Broke Teacher.

Via Kristoffer Nelson
on Mar 27, 2011
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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


65 Responses to “Broke Teacher.”

  1. 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.

  2. Kris Nelson says:

    Keep me posted. I really liked you abundance post.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.


  5. 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")

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


    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    Elephant Yoga on Facebook

  7. Kris Nelson says:


  8. Kris Nelson says:

    Thank you, Bob. It's an honor.

  9. 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.

  10. 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’.

  11. 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.

  12. 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…