Sometimes I feel really alone and isolated as a yoga teacher… While most days I love following a deeper calling from within to guide this practice for the benefit of my students, I do have days when I feel deep despair and hopelessness about the path I’ve chosen. I know that if things remain the same in the yoga industry, I will not be able to sustain myself much longer.
Often, talk of money and yoga make people uncomfortable, and most students, teachers and studios avoid the issue rather than taking an honest look at the impact it has on their teaching community. But if you care about your teacher and your practice and want to gain a deeper understanding of these issues, please read on!
Traditionally, in the lineages of yoga and meditation, teachers offered the teachings and practices freely to their communities. In return, the community supported them with food, clothing, shelter, gifts, gratitude and other basic needs. But in the modern and capitalist society in which we now live, there is a big difference in how teachers and students relate to each other. You may or may not be aware that most yoga teachers are currently given a very small and minimal wage for the offerings that they impart to their communities, and there is no additional expectation for students/communities to support them.
Teachers give a lot to their students and to their classes. There is no amount of words to describe how teachers prepare for each class, the presence they bring, and the emotional space that they hold, in addition to the years of expertise they bring to the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of the practice itself.
When it comes to the issue of money and yoga, many students have a disconnect between what they are willing to invest in yoga clothes/yoga props, and what they are willing to pay for a drop-in class or workshop. While the yoga clothing/props industry makes billions, teachers and studios still struggle to get by on a daily basis. Yet the yoga industry would make no profit if it weren’t for the studios and teachers who keep yoga alive and thriving, and who offer these practices at such an affordable rate.
Often students who recognize this disconnect want to support their yoga teacher but don’t know how. While it is a sweet and well-received gesture to occassionally give your teacher small gifts, flowers, or cards with appreciative words, or offer to treat them to tea or lunch in return for a chance to make a deeper connection, it is not appropriate to offer your teacher money or expensive gifts. Below are some more concrete ways to offer long-term support to your teacher, especially if you are hoping your teacher will be around for many years to come...
How to support your yoga teacher:
Be dedicated to your practice by showing up to class on a weekly basis, or as often as you can. Make a commitment to your practice and follow through. This is a surefire way to let your teacher know you are serious and want her to stick around.
Invest in your teacher’s specialized offerings, such as workshops, series, retreats, or private lessons. Teachers make very little from drop-in classes, so this is one way to give back if you’d like your teacher to sustain themselves financially. In addition, you are getting a lot of bang for your buck out of these offerings. Teachers invest a tremendous amount of time and energy into their special workshops, and you will go deeper in your practice as a result of your participation.
Unfortunately, studios almost solely base their value of teachers on how many people show up for their classes and workshops. Studios won’t hesitate to let go of teachers who they don’t see bringing good numbers through the doors. So show up to class and help teachers sell out their workshops!
As a student, be willing to pay more for drop-in classes, class cards and memberships, and respect that the studio has a vision and purpose behind their pricing decisions. And if you don’t know, just ask! One morning I watched a student without hesitation pay $75 for a brand name yoga mat that a studio was selling in their lobby. Later that morning at another studio, I watched a student get angry because the heavily discounted class card special had a three-month expiration date. She believed she was being taken advantage of when in reality the studio was trying to get more students through the door in a shorter period of time for the express purpose of supporting their yoga teachers financially.
If you are on the Board of a studio, be a voice to advocate for higher teacher pay for longer-term, sustainable support of teachers. Even if you are not on the Board, you can write a letter to studios advocating for higher teacher pay and asking how you can support that happening. Additionally, it’s important to know that there is often no difference in pay whether you are a new teacher or a highly experienced teacher. Advocate for experienced teachers to get a pay raise from their studio, above the regular rate of pay.
Write to the studio letting them know how much you love and appreciate your teacher. Include details about why you love their teaching style, how they have helped your practice, or what has healed in your body as a result of their guidance. It is also nice to Cc or Bcc the teacher if you have their email… some studios don’t share these comments with their teachers but it can be very helpful for teachers to include your testimonials on their personal website or promotional materials (with your permission).
Teachers receive very little emotional support from studios, and often feel alone and isolated when problems arise with their classes or students. Make sure your teacher feels appreciated… If you love them, tell them. Sometimes that show of appreciation is the only thing that keeps teachers fueled to continue teaching!
Unfortunately, because we are teaching to the general public, yoga teachers surprisingly often have to deal with students who are rude, ungrateful, or even aggressive. Many students don’t realize the sacrifice yoga teachers make to pursue this path of teaching and how difficult it can be to lead an accessible class where several people in the class have limitations, injuries, or pain within different parts of their body. If you see a student being rude or aggressive toward the teacher, you can be a quiet witness to what happened so that you can support the teacher if the student decides to make a studio complaint. Tell your teacher you saw what happened and that you are sorry and will support them.
Despite all of these challenges and limitations to being a yoga teacher, what makes it worth it is YOU, our students. The energy you bring, the dedication, and the enthusiasm for the practice is the most important thing that yoga teachers receive in return for their teaching. If yoga teachers didn’t absolutely love their students, we wouldn’t be teachers. So THANK YOU to all of the students out there for sharing this amazing practice, and for taking the time to reflect on how to support your teachers and each other on this path…