The Plight of the (somewhat) seasoned yoga teacher

Posted by & filed under My Journey.

I am, in corporate terms, a mid-level management yoga teacher. I have 10 years of experience teaching yoga. I have 15 years of practice under my belt. I have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to study with some of the best teachers in the country. I love yoga. I am committed to the this path, 8 limbs and all that spiritual jazz. So why the heck am I having to prove myself just like I stepped out of my 200-hour teacher training? And for that matter, why am I being paid that way?

A friend of mine recently moved to Seattle and is very much in the same predicament. She spent 10 years devoting herself to the study of Anusara Yoga. She taught all over the East Coast, leading workshops, immersions and teacher trainings. This girl knows her shit. And she’s good. Anusara scandal aside, she continued on her path and moved out here with her partner. She is attempting to build a student base and make things happen here. We were discussing this just the other day, as we have both been auditioning in the past few weeks. She told me about an audition where there were 8 other teachers, all with less experience than her, all younger than her. We shared “war” stories, as both of us have found this auditioning thing to be strange. I never had to audition in Chicago. I did my teacher training at my studio; the owner trusted me and he hired me. He took a chance on me, and ultimately, that chance paid off.  I built a student base, taught workshops and even taught parts of a 500-hour teacher training. And I hadn’t even DONE a 500-hour TT myself. And along the way, as I became more experienced and really showed my devotion – to teaching, to the studio, to yoga – I was compensated fairly with a wage that was equivalent to my experience and training.

And then I moved to Seattle. And that was all gone.

And here I am, one year and three months later, still auditioning for teaching  jobs that wouldn’t even pay for a week of groceries (much less rent), even IF I taught 10 or 15 classes a week. I feel like one of those middle-age, middle management level corporate folks, many of whom lost their jobs in the recession and ultimately had to take a pay cut or even move down in the ranks, just so they could have a job. And why hire someone with experience, when it’s cheaper to hire someone who has little or no experience, but can basically do the same job? The same phenomenon is taking place in the yoga world. So many teachers are being churned out at such a high rate, and we can all do the same job – teach a yoga class where everyone gets a workout and feels good after. Is that what this path has been reduced to?

It seems, on some levels, yes. That when we, meaning the more experienced teachers, accept getting paid less just because we want to teach. We love to teach. I love to teach. I love to share what is so special about yoga that goes beyond a physical workout – the mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual connection to the practice. And yet, I am not that young anymore. Nor was I ever super-cute, thin and perky. I am that teacher who will push you to study yourself, your motives, why you practice yoga. I am that teacher who will push you to ask the challenging questions. I am that teacher who will kick your ass too, in a subtle manner. And for all that, I would very much like to be paid fairly. So I can actually eat.

I hope that ultimately, this blog will spark conversation. And will create a willingness to have a dialogue over what’s fair, what’s right and what teachers deserve. To make a decent living. To share what they love. To not feel like we have to compete with each other for who has the cutest outfit or the cutest butt or the most awesome pose. Because I may not win any of those competitions, but I will definitely put my hat into the ring. Because giving up and throwing in the towel…well, that’s just not my style.

14 Responses to “The Plight of the (somewhat) seasoned yoga teacher”

  1. Ruth Lipman

    Jen –
    I feel your pain; this kind of thing occurs in any number of occupations. I once took a job, ostensibly as an administrative assistant because it paid more than I was getting as an assistant professor. (I did the admin stuff on the side, contributed to the research and was able to get a title change – but it hardly seemed like a logical situation.)

    A couple of things –
    1. When you are audition to teach in a study, it isn’t about how dedicated a yogi you are but rather does it seem that you will provide classes that the students will want to come and take.
    2. When you were hired by Daren, he was not taking a chance on you. He knew exactly what he was getting. Not only that – because you were a known entity around the studio – you had a following. So it made good business sense to hire you.
    3. The money you spend on classes with really good teachers is both an indulgence and an investment. I think that you take these classes because you really want to take these classes – not because there will be a return on investment. That’s the indulgence part. They actually are an investment because what you learn will be put to use. (BTW – you can deduct at least a portion of the costs as a business expense.)
    4. You are trying to make a living; and you are trying to do something that you are passionate about. These two objectives may not always require the same energy.
    5. Given who you are, I think you basically have no option other than to keep doing what you are doing, always keeping an eye open for when a different sort of opportunity appears for you to put your love of yoga to use.

    I was recently at the American Diabetes Association meeting at a talk given by an MD which presented outcomes data on a study comparing clinical parameters for people with diabetes who did a 12 week stint of restorative yoga to a group who did a 12 week stint of a stretching intervention. The data on the yoga group was compelling; the yoga intervention was credited to Judith Lasater. The exercise physiologists in the room were appalled – how could yoga be better. The MD at the podium calmly indicated that restorative yoga was a stress reduction paradigm, not an exercise per se. It was really pretty interesting.

    The point is – sometimes you just have to ride the wave. Hang in there – it may take time, but things will sort themselves out. Sometimes you just have to breath.

    Reply
    • Lisa

      Very well said Ruth Lipman. I agree I agree.

      I practiced yoga at the same studio for 12 years before I even felt ready to take the 750hr TT program – the only program they offer. The didn’t start asking me to sub classes until several years later, after I’d acquired some experience in the broader teaching world.

      When approaching a new studio I am frequently asked to first attend classes, to see the style/approach/method/pace of the teachers. If it’s a “good” studio, they’ll usually offer these classes to me for free. Then after that, I am asked to sub for the regular teachers. The studio owners, if worth their salt, will ask their students whether I fit their needs. Remember, each of us as yoga students (and we are all students) takes from yoga what we need; it is not the job of the teacher to put upon our students what we feel they should know.

      I get paid according to the size of the studio and the community in which I teach. Some studios can afford to pay me more, others cannot, but they can guarantee consistent teaching opportunities. If I teach for parks & rec, the pay is lousy compared to others, but I am not required to spend any time marketing myself or the classes, I don’t have to worry about registration and payment… so it’s a no-brainer way for me to meet interested yogis and share what I can with them.

      As with any job, prove yourself and be proud of the work you do.
      Namaste.

      Reply
  2. Carol Horton

    The situation sucks for you personally and is also worrisome in terms of where it’s taking yoga in this country as a whole. I wish I had an answer, but I don’t. These are important issues to raise, however. I hope that the tide turns for you soon, in any event.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thanks Carol. I couldn’t agree with you more, about where yoga is going in terms of the country as a whole. My hope is that if I continue on my path, stick to my guns, that things will work out. Thanks for reading. And PS – your in-depth pieces are wonderful. I love them and love to share them. Keep them coming!

      Reply
  3. Westley Anson

    Here is my take on this issue. Public Yoga is a Business, plain and simple. Studios have no choice but to make decisions based on a Business Plan. They either make money or they no longer exist. The majority of the Customers they serve are there to workout, wear fancy clothes, engage in faux-Spirituality, and in-general be “seen” in the “Yoga Scene”….PERIOD. There are of course exceptions but those are far-and-few between.

    The best decision I made is to have a Non-Yoga FT Job and Teach Yoga on a PT basis teaching 10 or so Classes a week. I am able to remain Authentic and not stress trying to make a living in the Yoga World. Would I like to Teach FT? Sure, but I would also like to win the Lottery. It is a grand thought but not realistic.

    Now, with that said, I do see the Yoga Bubble beginning to burst. The Yoga Industrial Complex has/is churning out 1000s of the Teachers a month. Once these new Teachers realize they can’t find a Job and their Teaching isn’t good anyway they will become disallusioned. Expect a huge backlash and hopefully the end of Yoga being some new Trendy thing to do. This will weed out those who were just doing Yoga because it was the “cool thing to do”.

    I wish you luck and do sympathize with your plight my fellow Yogi. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti. Namaste.

    Reply
  4. Jessica Baxter

    Jen,

    I really enjoyed reading through you emotions, experience, and perspectives within the yoga realm. I want you to know, I would pay a higher amount to have a teacher like you who knows her stuff, who stokes the internal fire, who helps mold me into a better being. And I know there are more people out there with the same opinion I just expressed. Make yourself known, blaze your path wildly and passionately my dear.

    PS, I really admire the dedication and perseverance you have in pursuing your dreams.

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth Agren

    It’s pretty frustrating, so many teachers bio’s read something like this;
    soandso became passionate about yoga in 2009, became a teacher in 2011, and is now one of our towns best yoga teachers.
    Those of us with tons more experience and life wisdom can’t even get classes to teach for free, just for the love of teaching.
    I do keep thinking there will be some backlash over time and things will even out.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thanks Elizabeth for the share. And yes, it’s frustrating to see this. I love to teach. I continue to dedicate myself to deepening my knowledge, which as many of us know means that we spend all our free time, energy and money devoted to becoming better teachers who can serve students to the best of our capability/knowledge.

      Reply
  6. Amy Ippoliti

    Thank you for sharing so openly, Jen. I have also seen internationally known teachers who have been teaching for 15-20 years and who present regularly for Yoga Journal Conference and other festivals get removed from a studio schedule simply because the studio decided to move toward a more franchised approach to yoga. Their wisdom, experience, and even their name had no bearing! The studio simply knew they could put a young TT graduate in the slot and that the young grad would follow a set sequence, fill the room, and be paid much, much less. As Carol points out above, there is not much to say, however articles like yours and educating students in general on what constitutes quality, safe, yoga is essential! Aspiring yoga teachers must also take charge and continue their studies indefinitely so they can expand their knowledge & repertoire in order to offer a more holistic, grounded experience for their students. This is precisely why we founded 90 Monkeys. Education is vital. Conversation is vital. Keep it up, Jen!

    Reply
    • Jen

      Amy, I am so honored that you would take the time to comment and share your thoughts on my musings on teaching. It really does mean a LOT to me, as I have been so inspired by you, your teachings, your path and 90 Monkeys and the 90 Minutes to change the world course. I just want to keep the dialogue open and also provoke folks to think about what it means to have a teacher who is really devoted to the practice of yoga and his/her yoga education. Keep bringing it Amy!

      Reply
  7. Cathy

    It definitely requires a lot of patience and some anguish to succeed as a yoga teacher . I am also facing some obstacles yet realized that have to be not only physically strong, but you also need to be mentally tough.

    I could chosen other professions but like you I have chosen yoga. I chose the challenging path of teaching yoga, knowing completely well that it would be rocky and miserable at times. But also knowing there would be victories and triumphs along the road as well. It is great that you have shared the challenges that this road of practice offers.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thanks Cathy. I just try my best to share the experience I am having, knowing that it might resonate with others.

      Reply

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