Is Yoga a Business? A Heartfelt Rant From a Professional Yoga Teacher
My name is Natalie Rousseau, and I have been teaching yoga for 13 years. For about half that time I have taught between 6-12 classes per week, while also juggling other part time jobs, and being a single parent. For the past 7 years or so it has been my full time gig, meaning I have taught anywhere from 4-18 classes per week, whilst also offering teacher trainings, live workshops, retreats, and online classes. I have been the manager of two different studios, helped created a yoga program for a 5 star spa, designed curriculum for teacher training programs (my own and others), and spent countless hours at my desk filling out forms for regulating agencies such as the PCTIA and the Yoga Alliance. Not to mention all the time spent preparing invoices (because yoga teachers are subcontractors if you didn’t know), writing lessons plans, doing bookkeeping, and answering Facebook messages and personal emails from students who have questions about their practice, or their teaching.
I have spent a small fortune on yoga teacher training and have gathered over 1300 hours in formal teacher training, with close to another 1000 in workshops. I have also devoted a huge amount of time and money to studying Ayurveda, Anatomy, Small Business, and Adult Education, all in service of offering more to my students. I am sharing this not as a type of resume or list of accomplishments, but rather to illustrate the fact that I am a professional yoga teacher, meaning I take my studies and my “job” seriously.
So what am I ranting about? Lately I have seen many people in the yoga community posting disparaging comments on social media about yoga teachers being too self promotional, or treating yoga like a business. These comments often imply that teachers should be giving their services away for free (or at the very least cheap), or not promoting themselves at all, as “aren’t they supposed to be spiritual anyway”? To my mind this type of commentary creates a number of problems such as guilt and shame for yoga teachers who actually do need to promote themselves (because they are sole proprietors again remember?). Now I am not saying that the need to make money from offering services such as teaching can complicate things- I have often come up against that crux for sure, but please let’s look a little deeper at this.
So Is Yoga A Business or Not?
I don’t want to make this an issue of semantics, but my understanding is that Yoga is actually a practice that an individual does in order to experience greater awakening, harmonization, unity, peace etc. As such it is deeply personal, and in essence is a relationship between the practitioner and the practice itself (whatever form that may take). So by that definition the answer is no, Yoga itself cannot be a business because it is a personal experience. However to say that the exchange between a teacher (one with greater knowledge) and a student (one who desires to know), is not an exchange that can be monetized is ridiculous. And please do not tell me Yoga was traditionally always free, there has always been an exchange offered. Do you really want to come do Seva (service) for me in exchange for the workshop I will teach you? Will you clean my toilets or do my freaking bookkeeping or walk my dogs? No, you will use the easiest form of exchange in our society, which is dollars for time or information. In the same way you pay your mechanic, or your web designer, or your accountant for their expertise. Now can the exchange be in trade as an alternative? Of course it can! I have given away hundreds of hours of my time in exchange for other services, or simply out of good will, or for charity reasons. I gave weekly classes to a single mother in my community for years in exchange for a home baked loaf of bread every couple weeks- and I didn’t even eat bread at the time. The point was I honored the exchange of energy. But for most of us, including myself, it is easier to exchange money over time or goods. I have paid for all of my teacher training and education at full price. I never got a single scholarship, or entry to a course at a major discount, and I have lived below the Canadian poverty line for most of my life.
(*please note this does not mean I am against donation based training/classes, or that I think all trainings out there are priced at good value, many of them are not, and are highly over priced for what is actually being exchanged- but that is another rant for another day!)
Now speaking about money can be tacky but I want to be completely transparent here because I think a lot of these comments that shame teachers (and studio owners) are made out of ignorance. As a yoga teacher I made less then $25, 000 per year (even with my other part time jobs), for most of the last 13 years of teaching. And I have never made more than $50, 000 per year as a full time teacher- and I work hard. When I started teaching in Vancouver in 2002 I got paid $50 per class and now the average wage is around $35-$40 per class. And this is sub contracting remember? No employee benefits or job security.
Running a teaching business (because that is what it is) requires a huge amount of time ( 1 hour teaching = average 2-3 doing desk work), especially if you are teaching teachers or doing higher level education programs. And there are costs involved such as insurance, association dues, First Aid certification & renewal, web hosting, and office expenses to name a few. Add to that the time necessary for ongoing study and personal practice, and you will understand why I, like many professional teachers I know, have no social life to speak of outside of our teaching work, and at the end of the day the pay is actually very low. I have no doubt my husband and my son would love it if I told them I was throwing in the towel and going to get a waitressing job, as they know it would mean I would be spending less time working and could actually be more present for them.
So please, I would ask that out of respect for professional yoga teachers who have invested vast amounts of time, money, and love into their craft- think twice before you shame them by making them feel guilty for charging money, or needing to promote their work (do you think they actually like having to learn about social media, or newsletter lists, or Word Press plug- ins or any of that crap?). Now of course we can ask whether yoga teachers need to count on their teaching for their primary source of income? Heck no they don’t. And I often strongly recommend that they don’t – because it’s not easy, at times it’s thankless, and if you already have a profession that pays you well and you can teach as a hobby instead, you might just be happier. But most of us, including myself, we did not get into this for the money. We actually love teaching! We love to share with others the practices and the teachings that have changed our own lives for the better. And for those of us who train teachers we are sharing the best of what we have learned in our own countless hours of training, and teaching, so that you can shorten your own learning curve. Is that not worth something? Believe me I often question if what I am doing is of any real value to the world, and yet I know that what I have received from my teachers has been profound. I simply would not be the person, or the teacher, that I am today if it wasn’t for the guidance I have received from my own teachers. And I was happy to pay for the time and the knowledge, and the personal experience that they shared with me!
I may yet walk away from this whole teaching thing, and if I do it won’t be because I don’t love teaching, or that I haven’t enjoyed the experience of being with others sharing in exploration and contemplation. If I do it will be because I want to simplify my life, and perhaps give a little less of myself away. Many senior teachers I have loved have made this choice over the years, and I respect them for it, while I am also saddened that I can no longer benefit from their offerings. You may not agree with everything I have put forth in this post, and that is fine, I am simply sharing the truth of my experience as a yoga teacher who has taken her craft seriously for over a decade. Is there more to say on the topic of how we promote ourselves, of course there is! But please, if you do respect your own yoga teachers I ask you to honour the fact that if they have committed to making teaching their full time profession (or even part time), then they deserve to be compensated as much as any other professional does, and they should not be made to feel guilty or “less spiritual” for that.
Thank you for listening. End of rant.