John Friend on the economics of teaching Yoga. Part I: “Supply and Demand”

Via Jessica Durivage
on Aug 3, 2011
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“As the demand increased, I increased classes.  But I didn’t increase classes until I had demand.” ~ John Friend

John Friend, Anusara yoga’s Titan, held down three to four yoga classes a day at Wanderlust Festival, Cali, while serving as Mayor of the Anusara Yoga Village that he, Dave Kennedy and his community created for the festival. The village was complete with an art gallery, a tea room, yoga pavilion, acupuncture tent, a Shiva/Shakti altar and Manduka Yoga mats.

Where is My Guru and elephant correspondent, Jessica Durivage, talked with John about the noticeable increase in teachers, teacher training and yoga studios in the United States in the last 10 years.

This interview is the first of a series being produced by Where is My Guru for elephant journal, called “Does America Really Need Another Yoga Teacher?” …exploring topics such as the economics of yoga, Guru’s tradition and lineage, leadership and the explosion of yoga teacher trainings around the world.

This is part one of a two-part series with John Friend. Be on the lookout for upcoming interviews with Seane Corn, Dr. Scott Blossom, Dr. Katy Poole, Jeanie Manchester and Yogarupa Rod Stryker.

John Friend and Jessica Durivage get their “Zoolander” on for photographer Carl Kerridge


About Jessica Durivage

Whether in a business suit, on a yoga mat or a meditation cushion, Jessica will follow her Dharma to the ends of the earth and work to bridge the gap with the world and the light that dwells within each being.  Grateful for the wealth of experiences, teachers and mentors who have guided her along her path as a yogi, a business woman, a non-profiteer and an improv comedian; she cultivates mindful, savvy and innovative approaches to make the world a better place each day and lead with compassion, from the heart (and trying not to take herself too seriously). / Jessica is the founder and owner of Where is My Guru - an ever evolving work of life that encompasses writing, art, community, leadership, consulting and a weekly radio show where you can find her contemplating Purusha, Prakriti, the Yoga Sutras and why all Yogis are crazy mo fo's. Check in with the Where is My Guru Blog and the radio show on Fridays at 11am EST -


37 Responses to “John Friend on the economics of teaching Yoga. Part I: “Supply and Demand””

  1. Jessica says:

    Thank you Yogini5, for your thoughts. I definitely hear where you are coming from and this has ignited this interview series where Master Teachers will candidly share their thoughts around yoga in America today.

  2. Jay W says:


    Thank you so very much for addressing this touchy "Topic". I find this topic so refreshing that should and needs to be discussed. I have lost track of all the teacher trainings located in the communities that I practice. I myself entered a 200 hr. teacher training after 2 1/2 years of dedicated practice. I left with a deeper understanding of myself and my practice, but did not feel so moved to start teaching right away.

    Some might say "you loose it if you do not use it", but my intentions of moving from my heart to give this wonderful gifts of "Yoga" to others was never driven by ego or to be "known" like many teachers I see seek.

    I have no doubt that I will end up teaching at some point, but when I know in my heart that I am ready and prepared. However, my intentions of teaching will always be from the heart and not driven by "ego, money, or because it's popular"

    Jessica, I am looking forward to the other parts of this topic that you will be writing and interviews that you post.


  3. Mark says:

    This is a money making venture plain and simple. Not to dwell on the "imagined " past, but….yoga's original integrity was intact until the last 20 years came along. Yoga was as natural as food, water, air, and the ground upon which we stand. But in a country where natural food can only be afforded by the single professional or single unemployed supported by Daddy, and water is in a bottle and shipped from Italy ,France, and Fiji. The air is still free and natural to some degree. I question whether or not the intentions of those that teach yoga is true to yoga's original intent. "Supply and Demand"???? Is it not obvious what the intent is? The yoga studio always comes first…not the students. Fill up the studio and rake in the money

  4. Jessica says:

    Thanks, Jay. I agree with you – as I have been 10 years out of a teacher training where I jumped right into supporting the opening of a studio. It was overwhelming, I didn't know how to hold space for others or myself.

    My goal and aim with this series is to get teachers and studio owners more aware of creating dialogue amongst their communities in how they can support yogi's to "stay in the world." How can we live with yogic values while in our jobs, relationships and families. I would love to see that training.

  5. shibuiyoga says:

    I was talking to my husband about the over saturation of yoga teachers in our community. It seems like after 6 months of practice everyone is a yoga teacher! I had studied for about two years when I was asked to sub my teacher's class while he was away. I freaked out. It was many years ago when you didn't need Yoga Alliance or anything to teach- you just taught. I was a dedicated student but always fought the idea of teaching- I just wanted to learn and be a better student.

    I am now in the Anusara Certification process and I feel that after 8 years I am a better student- and hopefully becoming a better teacher along the way. I think a 200 hour training is the most basic building block of a teacher and I agree that there should be prerequisites of time studied/practiced before people are allowed in. It is so hard to curb enthusiasm of someone who has caught the yoga bug however and I can see how it is hard to say no to that. Studios do depend on teacher trainings for income- the income from a TT once a year can be what keeps the studio open the rest of the year. The TT also helps the studios cultivate their own up and coming teachers. What is missing is more continuing education for new teachers- 200 hours barely scrapes the surface of what is necessary to serve students- and sometimes training is not enough- time and experience is often what is missing.
    Thank you so much for offering this thoughtful topic Jessica- it really is at the forefront of yoga today.

  6. waxbear says:

    Magnum? It's all the same look! Am I taking crazy pills?

    John is always hitting the nail on the head. In most other styles, you go from student to teacher. Even in Anusara, in deepening your practice, there's the immersion, and then teacher training. An improvement, but I would appreciate it if there was another track. After an immersion, you could have a deeper personal study, or a teacher training.

  7. Jessica says:

    Thanks Waxbear for the comment! I agree. I think we could re-shape the word "teacher training" – as so many people are just looking to deepen their practice. I am sure there are some that think "becoming a teacher" is the only way. I am grateful that at this point in my own personal practice, that is all I am looking to cultivate… personal practice.


  8. Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for your thoughts Shibuiyoga! It is an important topic and I am so excited to share the thoughts of some other amazing bright lights in the yoga community to help us all reflect, hopefully, on our own practice and our relationship to it.

  9. Charlotte says:

    Wise thoughts from John. I had been practicing and assisting in classes with two local Iyengar teachers for four years when I reluctantly went into teaching. From early on in my practice, I'd aspired to teach someday, but sensed that there was so much to learn and integrate before I could teach. The only reason I started after only four years of intensive practice was that my teachers moved to Santa Fe and offered their well-established classes to me—a gift for which I will always be grateful. Was I ready to teach then? Probably not, but I made the gesture of doing it and grew into it over the years. After 25 years I still sometimes wonder if I'm ready to teach. For me the concept that has kept my teaching vital and allowed it to deepen over the years is to always remember that I am a student first.

  10. Amanda says:

    I love love the idea of checking in with “Does America Really Need Another Yoga Teacher?”
    Way to go Jessica!

    I just recently started a non-profit Yoga program for women who are going through active treatment of Cancer. The money part has never been my goal. My intentions are from the heart and my work shows that.
    Opening a studio because you can, or because you don't like your job seems a bit strange to me. Although we all have a time and place for our path to present itself.
    The YTT influx will pass, but we will be left a few slightly more aware and enlightened individuals in the world. Horay for that!
    So don't get mad, get glad, besides somebody has to operate the train and if they happen to have their RYT then it will be a Yoga train. lol
    Namaste ॐ

  11. Dylan says:

    Right on. So great to see Yoga grow and flow…

    Here's hoping there's an Increasing Demand for Yoga Poetry…

    Word. Peace.


  12. Eleanor says:

    After nearly 10 years of yoga practice, including a regular home practice, I was considering teacher training. I needed a new career, and yoga was the most important and valuable thing in my life. So, why not become a yoga teacher? Fortunately, I couldn’t afford the YTT program I wanted to attend. I say fortunately because I now know it would have been a lousy investment. First of all, not only is teaching yoga far from being a surefire road to financial success, but also, I’d be a terrible yoga teacher! I’ve had some wonderful, skillful teachers and some mediocre ones, and one thing that seems clear is that you need to be able to connect with people. You really have to be a people person. I’m a raging introvert, and when I do yoga, I just want to be in my own space. Later, off the mat, yoga helps me handle social interaction with more ease. What I needed was not to become a teacher but to deepen and intensify my own practice. I’m glad I realized that!

  13. It seems to me that the more yoga teachers the better, of any quality! Having a bunch of low-quality teacher out there isn't going to hurt anything… it just means lots of "civilians" with a more advanced yoga knowledge. Many who take the YTTs don't intend on being teachers. Yet some of those end up being quite phenomenal teachers from day one of getting a 200-hr certificate. Students will seek out the best teachers. Just let yoga take over the world… the more the merrier!

  14. Yogini5 says:

    I had thought about becoming a step aerobics teacher at one point (years ago).

    If I still had good feet and yoga were all the rage, and there were more yoga studios around than Starbucks; and some people were raking in the big bucks and everybody and their younger sister around me were yoga teachers (say, like the situation was with yoga right about last week in the big city I live in), I still would want to be a step aerobics teacher.

    Different skill sets entirely—both in the ability to do it and ability to teach it. Although maybe now those classes are in Zumba Step Aerobics, and I'd need to train in yoga on the side to loosen up my ever-stable hips …

  15. Jessica says:

    Charlotte – your thoughts could not ring more true! I think this story should be shared with all individuals considering the yogic path as a career. Thank you for your honesty.

  16. Jessica says:

    Thanks, Amanda. Can you send me a link for the non-profit your started? [email protected]

  17. Jessica says:

    Eleanor – I love this story. I love your honesty and probably what the practice has showed you about yourself over the years. Thank you so much for sharing your insight.

  18. Jenifer says:

    absolute truth! I also felt and feel this way. 16 years on, and now having my own studio in NZ, I'm always looking deeper into myself, my practice, and what i call my "teaching practice." 🙂

  19. tanya lee markul says:

    Love your work Jessica! I'm not sure that I totally agree with John Friend – I believe if you really feel you want to become a yoga teacher (or any teacher), you should do so (even if others feel you aren't 'ready' or if you haven't had enough 'practice' or even if there's no 'demand') – perhaps finding out that it takes more than just 'this' is part of one's own journey and one they must go through toward further awareness.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  20. Kiryadhara says:

    In the Satyananda (Bihar yoga) tradition, a teacher must train and study for 3 years before becoming a teacher. I cannot believe that certifications can be given to teachers after 2 weeks. How can a teacher with this level of training deal with a student with serious complications? There are so many layers to yoga.

  21. tanya lee markul says:

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

  22. tanya lee markul says:

    I have never heard of a 2-week yoga teacher training certification.

  23. Emily Perry says:

    This is such an interesting topic. I think teacher training should have an "in-depth" study option (without all the assisting, perhaps) so that people can go deeper in their practice, but not necessarily have to do all the requirements for their YA 200 hour registration, for example. I think the Anusara model of immersions, and some of the in-depth studies programs out there, offer a great model for this option. Thanks for the great interview.

  24. Louise Brooks says:

    Tanya: there are many like that. They tend to be the combination exotic trip/training. You plunk down lots of money for a teacher training program that takes place in a lovely place like Barbados, Costa Rica, etc. Fun on the beach, deep sea diving and certification to teach yoga! Crazy.

  25. tanya lee markul says:

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

  26. slsamantha says:

    I think it’s natural to want to share yoga with others when it has completely changed your life for the better. I am beginning my yoga teacher training soon, after several years of practice. Although I may never teach (and never plan to teach full time), I’m so excited about the experience to go deeper and learn more. In many areas of the country, you won’t find special workshops, masterclasses, or immersions on a regular basis, and books can only take you so far. I understand that the huge influx of new teachers might make teaching yoga as a career a very competitive situation, but it seems to me like the talented, experienced teachers will attract students.
    It is obviously not very well thought out for someone to come to yoga with the intention of teaching to make money and quit their day job, especially when they don’t have well developed personal practices. However, I see little harm in taking a teacher training program taught by experienced teachers in order to learn more about yoga and possibly share your experiences with others one day. As a hopeful teacher, these articles kind of make my stomach sink, as if the window of opportunity for teaching yoga has now closed or that yoga belongs only to those who were certified years ago or those who have no intention of teaching with strong personal practices.

  27. BarbiJoffe says:

    the truth is that the commercialism of yoga creates a lot of contradictions in trying to respect the tradition of yoga in its more classical form. the connection between teacher (guru) and student is central to any practice of yoga. the role of the teacher in working with a student through a lifetime of learning is precious. Short (intensive) teacher trainings tend not to encourage that long-term guidance in the study of yoga in the 8-limbs. In these TTs the focus is only on the physical practice of asana.

  28. AshleyLud says:

    What an interesting conversation to hear and contemplate from my jungle retreat in Costa Rica. I just finished leading a 21 day Yoga Teacher Training here, gradutating 10 amazing Yoga TEACHERS! It has been interesting to hear many diverse views about Yoga teachers and certifications, and what constitutes good yoga and good teachers.

    I, too, began leading 200 hour Yoga Teacher Trainings for many reasons in my NC studio in 2002. 1) Our studio needed more teachers, 2)Financially, it supported our studio, so that the rest of the community could enjoy classes that were not jam-packed, and we could keep the lights on at the same time, 3) Energetically, the passion of the teacher training courses could be felt through the studio, and helped to ignite interest and creativity 4) I surprisingly love teaching teachers! So much so, that I closed my studio to focus 100% on educating Yoga teachers and professionals.

    In the past year and a half of predominantly leading 21 day Yoga Teacher Training immersions, I agree that it is a huge challenge to get “everything” in through the duration of the 3 week course of study. There are drawbacks, just as completing a teacher training in weekend formats, there will be drawbacks, too. I have found from being both a student and a teacher in both types of curricula, each can offer such great insights into the practice of yoga. I will have to disagree with a previous statement that the short-term immersion programs only focus on the physical and asana. In fact, living in a retreat center 24/7 with all of my students, eating all meals for 3 weeks, navigating the elements and energy of a jungle scene offer many opportunities to visit the subtler realms of the practice. This is why I choose to teach in this way.

    I fondly recall my very first teacher training, where I didn’t have much of a physical practice at the time, and I was entering Yoga through the world of the physical. I am so grateful that I was offered the opportunity to walk through that door. It changed my life, and the lives of many others. It was the doorway into spirit, but I had to enter that door to be the student and the teacher I am today.

    I am humbled to be a constant student and teacher, and learn from each person who walks with me. I feel as though we are all so blessed to have so many options of studying, practicing and teaching so that we see the strand that connects us all.

    I am thrilled that we all have so many choices of how to practice; whether we choose to reflect in Adho Mukha Svanasana, or my current favorite, “rocking chair in the jungle rain asana.”

    Pura Vida!

  29. yb1 says:

    Why make the studio nameless? Name it, plus john friend sucks. Ask John Friend who taught him, he wont tell you Iyengar, ask John Friend how many bridges he has burned. The guy sucks.

  30. Yogini5 says:

    Because I still patronize them (in their Boutique only, never a class or a workshop), that's why.
    Because the founder tried to trademark his proprietary style (neither an Anusara nor Iyengar derivate; more like a Jiva derivate) and did not build that empire therefrom, that he had hoped to build.
    Because … I want to protect the names of the innocent who teach THERE but also at multiple venues, from whom there is an off-chance I may … (as in the very merry month of NEXT May) take a class …. and not expose the names of the guilty who will continue to teach there and that harsh, slow-moving, torturous, bendy and rococo style …

    I don't need to send them any more business …

    And they know I left them for a different practice with also an 8-limbed approach, but not into churning out the teachers in certificate-mill fashion.

  31. elephantjournal says:

    Criticism is welcome. Name-calling is not. Do yourself the respect you deserve by fully articulating your genuine concerns. I've interviewed John several times, and he's talked openly and respectful and honestly and gratefully about studying with Iyengar.



  32. As a Visual Artist & Certified Anusara Yoga teacher, I understand the yearning to commit your life to doing something you feel passionately about. Some of us are taken by surprise by the desire to become yoga teachers, like I was, and others know from the beginning that it is their calling. There will always be people who romanticize it or who think they want to devote their lives to it, then change their mind once they get a taste of the challenges (intellectual, spiritual, & financial) it entails. But this isn't wrong in any way – we're just all testing the waters & finding our places in the world.

    I love that Anusara requires Immersions prior to Teacher Training – I've taught them & watched the transformation that people experience in a small intense setting, in which there is no obligation or expectation to become a teacher. I find that the Immersion is a clarifier for many of these people. Some opt to take TT afterward & others don't. Becoming a Certified Anusara Teacher takes years of work, study, and dedication. It is impossible for it to be a whim, which I believe is healthy. Certification is a true accomplishment, yet we all know that we are lifelong students – so much to learn.

    On a final note, I believe there are many ways to teach – please check out & – both organizations bring yoga to underserved communities & create truly positive change. Once woman in my Spring Immersion took it so that she could learn enough to bring yoga to the hearing-impaired community in which she works. Totally inspiring!

  33. […] John Friend on the economics of teaching Yoga. Part I: “Supply and Demand” […]

  34. lisa says:

    I cleaned a studio every week for 2 1/2 years…I practiced nearly every day…sometimes twice a day. I had no intention of teaching. I loved the karmic exchange of 2-3 hrs of labor I gave the studio to make it clean every week for the students for the opportunity to attend classes. It was my way of creatively financing yoga classes with a limited budget. One day the teacher overslept and the students asked me to teach. I was so nervous, but I did. A passion was unleashed. That was 6 yrs ago, a 200 hour Pranakriya (kripalu lineage began by Yoganand, who lived as a yogic monk in kripalu for nearly 2 decades and studied with Swami Kripalu directly) certification, a couple of 100 hr hot yoga certifications, some kids' yoga trainings, and a few trainings towards my 500 hr certification with an emphasis on yoga therapy. And I still feel like I am in the beginning of my journey.

  35. I really appreciate your thoughts, Lisa – I, too, had a strong practice without any intention to teach & it was 9-11 that really compelled me toward a teacher training – a real reordering of my priorities. My TT was prior to the creation of Immersions, so I actually did do it to "deepen my practice." I was shocked to find myself falling in love with teaching. almost 10 years later, I am still amazed & grateful. And, like you, I see how sweetly endless my journey will be!

  36. gina says:

    omg!!! so agree…in part….meaning, i am a yoga studio owner HOWEVER, and it is a BIG however, i am not getting rich by any means……my intention was to create a space for people to feel safe enough to heal what they needed to heal….i have no interest in "immersions" or any other spiral and loops that lead to some major pocket money…….i stil have not been given an answer as to what, if any organization all of Friend's money goes to……AND, on another note…..most of us know that a great teacher is one who gives their students the skill and sends them on their way to self empowerment… observations have been that anusara takes advantage of so many by helping them to believe that they must spend THOUSANDS of dollars in order to own what already exists inside them …….kool aid drinkers, in my view….total turn off…..Yoga IS pure and simple and need not be turned into some cult that if you are not a part of, you MUST be missing something……they promote INCLUSION and my experiences have made me feel extremely EXCLUDED……thanks Mark ….i am with you…. gina

  37. Justme says:

    What I love that John said is that he never made being a teacher his goal the true teachers become teachers as a natural byproduct of their own practice it's Dharmic. Just as Byron Katie and Echart Tolle never sought out to be teachers they became teachers as a direct result of their own awakening which is the powerful force (not a teacher training) which attracted people to them and which took many years of integration before they even began to speak of their experience to others (Tolle spent 2 years on park benches) which then again took many years to unfold, Tolle started out with a few people in someone's living room at their request. The true teachers that become "great" become so as a byproduct of something else. The key and mystery is to find what that something else is. I have new respect for John Friend knowing a lot of what is said about him and around him but not hearing firsthand his own account of his stepping into the role it is obvious that it was natural progression. And the sea of faces that come to see him is testament that it is not something you can "plan" just as Tolle and Katie have vast followings and have made a huge impact on the raising of consciousness on the planet without "trying" or planning to do that it unfolded naturally. The true path to "greatness" is always effortless (although requiring lot of effort along the way… if you know what I mean :))