An important perspective on the business of yoga

The subject of “the business of yoga” has been on my mind for quite some time. It’s the proverbial tiger under the table in this industry, and no one really wants to discuss it at length.

Reflecting upon more than 16 years of teaching yoga, I’ve been writing an article about the trials and tribulations of being a professional yoga teacher. I keep revising it, because it feels too much like a rant, not enough like a reasoned analysis of the problem. And I’ve also been researching other articles about the same problem, to see if anything I have been observing has already been tackled more eloquently.


So for the time being, my own article on the business of yoga will remain unpublished.  (Update: you can now read that article I wrote here, A Cautionary Tale for Operating Yoga Studios).

Instead, I would like to direct you to this article by Michelle Marchildon.  It is one of the more insightful ones I’ve come across. I encourage you to read it. She hits upon a lot of the troubling aspects of this industry- high rents, low teacher pay (yet teachers demanding to be paid more per session), low revenue, low return on investment in teacher education, and competing demands between neighboring studios and local festivals. And there is a lively discussion in the comments section between readers and the author.

From my corner, here are a few suggestions if you want to turn this situation around for studios and teachers:

1./ Pay full price for classes and workshops. It shows that you value the information the teacher is sharing with you and support his or her work. Think about it: would you ask any other working professional for a discount on their service? Would you ask your hair dresser for half off on your haircut? (You might get half off your hair in the process). Would you ask your lawyer for half off his service? How about a discount on your surgery? (And teachers, stop giving away your classes for free! Studios, stop giving discounts on memberships. Pick your price and then stick with it!)

2/. Ask yourself why you practice yoga. If you love it and it has changed your life, then tell your friends about your favorite studio and your favorite teachers. Word of mouth is the greatest form of advertising.

3/. Be a student first before you decide to become a teacher. Practice for five or, better yet, ten years to acquire the experience and the discipline in your own practice before you decide to sign up for a teacher training (See 3a).  Once you find a style and a teacher you like, then stick with them for a few years. Feel free to try other classes and styles, but make your priority digging a deep well.

3/a/ Newsflash!  The world does not need more yoga teachers.  We need more yoga students.  Why?  Every yoga student who becomes a teacher wants to do what?  Teach!  Which means that these newly minted yoga teachers, who happened to possibly be your most dedicated students, now become your competition or your replacement, instead of your students.  Plus, from a purely financial standpoint, the return on your investment in your yoga education ($3,000, at least), will take a long time to pay off.  Say you start subbing classes at $25 per class, flat rate.  You will need to teach 120 classes to pay that off.  If you consider that you will be paid as an independent contractor for these classes, you will need to save approximately a third of each class pay.  So that one class is now really worth $16 per class, and now you have to teach 187 classes before you break even.  That being said, let’s say you teach one class a week.  It will take you three and a half years to pay it off.  If you teach two a week, then it will take you a year and a half to make a return. You would have to teach 3 classes a week, from the start, to pay it off in less than a year.  And teaching 3 classes a week from the start is highly improbable. (End of rant)

4/. Support your local businesses. Whether the studio says it or not, every yoga studio wants to be profitable. Yoga studios are businesses. The purpose of business is to make a profit while providing a service or a product. Businesses that don’t make profits end up closing. Simple.

5/. If you are a teacher and you think that opening your own studio is the solution to your problems (or the realization of your dreams), please do me a favor. Lie down and what until this feeling passes. (You do not have to be in savasana for this to be effective). Business is one thing; teaching is another. If you decide to take the plunge, know your downside.  And running a yoga studio is not the same as teaching a class: different skills, different expectations, etc.

You can reach Michelle’s article via this link.