U.S. News interviewed me for an article they just published titled “Yoga Teaching Increasingly Popular as Second Career.” I’m the naysayer cautioning that “yoga isn’t a path to instant riches.”
Considering the length allotted for articles, I felt that the writer did a decent job covering a variety of bases, though there were some points I had mentioned to her that she was unable to fit in. I also had a few more thoughts to share on the subject.
One was that it is yoga’s “dirty little secret” that the cost of training often far exceeds the profit-making potential, especially when you add in the cost of CEUs, insurance and yearly registration with Yoga Alliance. Once you get your 200-hour training, you’ll likely want to get a 500-hour training, which will add another $3,000 to your training costs. Yes, this is definitely much cheaper than getting a college degree, but will a mother with kids be able to do what a single 20something can do and take a lower salary with no benefits in order to teach yoga? And once registered with Yoga Alliance, you are required to get a certain number of contact hours to maintain your certification. With weekend workshops running at $400 and up sometimes, this adds up.
If you can become an established and well-known yoga teacher, there is of course the potential to not just make good money, but to become pretty darn rich. But how many teachers really have the potential to be Shiva Rea, who is charismatic, brilliant and able to bend her body like a pretzel at will while doing a one-armed handstand?
For those of us with more modest talents, we might be happy to be teaching regular classes at a small local yoga studio or at the Y. But I would not expect to make a huge career out of yoga teaching, unless I was really determined and found creative ways to put my name out there. It takes a lot of work and dedication to be a successful yoga teacher.
To really make it, I suspect you may have to make your own way. You can’t just put resumes out there. You need an in. This is why it’s sometimes a good idea to take the yoga teacher training at the place you want to work at – they might be more inclined to hire from “within.”
Otherwise, there’s a lot of competition for jobs. Even with new studios, don’t expect an easy in. At least in Los Angeles, there were new studios popping up all the time, and these may be the hardest places to get jobs at if you are a new teacher. Why? They all seem to want teachers with existing followings to bring students to the classes, even though they aren’t willing to pay a lot for said teachers. It’s like they expect their yoga teachers to market their new yoga studio for them.
Second, I hate to say it, a few of those new yoga studio owners I dealt with in Los Angeles were a bit, well, nuts. Or arbitrary. One very anal and unpleasant guy, when I followed up with him about a yoga job, gave me a patronizing lecture for 20 minutes about how no-one was qualified to teach anything if they hadn’t done it for at least three years…and I was like…umm I’ve been teaching a variety of things for over 15 years! Just not yoga (at that time). I emailed him later to tell him that I was coming not just to inquire about jobs but to see the new place as I might want to attend classes as a student, and after his attitude, I was interested in being neither. (Note to yoga studio owners, yoga teachers aren’t just potential hires, they are also potential customers.)
There’s a certain amount of politicking that can go on with yoga jobs. The worst I experienced was when the new manager at the gym I subbed at ignored all the existing subs (who were hired by the previous manager and next in line seniority-wise for a regular class) and hired outside the gym…someone whom I suspect was actually a friend of hers. I had emailed the new manager repeatedly asking when I might take on a regular class, because that was why I was initially hired. She blew off every email and then, when I questioned her after her announce of the new teacher, she claimed I wasn’t proactive enough. But the new yoga teacher? She had shared her yoga poetry. What? Hello? I emailed you constantly…you never responded…you never showed up to one of my classes to check in on me…I thought that was your job, to observe my class once in a while…what did you want me to do, stalk you? What can you do with people like that?
This speaks to the fact that if you truly want a yoga career, you might consider brushing up your skills as a sycophant and go become buddy buddy with all the fitness managers and yoga studio owners in your area.
I was naive when I first started teaching yoga and had this silly expectation that people who hired yoga teachers would be magically enlightened, nice people. Nope. Don’t get me wrong, not all yoga studio owners and gym managers are jerks, some are super nice and wonderful. But be aware that some are going to be difficult.
Then there are the studios that are just plum out of openings. My friend here in Austin has been on a wait-list for six months just to get an audition to teach. Six months! And if he’s lucky, he’ll get on the sub list with that.
You also have to consider your age and abilities. Unfortunately, I’m going to guess that the trend is towards really young teachers who can do the difficult poses, but don’t necessarily have the life wisdom or experience to be good teachers vs. flashy yoga gymnasts. And yet, I feel there is a huge need for older teachers who can work with the aging baby boomer population. The thing is, there aren’t as many yoga studios out there – yet – who cater to the 50 and older crowd.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are plenty of good 20something teachers out there. But when it comes to the spiritual side of yoga, I like my teachers to be aged, wizened wise men and crones…like Gurmukh…she’s what, 70something now? There’s value in that.
Does all of this sound like sour grapes? Perhaps, but I think it’s important to go into the yoga jungle with your head on straight. Expecting magical yoga riches to fall down upon your head easily after getting your RYT is perhaps a little bit of a fantasy. Yes, you can definitely pick up some classes and make some part-time income without totally busting your yoga butt, but a full-time career may take some effort.
Those people who do make yoga a full-time career really work at it. And that includes, networking, putting up your website, marketing yourself, and perhaps taking on crappy jobs you don’t like (such as registering people at the front desk of the yoga studio) to get your foot in the door. If you really love it, and you want it badly enough, you can make it happen.
Now, as for me, since I’ve moved to Austin last fall, I haven’t been teaching yoga for money. I am making enough money right now in my business that I don’t need to make extra cash doing yoga. For this reason, I am enjoying teaching yoga for free as a seva – I teach chair yoga to a bunch of little old ladies, some 80 and up, at a local church. And I’m really enjoying it.
At some point I may start looking into picking up some subbing here and there, teaching a regular class, or offering privates, but in some respects I’m enjoying yoga without needing it to be a job for me. That feels freeing in a strange way. I no longer have a compulsion to check Craigslist for yoga openings. I’m even enrolled in a mix-and-match 500-hour training…just for the fun and learning I’ll get from it. Not because I need to profit from it.