Customer Service  1 800 473 4888

HuggerMugger

Find Us On   facebook facebook

We're here to help!
Click to chat with us

Journey Pages, The Hugger Mugger Yoga Blog

Living Gracefully with the Financial Challenges of Teaching Yoga

posted by Charlotte Bell on June 28, 2012 |

  • CevherShare
teaching yoga

Teaching Yoga: A Leap into the Unknown

Teaching Yoga:  How Do You Live Gracefully with the Financial Challenges?

This morning two of my favorite bloggers/yoginis, it’s all yoga, baby and Linda-Sama Karl of Linda’s Yoga Journey, posted a blog by a yoga teacher who was fresh out of bankruptcy court. Jay Fields, author of the blog Grace & Grit, discussed the very real day-to-day challenges of trying to make a living as a yoga teacher, and the humiliation that arises when you feel you’ve failed. Jay’s blog resonated for me in many ways—from the stress of never having an income you can count on to the perceived humiliation of having to go back to work after having successfully made a living as a teacher.

I began teaching yoga in 1986 and have taught continuously since then. For the first 11 years of my teaching career I had either a full-time job or later, a part-time job. When I left my job managing publications for a private school in 1997, I decided to take a leap of faith and not look for another job outside of yoga teaching.

Over the span of more than a decade, my classes had become stable and consistent—certainly not huge by today’s standards. But my classes were as large as I wanted them to be, 15 to 25 students, a size I find manageable that allows me to spend time with each person. And as an independent teacher, I was not giving most of the class income to a studio. After reconciling my budget with my income, I decided the risk of not taking on another job was one I could manage.

Over the next 11 years, my teaching income paid my bills and allowed me to take one or two workshops and retreats each year. It was enough for the simple life I lead.

Yoga Boom Spells Doom

Then came the yoga boom. You might think that an experienced, well-established teacher would only benefit from the exponentially increased interest in yoga. But this was not the case. With the increased interest in yoga came an influx of studios—a leap I could never afford to make. Gyms began offering yoga as part of their membership packages. With the studios came quick trainings that unleashed hundreds of new teachers into the community. The yoga these teachers offer—fast-paced, sweaty, flow classes—appeals far more to the mainstream than my more traditional, meditative, Iyengar-based classes.

I’m immeasurably grateful for the loyalty of my students, most of whom have been coming to class from five to 20 or more years. But when some of these students inevitably moved away or experienced a change in home or work situations that prevented them from coming to class, they were no longer being replaced by new students, who now sought low-priced gym classes or the convenience, community and caché of studio classes. Over three years, my classes dwindled to the point where there was barely anything left after expenses.

Like Jay Fields, I felt humiliated at having to look for part-time work after a decade of being able to support myself teaching yoga. I was humiliated every time I heard about novice teachers filling a studio to capacity and proceeding to injure people. Like Jay, I felt like a complete failure. I thought about going back to school, but when I did the numbers I realized I’d be paying off my debt into my 70s. Not an option. Without a financial safety net I had no other choice but to look for work.

I resisted looking for work for as long as I could, and spent more than a year feeling utterly defeated. My grief at my perceived failure as a yoga teacher—despite my decades-long dedication to practice—was overwhelming at times. I so love teaching and the small community that has formed around my classes that I didn’t want to quit, but I felt boxed in. My practical nature dictated that I look for work. If I found part-time work, I could continue teaching. If full-time work was all that was available, I would entertain the possibility of quitting teaching altogether, kicking and screaming all the way.

The Freedom of Employment

Much to my surprise, reentering the world of employment was a multifaceted blessing. I landed a job as part-time administrator for All Saints Episcopal Church, a very progressive church in Salt Lake City. The rector and associate rector at All Saints are profoundly spiritual people, and the conversations we had on a regular basis were the most enlightening I’d had in years. Not only did I benefit from associating with such wise and compassionate people, simply having a job to do that wasn’t all about me and my business woes was very refreshing. Having a predictable income was a huge relief. A year later, my longtime friends here at Hugger Mugger invited me to manage their blog part time, and I have enjoyed working here since then.

Now that my financial well-being was no longer dependent on how many people came to class, I could relax and enjoy my classes more. And guess what? More students started showing up. The ironic turnaround point was in the beginning of 2011 when I had to leave the place I’d been teaching for 25 years so that they could start an extensive remodel. At first I was petrified. Then I realized—and accepted—that if I didn’t find a space that met my requirements, it was really okay. Perhaps I was meant to take a hiatus from teaching and just focus on practice. That’s what it’s about, after all.

teaching yoga

My New Yoga Home: International Wado-Ryu Karate-Do Institute

The Renewal of Letting Go

Within a week of coming to peace—and even being happy—with this idea, a student told me of a space. It was not just any space, but the perfect space. It is a beautiful, sustainable building, only five blocks from my previous space, with plenty of room for prop storage. With the beautiful, new space, came a new energy for teaching.

In retrospect, I think the most important thing that renewed my teaching and classes was being willing to let it all go—willingly and with positive acceptance. Clinging to being a yoga teacher is no healthier than clinging to any other identity we make up for ourselves. For now, it seems I am still meant to teach, and I’m grateful for this. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned from my small sangha, and glad that it remains modest, casual and welcoming.

Teaching yoga is not an easy way to make a living, especially now with so many new teachers entering the world of teaching every day. Teaching requires commitment, patience and a willingness to keep your day job, maybe throughout your teaching career. But for those of us who stick with it, it is incomparably rewarding, and its only gotten more so as the years pass and my own practice has softened and deepened.

What challenges have you faced as a yoga teacher? How do you envision your teaching life in the next few years?

 

 

Post By Charlotte Bell (207 Posts)

Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice, published by Rodmell Press. Her second book, Yoga for Meditators (Rodmell Press) was published in May 2012. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

Website: →

Connect

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

18 Responses to “Living Gracefully with the Financial Challenges of Teaching Yoga”

  1. Jay Says:

    Absolutely brilliantly written, Charlotte. You expounded on what I wrote about in a way that I can completely resonate with. As a fellow Iyengar-style teacher who has been teaching for almost fourteen years, I have definitely noticed the difference that the yoga boom has made on class size. And having just moved to a new town four months ago, I am feeling all over again what it is to build from scratch.

    Your story of letting the identity of yoga teacher go and finding a “day job,” only to discover that your yoga teaching blossoms again rings true, too.

    I’ve already sensed a spaciousness around my teaching, and I have to say–I LOVE my day job. It’s so good to be out in the world talking with people–not sitting at home writing or being in the role of teacher all the time. And the cool thing is, I’ve found that all the skills I have as a yoga teacher, all the things I love about connecting with students, it happens no matter what I’m doing.

    Thank you for being a role model for sticking through it, for being dedicated as a student, as a teacher and as a writer. Many blessings to you!

  2. Sarah Long Says:

    Thank you for this article, Charlotte. I’ve been teaching yoga for about four years, and went through an intense, two year training. I realized that being a new yoga teacher in a market flush with teachers is increadibly difficult. I made the decision to not teach full time and now have a degree in social work. Sometimes I feel like a “fake” yoga teacher for not living the yoga life full time, but I know I have to let that go.

  3. Charlotte Bell Says:

    Hi, Sarah. Thanks for your comment. While I loved teaching full time, I also knew that there was a limit to how much I could teach and still have energy for my classes and for the students. Before I decided to look for part-time work, I thought about increasing my class load and realized that I didn’t want to spread myself that thin. I don’t think that having another job means you are a “fake” teacher at all! The yamas and niyamas are a much more significant part of yoga than asana is, and they are mostly about living authentically and mindfully off the mat. Social work brings just as much light into the world as teaching yoga does.

  4. Charlotte Bell Says:

    Hi, Jay. Thanks for your comment and for the blog that inspired me to write my own story. Your story rings true in so many ways for me. I could really relate to the sense of humiliation you talk about in your blog. It was especially hard for me to feel like I had to go out and “sell” my classes again after so many years. I’m not the best self-promoter to begin with, and I just didn’t have the will or the financial power to compete with the studios and gyms.

    I really am grateful to have another job that allows me to get out of my own head and take myself less seriously. As you say, there’s a spaciousness around my teaching that I didn’t feel when I was just teaching yoga, especially later on.

    Thank you so much for being willing to put your story out there. It has already sparked some great conversation. You are generous to share your challenges. I’m sure your blog has helped a lot of people to feel less alone in their own challenges with teaching. Blessings to you.

  5. Suza Francina Says:

    Hello Charlotte,
    I felt so liberated yesterday after reading Jay’s story about her money woes that I immediately wrote back and said, “This is the best thing I ever read!” What is more freeing than telling the truth? Then this morning, reading about your teaching/financial challenges, the lights really went on! Thank you for your clear and compassionate writings.

  6. Charlotte Bell Says:

    Hi, Suza. Thanks for writing. Jay’s post is brave and generous. It is not easy to admit when things haven’t gone the way we’d like them to. I’m really grateful to Jay for starting the conversation. I’m grateful to her and glad that I could contribute something to the discussion.

  7. Suza Francina Says:

    It’s important to look at this phenomena of why some of us, even those who are published authors with decades of experience, struggle to make a living teaching yoga —especially if we prefer not to take “the show on the road.”

    There are multiple reasons, but, as you point out, the fact is that the field is flooded with teachers with minimal training.

    This means that the initial hurdle of not being recognized as having equal status (and deserving of equal pay) as someone with a recognized degree in the health field (and covered by insurance) is compounded by being in a field where you are not required to go through years of nationally recognized study.

    Sorry to be a bit wordy—hope you catch my drift. Namaste

  8. Charlotte Bell Says:

    Suza, I absolutely get what you’re trying to say. Most new students don’t know the difference between a teacher with decades of experience and one who went through a weekend training. This makes it a struggle for those of us who have spent our lives dedicated to practice. Many of us who have practiced and taught for years are not interested in teaching trendy styles of yoga because the nature of practice is that it becomes more subtle over the years.

    I think the field is flooded with teachers with minimal training because it is the trainings that keep many studios in business. Weekly classes don’t always bring in the income they need, and they can ask for a lot more for trainings. There are very few (if any) fields where you can be paid a living wage for having just taken 200 hours of training, so in a way, studios, gyms and other institutions are somewhat justified in paying such low wages. If you were going to get training in physical therapy, for example, just the first-year requirements for basic anatomy and physiology alone are more than 200 hours.

  9. Suza Francina Says:

    Thank you again, Charlotte, for sharing your wisdom on these pages and in your wonderful books.

    I wrote some more about all this, but decided to save it for another day.
    Namaste.

  10. kerry Says:

    This is a great post–I think it applies to many “Dream jobs” (comedy, writing, acting, etc.) The constant conundrum is: how to find peace and happiness while pursuing paths that are financially less predictable, while keeping a steady course emotionally.

  11. Charlotte Bell Says:

    Self-employment is certainly not for everybody. As you say, the financial uncertainty can be stressful. I’ve been willing to live very simply so that I could spend my time in a way that feels good to me, but I certainly understand why some people may not want to do this. I do sometimes question why I didn’t take a path with greater security. Counting your pennies does get old!

  12. Rachel Wilkerson Says:

    Hi Charlotte,

    I am relatively new to yoga and wondering how to find teachers who have done way more than weekend training. I have taken classes at a studio since I began practicing yoga last summer but am not opposed to going elsewhere for a richer, deeper experience. (Also, I LOVE Iyengar and it seems that these classes are few and far between at studios.) Any advice for newbies for finding dedicated, knowledgable, passionate, experienced teachers like you?

  13. Charlotte Bell Says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for inquiring. If you love Iyengar yoga, you can go to the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (IYNAUS) website. They have a listing of all the certified Iyengar teachers in the U.S. If there are none in your area, I’d suggest just asking lots of questions. When you’re choosing a teacher, find out how long teachers have practiced, where and how they became certified to teach, if they practice at home, whether or not they practice meditation, whether they continue to take workshops and/or retreats to further their education, who their teachers are, etc. One other thing: Many of the teachers who have been around a long time have not gone through a formal training course. This does not mean they are not knowledgeable. A teacher who’s been committed to practice for decades is still likely to have more depth and wisdom than someone who’s just been certified and only practiced a year or two. The integration process really takes time and there is no substitute for time! Good luck!

  14. john calabria Says:

    Namaste.

    a good read, thanks. I’ve been teaching a mere ten years, but find myself ‘mentoring’ new teachers in how to get started, and keep the stamina it takes to become established. You’ve got to take the focus off the money, off the idea of how many people are coming, or the idea of making a name for yourself. That’s all lower chakra energy – and desperation is palpable. (and the results are fleeting)

    It’s got to come from heart and truth. In this new world flooded with Asana teachers, and very few Yoga teachers,

    authenticity and sincerity is what people will resonate with. When you are 100% yourself, you have zero competition. Show up, offer your best. peace… -j

  15. Charlotte Bell Says:

    Such wise words! It is so true that focusing on numbers, money, etc., creates an off-putting energy in a teacher–at least for me. I do think it takes some time to find your authentic teaching voice, but that is part of the journey. That part of the journey is often thorny, but always worth it in the end. Thanks for your comments.

  16. Journey PagesIs Full Time Yoga Teaching for You? | Journey Pages Says:

    [...] Living Gracefully with the Financial Challenges of Teaching Yoga 15 comments TweetEmailCevherShare TweetEmailTeaching Yoga: A Leap into the Unknown Teaching Yoga:  How Do… [...]

  17. top 15 yoga blog posts of 2012! Says:

    [...] Bell  Living Gracefully with the Financial Challenges of Teaching Yoga (Hugger Mugger blog) ~ A longtime yoga teacher’s response to the Grace & Grit post about [...]

  18. valquiria studio Says:

    Thanks for sharing :D

    I really like!

Leave a Reply


eight + = 12