There were stars in my eyes the day I became a 200 hour certified yoga instructor. Dressed in white, I walked on rose petals down a candlelit pathway. Standing face to face with my teachers, they rained roses down on me and held me close. I have not forgotten that moment, now twelve years later.
It was a different time in the current incarnation of yoga. It was 2005, and I knew most of the teachers in my small New England state. There were only a handful of teacher trainings in a 100 mile radius, and a smattering more of studios. I was fortunate to be in the same town as a grass roots studio and was accepted into their first teacher training program.
We emerged from our training hungry to teach. We would teach anywhere from church basements, to gyms, to the town green, back to back classes.
We would do it for next to nothing because we weren’t focused on making a living. We were grateful for the opportunity to watch the bodies of our students and assist them in their poses. We were in a new love affair with the practice and teachings of yoga. It was the time in love when you can’t keep your hands off of each other. We were loving and learning, and finding our voices.
Yoga and yoga teacher trainings were quickly exploding. What I had spent months on and practice in could then be achieved in a weekend workshop. Those of us who were properly trained waited for the dust to settle and continued to teach. During this time, Yoga Alliance was identified as the benchmark of a teacher training program. The weekend workshops faded away and the uprising of the YA registered TT program began to swell in the undercurrent. Some of these trainings were good and some of them were not, but we all came out with the same 200 hour certification if not the same breadth of knowledge.
The Business of Yoga was also rising, and we began conversations
around making a living as a yoga teacher.
When I started teaching, I was single and without children. I was mostly loyal to one studio, working at the front desk about thirty hours a week, and teaching several classes. I taught mornings, evenings and every weekend. I was working seven days a week, every week. During this time, I also completed my 500 hour YA certification. For the next several years, I taught anywhere from one to fifteen classes a week while working part or full time.
Part of being a yoga teacher is Seva (selfless service). I taught benefit yoga classes for free, and donated the proceeds to a worthy cause. Likewise, I taught students receiving complimentary yoga from the studio for free, as I believed this was also some part of my service. I reasoned that I was paying my dues. What I was actually doing was teaching studio owners that, as an instructor, I held no value.
In my experience, the majority of studios pay their teachers in a few different ways. There are flat rate studios, who have a two or three tier rate structure, usually based on experience. This leaves no room for growth of income, no matter how large the class becomes.
There are minimum rate studios who pay a flat based on the number of students, say $25 for 1-5, $35 for 6-8, $50 for 9-10, and then an additional per-head bonus. These base rates could be lower than a flat rate studio, but with effort from the studio and the teacher, the class could grow larger and potentially pay out very well, benefitting everyone.
The third pay structure I’ve seen become more prevalent over the last few years is the no minimum, and a cap of, let’s say, $125 per class. This leaves potential for the teacher to grow the class, and can seem like an exciting opportunity. However, if the class is not in a popular time slot, the income is minimal. Studios are also participating in Groupon, hoping to retain students after their dirt cheap yoga classes run out. In most cases, this lost revenue comes out of the teacher’s pocket, or at the very least is shared between the teacher and the studio. This, coupled with the blatant giving away of yoga (i.e., first class free), is teaching new yoga students that the practice holds little to no value. In the cases of free yoga, the studio owner may even elect not to pay the teacher at all for these students.
Experienced yoga teachers are being undervalued and in many cases, underpaid.
The market continues to saturate with 200 hour brand new teachers. This commission based pay structure puts everyone on the same playing field, which could lead to a detriment to the quality of teaching. This may happen through disheartened and emotionally less present experienced teachers, or perhaps fewer experienced teachers in a group class setting. This would not only fail to serve the students, but also the newer teachers who need further guidance after becoming certified and/or are looking for inspiration for their own teachings.
While I used to be able to dedicate myself to a yoga studio nearly 24/7, I am now a wife and a mother. I am only able to teach on weekday mornings for the most part. My classes are smaller at 9:00am than a 6:00pm weekday class, and I accept that. I don’t expect to make as much money as a teacher teaching a thirty student class in the evening. I usually have an average of eight to ten people in class, and some of them have been with me since day one.
I make less now to teach a class then I did the day after I became 200 hour certified, and I know that there are ten yoga teachers behind me
who would gladly teach it for what I do.
They are new, they need the experience, or it’s a good time slot for them. I’ve waffled on that truth for several months. If I said something, I knew that there was a good chance that I’ll be shown the door, no matter how amicably. Or worse, I could be labeled as a difficult teacher. How intimidating, especially in a field where we are all supposed to be so tolerant and understanding.
I am no longer able to teach for less than I am worth.
The combination of my education and authenticity through experience must count for something. This means that I must not only ask for what I believe the worth of my teaching to be, but I must kindly demand it. I must also be willing to walk away from teaching group classes if my requirements aren’t met.
When I have pressed for what I am worth, I have been met with resistance in the forms of:
- Guilt – Don’t you understand how much money it takes to run a yoga studio?
No. It shouldn’t cheapen my worth.
- Dangling Carrot – If you just give it more time, you’ll make more money.
- Passive-Aggression – It’s not my fault you can’t teach at the popular times.
It shouldn’t devalue my experience and education.
- Shame – No one else has complained about the wages but you.
Well, allow me to be the first to speak up for all of us.
I’ve also received the straight forward response of, “I’m sure I can find someone else to teach it for X amount.” That one may have stung the worst, but was the most necessary to open my eyes.
Sometimes I get so wrapped up in how much I love to teach that
even I forget that a green 200 hour teacher cannot provide it.
The classes that I will teach this week will have the foundation of every observation I’ve made about people and the practice of yoga in the thousands of classes I’ve taught before that one. I will teach from the scars of my mistakes, because I’ve already made most of the big ones. And when I do stumble, I’ll know how to bounce right back into the next pose with a little humor. I’m fully prepared to simultaneously support the woman in the corner who is crying her heart out in Camel, and the beginner in the front of the room who has had back surgery and needs modifications.
There will be thousands of new teachers this year. They also need to teach and cut their teeth. They need to be paid enough to support their endeavors, whether it’s through full time teaching or part time work and part time teaching. They have deep value, but we cannot all be paid the same way.
I must be the one to decide the value of my yoga teachings.
If studio owners agree with me, we can enter a collaboration. My vow in those collaborations will be the same as it always has been: I will be there early to hold the space for students as they come into class. I will read the level of the class and use all of my experience to teach to every one of them, both individually and collectively. I will teach from the heart and the mind, creating a safe practice. I will see every single one of them. I’ll support them, and I’ll encourage them to play with their edges. I’ll let them see my humanness. I’ll be available to talk after class, and I’ll do whatever I can to answer their questions. It’s the least I can do for this incredible, gorgeous gift of being able to teach this ancient and sacred practice.
I’ll earn my keep all the way, but it’s time for a shift in energy.
It’s time for experienced yoga teachers to be acknowledged and rewarded for our long term loyalty to our practice, education and teachings.
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul.