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

Via Cindy Lusk
on Feb 6, 2016
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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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About Cindy Lusk

Cindy Lusk, Ph.D., has been a student of yoga for 30 years, and has taught both Ashtanga and Anusara yoga. Her teaching reflects her love of tantric yoga philosophy and meditation, grounded in her many years of practice and study. Her students report that her teaching is authentic, accessible and applicable, allowing them to deepen their understanding of yoga, and of themselves, transforming their practice and their lives. Cindy currently teaches in Boulder, Colorado, offers on-line courses in yoga philosophy, and is studying to teach meditation with Paul Muller-Ortega of Blue Throat Yoga. You may find out more about her on her website.



2 Responses to “Paying the Yoga Teacher: What we’re actually Supporting?”

  1. Cindy,

    The other reason that householders support sanyasins, or monks and nuns is that the" idea" that they are worth supporting is deeply inbedded in the culture. I am most familiar with Theravada Buddhist cultures like Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka where Dana (generosity) is taught to very young children, and permeates the culture. The Buddha taught Dana to everyone, everywhere he went. Householders were taught to give renunciates the 4 requisites, food, cloth, medicine and shelter. In return the Monks taught, arranged medical facilities, performed marriages and funerals, etc.

    As this tradition was transported to the west the first teachers thought it was very important that the idea and tradition of Dana continue. It was made very clear to me by my teacher that if I taught I should never set a price, except to cover costs, and that any income I receive should be Dana based. Put out a bowl, and whatever people put in it, that's what you make. Also, if I am doing something where the expenses are larger, I should offer scholarships for people who can't afford even tho cost of expenses. No one should be excluded.

    The amazing thing is that system seems to work. Many of the senior teachers in the western Theravada tradition, people I sit with regularly, live totally on Dana. They are all householders, some with kids and mortgages. I am regularly astounded by how generous people are when I teach. Part of the reason this works so well is that all the teachers I know operate this way. I don't know how it would work in the Yoga world, where I suspect almost no one operates this way. The thing is though, I think that people who genuinely value what you do (a lot of people I'm sure) will take care of you.

  2. Cindy says:

    I’ve heard of that approach, and I’m intrigued. I can’t really comment on how successful that is in general. I know there were some yoga studios trying to make it with donation based classes and I don’t know if they are able to stay solvent. Perhaps someone else can comment on that. I did experiment once with teaching a philosophy class by donation, and I had about 10 people who attended, and made about $30/class, which didn’t really fly with me, given the prep and space costs.

    I think that traditionally in India the student was required to give to the guru in many different ways, though perhaps not money which was less of a part of their culture than ours. I’m sure you’ve heard the story of how Krishnamacarya had to prove his worthiness to his teacher. So there was some sense that the teacher wouldn’t waste time on just anyone which we don’t have in the west.

    I’d love to hear from yoga teachers who have had success with donation based options.

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