Teaching Yoga: On Service & Sustainable Sources of Income. ~ Elena Brower {Partner}

Via Elena Brower
on Jul 23, 2013
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elena brower yoga teacher pangea

elephant has worked with and played with Elena Brower for many years. We’ve also covered, videoed and reviewed Pangea, a fellow Boulder-based eco business, for many, many years. This here is a partner blog: mindful, grassroots businesses can feature native advertising on our home page under “Bulletin Board.” We label partner blogs transparently, and only accept partners we feel good about. See our media kit for more.  ~ ed.

In 2012, an extensive study was conducted on Yoga in America. Of the 800 plus teachers surveyed, 22.3 percent said yes, teaching is their only profession. 77.7 percent said no.

For my part, introducing people to aspects of themselves with which they’ve never been acquainted has been a huge privilege. To witness students encountering a full breath for the first time, and to hear them entraining to one another in a healing setting is profound and rewarding.

Each time we teach, in creating that nourishing context, we’re tapping into a collective listening that dissolves latent tensions and softens our own thinking as much as our students. For most teachers I’ve met in my travels worldwide, this is what drew them to the practice as a student, and it’s one of the main reasons why they’ve chosen to practice teaching. It’s the service of the work that feels so right.

Because we aren’t teaching for the money.

In the Yoga in America Study, 83.5 percent said they are teaching part-time. We (myself included) cannot afford to teach full-time—the money simply isn’t a truly sustainable source of income. As a studio owner for almost 12 years in the heart of New York City’s SoHo, I can attest to the fact that owning a studio is a challenging yoga practice in itself. A week in the life of a small- to medium-sized studio owner requires staying connected to the community while authentically guiding our own classes, writing newsletters and invitations to visiting teachers, and planning the coming months’ workshops, trainings and classes. Most studio owners are constantly refining the schedule, ensuring each teacher is offering their best at an optimal time, as well as handling the day-to-day with students, staff, cleaning, receipts, organization of props, and financial reconciling. These are too many hats to be wearing.

At my studio, we are fortunate to have a stellar staff to handle most of those duties, and I’m grateful to each for their contribution to the resonance there. And still, even though we are considered a “successful” studio and known the world over as one of the places at which to practice in New York City, we don’t have enough space for retail (which would help considerably with our bottom line), and we are still struggling to fill classes and really be profitable (like most of my friends out there who own and run studios, no matter where we are in the world).

Consider now an independent yoga teacher, perhaps teaching a few classes at a few studios, teaching a few privates per week and the ever-pressing concern: medical insurance. The cost of insurance alone wipes out a year’s income as a teacher. Perhaps they can make a few hundred dollars per week—which isn’t nearly enough to cover rent, food and some excursions. Add the cost of medical insurance to that, and you have a slew of well-intentioned humans striving to make a difference, making barely enough money to make ends meet.

pangea organics beauty ecologists

Enter Pangea Organics. Over 10 years ago when founder Joshua Onysko started the company, his mission was to create skin and body care that would help keep our water clean, and be as nourishing to our bodies as the food we so carefully choose. He began his business in his garage, making soap, selling it bar by bar at festivals. He grew the business organically: I remember welcoming him to New York as a friend of a friend with a good idea, and introducing his products to a few colleagues and friends. As I learned about ingredients and what was really in the products we’d formerly been using, I fell in love with Pangea. Since then, it’s been all we use in our household.

So when Joshua came to visit a couple of years ago and explained his next venture—to make the company a retail-based direct sales company—I was hesitant. Why fix something that isn’t broken? How could we the customers of Pangea actually “sell” the products ourselves? And personally, why would I even want to “sell” anything? Truth is, while I listened to Joshua explain how it would work, I had several doubts about the efficacy of this model, and I was downright uncomfortable when he told me he wanted me to spearhead the effort to involve the yoga community.

Then this year, it happened. April 22, 2013 came around, and it was time for me to wrap my mind around this new direction, and take on the role of a leader. I met with the team that Joshua had created, comprised of some of the best minds in the direct sales industry, and asked so many questions, to arrive at a most surprising conclusion: this is the best idea for the yoga community.

Now we can create businesses of our own, and really learn about how to earn money doing what we love. We can continue teaching, supplement our income and educate our students that what we’re putting onto our skin is as important as the food we eat. We can serve our communities by guiding them toward the products that would be just as nourishing and much safer for our environment than what we’ve previously been rinsing off and sending down the drain and into our water supply.

Pangea is slow food for our skin. I’ve watched as our team of “Beauty Ecologists” (independent distributors) has grown in these past few months to over 650 people in 46 states around the country, many of them yoga teachers, all of whom want to make a difference in both our external and our internal environment. Many of the inquiries I’ve received about this include the same doubts I’d had initially; how can I be comfortable “selling” these products? To this my response is always the same.

We aren’t really selling—we’re sharing. Sharing what we love, in informal settings of our own homes or the homes of our friends, trying the products and seeing which scents and formulations feel right for us. And in the sharing, we are earning the money that would’ve gone to the retailers, creating opportunities for hundreds of moms, dads, nurses, doctors, office workers, yoga teachers and so many more people and professionals nationwide to begin working more from home, with products they love, making great money doing it.

Soon, Pangea will be offering high-quality health insurance to the Beauty Ecologists. That might be the most comforting and brilliant aspect of all. Thank you Pangea.

Please join me for a free outdoor yoga class, with free picnic care of Pangea, in North Boulder Park on July 26th. Here’s a link to the event page for details. Onward!


About Elena Brower

Elena Brower is a mama, founder and co-owner of VIRAYOGA, co-author of Art of Attention, executive producer of On Meditation, and has taught yoga for 16+ years. Through her teaching, influenced by several traditions including alignment-based Hatha and Kundalini yoga, Elena offers yoga as a way to approach our world with realistic reverence and gratitude. Her true service is in shifting awareness within the smallest interactions; one family, one household at a time. She’s been featured in the New York Times, Yoga Journal, Element Yoga for Beginners DVDs, ABC News and NBC News.Elena has contributed to Yoga Journal, Yoga International, Huffington Post, Mind Body Green, Positively Positive, The Chalkboard Mag, TheDailyLove, and Elephant Journal, and is a Beauty Ecologist with Pangea Organics, part of the movement to bring organic, all-natural beauty care products to millions of households worldwide. Practice with Elena on Yogaglo.


12 Responses to “Teaching Yoga: On Service & Sustainable Sources of Income. ~ Elena Brower {Partner}”

  1. I have been teaching yoga for over 10 years. I LOVE teaching classes and supporting the students yhry theur liv ses. Showing up for classes each day nourishes my spirit and fills me with peace and joy. I have not made enough mo.ey to cover my monthly expenses each month in a very longtime. I have begun to consider not teaching because i have become too strained financially to feel secure in my financial wellbeing. I feel very conflicted and sade.ed that my passion and what I am good at doing for work has not manifested for me in a way what a business ownee wouls consider a success. Thank you for your article. Peace & Light.

  2. Christopher says:

    I don't blame Josh. He is a good businessman and an honest man. But using yoga to sell anything, no matter what it is, is DISGUSTING. I find many "Yoga" teachers choosing marketing over authentic Yoga. That is a form of cultural genocide, when the truth is subtly replaced with what sells in an industry, thus supporting spiritual materialism rather than authentic Yoga. It just makes me sad to see. Why does it seem i am the only one who recognizes how ridiculous the fact that the "Yoga" industry exists AT ALL is. This is an ancient practice of self-realization and its been turned into an ego-gratifying industry of spiritual materialism.

    The way to fix this is simple. Cut out the spiritual materialism. Let me be clear. Selling a product is not spiritual materialism. Letting the ego or shadow wear a spirituality suit and convince itself it is being spiritual is spiritual materialism. Teaching is not a performance. Students need to be educated about that. The most charismatic teachers are not necessarily the best teachers. In fact, Teaching Yoga is teaching truth. Therefore, a teacher teaching something other than truth is not teaching yoga. "We're paying for this so you better tell us what we want to hear!" Those are clients NOT students.

    There are simple steps that can be taken to fix this problem now. Teachers can start by simply naming their classes accurately. "Yoga Asana Vinyasa" Instead of "Vinyasa Yoga". A modern "Yoga" class is not a class about Yoga. It is a class about a few aspects OF Yoga. The subtle disinformation adds up to selling a Yoga substitute when the real thing could be accessed simply by telling the truth. There is no need to be pretentious when what you have to offer is more than good enough! Stop lying to sell an image in place of authentic Yoga. Stop using Yoga to sell products. It's despicable. NO matter what Wall Street says or HOW LITTLE YOU GET PAID, YOU ARE STILL A FAKE IF YOU DO THAT.

  3. Jill says:

    How many times is Elena Brower going to go to her yoga students for money? She gets significant referral income, sending students to Handel Group for life coaching. Now she's selling beauty products to her yoga students. What's next? And how soon before the yoga community wakes up and recognizes they are no more than a commodity and financial resource for yogalebrities?

    Disappointing, Elena. Disappointing that you choose to promote it, EJ. This kind of advertisement only serves Elena Brower.

  4. elephantjournal says:

    You should write this up on elephant? Would you? We write up spiritual materialism all the time. The only amendment I'd make to the above is that it's not disgusting, but rather sad. We can, right livelihood, make money ethically. We can teach genuine yoga and that genuine yoga can reach hundreds of thousands of humans–in fact, it's great if it does.

  5. elephantjournal says:

    We are paid for by advertisements. Unlike our peers, we make hardly anything from ads, because we choose to work with sponsors we believe in. Elena is great. If she's marketing herself too much, ro something, then call her on it—in my experience she's always responded with integrity and openness, and if she or we or anyone doesn't, that's our loss: our readers are not children, you are adults, and through Conscious Consumerism—one of our 12 main areas of focus–we choose, through discriminating awareness wisdom, prajna, what to accept and what to reject, what to support and what to avoid.

    I personally do not choose to sell ads to big car companies or alcohol companies, or even to pursue ads, unlike my peers. That's why elephant, and myself, are making 1/10th of our peers. We're not here to sell out. If you think selling out is working with Elena and Pangea, then we are truly tempesting in a teacup. It's our job to reach beyond the choir, not play junior high and hate on our fellow choir singers.

    That said, I appreciate your wanting to keep folks, including myself, honest and accountable. I support that 108%.

    Yours in the Vision of Enlightened Society,


  6. Hilary says:

    I just wanted to jump in here and thank you, Waylon, for weighing in with insightful replies to comments about 'selling out'. The way I look at it, and have discussed with my Pangea Organics team of which Elana is the lead, what if WE were the 1%? What if conscious consumers acting in service for the greater good had access to large amounts of capital? Imagine the investments we would make! Imagine the change. The harsh reality is that money holds energy and power. I for one and working to be part of the new, conscious economy. Elephant Journal and Elana Brower are part of this, too! xo Hilary

  7. My favorite thing in life is when I see a person make the choice to move from living and speaking from fear and start to choose a life that is rooted in love, we are not all there yet….but know we don't judge you now…and we won't judge you when you arrive….hope to see you soon.

    Joshua Scott Onysko

  8. Christopher says:

    I think most of you have missed my point. I started living from love a few months ago and am fully there. I also have no problem with people making money from right livelihood. After all, even if I did have a problem it doesn't change what the world is doing. That has nothing to do with my point. You have made assumptions. You made the assumption that since I am saying what I am saying, I must not be living from love. This is an incorrect assumption. It is BECAUSE I am living from love that I say what I say. I have a love of authentic Yoga, as well. And ancient tradition of self-realization and transcending ego to achieve samadhi, NOT aerobics in the park.

    Your assumptions are tantamount to saying "feel the love" when someone vocally recognizes the atrocities that have been done in the world in the name of progress. You are equating "progress" with "love". For example, native american traditions have been largely (although certainly not completely) reduced to toy tomahawks, commercial sweat lodges, casinos, and alcoholism. And yet, we ought to feel the love because that is "progress".

    Just because you do not like what I am saying or it makes you uncomfortable, does not make it UNTRUE. In fact, your discomfort is telling you something about your ego and YOUR OWN FEAR. If I was afraid I would have said nothing. It is because I am fearless and full of love that I say anything at all!

    In fact, My entire intention with what I wrote is to offer a solution, not to complain or create negativity. Did any of you even bother reading my entire post, or did you simply reply at the first sign that something offended you. Your shadow-ego is thus controlling your behavior, instead of taking a breath and looking at what I am saying with an empty mind. I know you are not judging me, but you do have prejudice against my point of view because it does not gel with your schema. Your entire world will crumble if you acknowledge that what I am saying may have truth in it. How can you continue to live the way you have been or even get up in the morning if you acknowledge the truth in my statements? I will tell you – I say this not to obliterate your world or bring you down. In fact, the choice to live with your heart open IN SPITE OF the fact that there may be paradoxes or juxtapositions in your world, seemingly irreconcilable realities. THAT choice is what will allow you to access the state of consciousness where the solutions exist. PRETENDING that there is some magic rationalization that will allow you to feel good about your actions in spite of the fact that you are part of the problem on the planet does not solve the problem on the planet. The problem will only be solved when you recognize that you are part of the problem, and not judge yourself for it. Avoiding recognizing the truth is not going to solve anything. You ARE part of the problem, and this is NOT a reason fore self-judgement. It is a reason to subjugate ego, make ego serve the truth, and thereby you will find the solutions ONLY when you do not settle for anything LESS than the TRUTH. Truth is not relative. Only points of view are relative. Truth is absolute and unchanging. The ego only tells you you are worthy or you deserve something one minute, so that later it can say you are unworthy or undeserving. STOP LISTENING TO IT AT ALL. Have the courage to love yourself while recognizing there is a way to perfection, and that the ego is the obstacle as well as the means to overcome the obstacle. Do you want TRUTH itself, or do you simply want to be able to sleep at night? Even lies can help you sleep at night. But only the truth can set you free.

  9. Christopher says:

    Thank You. I am actually finishing my first book on Yoga right now. I would be happy to write it in seven parts and release each part on elephant every month in advance of the book being released. If you would be open to that would be very cool!

  10. Christopher says:

    Want you to know you made my heart feel totally great! Thanks Waylon (or moderator).

  11. Christopher says:

    Oh, sorry Josh. I thought your comment was in reference to my post. I see now it was actually in reference to Jill's post. Ahhh okay. Yeah, I agree with your point now! Hmmm. Interesting. I am seeing how my own ego latched onto that and made an assumption that was unnecessary. Actually, I think this discussion is a pretty great one. And it seems to be a good practice to be transparent about one;s process. (at least as a yoga teacher) I want to show how my ego or shadow carries on and how I catch it and come back to myself again and again. In this way, when the time comes, I can teach it to serve and the aspects that refuse to serve I can let go of altogether. At least in theory.

  12. elephantjournal says:

    Hi Christopher: you can write to us about this at [email protected]. Thanks! ed.