Can You Make a Living Teaching Yoga?

This topic has been swirling around in my noggin, and the final straw on this post’s back was from an article shared by YogaDawg: Can You Earn a Living Teaching Yoga?

Let me first be clear that, while seemingly innocent, this is a bit of a loaded question, and as is true for most loaded questions, it will bring up more questions than answers. So, this is a personal take based on my experience, I will be frank in my disclosure, but remember that “different realities can exist at the same time and they can all be true”.

The Cost of Being a Yoga Teacher

To be a certified yoga teacher you must at least graduate from a 200-hour program that has been approved by the Yoga Alliance. My program cost was $3300. I’m currently in a 500-hour training, which costs $4800. One weekend per month or so, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is spent in class, or what’s called “contact hours”. Naturally, there is homework, reading, and studying that you do on your own.

In addition, there are many master teachers that come to town, like Judith Lasater, Tias Little, and George Purvis, or, you go see them. Each weekend normally costs around $200. Pricing for a yoga conference ranges from $250 for a day pass to $820 for the full conference, and that’s the early bird price. If you want to spend a week at the Feathered Pipe Ranch, studying with Someone Important, like John Schumacher and Patricia Walden, tuition is $1895. (I’ll give you a moment to recover from the sticker shock.)

But wait, there’s more! There’s traveling time and expenses, books, continuing education, liability insurance, business license, marketing, web sites, business cards, flyers, etc. I’ve only traveled within the United States, but there are teachers, like Linda Karl, who travel to India frequently.

Oh, and don’t forget some decent yoga clothes so you don’t have any regrettable wardrobe malfunctions in class (although, some seem to enjoy it). Add it all up, and you will have spent a pretty penny.

The Salary of a Yoga Teacher

Now, we are getting into murky water territory. Who is the teacher? What does he/she teach? And where? What type of classes: workshop, group or private? Do they have other yoga products, like books and DVDs? Are they sponsored/endorsed by any corporation?

Here, I’ll mostly talk about my experience here as a typical young teacher just starting out.

A gym typically pays a flat fee between $40-$65 per class. A 2-hour workshop, say, Detox Yoga or Pre-natal Yoga, can go between $35-$60. For teachers who do private sessions, the going rate in Seattle is anywhere from $75 to $150 an hour. (As an aside, try telling a guy that you “do privates” and watch his reaction.) If you do rent a studio space to teach independently, in downtown Ballard (a Seattle neighborhood), the latest rental rate is $25 an hour during the day, and $35 for peak hour: night and weekend.

Some yoga teachers even teach victims of domestic violence, prisoners, or homeless youth for free, supporting their favorite philanthropical organization, such as yogaHOPE, Yoga Behind Bars, and Street Yoga.

As a teacher who primarily teaches in studios and gyms, I get $5 per student in a studio, and $50 per class at a gym. No, that is not a typo, I really did say $5 per student. An average class at a studio can get anywhere between 1-8 people, in a gym: 5 to 50. Oh, and I have to transport myself there somehow, right?

Do I want more students in a class? Not necessarily (workshops are different). First, I don’t teach yoga to make money. It’s not my primary motivation. If it were, I’d need a lot of math help. Secondly, the small class size lets me pay more attention to each individual person and adapt to their specific body, and that’s important to me.

(I should add that I teach yoga for newbies and techniques of hatha yoga, so the smaller class size is more conducive to learning. Classes with a fixed and flowing sequence like Bikram and Baptiste can afford to have 20, 30, or even 50 people in a class and it wouldn’t matter as much.)

Why Teach Yoga?

Given this fly-by cost-benefit analysis, why would anyone in their right mind want to train to teach yoga? Should all my Business professors have failed me? If they find out, will the University of Washington Business School want to retract my degree?

Let’s back up a bit. Not all yoga teachers go on to get their 500-hr certification, and not all choose to take the weekend workshops with traveling teachers, and not all choose to travel. In fact, there are yoga teachers out there who have never gotten their 200-hr certification, or they spend less than $400 on a weekend quickie workshop and then teach (I don’t recommend this, you’re messing with people’s bodies). And yes, it’s entirely possible that they get paid the same rate as someone who may be certified at the 500, 1000, or 2000-hr level.

Many teachers also teach because they can afford to not “rake it in”. They may have a primary earner in the household, and the schedule flexibility allows them to take care of other things. Yoga teachers also enjoy free classes at the studio where they teach and some discount on certain yoga merchandise. Many teachers also have day jobs that let them teach yoga and can still pay rent.

(The pay scale in the yoga world isn’t structured like the corporate world, where more experience and more advanced degrees often lead to higher pay. Which, in itself is a dubious indication of the quality of work and the quantity of contribution. And, just as sometimes degrees don’t mean everything, the quality of a teacher may or may not depend on how much training they have under their belt. But I digress.)

From the Path to the Profit

Back to the question at hand, if you cannot, in fact, make a living teaching yoga, then why do it? Is this some form of financial S&M? And what about this multi-billion dollar industry we keep hearing about? Why yes, yoga is big business, and it’s not too hard to see why when a pair of pants sells for $100. Except for celebrity or master yoga teachers, however, most everyday teachers aren’t feeling the bling.

For me, I have made a conscious decision that for now, teaching yoga will not be my main source of income. What small amount of money I earn from it will go right back to my Learn More Yoga Piggy Bank. (It really is true, there is a huge difference when you “work like you don’t need the money”).

Further, yoga is not just about being bendy for me. If I wanted more muscles, I’d rock climb more. If I wanted to burn more calories, I’d play more soccer. For me, to do yoga is to be on the Path. Part of the path is to go beyond myself and do things for others. Some people volunteer at soup kitchens, I teach. Yoga is my service.

But there *are* full time teachers who can make a living teaching yoga, and a good living at that. Yes, definitely there are! There are stories of yoga teachers “making it” every day. And, I ready do hope that one day, the yoga teaching profession will mature enough, stabilize enough that this will be possible for me and all other dedicated teachers.

As for me, right now, I teach yoga for one reason and one reason only, For the Love of the Game.

I’m tired of hearing about money, money, money, money, money. I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok. – Shaquille O’Neal

Addendum: Want more? This is a great post by Linda Karl on her blog: The price we pay, how much is a yoga teacher worth?

so it is a fine balance between the bhakti and the bucks, between the dharma and the dough. I don’t want to make what a supermodel makes — I just want to be able to afford to live and do what I love to do.

support your local yoga teacher.