Broke Teacher.

Via on Mar 27, 2011

Bad business is bad yoga.

My first memory of money is through the eyes of my grandfather.  I was young, maybe four or five, and I was sitting in the passenger seat of my grandfather’s Cadillac.  We were returning from the grocery store where we had picked up a needed and forgotten item for grandmother’s dinner.  As we pulled up to my grandparent’s southern California valley ranch house, I turned to my grandfather and asked, “GP (that’s what the cohort of grandchildren called him), how much money do you have in the bank?”  I was just discovering the fascinating world of value and commerce – something the adults around seemed to constantly obsess over.

My grandfather turned to me and said, “Son, don’t ask people about money.”

And that was it.  My first conscious lesson about money was that we’re not suppose to talk about money.  I later learned that we’re also not suppose to talk about sex, politics or religion.  The things that are often most valuable, most essential, and most defining of our humanity are off limits.  It’s interesting that these constraints have carried over into the world of practice and development where we’re not suppose to talk about development or enlightenment – that is, unless we’re gossiping about someone or conversely idolizing someone.

I’ve often wondered why so many things are off limits:  Why not talk about our money?  Why not talk about our sex?  Why not talk about our development?

At the core of it, and there are perhaps a lot of cores, these are the standards we use to value ourselves and others.  Money, development, religion are the measures we use to substantiate ourselves and if we discuss such things and others disapprove we risk devaluing ourselves.  We risk being worthless.  And because we risk being worthless, we don’t go there with others, and we don’t go there with ourselves.

Enter yoga, stage left, where ultimately internals are valued over externals (sweet relief).  No matter what the culture of the specific tradition – renunciation or world embracing tantra – there is a preference towards internal development and world-abandon.  And here, because we value internals, we don’t talk about development, awakening, and enlightenment – we would risk being worthless.  And, because internals are more valuable, we lose a sense of the importance and necessity of externals – we find it okay to disregard money and business because we believe that we have evolved beyond it.

Sadly, that’s an illusion.

In a recent dialogue I had with Certified Anusara Yoga Teacher Cate Stillman for her Mentor’s Course, Cate and I discussed the yoga of business and the business of yoga.  [If you’re interested, you can listen to the dialogue here.]  During this conversation, I settled into a few things I’ve been milling over for many years having left full time teaching for two reasons:  1) I wanted greater impact in the world and teaching was limited to the people that showed up to class, a workshop or a talk, and 2) I needed to make more money.

I had done a survey of the financial state of the wellness industry and though it is a billion dollar industry the majority of profit is in products and real estate.  The very, very few top paid teachers are making around $200,000 a year.  This wasn’t enough for me.  I went back to school, I started consulting, and now more than five years later, I an executive at a corporation about to go public.  Business is my yoga.

A question remains: why can’t yoga teachers make money?  Why do so many of my friends struggle? And why did I struggle?

And, thanks to the skills I’ve developed over the last ten years, and specifically the last five years, I’m beginning to arrive at some conclusions.  When a yoga teacher exits teacher training and embarks on a teaching career they are starting their own business – and most of the time they have no business, management and leadership training or skills.  And, while I’m at it, very little relationship skills too.  The way that most yoga teachers I know engage in their personal and professional relationships would never fly in the business world.  And the way most yoga teachers engage in business clearly doesn’t fly either – enough to get by, travel a bit to see their favorite teacher, and buy organic kale and dark chocolate isn’t mastery.

If yoga expects to the lead the world in a conscious evolution, we need to get a whole lot more conscious and a whole lot more skillful.  The Bhagavad Gita says that, “Yoga is skill in action.” And this goes well beyond the mat, buying organic local food, and recycling.  This is about business, leadership and relationships.  In my experience, most individuals and leaders in business and corporations, systems that are lambasted by the yoga community as evil and unconscious, are well developed beyond those in the yoga world. Most corporations treat their employees much better than the average studio or yoga business.

Typically I find several things contributing to unskillful business action: 1) a misunderstanding of what business is and its important role in all of our lives, 2) dislike and mistrust of business, 3) allergy to appearing conventional, 4) limited (internal) ideas about success and development, 5) spiritually limited ideas about commerce and exchange, and lastly 6) magical and mythical ideas about abundance.

If we’re going to change the world, we have to be better.  We have to change ourselves in order to change business – and business affects every person on this planet.  Yoga business should be the most successful business ever, and business is the vehicle that will change the world.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this series: How Business Will Change the World.

About Kristoffer Nelson

Kris Nelson works to development business, culture, and consciousness. He is a consultant, entrepreneur, and a corporate executive. He is also certified Anusara Teacher and well established meditation teacher. After teaching in Los Angeles for many years, Kris spent several years touring Asian, Europe and the United States teaching Anusara Yoga, meditation, and perspectives on awakening in the modern world. When Kris approached the age of 30 he decided that it was time to get an real job and now assists organizations and businesses in both evolutionary and financial growth. Kris currently resides in Raleigh, NC working his first corporate job in a very long time. You can find Kris on twitter at @toffernelson or on his website KramaConsulting.com.

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65 Responses to “Broke Teacher.”

  1. vanessafiola says:

    I love this so much it hurts. Thanks for articulating the yoga : business connection. Upon exiting my second teacher training, I was itching to leave my corporate job. I was whining to someone about wishing I could just quit and teach full time. My friend said to me, "You'll be ready to leave when you realize that who you are at the office is no different than who you are in the (yoga) classroom." That was seven years ago. I have since stopped teaching yoga.

  2. Jen says:

    Hmm… Making enough money teaching to travel, buy kale, dark chocolate, some clothes here and there and pay my rent souds ideal to me! Good article thanks for sharing a different perspective!

  3. Awesome, practical, and grounded perspective. I've worked with so many yoga teachers who struggle with their aversion to promoting themselves, standing up for themselves with studio owners, asking for what they need (deserve), and believing that their services equate to a monetary value. "Magical and mythical ideas about abundance" mean nothing compared to common sense and good business boundaries.

    • Kris Nelson says:

      True that, J-Ha.

    • Linda-Sama says:

      "standing up for themselves with studio owners" — right on!

      I have no problem standing up for myself but have found 99% of studio owners in my area to be of the mentality that they're doing me a favor by allowing me to teach a workshop for them and therefore I should be glad for whatever I make. I once taught at a studio where the owner purposely sent total newbie students to my yin class telling them it was good for "beginners." uh, not. not at all. and all those people had her "first time yoga for $5" coupons which she did not pay teachers for — some months I lost over $100.

      yoga studio owners are some of the biggest rip-off artists of teachers, forget about non-yoga people having no respect for the value of a teacher! which is why I don't teach in studios anymore!

      great article….

  4. Kimberly Johnson kajyoga says:

    "In my experience, most individuals and leaders in business and corporations, systems that are lambasted by the yoga community as evil and unconscious, are well developed beyond those in the yoga world." YES!

    Typically I find several things contributing to unskillful business action: 1) a misunderstanding of what business is and its important role in all of our lives, YES! 2) dislike and mistrust of business,YES! 3) allergy to appearing conventional, YES! 4) limited (internal) ideas about success and development, YES! 5) spiritually limited ideas about commerce and exchange, and lastly YES! 6) magical and mythical ideas about abundance. YES!

    Thanks Kris. I cannot agree more. I learned the hard way. I did not leave a dissatifying corporate job, but I hid behind the guise of yoga being my calling and not my career. It took me a long time to figure out all 6 of the above. My favorite of which was #6 my "Lakshmi accouting method" taught to me by Sharon Gannon (love her, but the method was not a good direction for me). It goes like this- work a lot, put the money in a purse, and then when you need money, it will be there. I realized I was avoiding a whole lot while imagining that money was not by goal but a byproduct of "living my calling" and by being so allergic to the material world.

    It has been a harsh awakening. Much harsher than the transition I have seen when the folks that have been more tuned in to the material world go inside.

    I love that this conversation is happening openly and we can all raise the bar, moving away from the shame and stigma associated with ambition and yoga.

    • Kris Nelson says:

      Thanks for your support and props, Kim. And thanks for sharing – it's important. We have to start talking about this.

  5. lucas says:

    Great article… yoga teachers are forced intro entrepreneurship and most have no interest or inclination that way. There has always been a glamorization and idealization of the entrepreneur, more than ever right now, but for most people, it's much more unpleasant than their old 9-5. I think in the future there will be more structured employment opps for yoga teachers. In the meantime, people just have to get creative career-wise.

    Lucas

  6. Kris Nelson says:

    Hi Lucas –

    I think you're right: that yoga teachers are forced into entrepreneurship without interest or inclination. I would add, without consciousness. And so, with this series, I hope to not only make the decision conscious, but also empower it towards greater success. I don't see the trend going towards structured employment, and the current yoga business model does not support structured, full-time, living-wage employment for most. And, on the teacher side, a lot of teachers begin teaching because they want more freedom. There is little awareness around the implications of this.

    And there is huge opportunity. In a recent Yoga Journal survey, 15 million people practice yoga in the US. There are currently 311,000,000+ in the US. Interestingly, according to a Harper's Index stat, 9 out of 10 people in the US say they live a healthy life. But, according to the CDC (2008), 34 percent of the US adult population is obese.

    There is an opportunity: the world to become a healthier, more conscious place; and for yoga teachers to stretch themselves, become more grounded, and treat their business as a practice.

    Thank you for your thoughts!

    Kris

  7. Don says:

    That's a great article, Kris. I gave some thought about opening a yoga studio a couple of years ago and wanted to see how the numbers worked out. It didn't take long for me to figure out that classes alone make it very hard for a yoga studio to survive and other revenue streams (workshops, trainings and especially merchandising) were needed to "pay the rent".

    So I think it's great that you're providing the due diligence for those who want to follow a certain path and giving them the strategies needed to stay on the path.

  8. Great blog, Kris. This is actually one of the most provocative blogs I've seen recently. The idea that Yoga people should embrace business and business skills runs quite contrary to the usual point of view, as you said in your article.

    Long before I was a Yoga writer, I was a business writer, and a software entrepreneur for 30 years. I've occasionally thought about trying to bring my business writing into my Yoga world, but I've been uncertain about how it would be received, for all the reasons you touch on in your article.

    So I'm anxious to see how this series of yours progresses. I'm already a little surprised at the enthusiastic reception. Perhaps if you break the ground then I'll feel inspired to bring some of my essay on business leadership skills here, too.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

    • Dylan Barmmer Dylan says:

      Do it, Bob. Let them think/say what they will…

      • Brent Binder drbinder says:

        Agreed, I just finished yoga demystified and would love to see that easy flowing and well articulated stream of consciousness focused in to a project like this. Meditative and yoga infused business solutions, it sounds amazing already! Especially because I know the yoga profiters will invest their earnings right back in to the community and this planet. There are no coincidences, BOB…

  9. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  10. rudy says:

    Thanks for writing this Kris, I consider myself one of the fortunate teachers that at this moment is doing well financially even though I spend to much:) Kris, I do indeed need more guidance on the business side and not sure how to market my business to the next level such as a Baron Baptist, Corne, Friend, Kest, etc. Afterall, man can not live by bread alone, nor teachers, from classes alone. Good luck with your venture and keep up posted.
    Rudy Mettia
    SMPY

  11. jenifer says:

    i am interested in reading more as well.

    i am a yoga teacher who has been running my yoga teaching as a business for years, and last year, i began a holistic health center (a long time dream of mine). I was often criticized for running it like a business, but at the end of the day, that's what it is. Unlike in eastern traditions where teachers are paid in food, housing, clothing, etc — we are paid in money so that we can buy those things for ourselves. I point out to people that it truly is no different.

    In running my business, I also feel strongly that it must fit within the values of yoga. As a teacher working for other studio owners, at times I felt that I was treated very unprofessionally — as mentioned in the article — and even used. The underlying values of Yoga fit well with business, and in fact help create a more successful and sustainable business because it embodies a high ethical standard for business (and/or life in general).

    That's my opinion, anyway. :)

  12. [...] “what’s the worst that could happen? If I don’t like it I’ll drop out and see if I can teach yoga.” Little bit of real life foreshadowing for [...]

  13. leah says:

    Kris, you are so awesome!! I am not only your bias fiancee, I am also deeply moved by your intellect on a daily basis. I not only love you, I admire you.

  14. Dylan Barmmer Dylan says:

    The Magical and Mythical Ideas about Abundance part is the saddest…Planet Yoga really could stand to come back down to earth a bit, eh?

  15. Doreen says:

    Thank you, now tell us HOW to do it!

    • Kris Nelson says:

      Hi Doreen –

      I think I have to now… Working on it.

      And, if you have a chance. Check out the dialogue linked above.

      Kris

  16. Even from the uber-spiritually tradional perspective of classical tantra, being able to be succesful in the world is imperative and a sign of realization. Thanks for the article. Here's a link to an authentic retreat in classical tantra on just the topic – how to use spiritual practice to live one's ultimate destiny and create worlds of accomplishment. If you are interested, please check it out and feel free to ask me questions if you have any. Thanks again. _-yogi
    htttp://www.adiyoga.com/kailash-akhara/upcoming-events

    • Kris Nelson says:

      Thanks, Energy Mind. I'm curious to know: what have graduates of this program gone forward to do? What's the percentage of people operating successful businesses?

  17. Sorry – to clarify… the "uber-spiritually traditional" comment is my own compensation for not wanting to get lumped into the neo-tantra, new-age category. I realize it might sound a bit extreme the way I said – and, really, its a very natural, practical, and time-tested approach. Thanks. -yogi

  18. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Good post. Very true.
    The big problem in my eyes is that spirituality is immature. Most people who would call themselves spiritual are ungrounded and are so busy trying to become One with All That Is that they forget about simply BEING – you know, being in the body, being here, being REAL.
    Beingness is more satisfying than Oneness. It's more real, and therefore it's also of more service.
    Looking forward to more from you Kris.

  19. Maria says:

    Kris
    Great article thank you – so well articulated.
    While I cant attest to the US experience; I've seen here in Ireland, that a lot of yoga yeachers and studios have ended up in difficulty not due to any lack of skill either business or teaching wise on behalf of the teacher; but simply because students reeled in their finances, and stopped shelling out for classes. less students = less €€.
    I agree that many TT programmes just do not make enough room in the syllabus for the practicalities of the business end of teaching, either as a self employed teacher, or where one is associated with a Studio.
    At the end of the day, irrespecctive of spitituality, there is a monetary value attached to what is is being provided i.e. the yoga class – and teachers need to be comfortable asking for that €€ A yoga teacher cant pay their rent with "oms",

    • Kris Nelson says:

      True that, Maria. And you've articulated one business challenge: a needs based business versus a wants based business.

  20. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  21. Jiivadhara says:

    There is a book called "Yonga Inc. – A Journey Through the Big Business of Yoga [Hardcover]" by John Philip

    -http://www.amazon.com/Yoga-Inc-Journey-Through-Business/dp/0670068438/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1301462839&sr=1-1

    It got recommended by Georg Feuerstein. I know we talk here about the small business of Yoga, and teachers not having enough business skills to promote their skill.

    I certainly have a preference that yoga is open for all students to partake as it is not mean to become a mere capitalistic enterprise. Still, the bills got to be paid at the end of the day. I bet there will eventually be a happy balance between big business, small business, a non-greed oriented life-style, and the integration of sincere students somehow… Te more teachers are being trained the more likely it is that there is a place for all students to learn the vast and diverse inner science of yoga.

    I just ordered the book and have not read it yet but i trust Georg Feuerstein, hence I recommend it.

    • Kris Nelson says:

      Jivadhara –

      Thanks for pointing this out – I'm curious. I'll take a look.

      Best wishes,

      Kris

  22. Claudia Azula Altucher Claudia says:

    wow, had to scroll down a lot to post!, great article, I am SO with you.

    Money is an energy just like food, and yes I agree with you why are we so afraid of it? why are being abundant and a yogi not compatible? I do not get it either. Will stay tuned for your part two…

  23. thatmelchick says:

    and i agree (with the article).

    and i would argue that yoga and massage as businesses in the west are mostly run by women who – by nature of their hormonal makeup – are more emotional creatures and, therefore, cater to emotions over logic and reason… which are fundamental components to running a business. money is a unit of measure. it measures value in a society and yoga, if it has true value, should not be DEvalued due to an emotionally inaccurate view of currency (a.k.a. money).

    what's with all the guilt about money???

    yogic philosophy is VERY logical in nature. thanks to the author for quoting the bhagavad gita. i'm having to reprogram myself on this subject… and have looked to brian johnson http://philosophersnotes.com/ for counsel on this subject. he has proven to be an ethical businessman who speaks often to this very subject.

    cheers & namastes to the lifelong journey.

    • Kristoffer Nelson Kris Nelson says:

      I would argue that no sex, or person, makes solely rational decisions about money. And business is not something that is solely related to rational choices. It's just a part of it.

      Brian is indeed great. I love philosopher's notes.

      • thatmelchick says:

        and i agree with you. my massage therapist (a man) upon realizing i didn't have enough cash with me said, "do you need a lower price?" (is he serious?) i scolded him on devaluing himself and used my credit card. ;)

        i was simply arguing that those with an abundance of testosterone (versus estrogen) tend to be less-ruled by emotion, but (caveat) by no means are immune to letting their emotions run their minds.

        brian is great… and so is alexandra (yin-yang).

        cheers & namastes.

  24. jaltucher says:

    It seems like in the yoga community in general (and you see it even throughout elej) that there is a simmering distrust of money and business (this post excluded). A great book for any yoga practitioner thinking of starting their own yoga business should read is "The Thank You Economy" by Gary Vaynerchuk. he did a great job with "The Wine Library" and shares his experiences, which I tihnk could be particularly valuable to the startup yoga studio business.

    • Kristoffer Nelson Kris Nelson says:

      Thank you, Jal. Gary is an exceptional business person – definitely recommend everything he has to say. Just reading interviews with him can be insightful. And, be very aware that The Wine Library operates with a much different business model than most yoga – services v. products.

      Kris

      • jaltucher says:

        Well, in some ways he has a different business model (digital delivery of content and online sales of wine) BUT in many ways its the same (very personal relationship with the customer, built up by a combination of high quality content and the inevitable "thank you")

  25. Named to Top 10 Elephant Yoga Blogs of the Week.

    Congratulations.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
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  26. maria says:

    Hmm..I’m a little surprised there are no contrary opinions here. 200,000 dollars a year is not enough? please. That is more than most people with ‘real’ jobs make in a year.I am a yoga teacher and I have no illusions that I will get rich doing it. The point is that I am doing something that brings me joy and hopefully helps my students. I think that the spiritual marketing in this country is out of control. The world will not be saved by business, it will be saved by community, not rich suits spreading a ‘yogic message’.

  27. maria says:

    If you don’t think 200,000 dollars a year is enough, you obviously have a lot to learn about abundance! When is enough enough? I am perfectly happy being a poor yoga teacher. It is not shameful.

  28. Kris Nelson says:

    Cate! You've inspired something awesome here. Thank you. I have some ideas percolating – let's talk soon.

  29. Nancy A says:

    Thanks for contributing to this great article. As a yoga teacher reaching the end of my first year in front of students I'm wondering how it would be possible to make this my soul source of financial support. Definitely have given me food for thought.

    p.s. My mom comes to Yoga Tejas in the summer and I have visited once myself. It is her favorite place to practice and a wonderful community. Just had to let you know how much she raves about you and the studio.

  30. Kris Nelson says:

    Yes, my spicy friend! Working on something like this, I think. LOVE!

  31. Love this comment, KL. Thanks for being here.

  32. Kristoffer Nelson Kris Nelson says:

    Hi Liska –

    I completely agree with your additional observations. In fact, I've been thinking about the second installment and I think it will focus on your second point. There's a massive business model problem that is centered around your observation.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    Kris

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