Teaching Yoga is a Real Job and You Should Be Paid for It
Teaching Yoga is a fun and rewarding job when you’re actually teaching, but outside of the class setting there are challenges to this profession. You need to continually look for, and secure, work — a time-consuming task that goes uncompensated. Even if you’ve established relationships with gyms and studios, arranging your schedule — by either subbing out classes or subbing classes for others — takes up a great deal of energy.
You also need to prepare for your classes by doing your own practice, curating music playlists, and planning your sequences. This is on your watch. Furthermore, most teachers choose to spend time on social media to connect with their students and promote their classes, which some studios expect of their teachers.
Except for a few rare cases, you’re a freelancer; the hustle is not dissimilar to the lifestyle of a musician, artist, or actor.
I’ve been teaching Yoga for 13 years in New York City at gyms and studios, schools and offices. I’m sharing information based on what I’ve experienced, seen, and heard about in the Yoga culture of New York. It may be different elsewhere.
It’s very common for other people to misunderstand how much time, effort, and money has gone into a person becoming what they are if their vocation is unconventional or is not directly correlated to a college degree. You paid for Yoga teacher training. You may have attended specialized trainings beyond that to understand how to work with certain populations such as kids, cancer survivors, people with chronic pain conditions; or how to offer specific formats such as Restorative, Power, or Yin. So if anyone asks you to teach yoga for free, the answer is: No. Make that boundary clear in your mind: you work; you get paid.
When you love something and you want to succeed at it — plus you’re new to a game and don’t know the culture — it can be hard to discern where to begin setting boundaries. What are your non-negotiables? If you get paid per class or by the hour, it’s pretty straightforward. But other situations require scrutiny. In the end, you need to decide for yourself what you’re comfortable with.
Here are the various gigs and pay structures you will encounter in the Yoga world:
Flat fee per class.
Many gyms, and some Yoga studios, operate under this model. You’re an independent contractor and fill out a 1099. You can get paid anywhere from $35-$75 per class. This is a reliable income, and fair because you get paid no matter how many people show up. If a class does not do well, it may have to do with the slot or format and nothing to do with the quality of your work. If attendance is low, you can work together with the manager to change the format or time of the class.
Base pay + per head.
This is an arrangement that you’ll find exclusively in yoga studios. You’ll earn a base pay of $10, $15, or $20 and then $2, $3, or $5 per student on top of that. This can be lucrative in an established studio if your classes become popular. But sometimes the per head bonus only kicks in after a set headcount — I heard of one studio where you needed to reach 25 students before receiving bonuses. Keep in mind that if a studio is just starting out, you may get one or two people or sometimes no one at all, unless you already have a large following that is willing to travel to that studio. Ask yourself before committing, if you are willing to stick around and build the class.
These classes enable people on a tighter budget to benefit from Yoga. Just make sure the studio is offering you a portion of those donations because you are not a donation-based worker. If you and the studio are donating the proceeds to a charity, then the intention is very clear.
Exclusively found at Yoga studios, community classes are structured as affordable or free to atrract students to a new teacher. You may agree to this if you’re fresh out of teacher training and the studio owner is giving you a chance to practice developing your teaching voice.
This is an arrangement where you volunteer-teach for a non-profit organization that operates as an ashram. Karma Yoga is seen as a way of strengthening your teaching practice, giving back to the sangha or organization, and serving the community. Just be sure you’re down with that, and you are clear with yourself about how much volunteer work you are willing to do.
Some NPOs get grant money to pay teachers. For instance, I worked for the YMCA, which is a non-profit, yet it is the largest charity in terms of earned income. They pay their teachers; not much, but they do pay them.
If a studio owner — or any establishment — asks you to teach for free or offers that they’ll pay you later after the class builds, it’s a red flag. Part of starting a business means compensating your workers. They will generally need to lose money before they begin to profit, which is not your responsibility. If the terms are not clear, ask more questions.
So if anyone asks you to teach yoga for free, the answer is: No. Make that boundary clear in your mind: you work; you get paid.
Also beware of studio owners asking you to do managerial or custodial duties such as taking money, opening and closing gates, or mopping the floors. Not that anyone is above these tasks or that anything is wrong with that, but it’s definitely something to consider. Just because we, as Yoga teachers, are working within an industry that centers around mindfulness, compassion, spirituality and personal development does not mean that we need to be willing to say yes to everything to appear positive and free from resistance.
No is a hard word for some people to say, especially in this business.