The idea of teaching yoga for a living seems like a dream come true to many people. Not so long ago, that idea was only a dream and could realistically be nothing more. However, yoga is no longer just a hip trend to people in America; it is one of the most popular (and potentially profitable) fitness regimens out there, and it is officially here to stay. This means that the seemingly impossible dream of being a yoga teacher for a living might not be as far-fetched as it once was. In fact, yoga instructor certification classes are producing hundreds of new teachers every month, all of whom hope to make this dream come true.
One of the most appealing aspects of teaching yoga for a living is the strong emotional connection that practitioners feel to yoga. It is not just a fitness regimen to those who love yoga; it combines a level of spiritual, physical and emotional well-being that cannot be found in any other practice. Those who practice yoga regularly are passionate about it, and it seems only fitting that they would love to share this gift with others– make a living doing so.
However, this does not mean that anyone with a yoga mat and a dream should quit his or her day job. While teaching yoga offers benefits that are not possible with more traditional careers, it also has many non-traditional downsides that cause teachers to quickly burn out. In fact, yoga instruction has one of the highest burnout rates of any job in America, right up there with nursing. One of the problems that quickly arise with new yoga teachers is the difficulty presented by trying to monetize something like yoga, which is so inherently adverse to the concept of capitalism.
While teaching yoga for a living presents challenges that cause many to quickly give up, it also presents a nearly unlimited amount of benefits for those who are willing to put in the work and be smart about their individual business model. Starting out in this field presents many more challenges than most people expect, but those who are able to face those challenges and continue to progress find instructing to be the most rewarding career they could have hoped for. The road can certainly be bumpy, but with a realistic plan, a strong work-ethic, a little brainpower and the ability to quickly adapt, living the dream of teaching yoga as a career is now more realistic than ever.
Rewarding When Realistic
The main thing that drives new teachers away and causes them to quit quickly is the fact that they go into the practice with unrealistic expectations. For many people, yoga changed their lives for the better, and they believe that sharing that gift for a living can only make a world full of rainbows and unicorns. Especially when starting out in the field, this is certainly not the case.
These quickly dispelled misconceptions are not solely the fault of unrealistic people. Much of what we hear and see about yoga and the profession of yoga instruction on TV, the internet and from other sources is largely inaccurate. Advertising and social media in particular lead us to believe that teaching yoga is an easy way to make lots of money, but this could not be further from the truth. Sometimes these myths are brought about by misunderstandings of how the yoga teaching business works, and others are created by teachers themselves, who intentionally show only the benefits of the profession in order to get students to buy their classes. There are many reasons why these misconceptions come about, but it is important to be able to differentiate the true from the false.
CNN’s Top 100
A perfect example comes from a recent CNN article that ranked the “top 100 careers with big growth, great pay and satisfying work.” Coming in at number 10 on their list was the career of Yoga/Pilates Instructor. The grouping of these two into one career immediately shows a level of misunderstanding as to the actual field of instructing for a living. Yoga instructor and Pilates instructor are two very different jobs and have very little in common, from a career standpoint.
However, in CNN’s description of the career, it was clearly geared towards yoga and never mentioned Pilates aside from in the initial job title. It had a short, but accurate description of the career that read: “Yoga instructors balance their time between teaching classes that bring the physical and spiritual together, planning what goes into each class and getting the word out about a studio.”
This concise description did accurately sum of some of what the job is about. In the category of satisfying work, yoga instructor could easily be seen as one of the most satisfying and rewarding careers in the world. While there are some caveats to this aspect, yoga teaching also includes great growth possibilities, and the career has grown substantially in popularity in recent years. However, the article then stated that the average salary for a yoga teacher was $62,400 per year.
While there was certainly some realistic math that went into determining that number, it could not be more misleading. While it is not technically impossible, anyone who begins teaching yoga should not expect to make anywhere near that amount for at least the first five years. The number quoted in the CNN article is the median salary for yoga teachers, not the mean which is what most people think of as average. The reason for this misleading number is due to disparity of salaries for yoga teachers. Payscale currently has the total yearly income for yoga instructor ranging from $24,331 – $101,616.
There is a large disparity between how much experienced, established and sometimes famous yoga teachers make and what a beginning teacher could hope to earn starting out. Teaching yoga is also unlike other traditional jobs, and there are lots of possibilities and responsibilities within the career. Being a yoga teacher does not involve going to an office every day, clocking in and receiving a normal salary. It may include a variety of studio classes, personal sessions, workshops, online classes, studio management and many other different possible roles that pay various amounts. Being a yoga teacher provides a huge level of freedom, but anyone who wishes to do so will need to be flexible and creative in how they will actually make a living at it.
The Business of Yoga
The very idea of yoga as a business seems contradictory. Many of the spiritual ideas contained within the world of yoga seem to rail against the ideas of capitalism. That is partly why, for most yoga teachers, it is not about the money. For many, the ability to help a person transform her day or how she lives her life, both physically and mentally, is the best part of the job. Most yoga teachers would love to give their services away for free in order to simply make a difference in people’s lives. However, if you plan to make your living doing this, you obviously cannot give it away for free.
That is one of the first, and most difficult, hurdles for many newcomers in the industry of teaching yoga. And make no mistake, it is an industry. In 2012, the market research organization Ibis World said that yoga teaching was the fourth-fastest growing industry in the United States, just behind generic pharmaceuticals, solar-panel manufacturing and for-profit universities. According to Yoga Journal, yoga instruction is a $2.5 billion industry, and it is only growing. In 2008, there were 818 yoga studios in the U.S. In 2012, the number had exploded to over 2,500, and today there are more than 4,000 yoga studios in the U.S. alone.
Not so long ago, yoga was a fun, hot trend in the minds of mainstream America. Now, it has officially grown into its own industry, with its own merchandise, marketing and even celebrities. Part of the reason for this was yoga’s merging with the fitness industry, and now it has merged with our celebrity culture to make it something very different than what it once was. The most recent changes to the yoga industry have been brought about by social media. Yoga teachers who may not be as qualified as some of their more experienced counterparts– but who know how to brand themselves and use social media as a marketing tool– have made themselves into gurus, mostly by taking cool pictures and being clever.
The Story of Two Yogis
New York Magazine’s The Cut recently interviewed two experienced yoga instructors who have had very different career paths. Their stories and the disparity between the two are wonderful examples of how subtle the career of yoga instructor can be. The two women are very similar in their practice and have nearly the same amount of experience, but very small differences in how they approached the modern business of yoga made huge differences in their careers and their lives.
Theresa Elliott began teaching yoga in Seattle nearly 25 years ago. She is not a star in the yoga world, but she was certainly a professional who invested her entire life into teaching yoga. Since the beginning of her career, she has owned her own studio, trained hundreds of teachers, posed for covers of books and modeled for influential yoga magazines. However, two years ago, she gave up teaching and took a job selling clothing at a mall department store.
“Me and my strata have worked really hard for a long time,” says Elliott. “We laid the groundwork, and now we’re being obliterated.”
Like in so many other fields today, yoga is increasingly becoming a superstar economy, with a few very lucrative positions at the top, and everyone else struggling to get by down below. The middle of the field, the area in which yogis like Theresa used to reside, has been hollowed out to the point of nearly non-existence.
Sadie Nardini, started teaching yoga around the same time as Elliott, a little over 20 years ago in New York. Up until six years ago, her story was similar to Elliott’s and every other member of the struggling middle-class of yoga instructors. She taught at least 15 classes a week, never took a vacation, was tired all the time, lost relationships and all the rest that comes with the career of a struggling teacher. Then she tapped into the gold-mine that the most successful modern yogis are taking full advantage of: the internet.
She began teaching classes online, making sure to pay close attention to branding and how she marketed herself, and is now living her dream. In fact, she now offers a class called “Live Your Dream Master Session” in which she teaches other yoga teachers the steps that she took to become successful in the business. Last year, she made over $275,000 from her internet classes alone.
“If teachers aren’t online, they miss out on the income potential of the vast majority of people wanting to learn from them and buy things from them,” says Nardini.
While teaching classes online seems simple, much of Nardini’s success came from her exceptional ability to market herself and be her own brand. She markets herself as a sort of punk rock wellness coach, and takes full advantage of social media and internet branding. She has tens of thousands of followers on Instagram and even more Likes on her Facebook page. Her blend of rock and yoga is a perfect combination for the rockstar culture that is quickly taking over the business of yoga.
Yoga Teaching by the Numbers
One of the reasons why yoga instruction is so hard to break down into numbers and averages is due to the many different jobs it involves. Some yoga teachers spend most of their time in studios, teaching classes. Some of these classes pay by the student, and others pay a flat rate per class. Many other teachers spend most of their working hours doing one-on-one sessions, which can often be more profitable, but the price varies greatly depending on the client and the experience of the teacher. Others do their instructing exclusively online, and the amount of money from these classes can range from the thousands to absolutely nothing.
For most yoga teachers– especially those who are just starting out and will take whatever work they can find– it is a combination of studio classes, online classes and one-on-ones. However, the variation does not stop there; many teachers do consulting work, teach certification classes, manage studios and perform many other functions that could also be profitable. That is why one of the most important characteristics for anyone hoping to enter the field of teaching yoga is flexibility.
While the number provided by the CNN article mentioned above ($62,400 annually) is not realistic for a beginning teacher, it is not impossible. The following example may seem impractical, but it may help explain the difficulty behind earning that amount, especially for a new teacher.
If a yoga teacher taught three classes per day, five days a week at $80 per class (which is at the very highest end of the spectrum for payment per class), she would make $4,800 per month. So with no breaks, vacations or interruptions whatsoever, the teacher would make $57,600– still nearly $7,000 short of the median number proposed by the CNN article.
However, that is assuming that the teacher is only working in the traditional, studio setting. If that teacher added some one-on-one sessions, online classes or other instructing methods, it would be easy to imagine that she could make the amount proposed, or even more. However, that would be a nearly impossible schedule, working seven days a week, often longer than eight hours per day, with no time off.
It is important to note that someone with little to no experience will have difficulty scheduling online classes or one-on-one sessions, because they have not yet built up a reputation. Even more so than in more traditional jobs, experience and reputation matter in yoga instruction. According to Payscale, the income breakdown for yoga instructors according to experience is as follows:
- 0-5 years experience: $43,000
- 5-10 years experience: $51,000
- 10-20 years experience: $62,000
- 20+ years experience: $100,000
While the largest salaries overwhelming go to the more experienced yogis, 53% of the yoga instructors in America have between 1-4 years of experience. Those with 20 or more years of experience only make up 5% of the yogi population. There is also a very large gender gap in the field of yoga teaching, as 87% of yoga instructors in the U.S. are female.
It is also important to note another significant difference between teaching yoga for a living and having a more traditional career: almost no yoga studios provide health insurance to their employees. Because there is often more money in teaching a variety of classes in different forums, many of those who do work in studios are not full-time. In fact, only 16% of yoga instructors have any form of medical insurance from their employer. With the impending changes to the Affordable Care Act, yoga teaching could become an even less appealing career in that respect.
How to Make a Good Living Teaching Yoga
While much of this may seem discouraging to someone with dreams of quitting the day job to teach yoga full-time, it is still entirely possible to make a very good living by doing so if you go about it the right way. It is not quite as simple as becoming certified, then moving directly into a high-paying, full-time instructing job, but with hard work, flexibility, dedication and some creativity, a person can make enough to get by as he starts out teaching yoga and begins to build a reputation within the business.
In order to make this happen, there are some things you would need to keep in mind before taking the leap into full-time yoga teaching. Perhaps the most important of these deals with the perspective and mindset going into the process. Teaching yoga for a living is just like starting your own business, and that business is yourself. You are an entrepreneur, and your teachings, personality and skills are your products. Especially because of the spiritual nature of yoga, it can be difficult to constantly look at it from a business perspective, but this is necessary for anyone who hopes to make a career of yoga instruction.
If you are able to approach yoga teaching as a business and feel comfortable marketing yourself and your services, you are already ahead of the game. The next steps are quite obvious, as you would take yoga teacher certification courses and hopefully get a regular teaching job at a good studio. However, as we have shown before, this is still unlikely to be enough to make a decent living. But there are some things that can be done to help you get ahead in the business and make a relatively comfortable living, even early on.
- Diversifying – Teaching at a studio provides security and a platform for a new teacher to showcase her skills. However, the real money is usually to be found in one-on-one sessions, online classes and other sources outside of the traditional studio teaching. A yoga teacher should do a little bit of everything to be successful, especially while still finding her groove.
- Marketing – Successful yoga teachers are able to brand themselves properly and take full advantage of modern advertising outlets to further their careers. Starting a blog, podcast and social media profile for yoga services is a great way to increase success and build a positive reputation in the industry.
- Partnering – Especially when starting out, it is important for yoga instructors to partner with other entrepreneurs to form mutually beneficial relationships. This is why many yoga studios have business cards for physical therapists, holistic doctors, spiritual counselors and others in the studio.
Teaching yoga for a living is not as simple as quitting the day job for a free-spirited life of meditation and happiness. It takes a level of hard work that many people are unable to deal with, and this alone is still not enough to get rich. While experience is also crucial, many yoga instructors have been in the business for more than 20 years and still live paycheck to paycheck. What it takes to be successful in the business of teaching yoga is realizing that it is a business and approaching it in this manner. With this mindset, an extreme work ethic, some realistic goals, a bit of creativity and lots of flexibility, a person can find that teaching yoga is indeed one of the most rewarding careers imaginable.