Economics of Teaching Yoga – Part I

There is a really excellent article circulating amongst my yoga friends about the economics of being a yoga teacher and a bit of commentary – you can read it here. Many of my yogi friends have responded in the way I initially felt – against celebrity, against corporate yoga studios, against the “watering down” of yoga to fit the mass appeal.

However, as I sat on this notion for a long period of time, feeling conflicted on the subject (which I had felt long before the article was posted), I have ended up through and out the other side. What I present to you is my own personal opinion, and you are welcome to agree or disagree – but please, if you comment on the subject or on my opinion, let’s all agree to be respectful of each other and our possibly differing opinions. 

I will put the most obvious and incontestable fact first – the economics of teaching yoga full time are yes, in fact, brutal. It is hard to make a living as a yoga teacher. Classes are hard to get in coveted locations, and even when you get them the pay isn’t always great. So, we are forced into finding other ways to make money. Teaching workshops, leading teacher trainings, marketing to the online community, and teaching in the corporate world (who generally pays well but wants less “yoga” in their yoga) are all ways to balance out the margins.

Let’s make the distinction: this is for people who teach yoga full time. Part time yoga teachers are a different bag, and I shall address this later.

Is any of this wrong, inherently? No. It’s economics. You offer a service, you are paid for said service, and life can go on its merry way. Is how you attract clients wrong, inherently? Some people might say so. Pictures of yoga postures in attractive bodies on the beach are good selling tactics, but they are removed from the original intention of yoga – to provide a calm mind, to connect you with spirit, to allow meditation to take deeper affect.

But is it wrong? No. It’s business.

Let me start with a story. When I first started practicing yoga, it was for all the “wrong” reasons. I wanted to be flexible. I thought yogis were graceful and calm, which were two things I absolutely wasn’t. It was the closest thing I could think of to dancing without actually having to dance, and so I did yoga – just for those reasons.

For about eight years I practiced yoga, and for six years I taught yoga, with the exclusive intention of appearing more graceful. More “dancer” like. When I was ready for it, the deeper intentions of yoga started settling in, and my intentions in my practice and my teaching changed. Now my practice and my teaching looks remarkably different from those years, but without those years I wouldn’t have had the foundation or experience I needed to filter the more meaningful parts of the practice.

You can’t rush someone into something if they aren’t ready, and when they are ready they will know.

Had I taken a spiritual class ten years ago, or an iyengar class, or any yoga class that didn’t make me sweat or do something crazy, I would have never continued to practice. I needed the physical to get to the mental and the spiritual.

Not everyone is like that, of course, but in our society, we shush emotions. We shun spirituality as a personal practice, not something to be discussed. We are in pitta hyper-drive, and no amount of saying “Hey you should really slow down” is going to get someone in that imbalance out of it. You must meet them where they are.

You must meet them by giving them an identifiable, non-scary goal.

You must show them a shiny yoga picture or promise them a good workout.

That will get them there. Give them what they need. Meet them where they are at. And when they are ready, start to sneak in breathwork. Sneak in moments of silence. Sneak in concentration and focus and meditation. Don’t let them know they’re doing it, and soon enough they’ll crave it. They need it but they don’t know they need it, so you have to allow it to happen at their own pace.

Is this “watering down” the practice? Sure, maybe. It’s definitely focused on the physical limb of the practice.

But I would much rather teach to what my participants need in the moment and to keep them coming back, so that when they’re ready, they can take on other parts of the practice, too.

I have much more to say on the subject, but I think it’s best to separate this out into different posts so as not to be too overwhelming. Smooches.


3 thoughts on “Economics of Teaching Yoga – Part I

  1. I agree with you. What I am seeing though is the slow sprinkling in of the other limbs of yoga is not happening. That is the part that gets to me. Its is not the initial watering down. It is the fact that is stays that way.

    1. That can be frustrating! But I think it’s an indication to switch studios or teachers. Some studios cater to those who want less “yoga” yoga, and some teachers teach less “yoga” yoga – again, it’s not bad, it’s just a sign that you need to be elsewhere. Some people might never get the other limbs of yoga or want them, and I think that’s okay too. Take what you need and leave the rest. 😘

  2. I see a lot of my journey in yours. My tunnel vision twenties are way behind me and now a enjoy a wide vista view. The benefit of hindsight is ours, we can’t give it to others. I try to give my students the yoga they need in the time we have together. I may not always get that right. But can we do anything else?

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