There are a few kinds of yoga teachers. There are those who teach in the name of service, or seva, and do not need nor require compensation for these teachings. There are those among who also utilize this work as a way to supplement their incomes. Finally, there are the growing number of teachers who have chosen this as their vocation and are seeking a way to support themselves. The one thread that binds the sea of yoga teachers together is our love for the practice. For those of us who are teaching also in an attempt to make a living, we are beginning to discuss how teachers are paid and whether or not we are being paid our worth.
We are talking to our colleagues, but the communication with yoga studio owners is lacking. In the current incarnation of yoga, where there are yoga classes or studios on every corner and twice the amount of teachers needed, it’s easy to operate from a place of fear or less than. Fear that there is a line of teachers behind you waiting for your class slot to open up so they can become the teacher, and less than in thinking that what you have to offer is not valuable.
Let me begin by telling you that the latter is simply untrue. As a teacher, you have something to offer that no one else does, and that is your human experience on this planet filtered through your teachings. You are the only one who can teach in this way, so you must find your place.
And allow me to follow by saying that the former is also true. As of August 2017, there are over 68,000 registered yoga teachers with Yoga Alliance alone and over 6200 registered schools with YA, with teacher trainings going on constantly. These deep waters must propel us into finding our niche.
Still, we must not operate from a place of fear, or we will never find our place
in the ever growing yoga world.
In most teacher training programs, there is a very small module on the business of yoga. This will tend to include all of the opportunities you will have as a certified teacher, how to get insurance and how much, and what an independent contractor means when it comes to tax time. What is lacking is how to navigate through the density of the yoga world, how to have conversations with studio owners while standing firm in your foundation, and how to make an actual living as a yoga teacher. It can be a difficult landscape, and you must believe in yourself and your teachings in order to make your way.
So, let’s begin at the beginning.
You have a 200 hour certification (or the equivalent) and/or you’re ready to begin putting yourself out there to teach.
- Establish your online social media footprint. Set up your professional Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts. This is not a requirement, but it has become a necessity in making your mark. And, it’s free.
- Invest in some quality business cards. There are many templates online and consider including a small, professional (looking) photo of yourself or a photo you’ve taken. Try to stay away from clip art alone.
- Consider setting up a website. I use the GoDaddy platform, and they make it ridiculously easy to build your site. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it does need to be clear and concise. Include your bio. You can write it yourself, or have a professional or friend who is good with words write it for you. Include your contact information, education, and offerings.
- Open your mouth and tell everyone you can think of that you want to teach. Post your wishes on social media, talk to every yoga teacher you’ve ever known and tell them that you are ready. If you don’t, someone else will.
- As a former studio owner and current podcast master, J. Brown says, go to local studios and take a class with the owner. Find one thing you liked about his/her class and then after, open a dialogue with them. Add in that you are a local teacher and you would appreciate the opportunity to teach. Be ready to hand them your business card.
Most importantly, talk to other yoga teachers, both new and seasoned. Ask them out for coffee and pick their brains. I’ve been teaching since 2005 and I still do this on a regular basis. Being a yoga teacher can be a lonely existence. We go in, teach our class and leave to head to the next one. It is extremely important to keep the lines of communication open with the people who understand the struggles and the joys of teaching.
So, once you’ve gotten the attention of a studio owner, now what? Follow up is imperative. Almost every single teaching gig I’ve had over the years is because I followed up with the studio owner. There are a plethora of daily details that they have to remember, and it is easy to slip through the cracks. Offer to join their sub list, and come in to teach at an audition class to show your initiative. This is important especially when you are starting out. Because there are so many teachers, you must show how valuable you are and that you will be an asset to the studio. Don’t be discouraged if you’re told that the class schedule is full. Stay in contact, or offer to teach a free class in off hours. Your absolute best marketing tool is word of mouth from your students. If there’s a teacher or yoga mentor that you are close to, ask them if you can teach a demo class and require honest feedback.
Getting the Gig
Once an opportunity comes up to teach, the dialogue with the studio owners begins. This can be daunting, for certain. There are several questions that should be asked of studio owners:
- What is the studio’s pay structure? Are new and experienced teachers paid differently? If so, what defines experience?
- When are you paid, and by what means?
- Is discounted or free yoga offered to the teachers on the schedule? If you practice regularly at the studio, a lower wage to teach may be offset by free yoga for you.
- How can you work together to build your class?
- What is the current demographic of the students? Is your training aligned with the demographic?
- Will the pay rate increase if your combined effort leads to an increased number of students?
- How often are the classes re-evaluated?
- Is there a non-compete clause in the studio contract? This will effectively mean that you will not teach anywhere else within city limits or within a certain mile radius. Take note of the specifics of the clause; time limits and if it only pertains to studios or also to other venues.
- What are the studio’s policies on assisting and adjusting? Some studios lean heavily one way or the other, and you’ll want to make sure that their vision is in line with yours as a teacher.
- Will you also have the opportunity to create content for workshops? What is the split of revenue, and how does the studio promote their workshops?
- Would the studio be open to adding additional classes on the schedule for you if this one is mutually beneficial?
Even as a green teacher, it is your right and responsibility to make informed decisions. Being an independent contractor is different than being an employee. You are running your own business and contracting with a studio, so it is imperative that you maintain healthy relationships with the studios you teach for. Transparent dialogue is a necessary foundation on which to build. Anything else leads to assumptions and perhaps even animosity, which will serve no one including your students.
What is an acceptable pay rate is up to you.
The studio will most likely have a structure in place. Getting your information about possible pay increases will give you a platform from which to make your decision. If you are a new teacher and the base pay seems low, ask if there are ways to increase the rate over time, or if it is negotiable. If opening a dialogue of negotiation, be prepared to build your case on why you feel your value is higher than the offer on the table. What is that you will be giving your students that warrants a higher wage? Education? Previous experience in a related field? Remember, you are selling your services to this studio.
As a newbie, you need to find places to teach, so being too particular won’t get you your classes. Identify what your non-negotiables are and work from there, whether it’s pay rate, non-compete specifications, or studio principles. Yoga teaches us to be flexible in mind and body, but not to bend so much that we break. The negotiation process is no different. As teachers, we must work with the studio owners to come to a mutual agreement. If a studio doesn’t feel like a good fit for you – good news! There’s probably a handful of them close by with which you may be better aligned.
You needn’t only teach at yoga studios.
There are many other avenues where you can cut your teeth like gyms, dojos, corporate companies and town greens. Tap into your creativity and remember that you are building your business. You may also consider renting space at a studio and seeking out your own clientele. This would usually look like a flat rate to the studio weekly or monthly, and you take in any monies from your students. This is less labor intensive if you already have a following, but nothing is impossible. The down side of renting space is that you likely will not be listed as a teacher on the studio roster, nor will your class be on their schedule.
As you gain footing in your teaching, you may also look into joining the faculty in a teacher training program. By Yoga Alliance standards, you must be an E-RYT (experienced registered yoga teacher) in order to do this, so start teaching and logging your hours on the YA website. Workshops and retreats are also an option. Start developing content as soon as you are able and refine it as you continue to teach. Some of the workshops I teach now are completely different than when I created them several years ago. We are constantly evolving as humans and as teachers.
With all of this said, can you maintain a living as a yoga teacher?
The answer is unequivocally: Maybe. Many factors will play a role: market and teacher saturation, the pool of students, and your own lifestyle. Can you teach morning, noon, night and weekends? Can you travel to teach at retreats? How much teaching is too much? These questions can only be answered by you. I’ve heard it said that if you want to be a yoga teacher, don’t quit your day job. Is this a negative perception, or just one in front of rose colored glasses?
It’s true that there are an enormous amount of yoga instructors out there looking for work. This is why you must find your voice, your niche, and your true calling as a yoga teacher. Your authenticity will be your greatest ally. From this place, you can create and maintain your relationships and begin to make a name for yourself. Keep your practice strong, and your feet on the ground. Remember to breathe through that discomfort in beginning anything, whether it is a teaching career or merely a conversation with a studio owner about the terms of your agreement. What is on the other side of that discomfort is usually quite stunning.
Temple Fiergola is an E-RYT 500 and Continuing Education Provider in the Hartford, Connecticut area, as well as a writer and a mama to an astonishingly adorable little boy. You can learn more about her at templeOMyoga.com