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22 August 2008

the price we pay, part 2: how much is a yoga teacher worth?


This is another topic that Yoga Journal won't touch: how much is a yoga teacher worth in this American consumerist society? forget for a minute what our emotional or spiritual value is to our students (actually priceless), but what is our monetary value? in a culture where fitness instructors never have to step foot inside a yoga studio and can get "certified" online as yoga teachers, are yoga teachers now a dime a dozen?

My post "the price we pay" gave rise to some interesting comments:

"have had several conversations with other yoga teachers recently about how they want to earn x amount per class or they won't teach. Got me to thinking: if I can pay my bills on less than that, and I am maybe helping some people, sharing my knowledge of yoga a bit, isn't that enough? We aren't supermodels, we are social workers..."

*******

"i thought going to india for 11 months, teaching in japan and thailand, australia, bali...i thought all of that would make a difference. it actually hurt me. i make less money than ever. no one is impressed with my resume. it means nothing to anyone.

except for me and the handful of students that i am actually reaching. that's all we can hope for. that's just how the world is. anyone can teach yoga. we're indespensable. you are fooling yourself if you actually think you are anything more.

still, i would do it all the same. for me at least."


*******

"I think yoga teachers are a "dime a dozen" now.

Point - Teacher Training programs. This has become a cyclical conundrum perhaps? An organization decided yoga teachers should be 'certified'. Studio's/gyms/fitness centers decided this was a good idea. So, in order to teach you have to be certified and there are a whole slew of students needing those inital hours to become certified because the studios require it...see where it goes?..."


*******

bindifry said this about yoga teaching in her blog: "...and i reached another person. i turned them on to yoga. they turned me on to them. and for that moment i had a purpose." to which I responded: "yup....that's what it all comes down to, isn't it? it's not about the money, it's not about some sick inversion to impress or intimidate people, it's not about lululemon pants....it's just about the yoga." and bindi said: "well said....yoga is for everyone to enjoy. yoga teachers should spread it around to who wants and needs it regardless of their economic situation. it's our duty. if we all did that, we could alleviate much suffering in the world. teaching yoga is the ultimate "green" action. how many yoga teachers teach without the thought of dollar signs? i do not know many."

Nadine believes that yoga teachers are social workers. bindifry said that teaching yoga is the ultimate green action. I say that teaching yoga is a pure expression of the bodhisattva path. and with my private students, I'm also a psychologist. like bindifry, I'm still going to India to study even though it does not make me one dime extra as a yoga teacher.

I truly believe all of the above. however, I still need to pay the bills and buy food and gas. and I pay the same for food and gas as the person does who makes $200,000 a year. last year I made about $10,000 teaching yoga. I'm not crying about it, it's merely a statement of fact. it was my choice 10 years ago to stop working for lawyers after 20 years (and making damn good money) and become a yoga teacher. our lives are determined by our choices, not by our circumstances.

I've been struggling a lot with this money question as I am in the midst of a life-changing decision that will literally affect how and where I can afford to live. as Nadine said, I know more than a few teachers who won't teach if they make below X dollar amount -- and I am one of them. over the years I've invested over $10,000 (probably closer to $15,000) in my training -- this does not include travel to India to study. I also know some yoga teachers who've been teaching 20+ years who won't teach a workshop for under $500 even if only three students sign up -- they have their minimum show-up price. I believe that to teach a class under a certain dollar amount devalues yoga and puts it on the same level as an aerobics class.

one of the places I teach is a yoga studio where I get paid by the person...so one day I make $12, another day I make $60 per class. I also teach privately, one-on-one, and my prices in my area may range from $75 to $100 per session. what a teacher charges for private yoga in the United States is dependent upon the geographic area, what the market will bear. I feel that prices for private yoga are comparable to getting a massage or a physical therapy or chiropractic or acupuncture session -- it's all about holistic health modalities. unfortunately, most people don't understand this. I've found that people (at least in my area) don't "get" what private yoga/yoga therapy is all about, not when they only know health club yoga (and I'm not dissing teachers who teach at gyms or health clubs, so don't get your yoga shorts in a knot.) there IS a difference between yoga one-on-one and yoga in a group class. yoga one-on-one is the the traditional way -- Krishnamacharya did not teach Iyengar or Jois or his son Desikachar in a group class.

however, my favorite class to teach is one where I don't get paid at all -- I teach yoga and meditation at a domestic violence shelter. I've been teaching there for five years and it's my hope to start a yoga therapy program there funded by grant money. some day.

I know of yoga studios where the owners have yet to pay themselves, the studios literally don't make money, they just break even. from a sound business standpoint -- and let's get real, yoga is definitely big business in America-- that situation can't continue forever. my yogini friend in Oakland, California tells me I should move to northern California, that I'd be turning people away, that people can't get enough yoga out there. in the suburbs of Chicago, yoga studios struggle to survive.

The Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram where I study in India has no qualms whatsoever about charging westerners much more money than it does its Indian students. teachers such as Gary Kraftsow and David Life and Sharon Gannon charge at least $8,000 for their teacher trainings here. so why, as not-famous-no-Yoga Journal-cover everyday yoga teachers, are we not supposed to make a livable wage?

what's a yoga teacher to do? this is not India where I can go live in a cave and spend my days meditating, living off the kindness of my devotees. while I'm Kali's girl, I'm still waiting for that Goddess-in-Residence yoga gig somewhere that my gal pal in Nepal told me I need to find. this is America where it currently costs $35-$40 to fill my gas tank to get to the studio to make $12 for a 90 minute class.

so it is a fine balance between the bhakti and the bucks, between the dharma and the dough. I don't want to make what a supermodel makes -- I just want to be able to afford to live and do what I love to do.

support your local yoga teacher.



8 comments:

Nadine Fawell said...

Ahaha! Well said!
Don't get me wrong, I too have a minumum amount for which I will teach, but it's negotiable if I think the situation merits it... For example, I don't think I would teach for $12! But I won't refuse to teach unless I get, say, $100.

It is very sad that yoga has become lumped in with aerobics, when it is so much more - I teach two classes a week at the Y, and I see that culture there. Not just there, mind you. The physical practice gets taught, for buffness, and not much else. Is it still yoga then? Hmmm.

Mike said...

It's tricky when your profession matches what you might otherwise be willing to give away for free.

For example, I am an engineer/scientist/researcher, and though I do some scientific investigation on my own for fun from time to time, I would rarely consider offering it as a service for anything less than fair market value, the only exceptions being analogous to your domestic violence shelter arrangement. Also, I know I'm a world class scientist, so I expect to be paid as such.

On the other hand, I also have a lot to offer people in regard to their personal growth. A lot. It's been proven over and over again with experience. However, I've never charged for it, and I don't ever plan to do so. It's possible one day I could change my mind, but right now I don't see it. In many ways, it's a luxury for me to be able to give this away for free, because then it occurs spontaneously and without effort. The luxury comes from the fact that the engineering/research job pays well.

I'm not sure exactly what I would do in your situation. However, I can say this much. If you do choose to continue yoga teaching as a profession, I believe you owe it to everyone involved to charge what you believe you are worth, taking market value into consideration. That doesn't mean charge market value -- you might charge more or less depending on your honest assessment of your qualifications and value to your clients. Personally, I always ask for more than market value as a scientist/engineer, because I am that good at it. My employers/clients never regret hiring me, even at the high rates. Charging according to my actual value keeps me in line in the sense that I have no room for resentment, and I must deliver up to my full potential. Otherwise, my integrity is at stake. This is good for my soul. It's also good for the souls of the clients to pay according to the value of what they receive. Getting too much for free spoils you.

You might also choose to offer your services as a yoga teacher in a non-professional capacity. Ideally, in this case, it's best to charge nothing. That way, the lines between professional and non-professional don't get blurred. When they do get blurred, the mind has a hard time dealing with it. And we all know how troublesome the mind can be.

Finally, I'll say this. One of my biggest lessons about money occurred several years back when I worked briefly in defense contracting. I saw how much money the government spent and what they got for it. What I realized down to the bone is that people waste tons of money all the time. You shouldn't feel guilty in demanding an amount that is coincident with the value you provide. If you do, you're still way ahead of the defense contractors, I'll tell you that much.

Love,
Mike

bindifry said...

nadine-would you teach for $12 if you were teaching in another part of the world? that's what i am currently making in thailand. 3 classes a day, 6 days a week. and i footed my own airfare, too.
can you say " barely breaking even?"
i'm going to rwanda next year. to teach for nothing. women who have aids.
i have to raise my own airfare.
would you do that?
cause you can never put a price on that kind of experience.
fuck teacher trainings. get out and teach. teach hard. i have learned more doing this than in any training or going to india.

whoever out there who teaches yoga, i would like to know who else would do this. am i kind of alone?

Brenda Plakans said...

My price varies from gig to gig. I'm sure I would be doing "better" if I was still in DC. However, there's something really nice and neighborly about my classes at the Beloit Y. No yoga snootiness, no showoffs, no lululemon (100% seaweed fibers, ha!).

My brand new students tend to be a bit apologetic (this is the Midwest, after all), but the long timers are very welcoming and the vibe--to me seems opens and inviting.

So maybe keeping it local and small scale, while not as lucrative, can be more inspiring. I think it's easier to reach students in my current situation, than if I was battling the hordes of wicked headstanders on either coast.

With wee ones, I don't have the option of far flung trainings, so that helps the financial sitch, too. I guess I agree with Mike--see what the market will bear, don't lower your standards and know that the cream rises to the top (eventually).

Nikki Chau said...

Linda,

I think Mike makes an interesting point that I'll have to ponder on, don't blur the line between profession and non-profession.

I love what you said about just being able to make living wages, not what supermodels make. How true is that.

Well, as you know already, I've said plenty in my blog post (http://www.nikkiyoga.com/can-you-make-a-living-teaching-yoga/). I'm so grateful that you wrote this, so that I know "it's not just me" :)

Tons of love (and 100% ORGANIC seaweed fibers ;))

danae said...

I enjoyed reading this discourse, but especially wanted to acknowledge the post by bindifry...you are not alone in your desire and committment to teach in a global setting...the times I have traveled to Italy, Ecuador, and Bali I taught Yoga to the folks I met along the way. I was only compensated in Italy in euro and it basically covered my bus fare to travel to the location...I agree teaching in the 'untraditional' yoga studio setting is rewarding and requires a flexibility in the mind that must be learned by doing just that teaching outside your comfort zone...
Peace.love.hugs

Yoga Travel Guru said...

I'm not a teacher. I am launching a yoga/adventure travel company and the question of how much to charge for these trips is huge. In one respect, in order to do all of the things I want to do, I need a successful business model. I need to grow. I need to treat my teachers well and give back to the communities in which we are traveling and I need to be happy with my lifestyle.

And then there are the personal things. Ability to travel freely, to eat out, to see live music, to visit family and friends, to shop at organic food stores, to drive a safe car, to live in a location that makes me happy. The question is, and this is for everyone working a job that they love but that doesn't pay well, how much of this are you willing to give up for it?

Yoga makes it all more confusing because it's built on simplicity, so how can we ask for more if what we teach is not to need it? So there's the question of how much CAN you make and how much do you WANT to make.

So, make a list of things like I did above that you are not willing to sacrifice for yoga. Combine that with what you need to be sustainable, (a studio that makes no money can not continue to share yoga for very long).
This could be your formula for a price tag.

The truth is, because of this struggle and willingness to be part of this struggle, yoga teachers tend to be a certain type of person, and that is a great thing. What if artists made millions? Bankers and politicians would all be artists and then what would art be? It seems very natural that yoga teachers don't make much money. And to need a monetary value to validate how much you are worth or how good you are just feeds into the world which we are trying so hard to move away from.

My question is not how much money you are worth but how can you share yoga with as many people possible for the least amount of money and still be happy. Maybe it's to work another job that allows you to teach for free? Maybe it's to charge more so that you can survive on teaching?

Shambhu said...

I am currently working two jobs, one as a yoga instructor and the other as an artist, selling my work to tourists and travelers who come through the city I live in. I have read the comments above and agree with a lot of what has been said. What I am coming to realize, imho, is that this type of life requires balance. I don't have health insurance, yoga is my health insurance. I don't make huge sums of money, at the same time, I have better health, I can not remember the last time I even had a cold. I have to constantly reflect on the gratitudes I can come up with and, at the same time, I feel a bit left out of the culture here in America. I have to stick close to a budget which I have become comfortable with slowly over the years. Yet I'm constantly tempted to yearn for more. Especially since one of my teacher friends is one of the wicked inversion type who is younger, gives his students a thrashing (under the guise of "power yoga")(people love it in droves, lots of masochists in this society), who charges, and gets, large sums of money.
This is an expensive country (America). I live off the back of my motorcycle, a room in a somewhat dangerous neighborhood, and wonder what the @#$$ I'm going to do when I can't do this any more. What I would like to find out is if its possible to do all of this in a more affordable country, in a warmer climate, with the possibility (gasp) of owning my own home at some point?

I think I can answer part of my question myself...mainly, if I can think about this, then others have probably thought it too and are in fact doing it. I know there will be competition, it will be hard, scary, etc. What I would like to hear is from anyone who has done it (establish this lifestyle in the above mentioned conditions) and whether they are happy or not. Do you miss your home country? Are there people around you whom you can relate to? Connect with? I know that I need community to survive, so if you have some insights, please post them.