The Care and Feeding of Yoga Teachers

topic posted Wed, December 5, 2007 - 3:27 PM by  Hxaosanto
(This sounds very business-like. I'm not normally like this; I'm into meditation, philosophy, ALL of yoga instead of "just asana", etc. But this is a practical issue, and I want input. Thanks.)

I'm a new teacher (since September 2007). One thing that I've not yet been able to understand about the "yoga industry" is how teachers - the lifeblood of the industry - are handled. It's almost as if they are an afterthought in some places.

1) I'm teaching at 3 places right now: 1 studio 2x per week; 1 studio 1x per week; and a sub at a third. Even my teacher training instructors had to teach at 3 or 4 different places to rack up enough hours per week to pay their bills. Why? Are there studios who hire a teacher part or full-time? If so, where? If not, why not?

2) The method of calculating pay varies wildly between studios, and many studios don't seem open to negotiation. One place, I get $25/hour for showing up. Another, I get $20/hour for showing up, and if there are 4 or more people; else, I get $0. Another, I get $10 per student who shows up; over 4 students, I pay $2/student to the studio. Frankly, in my opinion, if a teacher attends their scheduled class, they should get paid. It's up to the studio, in most cases, to fill the room with students.

3) Are most yoga teachers expected to do their own marketing, even if they are an employee of a studio and aren't paid for the time they market themselves and the studio? At one place, I've been asked to tell people about me, the studio, etc. Yet, I'm not paid for that effort (except for the fact that more students MAY show up). Why should I shoulder all the risk?

I'm a bit crabby today, so this sounds worse than it is. I guess I'm just trying to figure out why teachers have to teach here+there+2hoursthere+subthere+privatethere to make ends meet, and why they make decent money, but only sometimes. It's confusing. Thanks for your input.
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  • Re: The Care and Feeding of Yoga Teachers

    Wed, December 5, 2007 - 5:39 PM
    I own a small studio (13 students is a full class). The studio is on my home property in a residential neighborhood. It is a beautiful space and I offer small classes with lots of personal attention to my students. I am an independent business person. I'm just getting by financially. I could support myself, barely, but not my family doing this. It is hard to make a living teaching yoga.

    As a small independent business, I choose not to do payroll. In fact, because I teach out of my home I cannot legally hire employees. Therefore we work as a cooperative. The teachers get about %70 of the take of each class and the rest goes to pay studio expenses. The more students the teacher brings in, the more they make. We each have a stake in marketing. I think that you will have more leverage with pay if you have an established clientele. If the studio knows 20 people are coming to your class, you'll be able to leverage better. Most health clubs in my town pay $20 to $25/hour to their teachers, one yoga studio takes a cut like mine. I don't know how the bikram studio pays. Some of the health clubs restrict their teachers from teaching at other locations.

    In my town there is no one who has large enough clientele base to support any single teacher, beyong the studio owner full time, especially a new teacher who is not bringing new clients to the studio. Some times you can increase your hours by offering to do other studio work.

    There are an average of 3 classes/day in my space. While I could add more classes to the schedule, it isn't worth it as we end up teaching to very small classes that way. Most of us prefer to teach one class to 10 people rather than 3 classes to 3 people -- conservation of energy. You will find also that there is a limit to how many classes you can juggle and still maintain the quality of your teaching. Personally 10 classes/week is a full schedule for me.

    Here is a exercise that might help you understand the economics. Find out the cost of renting space in your town. In Corvallis rent for a $1000 square foot commercial space is about $2000/month. Now factor in the cost of heating, accounting, props, marketing, etc. Then calculate the number of students you could realistically fill the space with. Increase whatever you have estimated by 30% to cover the things you haven't thought of. Then figure out how many students you need to draw each week to pay your bills and then pay yourself. You get the picture.

    All this said, I'm not teaching to make money. I am teaching because this is what I do. I teach peace. I bring people to peace with themselves. The money is necessary. I try to make peace with it as well and not worry too much about how many people show up.

    good luck,
    • Re: The Care and Feeding of Yoga Teachers

      Thu, December 6, 2007 - 7:35 AM
      "I own a small studio (13 students is a full class). The studio is on my home property in a residential neighborhood."

      In this case, it would be hard to make a living no matter what you do. It's a good start, and sounds wonderful, but there is no room for any growth (and I'm not a fan of "growth for growth's sake", but I am a fan of being able to grow in life and practice).

      "We each have a stake in marketing."

      For your situation, and since you can't hire the teachers, this is the best way, as everything is shared anyway.

      "In my town there is no one who has large enough clientele base to support any single teacher,"

      I guess that's the issue which I am raising. Yoga studios aren't exempt from the "operations of the free market"; there has to be sufficient supply and demand for the balance to work. So, if no studio has enough students to support any single teacher, doesn't that mean that every teacher is having to inefficiently move from place to place, teaching whereever they can grab an hour or two? And, if that is the case, doesn't that mean that the studios will eventually (probably quickly; I've seen this myself) go out of business? I guess I'm asking why studios often aren't run on yogic principles: focus, direction, and discipline. Instead, the whole process seems haphazard and distracted.

      "While I could add more classes to the schedule, it isn't worth it as we end up teaching to very small classes that way."

      But if you scheduled more classes, wouldn't that mean MORE people could come? Maybe in the short-term, the classes drop in size as the current students filter into newly-created timeslots. Then, other people find out that you now have a 4:30PM class, and they start coming, and that class grows. Etc. I definitely agree with the conservation of energy idea, but, again, there's a balance somewhere.

      As I said below, I think I could teach 2-3 classes per weekday with quality. I've taught 2 and at the end of the second wanted to keep going; another hour would have been fabulous, as I was just hitting my stride.

      And, trust me: I know basic business math. Sure, I may be missing things; we ALL do. I'm just commenting on and questioning various trends which I'm seeing in the overall market because they seem to make no sense, either from a business perspective or from a yogic perspective.

      If peace paid the rent, we'd all be SO much better off. Possibly over half of classical yoga deals with the body and "this world" (the first 4 limbs, and possibly the fifth). I have no problem dealing with money, business junk, etc.; I don't like it, and of yogic practices I like asana practice the least, as well. So, the question remains: do many yoga studios interact in a non-productive fashion with their teachers and the "market"? I think the answer is yes, and, of course, so do many other businesses.

      Thanks for your comments.
  • Re: The Care and Feeding of Yoga Teachers

    Wed, December 5, 2007 - 10:40 PM
    Hello Hx,

    I also teach at four different Health Clubs and there are a few reason for this being the case.

    With regard to the time issue, full vs part - could you honestly teach 40 hrs of Yoga per week and call every class a quality class? I do not think any person could reasonably accomplish that monumentally unhuman feat. Max out for most teachers is 14 classes per week or 2 per day, every day of the week. If I taught that many times per week, I'd begin to loose my verve for practicing and teaching. Then, what in Heaven would be the point? And that does happen to many teachers at some point or another and they come to realize they have to back off so they can still receive the Joy of Yoga. How sad would it be for Yoga to become something negative that you no longer looked forward to : (

    The second reason for the full vs part time issue is simply that not enough people are practicing Yoga, in a concentrated geographic area, to viably come to that many classes. Also, if you taught full time, where would the teachers pull variety from? They *need* different teachers with different styles so everyone can find a practice appropriate for them.

    The sad fact : ( and it is sad. . is that unless you own your own studio (or teach privately, and often), you will most likely *not* be able to make ends meat teaching Yoga. It's something that you do because you Love it and you Love sharing it.

    Like V mentioned, the marketing efforts should be shared between the Studio and the Teacher. That being said, if you want to make some extra $$ in ANY work related position, you have to forge the way without expecting anyone else to do it because you *think* it's "their responsibility" and not yours. You're always responsible for your success. Let me ask you this - if 30 people piled into your class - Would you rather know that they came because of you or the studio? I like to know that the students jive with the way I teach and come because they enjoy me and my style of teaching.

    Like I said, the most important aspect for you to ingrain in your mind is that you will most likely ( and I only say that because I never say never) not make a living teaching for anyone else. Once you understand that, you either teach because you love teaching while making a bit of extra pocket cash, or you venture out to teach for yourself because Yoga is such a part of your life that you need to focus most of your energy to sharing it and must make a living doing so : )

    I'm the latter, just decided to start teaching from my home today! I understand how you feel H.

    • Re: The Care and Feeding of Yoga Teachers

      Thu, December 6, 2007 - 7:22 AM
      The most important part of your post, in my opinion:

      "Once you understand that, you either teach because you love teaching while making a bit of extra pocket cash, or you venture out to teach for yourself because Yoga is such a part of your life that you need to focus most of your energy to sharing it and must make a living doing so : )"

      You're probably right; you'll never make a decent living teaching for others. I still think that's weird, but it's the case at this moment in time. The only way is to own a studio. Yoga is my path, and I need to make a living. I could go back to full-time IT work, but just thinking about that makes me nauseous. I will own a studio, as yoga needs to be my entire life - livelihood included.

      And, no, I wouldn't expect to teach 40 hours per week. I'm guessing that I could teach 2 to 3 classes per day, maybe 5 days per week, and they could be quality classes. If I was teaching that much right now, I'd have plenty of money (I'm currently teaching 3 regularly-scheduled 1-hour classes per week, plus a 1-hour workshop on Saturdays for the next few weeks).

      Thanks, and good luck!
  • K
    offline 52

    Re: The Care and Feeding of Yoga Teachers

    Thu, December 6, 2007 - 10:06 AM
    People in the yoga community often think it's wrong to discuss money, but I once heard Aadil Palkhivala give a keynote address that the need to earn money so that you can feed your family and provide your family with a good life is not evil - it is your duty. But the minute you see yourself becoming attached to making money, beyond the point of having the things you need, that's when you have a problem. But yet, we yoga teachers carry guilt and shame about even charging for classes, which is precisely why it's hard to make a living because we feel guilty about asking for enough money to pay our bills.

    Also, in the US, we have this twisted notion that teachers of all stripes should be martyrs–just look at the way people regard schoolteachers. They consider a schoolteacher with a master's degree and has been teaching for 15 years making $60,000 per year "overpaid" but people think nothing of a software company paying a 20-year-old straight out of a junior college $80,000. Since academic teachers are viewed like this, it's no wonder yoga teachers are too.

    Most teachers I know who can make a living teaching yoga without owning a studio supplement by also being a massage therapist, personal trainer, accupuncturist, etc. There's the reality that there are a limited number of hours for group yoga classes per day because the majority of our students work day jobs. So there is early morning, possibly lunchtime, and evening, which leaves the afternoon and late morning empty (aside from seniors and post-natal classes). This makes it truly difficult to be a full-time teacher.

    I will disagree with one point - I think it's shared responsibility for the studio and the teacher to promote their classes. The teacher does so by being a good teacher, making new students feel welcome, being available to answer questions, etc. This encourages people to come back and bring friends. The studio is responsible for doing the paid marketing and advertising for sure, but it's up to us to tell our friends where and when we teach. In fact, it's a good idea to carry some free passes in your wallet (the studio should give some to you) so that you can hand someone who is interested a pass to come try a class. Many studios pay one rate if people show up and half that rate if no one shows up. I think that's fair.

    There are some studios with a more equitable pay scale than others, I have found. There's also nothing wrong with starting your own classes and renting space somewhere. It's scarier than teaching in a studio, because you're responsible for all the marketing, but on the other hand, you are in control of what you make.
    • Re: The Care and Feeding of Yoga Teachers

      Thu, December 6, 2007 - 3:08 PM
      An excellent post! I agree with your idea of "martyrdom", as well as the fact that many American yoga teachers think that charging at all is "un-yogic" or something. If doing something physical like charging money were the case, we wouldn't be doing things like asana; instead, we'd only be meditating and swimming in blissful samadhi or somesuch.

      There are four life goals according to the Vedas: kama, artha, dharma, and moksha. "Artha" is often translated "wealth". There are four stages of life according to the Vedas: brahmacarya, grihastha, vanaprastha, and sannyasa. The second one, again, is physical and "mundane"; it is the "householder" stage, where you work, make money, have a family, pay a mortgage, and raise your children.

      Trust me; I don't like this, either. I'd rather not have to be concerned with money. Maybe someday I can graduate to the vanaprastha and/or sannyasa stages. But, for now, I have rent to pay, mouths to feed, and I'd like to buy a few books and attend classes. And, you know what? That's OK!

      • K
        offline 52

        Re: The Care and Feeding of Yoga Teachers

        Fri, December 7, 2007 - 4:13 PM
        You would have loved Aadil's speech because the life goals were precisely what he went through.

        It would be great if people decided yoga teachers were valuable and if Brad Pitt decided to build us all homes to live in (communally would be fine) and local farmers offered us food in exchange for coming out to the farm once in a while. But that's not the world we live in, sadly.
        • K
          offline 52

          Re: The Care and Feeding of Yoga Teachers

          Fri, December 7, 2007 - 4:16 PM
          If it's any consolation, the same argument is had in the scuba diving community. My husband is an instructor and there are scores of people who believe that teaching should be a hobby and you should not expect to make money at it. Becoming a scuba instructor is far more expensive than becoming a yoga instructor, but yet this attitude remains that you should teach without ever expecting to at least earn back all the money you spent on becoming certified.

          This is how the people at the very top of the economic food change stay in power in a capitalist society - they convince the workers that they have no right getting paid for their services.
  • Re: The Care and Feeding of Yoga Teachers

    Thu, December 6, 2007 - 3:06 PM
    Being a yoga teacher is for sure an "alternative" lifestyle. You can't get your jobs out of the classifieds. More than likely you make your own way, advertise and promote your services and hope someone bites the hook. In your case, you've already landed some jobs. Congrats! The first hurtle is done and you're actually working!
    Now, depending on where you are working, you are going to find different attitudes. At one gym I teach at, the staff and managers mostly leave me alone. I come in, do my thing, collect my check and leave. But I also get the feeling that I'm quite expendable there. They don't care about the quality of teaching, particularly. At that gym I make $22/class, no matter how many people show up.
    At a studio I teach at, however, the vibe is different. The studio is someone's baby, someone's life project at the moment, and the owner is much more vested in who and what is being taught in this center for yoga. She pays me well and even comps me extra for gas because I come so far to teach. I started at $35 a class there, regardless of who shows up. I'm teaching a series next year there, and we'll split the income from it, so that should be a nice little boon for both of us.
    My point is, you have to be patient and creative. And as for that class where you get $0 if less than for people show up? Unless this is a karma class, a donation class, NEVER teach for free. Those people pay to show up, and even if there are only 4, the studio/gym is still getting money, which means you should to. What I mean exactly is that teaching for free is great. But then it should be free to the students as well. If the students are paying, they should be giving you a cut of it. Now I've taught for $7 a class before, because I worked for a park district and that was what they could afford. But if you feel like you're being yanked around, or if the payment practices seem shoddy, then have some self respect and demand more. Or leave.
    Which brings me to my next point. You are in this alone. You are your own boss, your own ad agency, your own secretary. No one is going to make this happen for you. You have to make this happen for you. It's not a traditional job. Many yoga teachers will never be successful at teaching for that reason. You have to sell yourself. A studio has to sell itself to draw in students. But other than that, they have no real obligation to you. If you don't pull in students for long enough, they will let you go. So again, it's up to you, for your own benefit. And the best way to do that is to be a good teacher. Word will spread and people will seek you out. But this takes time.
    As for why teachers teach here, there, everywhere, well that's the nature of this job. Even senior teachers travel. It's what I like about this job. I don't put in 8 hours at an office doing mind numbing useless work. I teach and I get to be home with my family. No boss to own me or my time. I'm my own boss. It's wonderful. But it may not be the perfect situation for everyone. This chosen path is not a guarantee of success, or even of much income. You do it because you love it. You do it because you want to share it. You do it because you'd find a way to do it even against difficult circumstances. It's not easy, sweetie.
    I hope that you figure it out. I know you will.

    Love love love.

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