March 1, 2013

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

Photo: healthnyogaa

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


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.

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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

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