Over on another Facebook page, one member recently reported her findings from a survey of 100 yoga teachers. It came as no shock to me to hear that one of her discoveries was that the most satisfied yoga teachers are the ones who don’t need to earn an income from teaching, those who teach simply because they love sharing yoga.
In fact, this is something I hear often. More than that, it’s something I’ve LIVED.
I’ve made my living as a yoga teacher for 20 years. I now mentor a community of teachers, many of whom also teach full-time. It’s our livelihood, the way we support, or contribute to supporting, our family. For me, and others like me, teaching yoga isn’t a hobby or side hustle. The income we make from teaching isn’t extra money that’s “nice” to have.
And, I’ve found myself disheartened by how little this job can pay, and halfway out the door, more than a few times.
Reasoning that if I got a “real” job I would make more money, with less effort, better hours, more security, and infinitely less stress. Honestly, there have been times in my teaching career when I seriously considered cashiering at my local supermarket because 1. I like cashiering and 2. I would have earned more money doing that than I was teaching, and 3. I wouldn’t have to work weekends.
But, then, I look in the mirror. I sit with my frustration. I sit with my feelings of being burnt out, defeated and demoralized. I sit with the tempting choice to abandon what I know is my calling. Each time I’ve done that, I’ve realized I wouldn’t be able to walk away and still be true to myself and what I know is my purpose.
I know I speak for many of us in saying that my decision to become a yoga teacher was really NOT a business decision (if it was, it would have been a terrible idea). Like any creative person who seeks to make a living through sharing their art, teaching yoga something we do because it’s who we are, our practice is deeply meaningful to us and we’re moved to share it.
Now, I’m definitely not saying there aren’t times or situations where it’s appropriate to find a supplemental, reliable form of income to supplement or replace teaching. There absolutely are.
But I also have some ideas about WHY dis-satisfaction is so common among full-time yoga teachers and ways we ourselves can begin to shift it, short of heading for the hills or the nearest temp agency:
1. We feel financial pressure. Obviously, right? If we were all making six figures as yoga teachers I’m guessing we’d probably all feel quite satisfied with our teaching gigs. But let’s face it, making a living as a full-time yoga teacher teaching in studios and gyms is hard if not impossible in many places.
This, by the way, often holds true regardless of your level of experience. A new teacher typically does not earn significantly less than an experienced teacher. In most traditional venues, we’re all “yoga teachers,” whether we have the equivalent of a high school diploma or Ph.D.
(I have a lot ideas about this and when I work with teachers, we always find ways to shift to a more profitable dynamic. Here, though, I’m more interested in how we can shift our mindset about full-time teaching to make it work for us.)
And, let’s face it, we also KNOW that money equals value, which brings me to my second point:
2. We feel under-appreciated. As teachers we’re also, more often than not, dedicated students of yoga. We’re educated in not only the breadth of yoga practice and wisdom, but also often in other complementary disciplines.
We’re professionals with hundreds and hundreds of hours of training. We know first-hand the value and power of what we teach. We know we have tons to offer. We know the world needs the tools that yoga provides now more than ever. And, so, when we’re teaching for 2 instead of 20, when our pay is dependent upon class attendance, or when we’re cancelled on at the last minute, well, none of that feels great.
3. We’ve lost our love for yoga. We don’t feel enthusiastic about our own practice. In fact, we may not even HAVE a practice other than teaching. But there’s simply no getting around it - in order for us to stay inspired about what we do, we NEED to be growing in our own practices. Continually. We need to feel connected to OUR yoga.
I love working out at the gym. Why? One reason is that I KNOW I will never become a fitness trainer. I’m there because I want to be, because I enjoy it. It’s never something I will make money from and therefore, I’m free to do it solely for myself. But yoga? That’s a different story.
One of the most common challenges I hear from teachers is that practice becomes all about teaching, it’s never for themselves anymore. Over time, this catches up with us. Practice feels like work, it’s no longer nourishing, The reason why we love yoga has disappeared.
4. We don’t have the support of a community. Oftentimes, WE are the ones upholding our community, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t also need the support of like-minded others. Teachers need community ASIDE from the people we teach and serve. People who are doing the same work as us. It’s not always easy to find.
We may be too busy to be part of an in-person community. We may live in a rural area where there aren’t fellow teachers. Or, if there are other teachers and studios nearby it may feel difficult to feel a sense of support from them, we may feel more competition with them than affiliation.
5. We haven’t figured out how to simplify, streamline and maximize our teaching time. Many of can say from experience that running all over the city, lugging props in your car trunk, and sitting in traffic all for a one-hour class doesn’t make for a sustainable yoga teaching career.
Add to that keeping track of registrations, other administrative tasks, to say nothing of marketing and building our networks – things we all must do and yet are never compensated for. ALL of this adds up to quick burnout if we don’t get help and support.
What to do?
Well, one thing I can say for sure is that having your own COMMUNITY where you can get answers and find support and a FRAMEWORK for practice and inspiration helps. A lot.
I developed The Skillful Yogi to be a welcoming, friendly, and respectful collective of teachers and continuing students. It’s home where you can come to find inspiration AND practical support for the art, skill AND business of yoga teaching. Kind of like an online retreat site. It includes outstanding asana classes delivered weekly, daily inspiration for living your yoga, and personal, tailored guidance and support to refine your practice and teaching. So you can thrive in what you do, what you’re meant to be doing, and reignite your love for teaching once more.
If this calls out to you, it would be an honour to support you on your journey.
Charter membership rates are available for just a few more weeks.
I’m here and more than happy to answer any questions you might have about how The Skillful Yogi can serve you.