Many people take their yoga teacher training as a way to deepen their practice and knowledge of yoga. Surprisingly, very few graduates actually go on to teach, and those who do often give it up after only a short period of time. I’ve heard recent graduates express “guilt” over teaching, and struggle with the dichotomy of a life of service versus making a living. Some people decide to only volunteer to teach. Most teachers who exclusively teach yoga are only able to survive with husbands or partners to support them. Other teachers hold full time jobs and teach yoga as more of a hobby on the side. Still others have to hold multiple jobs if they feel a calling to be a yoga teacher.

As a yoga teacher for the past five years, I can attest to the extreme difficulty of making a living teaching yoga. Despite a full class load and a success of sold out workshops and specialized classes, there has been very little progress in making a sustainable living from this “career.”

I recently had a doctor contact me who asked if I would be interested in teaching to clients at one of the nicer clinics in Portland, yet she offered a very low rate of pay. A prominent and successful artistic company wanted to hire me to teach yoga to their staff, but wanted to pay me only the barest of minimum wages. I’ve had long-time students who have turned up their noses at my workshops because they think I’m charging too much, yet they have no hesitation spending the same amount of money on one nice dinner or bottle of wine, and frequently share stories of their international travels in classes.

I wonder why this form of healing which has helped so many is still vastly underappreciated in people’s minds. Why is it that a doctor gets paid one of the highest wages for the healing she offers, while a yoga teacher gets paid barely enough to scrape by? Many people who are willing to pay $75 per hour for massage or acupuncture, would only willingly pay $5 for a similar healing effect from a yoga class.

Students leave my classes all the time remarking on how much better they feel… my students are lovely and grateful for the practice, and I am grateful to have them. Without students, I wouldn’t be a teacher. It is an honor to share this practice with others and I feel very blessed to have this life, this practice, and this opportunity.

Yet, a vast majority of people have no inkling of what a scrappy lifestyle being a yoga teacher truly is. Many students and aspiring teachers romanticize the life of a yoga teacher… But did you know: teachers often spend more than an hour commuting to teach just one class (if we are teaching multiple classes, that’s potentially hours of driving each day); studios and businesses expect us to arrive 15 minutes early and stay 15 minutes late — time we don’t get paid for; studios expect us to understand Mind/Body software and use it to take payment, sign up memberships, etc. and they don’t pay us to do this, nor do they give us any formal training; many studios ask us to clean and sweep studios without payment; we are expected to spend countless hours marketing our own workshops and specialized offerings, time we don’t get paid for; we take hours of continuing education each year that we pay for out of our own pockets; most teachers also pay for their own liability insurance and red cross certification; and did you know we don’t receive any paid time off, sick days, holidays, or snow days; AND, most importantly, we don’t receive health care. These reasons and more are why most yoga teachers have to think of their teaching as an act of service, rather than a valid way to make a living. But why can’t it be both?

The history of yoga is complex and how it came to this country is complex and perhaps best left to different article. But essentially, in today’s modern world, studios need to start paying their teachers a fair, living wage for drop-in classes (and encourage/support us to price our workshops at a higher rate), clients need to value and be willing to pay more for classes and workshops, and businesses need to pay an amount reflecting the success of their business and the wage of their staff.

I also hold teachers responsible for the changes that need to happen in the industry. Teachers need to own who they are and be willing to charge more for their classes and workshops. When a teacher volunteers to teach a population that can afford to pay, they are doing a disservice to other teachers. When a teacher undervalues what they are offering and undercharges for a workshop, they are doing a disservice to other teachers. I encourage yoga teachers to value themselves first, and stand up for themselves so that the industry can change and studios, businesses, and clients can recognize, respect, and value the mind/body healing that yoga teachers bring to thousands of individuals on a daily basis…