You’re Never Going to Make a Living as a Yoga Teacher (and Other Things Nobody Tells You at Yoga Teacher Training).

Via on Mar 1, 2013
Yoga Classes
Photo: healthnyogaa

So, you’ve just been certified as a yoga teacher? And you want to teach full-time!

Congratulations!

Now what?

While the Road to Samadhi-Land is paved with good intentions, it can also be potholed with a sobering reality check.

Here’s what they don’t tell you at yoga teacher training.

1. Yoga, Inc. is a billion-dollar biz, but as a teacher, you will struggle financially—so budget, prepare and pare down.

You have big dreams of helping people while maintaining a healthy lifestyle for yourself? Good. Don’t quit your day job.

Nowadays, Yoga, Inc. is a billion dollar biz. The industry runs on advertising and perception just like anything else. You know the magazines which advertise teacher training programs where everybody is clad in Lululemon, smiling, and doing dancer pose in a fancy yurt overlooking the ocean on some exotic island?

Enjoy and those cool, salty breezes, my friend, because you will struggle to stay afloat financially. Unless you teach in Beverly Hills or have connections at a Manhattan mega-studio or are just extremely flexible and charismatic and look really, really good in spandex, your life will not be nearly that glamorous.

The idea of the organic kale-eating, kombucha-sipping, fair trade chocolate-buying Whole Foods shopping yoga teacher is a helluva misnomer. As the winter rages on and your bills will pile up, you will consider eating your yoga training manual or your threadbare hoodie for sustenance.

2. Most yogis are reluctant to discuss money—but we cannot live on love and light and happy vibes alone.

(The last time I checked, the landlord, the electricity company and the grocery store would not accept them.)

Here is a bottom-line breakdown.

The Path to Enlightenment is never easy. Let’s talk about expenses. Can you move into a smaller place? Share living quarters with family, friends or eight roommates in a drafty loft/squat? Can you forgo extras like take-out meals, nights out or vacations for the forseeable future?

Pay can be low—A new teacher will likely make about $25 per yoga class in an urban gym or studio. Smaller studios or community centers will likely be in a position to offer much less for compensation.

Transport costs can be high—If you live in a city, you’ll very likely spend much of your yoga workday in traffic, enroute to multiple classes. You must have a reliable vehicle (if your class sites are not served by public transport or safe for bicycling). Budget for travel time and incidentals like parking and gas. ( I often spent an hour each way traveling to and fro. My parking garage cost $20 for two hours.)

Insurance and Certification costs—As a subcontractor, a yoga teacher should have his or her own health and accident insurance. To remain certified with Yoga Alliance, a teacher is required to yearly spend a certain number of hours in workshops with master teachers. (Said workshops are fabulous learning opportunities; tuition fees also rival the GDP of a small island nation.)

3. There’s much more competition for yoga employment opportunities than there was five years ago.

The demand for teacher trainings has increased by over 50 percent in the last few years. Yoga Alliance-certified programs, which require 200+ hours of practice and study and are conducted by experienced practicioners, are the gold standard. Unfortunately many teacher trainings, conducted online or in an afternoon, do not live up to these standards. Charlatanism can run rampant. Many new teachers emerge without proper training. They present a danger to themselves and the students in their classes. Remember—you’re competing with everybody for those teaching spots.

4.) The yoga world is a cross-section of the human world. Not all yoga people are ‘nice’ people, especially when there are profits to be made and reputations to be cemented.

Remain present and remain vulnerable, but respect yourself and your boundaries as you would in any other job. Exchange your time and energy, but do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of, especially as a new teacher learning the ropes. Would a physical therapist, engineer or plumber work without pay for a year? Unless you have explicitly agreed to volunteer or teach a community class, you shouldn’t either.

Spirituality and commercialism have often been unlikely bedfellows throughout human history. In the olden days, students studied with a teacher. While money did not exchange hands, energy (in the form of chores or errands performed or other kinds of assistance) did.

Your work? It has spiritual (and material) value. It has energy, kundalini.

I have been blessed with many incredible yoga students, instructors and fellow teachers whose dedication and resolve have served as a continual source of inspiration.

I’ve also seen a lot of crap. The teacher who’s too busy ogling herself in the mirror to help students. The studio owner who implies that a fellow teacher is greedy and un-yogic because said teacher has not been paid in four months and desperately needs rent money. The mean girls who make fun of a new, unfashionably dressed student in the back row. The rock star teacher who treats his students like his own personal possessions.

‘Yoga’ is like clay, molded different ways by different people. Don’t let anybody tell you it is ‘unyogic’ to maintain your self-respect in your passion, which also happens to be your line of work. Maintain your boundaries. Process your joy. Own your disappointments. Sometimes the bullshitters are our greatest teachers.

5. Listen to your body while teaching.

In the quest to support yourself financially as a yogi-at-large you will teach many classes per week. Warm up before class and before poses which may present a greater risk of injury. Listen to your aches and pains. Arrange for a substitute if you need it. If an employer or studio owner pushes you beyond what your body can handle, take appropriate action. You are responsible for your own body. Respect it—because you’re also going to have to rest and recuperate it, if it comes to that.

6. Remember What Brought You Here. Teach part-time if you need to.

Most yoga teachers have that a-ha moment.

For me, it was a savasana on top of a roof in India many years ago. After a long practice, I felt all of my worries melting away, buoyed atop a deep tide of theta waves, a rose-scented state of bliss. I suddenly felt the urge to learn more about this ancient art. I wanted to work with others, to help them feel as well as I did in that moment.

Sometimes we lose sight of it, deep in the thick of trying to make our dreams a reality.

What is your a-ha moment? Hold onto it closely and remember, lest you lose faith. Keep the love. Maybe several classes a week with dedicated students—without the financial pressure to make your passion a career—may be just what you need.

Like elephant yoga on facebook.

Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

About Marthe Weyandt

Marthe Weyandt is a Pittsburgh-based yoga instructor and freelance writer. She enjoys traveling and spending time in the great outdoors. She is currently learning to play guitar, albeit badly and at frequencies only dogs can hear. She believes in the power of the word, creatively and lovingly rendered, to create positive change in the world. She has a Bachelor’s in English and Religion from Dickinson College and a Master’s in International Affairs from Columbia University. She spent two years as an English instructor with the United States Peace Corps in Madagascar. Check out some of her other work here.

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24 Responses to “You’re Never Going to Make a Living as a Yoga Teacher (and Other Things Nobody Tells You at Yoga Teacher Training).”

  1. OleManJake says:

    Just as any other multi-billion dollar business' once-in-a-while someone comes along that makes it. That one sneaks in under the radar while maintaining the self-respect you describe. They are few and far between: but they are there. Me? I'm still trying to get my teacher training under my belt.

    Appreciate the good info.

  2. Claudia says:

    Well you can not "make a living" working at a full time job at the minimum wage ….really for under $16 per hour. And even those jobs are are highly competitive. The truth is most Americans are "underpaid and underemployed" weaving together partime jobs to try to pay the bills, buy the food and gas….take care of healthcare costs…
    So it often will come down to this….are you going to be happy or not, are you going to choose to live your life – or just simply make a living. I disagree with this piece altho I see where she is coming from. I know you can make a modest living as a yoga instructor (maybe you can not afford the hottest new Lulu Lemon or the weekly pedi…but really is that what this is about?)
    I know even more that you can and will live a full and beautiful life as an authentic loving strong solid dedicated yoga teacher.
    Namaste

  3. Kimberly Lo kimberlylowriter says:

    Love this! It is so true! (BTW, I have been an instructor for 3 years. I cannot live on what I make, so I have a day job!)

  4. sfyogini says:

    It is insanely hard to make a living as a yoga teacher unless you get paid per person and you have nearly full classes for every single class you teach.The reality is most teachers never know how many people are going to show up to class from day to day.

  5. Dalene says:

    Thank you…great article. I totally agree, as I have tried to make it work financially as a yoga instructor, cut back on everything and still drained my savings. Although I love sharing my passion and guiding my students, I am reducing the number of classes I teach and will be starting a new full-time job next week. I tyring to find that balance.

  6. Memo says:

    By far the most helpful article I've read on Elephant Journal. My only wish is that I'd read this article 2 years ago. Every point you made was right on and I was blessed to have learned it all the hard way. Thank you for sharing this truth and may it be beneficial for the many new yoga teachers coming out of trainings in years to come.

  7. Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

    Excellent post that balances the real-life challenges and opportunities in an honest, compassionate, and no BS way. Thanks.

  8. annikalei says:

    this post makes me think that the yoga studio model is one that is destined for an implosion – and teachers buying into it are as responsible as anyone else. rather than declare that there is no way you are ever going to be able to make a living as a yoga teacher, why not ask the tough questions about why studios are so dependent on teacher trainings, and how we as yoga teachers can better advocate for ourselves as valued employees? i know people pay for teacher trainings just for the chance to learn about and maybe occasionally teach something they love very deeply. but it cheapens the profession, and accords us less respect when we accept that we just aren't going to be paid enough to live on.

    studios need to be held accountable for their teacher success rates. teacher trainings need to be longer and more expensive – yes, i said that. let's actually train people to teach yoga in a serious way, and make yoga studios take us seriously. teachers need to be employees, not independent contractors. if a yoga studio can't afford to hire on employees, then they have an unsustainable business model.

    those are just a few thoughts; i have many, many more about this subject. but just telling aspiring yoga teachers that they need to expect not to be able to live on their earnings is so unhelpful – it's like telling them to buy into a ponzi scheme, and legitimizing the unethical behavior of studios who offer teacher trainings and low teacher compensation.

    • Yes, this is hinted at but not really addressed. Studios are depending on lucrative teacher trainings, which are purely buyer beware. As there is no regulation of what constitutes a teacher training, they have been exploding and give inexperienced people the license to call themselves yoga teachers. At any rate, the reality is that a teacher training program doesn't make a good teacher, and a teacher can be good without going through any official training. Regular study with a senior teacher and a powerful personal practice is probably a better teacher than most trainings out there.

    • Tricia says:

      I totally agree. The poor pay and financial instability of trying to make a living as a yoga teacher should be addressed by increasing the professionalism of yoga instructors. Rather than shrugging and saying "but you get to do what you love", the yoga profession needs to take some accountability. I believe the low cost of training and the relative ease of becoming a RYT are some primary issues.

      This article is extremely accurate. I have taught for almost 15 years on the east coast and in the midwest. It's not easy, and I would say it's getting harder. When I first starting teaching, I could find gigs easily and at very good pay rates. Now, it's almost impossible to find consistently good opportunities. Yes, there's more competition because of the number of students graduating from YTT programs, but I actually think it's due to the "cheapening" of yoga and the aerobicizing of yoga as a practice.

      Studying yoga philosophy, learning to teach yoga asana, understanding the subtle effects that this type of practice has on the mind, body and breath takes a level of maturity and experience that does not come quickly or easily.

      I'm tempted to say that "yoga is not meant to be a business", but it's just that type of thinking and belief that creates the dynamic this article is describing.

  9. Marthe Weyandt says:

    Thank you, everybody, for offering your personal experiences and reflections.

    For many people in the world, finding a way to sustainably live one's passion is a dream come true. So how do we yoga teachers keep the faith and assert ourselves as valuable employees in a market increasingly driven by large studios and the profit motive? Some urban studios can pack 50-70 students in a room (at $12-15 each) and compensate a teacher little more than the gas and parking fees it takes to get there. Yes, it is very unsettling. By hiring many employees (fewer teaching hours for each) studios and gyms can avoid having to pay pesky things like health insurance or sick leave for their hard-working employees. I certainly don't mean to impugn all studios. From an ethical business standpoint, there are some wonderful studios and gyms. There are enough atrocious ones to give pause.

    The day has come in which the future of the profession must alter drastically if it is to remain sustainable in the future. As teachers, maybe we all need to stand up for ourselves more.

    There is much to be said for gaining experience and offering one's services in gratitude, but many of us (MYSELF INCLUDED!!) have been too-well trained to silence our egos. 'Oh, I'm still new,' or 'I'm trying not to be greedy' or 'It takes a long time'. Any of these sound familiar? The current state of the profession has been financially paralyzing for many.

    How can we change the way teachers are sometimes treated or disrespected in the marketplace? True change must begin with an empowered self. Then, we organize. Lobbying? Media attention? Articles in healthcare publications? A minimum wage for yoga teachers?

    What does everybody think?

  10. MatBoy says:

    Being a yoga teacher is not difficult. Being a yoga teacher that can pay a mortgage, drive and maintain a car, pay health and car insurance, wear clean, well-fitting clothes and afford healthy food, pay utilities and use a cell phone let alone save money for a vacation in Chiang Mai or India is difficult. The supply and demand of yoga teachers in the developed economies far exceeds demand and almost none of us has undergone enough training to truly set ourselves apart from the rest.

    There are alternative lifestyles out there that could support us as yoga teachers but are we willing to make those sacrifices just to stay in teaching? The problem is when we want to 'have it all'. I like to tell myself that I can do anything, I just cannot do everything. I have to pick and choose my activities if I am going to afford them in the longer-term. I have had experience with a number of studio owners who actually were in it for the money and not the lifestyle that teaching could naturally afford. They are some of the most miserable and deceitful people I have ever run across in spite of their sanskrit-laden vocabulary and new age dress.

  11. Rogelio Nunez says:

    Wow good article with awake up call to all those running to take TT courses….do it to go deeper into the subject not to make big $$$, one has to plan ahead before jumping in w both feet. unless you have a partner that can support you…..or a PT job.
    It took me 2years of pre planning to actually quit my corp. job and strike out on my own, and yoga was only a PT thing….As I learned more and practiced more and the demand was there for me then i taught more classes than my other carreer….eventually yoga teaching took over….
    One has to change lifestyles to make it on your own, independence self employment comes at a price and sacrifice, even the Yoga teachers that are making 80% of the money out there struggled in the begginning. And now there is so much more competition.
    If your are willing to move to a city where yoga is just starting out you have a chance at sustaining yourself….

    • MatBoy says:

      iInteresting Rogelio. Another item: most of the yoga teachers making 'big' money are on the road 250+ days a year. This comes with another set of sacrifices one must make. Okay for some, but hardly the thing strong families and supportive community is made of.

  12. Lisa says:

    Brilliant. You know I have submitted a few stories to the various publications I write for and it's no surprise they do not want and "negative vibe" about yoga shared. I give Elephant Journal kudos for having the cahones to post this! Truth of the matter is, I too was moved and motivated by the "om" of it all, but after a short time realized the popular yogis were posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram not to be an inspiration but to sell their classes, books, B School's and boost their branding. It's OK, that's the nature of the world we live in. I find your post so refreshing since only 1% of anything ever really sees strong success, you have to do what you do because you LOVE it. If you want a career for the fame or the money, then your intentions are not authentic. Thanks for the post, keep writing!

  13. richard says:

    I would question the assumption that being a full time yoga teacher is something to desire. It seems to me that making money in non-yoga ways is more sustainable, allows time for you to actually study yoga and practice, puts you in more contact with "normal" (non-yoga) people, and prevents you from being a personal trainer.

    As to the "studio" model, look for "boutique" studios that charge more, pay more and allow you to teach smaller classes where both the teacher and students can learn something. A 70 person class? I would just wheel a tv and dvd in front of the room and have a cup of chai.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Yeah, be the "lifeguard"–and everybody into the yoga "pool" … with a little gong at your side if you catch any roughhousing ..
      I think some gyms (not yoga studios) do that already (but with aerobics dvds).

  14. Michael says:

    I think what you are saying is that yoga is not a "profession", it is a calling. Anyone who is going in to it because they are looking for a job is really looking in the wrong place.

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  17. Sherrie says:

    Michael is right. Yoga teaching is not a job, it’s a calling hence it would be naive to enter with the intention of earning a living. That’s why they pay you good money for day jobs, because they are boring and not enjoyable, hence it’s “compensation”. Only a tiny percentage of the population get to do what they dreamed of and make a decent living – musicians, entrepruners etc. even then they are stressed most of the time (extremely opposite of the peace, enlightenment we want to achieve). I saved for a few years doing my high earning boring job so that I get some time out / mini retirement. I’m also tossing the idea of doing TT but more so for a deeper understanding and hoping to better my yoga, also to check that box that I actually did something with my freed up time. However, I’m very clear that I will not survive on being a full time teacher, most of all, it would probably take away my own practice time. Thanks for the blog!

  18. Rose says:

    Perhaps in certain areas instructors are only paid $25 an hour but I was pleasantly surprised to be recruited to several different studios immediately after my teacher training was completed and was never paid less than $30 per class, ranging up to $90 for a 1.5 hour time slot. I think as yoga instructors it is necessary to look in to teaching at places other than studios. There is a huge market for instructors through large corporations. Network, network, network! Take on private clients, teach smaller specialized classes at local wellness centers and look for unique opportunities. Once you build up a clientele consider developing workshops or organizing retreats. Develop a website, business cards and ensure you have a presence on social media. If you put the effort out there and combine it with some business savvy, I assure you, it is possible to turn teaching yoga in to a full time and successful job.

  19. Solomon says:

    You can ABSOLUTELY make it as a full time yoga teacher, if that's your dream. Believe in yourself. Believe that you DESERVE your dream. Practice every day to ensure that you always have something fresh from your own experience to offer your classes. Maintain and manage your energy through mindful living, so that you can lead 10, 12, 15 classes per week. Shower your students and co-workers with love. Build solid relationships with private clients. Promote your services and talents everywhere. Build your reputation up. Always show up ready, with a smile, and never forget how amazing it is to share this practice. If you have devoted years to your yoga practice and training as a teacher, then you have something highly valuable to offer. It's just a matter of finding the people who are ready to receive it… and they are most definitely out there!

  20. ctfdmama says:

    Love it. So true. Just started teaching after finishing TT. I am still attempting to avoid opening the reality check that coincidingly showed up in the mail. . . :)

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