure what the answer is. A yoga teacher union? Staff positions with benefits or at least a set amount of hours/pay? Studios that value teachers more ( even with high overhead and rent making $200+ from students per and paying teachers $35 doesn’t add up)?  The moral in all this seems to being a depressing but unsurprising one: just because something seems seeped in good vibes doesn’t mean it won’t leave you broke and frustrated.



One response

  1. Part of the problem is that people see it as an easy way out of their boring office job routine. They see themselves sipping beetroot juice all day, omming a lot and getting paid loads. Teaching yoga is probably harder than most office jobs, you’re judged a lot according to your appearance and if you don’t constantly reinvent yourself all but the most dedicated students will go elsewhere.
    For people who want to dedicate their lives to yoga and who decidedly are not in for the money, there’s the option to become staff at an ashram, for example Sivananda. True, you’re not earning anything. But then, you don’t have expenses. They provide housing, food, you get to teach and will be able to help people. Now that’s a life style change…

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