February 6, 2016

Paying the Yoga Teacher: What we’re actually Supporting?

sunset yoga

I want to broach a subject that some of us in the yoga world are uncomfortable with—money.

I have to deal with this from two sides: paying my own teachers, and how to value myself and accept payment for my work as a teacher or yoga.

This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the years, as I’ve shelled out an enormous amount of money to my teachers, and I’ve had conversations with others who feel that some yoga workshops shouldn’t be so expensive or that my own classes were pushing the limits of what they liked to pay.

Some have an attitude that anything related to the “spiritual” should be free, and I’ve wondered what happened “traditionally?”

I’m no expert here, but what I’ve gathered is that yogis have always been supported by others. Even those who seem to be the most committed yogis, who lead the simplest of lives, living in a cave, or as a wandering sadhu, were supported by the householders.

Villagers brought food to renunciates living in nearby caves. Wandering sages might dispense teachings as they travelled and received meals. In some towns, specific lodging was set up for the renunciates and supported by the townspeople. In many cases, practitioners and philosophers had benefactors who provided for them.

People cannot live on air, someone is providing, to be sure.

In the East, people have valued and provided sustenance to the practitioners and teachers of yoga.

Fast-forward to the modern Western world. Before I dedicated myself full time to teaching yoga, I had another career for which I obtained a PhD. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for that education between paying for the basics of food and lodging, books and supplies, and the education itself. Not once did I question paying the educational institutions from which I obtained my degree. Perhaps I should have, but I have always valued education.

And when I took a professional job, you can be sure I asked for fair compensation for that investment of money and time (and to pay off the debt in student loans).

While in graduate school, I began taking yoga asana (posture) classes, and I thought of them as a recreational activity.

Then as I got deeper and wanted to understand it better, I sought out education through classes, workshops, books and trainings. I spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for this education. And as well, I have devoted a significant chunk of my life to practice and study.

I was at times, like many people, incredulous at the prices my teachers requested.

But then I thought about it. Most Western teachers of yoga are householders, so their needs are far greater than the renunciate. They needed to support themselves, and many were running a business, with overhead, employees and infrastructure.

As I thought about it even more, I realized that what I was receiving from my teachers wasn’t a momentary experience. It wasn’t just more information. It was more valuable than that. It was on the whole a life-enhancing and life-changing experience. It was sustenance of a sort that the other commodities I had no qualms about purchasing in my life were not. And the effect wasn’t always obvious. The benefit often paid off many years after the initial investment.

This is the crucial point: what does the teacher really offer, and what do we receive?

If you go into a yoga class feeling crappy and you come out feeling uplifted and healthy, what is that worth to you? And what is it worth to the world? What are all the repercussions of what you received? Would you like to see more of that in the world?

Many of us have experienced the immediate effects of feeling better in our yoga asana classes. And many teachers offer much more, like therapeutics, philosophy and meditation. And the cumulative effects of all this may come into fruition later, perhaps much later.

I have received many emails from students saying that something I said in class shifted some situation or relationship in their life at a later point.

Then consider how all this affects the others around you.

When you feel better, when you have insight and personal growth, it vibrates out to everyone you come into contact with.

And if you believe in a deeper level of energetic connection, the impact becomes even greater as your individual energetic shift reverberates out.

Now we’ve come full circle to perhaps why in the East, householders have always supported yogis.

They understand that one yogi’s practice can be of benefit to others, near and far. And this is related to one way the benefits of yoga pays off long after the investment. My investment, my payment to my teachers, is now flowing through me as a teacher to students, and then moving out even further.

What is that worth?

Here’s another way I think about it: when I invest in a teacher, I am not only investing in whatever the individual product is: a class, workshop, book, recording, whatever.

I am investing in that teacher, in the teachings themselves, for the upliftment of the individual and the world at large. I am saying: I support you, I support this work, I feel this work will provide a benefit to the world, not only to myself.

Therefore I am not only delighted, but honored to support my teachers.


Author: Cindy Lusk

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: used with permission from Sandy Foster/Yoga Bliss Photo 

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