Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In a Bind: What it Means to Move to a New City with a Career in Yoga

Lately, my husband and I have been considering moving out of the city and into the outskirts of a small city of 40,000 about five hours from out current locale. A common story, we're tired of the exorbitantly high cost of living and the disproportionately low wages of our hometown. Plus, we love the idea of having a little bit of space to have a garden as well as some quiet and peace of mind. My husband will have no problem finding working in the nearby city. However, as a yoga teacher, I'll need to consider my options about the viability of teaching yoga in a small city.

Living in a metropolitan area, there are a multitude of studios, businesses, and fitness centers offering yoga, all of which serve as potential places of employment for teachers. I've created a diverse schedule for myself teaching classes at three studios and one local business, all within 10 minutes of my apartment (a big plus to save on gas costs). This structure all me to reach many people thus creating a large potential client base to which I can offer workshops and private sessions.

When I think about the move, I can't help but think that continuing to teach yoga full-time is at best a pipe-dream, at worst a selfish-indulgence that provides little to support our family. With only three studios in the new town, its not likely that I'd be able to develop a full schedule of classes (I consider this to be 10 classes) at studios whose missions I fully support. Even if I did find three appropriate studios and/or businesses, health centers, etc., the 20 minutes commute from our home out in the country would significantly reduce my net income, perhaps to a point where my wages become negligible. Plus, I can't help but think of the longer commute to be "eco-mean".

It would be great if I could just roll into town and build a community of students as private clients. However, I'm not sure how likely that is to happen. In my experience as a student, I like to know a teacher quite well before committing to an expensive workshop or private session, especially in times such as these where we all need to watch our dollars and cents more closely.
I know that the energy you put out has a lot to do with the success you find and that my trepidation does not serve me. Still, I also know math and wonder if it'd really be possible to make ends meet teaching yoga in such a small community.

  • Have you moved cities as a yoga instructor? If so, did you continue to teach and how was the transition?
  • Can a yoga teacher support herself solely on yoga in a small city?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

When the Teacher is Ready, the Niche will Appear

I began teaching yoga classes part-time in January of 2009 and then full-time in June after obtaining health insurance as a "domestic partner." Now in October, I'm finally feeling myself drop down from my head into my heart, providing classes that honestly share my truth. When I sit in front of my students at the start of each class, I'm no longer concerned that my words don't sound authentic or that I'm not offering the type of class my students are looking for. It feels wonderful to simply stand strong in my yoga knowing that I can only share my truth, leaving class attendance up to the universe. At the same time, getting over the butterflies in my stomach has allowed me to consider the long-term financial outlook for a career as a yoga instructor and how I might expand my offerings and increase my income.

In her previous comment, yoga teacher Laurel (A.K.A. "Lola") shared how she maintains a stable income by bringing yoga to seniors and children. Finding a niche is an oft-discussed topic amongst instructors as it's purported to bring greater financial prosperity and as I continue to grow as a teacher, I am open to and excited about developing a yoga specialty. Of course, the real challenge comes in deciding which group to target. Some popular niche markets include: corporate yoga; yoga for inflexible guys, kids, seniors and women; strongly spiritual yoga; and pre-/post-natal yoga.

When I consider popular and less-popular niches, I just can't imagine choosing one when they all sound great. I believe that the yoga I share as a teacher has to be in line with my truth and choosing a niche simply for financial gain won't yield the results I seek. Still, I need to start paying the bills and my current class income doesn't afford my modest urban lifestyle. For now, I'm going to continue meditating on my classes, which range from from gentle to strong vinyasa, hoping to find a little clarity about what yoga I'm meant to share.

Hopefully, when the teacher is ready, the niche will appear!

  • What's your niche?
  • How did you decide to focus on that specialty? Did it manifest organically from your teaching?
  • Have you found specializing to be financially fruitful?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Mystification of the Yoga Business - Yoga Teacher Class Rates (Part 2)

Not too long ago, I fell in love with my yoga practice and began daydreaming about how beautiful life would be as an instructor, everyday sharing with others a heaping dose of light and love through soothing adjustments, a welcoming smile, and a gentle voice. Years later, I've left my job to find that the dream is pretty darn close to real life. Life as a yoga teacher is incredible. I love planning sequences, reading texts in search of inspiring class themes, and finding myself constantly surrounded by people actively working to be happier, healthier, and more present.

So why don't more yogis leave behind the stressful nine-to-five and dive into the beauty of a boss-less, cubicle-less, dress code-less existence? One simple and not surprising answer: the money. In general, yoga teachers do not make even a modest salary and therefore need to be motivated, creative, and unrelenting in their artha (trans. the pursuit of prosperity, including material prosperity).

In this posting, I'll specifically discuss yoga teacher class rates, which are structured in several different ways. Below, I have listed the structures which I have encountered.
  • Base rate plus $X per student for each student over X.
  • Flat rate.
  • $X per student.
  • X% of total income earned from students attending class.
I have read on Yoga Journal (http://yogajournal.com/lifestyle/1857) that teachers should seek to diversify the structure of their class rates to ensure optimal income and minimal risk. While this may make sense for some, each situation is quite unique and it would be difficult to say which structure is best without knowing more about the studio (e.g. typical attendance, future marketing endeavors, intentions to grow, etc.). Further, most studios, health clubs, etc. already have a pay structure in place, so if you want to work at a certain location, you'll likely have to be amenable to their current set-up. There's always room for negotiation; however, owners won't likely stray far from status quo (e.g. moving from a flat rate to $X per student) unless you are a well-established teacher with a strong following.

Here is a run down of my current and past class locations, pay rates, and length of classes. Please keep in mind that I teach in a densely populated city:
  • Studio A - $35/class + $3/head over 10 students (e.g. 11 students = $38)
    • 1.25 hours
  • Studio B - $35
    • 1 hour class
  • Studio C - $35/class + $2/head over 8 students (e.g. 11 students = $41)
    • 1.5 hours
  • Studio D - Flat rate $30/class
    • 1.5 hours
  • Corporation - $50/class
    • 1 hour
  • 24 Hour Fitness - $25/class
    • 1 hour
  • Country Club - $45/class
    • 1.5 hours
  • Health Club - $30/class
    • 1 hour
My corporate class is generally the best paying, though at times my classes at Studio A will be quite large bringing in upwards of $65 per class. Unfortunately, attendance is extremely variable there; thus, my salary fluctuates as well. You also need to consider that some studios require their teachers to register students, which means arriving to class at least 15 minutes early. The time for your commute as well as the distance of the drive (as relates to the cost of gas) should also be factored into your salary analysis.

As a brand new teacher, I was thrilled to simply be hired at studios and didn't do much haggling over pay. In the past few months, I have learned that pay rates are actually uniform at all but one of my studios and even in that last studio, there isn't much difference between pay for new teachers versus seasoned teachers.

With 10 classes per week and an occasional substituting gig, I make on average $1,700 per month ($20,400 per year). Please keep in mind that this figure is pre-tax (deduct 15.3% for the IRS's self-employment tax) and does not factor in holidays or sick days. As you can see, a yoga teacher's job cannot end with classes unless he or she has married well!

Are your class rates very different from mine? If so, what are they; what city/state do you work in; and what is the class location?
Have you found certain pay structures to be better than others?
Do you have other "lessons learned" on class pay rates?
Have you attempted to negotiate with a studio owner over pay? If so, how did it go?

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Mystification of the Yoga Business - Yoga Teacher Class Rates (Part 1)

As I was finishing up the last few requirements of my teacher training and really starting to consider a career in yoga, I became interested in learning exactly how much my yoga instructors were earning to teach group classes at studios as well as other venues around town. I had no clue how much anyone made, but assumed it to be a livable wage since I knew many full-time teachers who wore pricey Prana clothes and drove decent vehicles. Thankfully, during the last weekend workshop of my training, the agenda included an item related to the business of yoga. I was excited to finally get some real figures and calculate just how much a transition into the yoga business would affect my daily budget as well as the bottom-line of my savings account.

When the "yoga and business" discussion point finally rolled around, my trainers did a great job of further mystifying a yoga teacher's salary. Trainer 1 told me and my fellow teacher trainees that we should always make sure to value the services we provide as yoga instructors and never allow a potential or current employer to devalue those services with excessively low rates. Never, he said, should we accept payment of $25 or less to teach a class. Trainer 2 added, "It's best not to teach more than 10 classes per week because of the huge energy expenditure each class requires." And with that, the discussion on the business of yoga was over.

Well, if not $25, then what pay should we ask for? $40? $75? If only 10 classes per week, then how do we make ends meet? I had so many questions, but lacked the nerve to openly dive into an issue that my trainers clearly felt warranted little time and attention. I've heard that as yogis we should trust that the universe will provide for us in all ways, including financial health. Still, I believe that one way the universe takes care of me is through my gifts of foresight, attention to detail, and shrewdness. I believe I'll be cared for so long as I plan, prepare, and put forth sustained effort. I'm certainly not one to jump blindly into financial uncertainty without a plan.

Looking back on my training, I now wonder why my trainers were so illusive about teacher pay rates. I had a wonderful time learning about the eight limbs, the Yoga Sutras, and Vinyasa Krama, yet I would imagine a teacher training should also offer insight into how to actually have a career as a teacher. I have a theory on what I believe to be the intentional mystification of the yoga business:

The persons who lead teacher trainings are teachers themselves and the persons they're training tend to be their most devoted students. In sharing explicit information about to earn a livable wage as a yoga teacher, trainers are essentially telling their most important client base how it is they go about taking their money. For example, one of the most lucrative ways for yoga teachers to earn money is to hold teacher trainings. I'd imagine that to be an awkward point to discuss while amidst a teacher training. Of course, a teacher who believes in yoga should be able to offer (read: sell) their yoga services without affliction because they believe in its power. Still, I theorize that on a conscious or subconscious level, my trainers skirted the specifics of teacher pay for fear of calling into question their relationships with their trainees/clients.

The lack of clarity on class rates and teacher salaries left me concerned about the likelihood of a real future as a yoga teacher. Still, I knew that I needed to leave my job and felt strongly drawn to share yoga, so I decided to trust that all those full-time yoga teachers couldn't possibly be destitute and I, too, would find a way to make it work.

Did your teacher training program discuss class rates more specifically? If so, what was discussed? Did you feel the discussion was forthright? Helpful? If not, how did you feel about that?
Do you believe my theory on the mystification of the yoga business has any validity?

The Mystification of the Yoga Business - Yoga Teacher Class Rates (Part 2)
Finally, an honest look at actual teacher pay rates.

Goodbye Desk Job; Hello Yoga Mat! - Transitioning to a Career Teaching Yoga

Namaskar yogis and yoginis! My name is Felicity Bell and I am a yoga instructor in New York. Several months ago I decided to leave my traditional (and comfortably lucrative) desk job to pursue my life's dharma--sharing the joy and healing power of the divine science of yoga. Before embarking on this life transition, I knew very little about the business of yoga and wasn't able to procure many specifics from friends, teachers, or the internet though I knew it would be a financially challenging endeavor.

When I first began my teacher training in the spring of 2007, I didn't expect to pursue yoga instruction full-time because of the financial and health insurance implications. Not only is health insurance wildly expensive for individuals operating outside the realm of conventional employment, but I have a pre-existing condition which makes me particularly undesirable to health insurance providers. However, the universe started sending me clear messages when I learned that my boyfriend's new employer offers health insurance for domestic partners. We signed up right away and with one of the two biggest obstacles out of the way, I began to really consider life beyond my cube. My job was challenging and I loved learning from and sharing energy with my brilliant and kindhearted coworkers. Still, the stresses that came along with the job, including long and unpredictable hours, constantly detracted my attention from my highest priorities: the wellness of my personal and family life.

In March 2008, I made the big leap and resigned with only a faint idea of how exactly I would make ends meet as a burgeoning yoga teacher. These past few months have absolutely flown by and the lessons I've learned about the business of yoga are truly invaluable. I plan on sharing these lessons with you as well as the lessons I have yet to learn as time passes and I expand my offerings. I can't encourage you enough to please share your comments and stories to enrich this blog's content, providing the best insight possible for current or potential yoga teachers.

In love and light, Felicity