Something I notice in the yoga community is that there is often a hesitancy to define what we do as a business. It is as if to do so would somehow inevitably taint the spiritual nature of why we love yoga.
This conflict around embracing business, career, and making a living often goes hand-in-hand with a sincere belief that teaching yoga should be an act of service —and that somehow expecting to be paid contradicts this value.
As someone who has taught yoga since 1994, and who started off with a spiritual squeamishness about money, marketing, and negotiation, I want to offer an alternate perspective: As a yoga teacher, you deserve to be paid for the time and energy you share, and for the considerable investment you have put into your education.
We live in a free market economy, where goods and services are traded for money, in order to be able to buy other goods and services, pay rent and bills. Unless you are the beneficiary of a trust fund or inheritance, have a wealthy spouse happy to support you, or have a well-paid day job that allows you to teach yoga as a hobby, you most likely need to be compensated for your work, like everyone else!
Yes, you likely became a yoga teacher because of a combination of spiritual idealism, and experiential transformation, that you are passionate about conveying to others.
Perhaps, like me, you were disenchanted with the conventional world of a 9 to 5 cubicle existence filled with hours of drudgery. Perhaps you too imagined that if you just showed up and taught yoga well the word would naturally spread and the students would be ready, for their teacher had appeared!
The first time my studio owner (who was also my teacher trainer and yoga teacher) suggested I make a flier for my classes, I was horrified. Disdainful. I looked down on selling myself, or selling yoga as if it was a parking lot carpet-cleaning coupon stuck under someone’s windshield.
But here’s what I learned:
- We live in the real world, and if we are going to have careers, make a living, feed, clothe and shelter ourselves and family, we simply have to dedicate time to focusing on the business aspect of teaching yoga. Its unavoidable, necessary, and, I have found, grounding, humbling, and (eventually) fun and empowering.
- It is precisely because the experience of yoga is so valuable, meaningful, and profound, that we have dedicated our lives to it, and so can own what we have to offer as teachers in a humble and honest way. This process usually entails some important work with regard to self-worth, confidence, and fear of the vulnerability of putting ourselves out there. That’s a gift!
- The only times I think we should ever teach yoga for free are as an act of service to a person or community to which you feel called to donate your time and energy, or as a way to promote and build your business as a professional who gets paid for offering something of value with sincerity to the world.
Business models that try to pretend they are not really in business are doomed to fail, and ironically enough, have an air of pretentiousness or dishonesty about them…
Most of your students are already in business themselves, and contrary to the standard in-group yoga teacher fears and conflict about business, they will actually respect you more if they see you as being serious about having a good business framework for your offerings. If you don’t, then you actually seem more like a flake to them, and they won’t take you seriously as a teacher…
For whatever it may be worth, my advice is this:
Look honestly at what your marketplace can sustain in terms of what you offer, and put yourself in situations where you can build your reputation and community of students by showing up consistently, doing the best work you can, continuing to learn and grow as a person and teacher, and discovering your authentic voice and strongest suits that your community enjoys and appreciates. Pursue a good mix of private and studio classes, promotional events where you get exposure, and whatever low cost or service work you want to do.
If you are not sustaining yourself from your teaching, you have little to offer anyone for free. A perfectly legitimate approach is to keep your day job and teach part time —but if you’re going to make this your career, approaching it as a business need not in any way mean sacrificing your integrity, sincerity or commitment to what the practice really has to offer!
Stand your ground on deserving to be paid for your work. If your neighborhood can’t sustain paying teachers, look in other neighborhoods, and be willing to drive a little…
You should make at least $20 per class, even if no-one shows up…. and then at least another $2 per student above 4 —and even that is a poverty wage, but you can build from there.
In my opinion new teachers should aim for earning at least $50 per class within the first year, and more like $100 per class minimum after 2 years —in the meantime, setting up a private yoga business as a way to have a sustainable foundation is probably the best way to keep your career alive, and you can do so teaching from your strengths and seeking out private students who will appreciate you!
I would focus on creating your first workshop after teaching classes for one year, poll your students on what they want to learn from you, offer some topics that you are knowledgeable and passionate about, that you think they might enjoy! After a successful first workshop, call around a 50-mile radius and see if other studios would be interested.
At around the two-year mark, think about offering a first retreat. Do it somewhere nearby and affordable, and focus on the experience of what you are offering your students as they continue to build trust and willingness to spend their time, money and energy with you!
All of this requires that you set up a basic website, have a social media presence, and make a point of collecting people’s emails at your classes, so that when you are ready to schedule that workshop or retreat, you can announce the news to an enthusiastic group of students who want to support you!
I hope these ideas and tips have been interesting, thought-provoking and useful to you. Please let me know your thoughts or questions below!