Yoga Chicago / Yoga Musings

Can You Actually Make a Living as a Yoga Teacher? (Part 1)

There are a lot of people out there trying to make it as yoga teachers. I guess this was inevitable. Teacher training programs are churning out new yoga teachers like they’re the latest iPhone. With so many teachers competing for a limited number of jobs, is it even possible for a person to make a living as a yoga teacher?

I’ve been out of the game for over two years now, but I suspect that my experiences are not totally out-of-date. So I’d like to share some of my thoughts on the feasibility of turning yoga into a career. There’s a lot to say on this topic, so I’ll split my comments into three separate posts. This time around, I’ll be discussing the various sources of potential income for a yoga instructor. Next time, I’ll discuss some of the hurdles and difficulties involved in turning your love of yoga into a viable career. In the final post, I’ll offer a few words of advice (and caution) for anyone seriously thinking of quitting their day job to pursue the dream of being a full-time yoga teacher.

The 5 Most Common Sources of Income for a Yoga Teacher:

  1. Teaching group classes at a studio.
  2. Teaching private lessons at a studio.
  3. Teaching group classes at a gym or fitness club.
  4. Teaching privates at a gym or fitness club.
  5. Teaching privates to individuals at their homes.

Based on a quick survey of this list, you might think that making a living as a yoga teacher is definitely feasible. After all, your favorite yoga teachers are doing it, so why can’t you, right?

Well, I can say from personal experience, and from talking with many yoga instructor friends, that doing some combination of 1-5 above will probably not lead to a stable and financially sound career. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that the average yoga instructor doing 1-5 above can make somewhere between $10K-$25K a year. More likely than not, this will not include any benefits, since most yoga teachers work as part-time employees or as independent contractors. In other words, no sick days, no vacations days, no retirement plan, no health insurance.

Thankfully, there are other ways to make money as a yoga instructor. These are not necessarily more lucrative than 1-5 above, but they might provide some more stability in terms of employment, income, and benefits.

Less Common Sources of Income:

  1. Teaching classes in a corporate setting — e.g., lunchtime yoga for office workers.
  2. Teaching kids or teen classes at a local school.
  3. Teaching people with disabilities, injuries, or other limitations.
  4. Teaching yoga classes at a university or college.

With these four sources of yoga income, there’s frequently an expectation that you’ll have some additional form of training or certification. At the very least, getting this extra certification might help you stand out from the crowd, and given how competitive the yoga field is right now, every little bit helps.

But whether you teach classes at a studio, work with teens, or specialize in some other niche, the reality is that you’re probably going to have a very hard time making a comfortable living. As a result, a lot of yoga teachers find themselves facing a difficult decision after a few years: Do I quit teaching yoga and pursue something else? Or do I take the next step and transform myself into a yoga brand/business? Choosing the latter will usually lead you to one or more of the following sources of yoga income.

More Lucrative Mid-Career Sources of Income:

  1. Leading teacher training programs.
  2. Running yoga workshops or seminars.
  3. Leading yoga retreats to exotic locations.
  4. Corporate sponsorships.
  5. Being the featured instructor on yoga DVDs, podcasts, or other marketable yoga merchandise.

In order to do any of these things, though, you can’t just be another RYT-200 teacher who has done a few workshops with Shiva Rae and Annie Carpenter. To break into these mid-career sources of income, it seems that what you really need is to find your voice and offer something special that no one else does. Every celebrity yoga instructor has their own shtick, so to speak, and this is what distinguishes them from everyone else. I know the whole idea of branding yourself or developing your image as a yoga teacher might sound totally reprehensible. But this is the reality of the current yoga market, and a lot of teacher training programs are now incorporating lessons about “the business of yoga” in their curricula.

Conclusion:

Yoga is a big, multi-billion dollar business, but it’s generally not the yoga instructors who are making the big bucks. If you’re thinking about becoming a yoga instructor, it’s important to realize that yoga is a business like any other business — i.e., the people who own the businesses and the brands are the ones making the real money; everyone else is just working for them.

So can you make a living as a yoga teacher? Absolutely. But it probably won’t be easy, and “making a living” might amount to living at the Federal poverty level without benefits for many years. Of course, a true yogi doesn’t care about these material things, right? Well, that’s obviously up to each yogi to decide for himself. Personally, I like having health insurance and some retirement savings. And now that I don’t teach, I can be serious about yoga without having to be dependent upon it as well. That is, I can step on the mat and just practice, and when I’m done, my day can move on to other things. Maybe I’ll return to teaching one day, but if and when I do, I’d like to do it because I have something to share with others, and not because I need to pay my rent.

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7 thoughts on “Can You Actually Make a Living as a Yoga Teacher? (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: a yoga teacher | Oke Learn Yoga

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