I’m in it because I love it…

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This is about the realities of yoga as a profession. I have been teaching now for about ten years, and teaching full time since the start of 2008.  This post is not intended to complain or whine, but to inform about my perspective of the life of a yoga teacher.

This, obviously, is just an outline of my reality; (think Mr. Spock here) and that I can’t speak for everyone. I can only speak from my experience and from what I’ve heard from fellow peers/colleagues.

This is a complicated subject since how much you make/charge is directly related to feelings of self-worth, how you value your time, and how comfortable or good you are with marketing.

Before I begin, let me just say this now, that I did not get into this business expecting to be an overnight success and rolling in dough.  In fact, and this will sound odd, I’m not in this for the money.  Yes, I want to be successful and make decent money, but what success looks like to me are many happy satisfied students with whom I actually have created a connection. Teaching yoga full time was, and is about following a calling, it is a passion and joy, I wouldn’t change it for the world – I LOVE MY JOB and LIFE.

I am also lucky that my husband has (so far) a job he likes and has success at. If I had to go at this alone I’m sure my situation/life and perspective would be very different.

Before I left my otherwise financially stable job (benefits/pension) with the federal government, I met with a life coach counsellor to consider the implications of teaching yoga full time. Was I idolizing it as a career, daydreaming about it as a way to get me out of a job situation that clearly wasn’t me.  How would I handle the natural ebb and flow of students, class sizes, and pay. I’ve struggled with feelings of insecurity, would I be able to handle it without taking it personally?

To get into teaching, most studios require that you have some sort of training (makes sense) to include:

  • A foundational 200-hour training may cost anywhere from $2,800 to $3,200*.
  • You will also need to get insurance, again it varies, but roughly $270 for the year.
  • Plus you may need a police check, and for sure First Aid/CPR.

*A 200-hour yoga teacher training is just the start. For insurance renewal and personal development you will want/need to take other professional trainings.  The money for this has to come from somewhere. The opportunity to learn is a wonderful aspect of this “job”.

I admire anyone who runs a yoga studio. I have had the opportunity to be around a couple of studios on an administrative level and can appreciate how hard they are to run and how tight the margins are to break even, let alone a make a profit.

Ottawa, is blessed with a plethora of yoga studios, and this does not take into gym and athletic clubs which also offer yoga. All this to say that there is a heck of a lot of compettion out there.

To some, the drop in rate for a yoga class may seem like a lot of money, but one must take into account where that money must go before even seeing a profit.

That cost per class has to go a long way. It pays the teacher, rent/lease, marketing, staffing, utilities, heating, water, sewer, boutique items, toilet paper, office supplies, paper products, general maintenance, etcetera.

Many studios are located in prime real estate locations, to help garner traffic and make it easy for people to walk or get to, resulting in higher rent.

A lot of yoga studios, in order to stay competitive and to attract and retain new students have had to offer major discounted prices on class packages or memberships, thus making it more difficult to pay the above aforementioned items.

Most yoga studios (in Ottawa) that I know of will work on two different models:

  • Per Head Rate. Which means that you will be paid $XX per student in your class. There can be quite a range in here, anywhere from $3.25 to $5.00 per head.  So this means, as a teacher your pay for one hour or 90 minutes could be as low as zero or as high as the room can accommodate.
  • A Flat Rate.  Some studios will pay you a minimal amount regardless of who comes (or doesn’t to your class).  They may also provide you a bonus over a certain number of students. There can be, from what I understand, quite a range here, I’ve heard anywhere from $20 to $50 dollars as a base rate.
  • Workshops are a good way to make some cash, and usually the cost of the entire workshop (before tax) is split, either 60/40 or 50/50 depending again where you go.

I have familiarity with other yoga studios (not in Ottawa) where teachers are paid employees.  They are expected to teach a certain number of classes/hours but are paid a salary for their time. Being an employee would guarantee steady hours, classes and pay – stability.  As a contractor you forgo some stability for more flexibility in personal scheduling hours, and feasibly a greater potential for better pay through negotiation.

I think this is an important distinction, the plus or minus will be dependent on what it is important to you.

In retrospect, the problem with the contractor-studio model is that the line between the two can be a bit blurry. In some ways teachers are treated as contractors, and in other ways, expected to be employees.

For example, “Luke” is given a class package in exchange for providing marketing materials for the studio which would normally cost $XXX dollars. Under this package arrangement, teachers do not get paid for his attendance to their class, he is registered as a complimentary student (unpaid). In effect, the studio is passing its internal costs of doing business onto the instructors, without a direct correlation between this marketing effort and the development of that instructor’s class. In this case, it’s challenging to know as an instructor, whether my classes are successful or not. I may see 10 people in my class, but 2 of them have this arrangement, and there are 3 other teachers in the room. So, instead of being paid for 10 people, I am only paid for 5. Many studios do this to some degree. As a rule, when you teach, a perk is to get free classes, and of course the opposite is true, you don’t get paid for teachers visiting your class, just be flattered that they came.

Under an employee relationship or a flat fee for per class, there is no way to effect this kind of arrangement. It suggests that the salary/flat fee arrangement is a more clear division between business and instructor. It offers the idea that your time is worth this much money, regardless of what the business does. If viable, it takes the pressure off the relationship, makes it clear to teachers where they stand, and forces the management to be accountable for their own profits.

Moving on, community centres or the City will pay you a per hour rate, this can range anywhere from $28 to $55, and in some cases you are treated as an employee; which IMHO seems a little silly if you are only teaching one hour class a week.

Private or Corporate classes will be dependent on what you are comfortable charging and what the client is comfortable or able to pay per hour. My corporate rate is $60/hour which I have been told from a fellow teacher of mine, is soooo a few years back. According to her, the new standard is actually $85/hour. I am also aware of other teachers who charge much more for their services per hour.

Know that it is not likely that you will be able to do a 40-hour work week. This is because a good portion of your time will be in transit to classes, time (hopefully) spent on your own practice, and other marketing or administrative work.

For my own comfort level, I don’t like to overload myself with too many classes during one day otherwise I feel that the quality and my attention to my students may suffer (personal choice).

It is also equally important that I give myself space in between classes so that I have time to eat and I don’t want to run or drive around the city like a maniac into a class worried about being late for class.  This is also part of the walk the talk part of yoga – how can I tell my students to slow down, enjoy life and breathe if I don’t practice the same?

I have watched many teachers who have taken too many classes all at once, leave no time for their own practice, self-development, or have a life, and have seen many of them burn out.

Take also into account your physical distance to get to a studio. Do you walk or drive? Is there full time reception there or are you responsible for opening and closing the studio? A 90 minute class may actually be 2.5 to 3 hours of your time. This is part of the cost of doing this business, but an important one. Remember that you are either paid per hour or by head – give that a quick calculation and you’ll see what I mean. Personally, I’ve tried to limit myself to no more than 20 minutes away, otherwise I feel like I spend most of my time driving around in the car which is hard on my hips, and I just hope that I won’t need to pay for parking or be ticketed.

This is all to say too, that I don’t take on classes willy-nilly. When I take on a class, I want to do it with the best of intention and commitment.  I don’t take my teaching gigs lightly, and I feel very lucky that I can continue to find work. Yoga, for most people is luxury item. I realize that a change in economy or physical health, or name any other reason it could be easily be taken away. Before I agree to a class, I take time to internalize and reflect on all these factors of: driving distance, location, parking, weather, season, time of day (will I be driving during rush hour), and how the rest of my day pans out.  Will this class interfere with other possible family obligations that down the road I or my husband may miss out on? Time with family and friends is very important to me, maintaining close connections, living a balanced life is what yoga and the practice is really about.

To sum up.

Teaching yoga, ultimately is joy and blessing. I don’t want this blog to scare anybody off from doing it. It is possible to make a decent living money-wise, many yoga teachers do.
My hope that this opens the door for discussion and reflection:

  • About your decision to become a teacher.
  • As a student, what the real costs of delivering this practice are.
  • As a studio owner, what the implications are for your staff and your own life.
  • As an inspiring studio owner, how you may structure compensation for the benefit of everyone.

You can only become truly accomplished at something you love.
Don’t make money your goal.
Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you. – Maya Angelou

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  1. Mike Block  March 26, 2015

    I consider myself lucky. Not only do I have great students and good time slots to teach at, I also do pretty well financially with my classes. I definitely see wide divides though in what teachers get paid to do essentially the same quality of work. You can understand regional differences (cost of living in India isn’t the same as Ottawa!) but within town, it should be a little more consistent. Also, we are essentially hired professionals. Maybe not laywers or doctors that spend years learning their craft, but certainly not something you just walk into and are good at with no prerequisite skills.

    On the other hand, for studios, its a choice to offer what they do. They create a space they hope people will want to practice and teach at. It’s up to them to attract good teachers with the package they offer and for us as teachers to set the bar for what that is. If the studio can’t pay teachers what they are asking, they will settle for the teachers that will work for anything. There’s always someone willing to work for very little. I just hope it will out itself and there will be consideration from all fronts about true costs for human resources as well as all the other things like rent and heating.

  2. Erin  March 27, 2015

    This is a great run-down of the current yoga teaching climate and pros/cons. It should be required reading for anyone considering becoming a yoga teacher.


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