Is the yoga industry at risk of brain drain?

Originally written for

A quick flick through Instagram and it would be easy to think that the yoga business is booming; everyone in it, a stella success.

The trouble is social media offers us a particularly narrow lens, that celebrates a few and makes others, who are perhaps struggling, feel inadequate.

True story. I had an interview with a studio some time ago. It was a very pleasant chat, right until we started talking cash. It mirrors countless conversations I’ve had in other studios that left me exasperated and shaking my head.

The conversation went something like this:

Studio owner. ‘We expect our teachers to see their classes as a karma yoga offering. If you’re teaching to make money, I’m not interested in employing you.’

Me. ‘Ok.’

Studio owner. ‘We offer 50% of the profit of each classes to teachers only we cap it at €25 maximum, because we need to pay the rent.’

Me. ‘?’

I just can’t do it for free

I never got into yoga to make money, I pursued yoga because it called me. I pursued yoga because it ignited a flame within me that urged me to quit my job and leave my home country, just so I could practice. I just couldn’t help myself. And when you fall in love with practice, naturally, you want to share it and end up teaching. However, since choosing to turn my passion into a profession, fortunately or unfortunately, it’s what I rely on to pay my rent. I don’t like to think of yoga as a business but the fact is, it is. This is just a modern day reality.

I walked away a little dumb founded and it left me considering a career change. I love yoga. The expansive joy teaching gives me is unrivalled, precious and rare. I’m not someone that quits easily, but I’m also practical, pragmatic and rational. I. Just. Can’t. Do. It. For. Free.

You see, being compensated fairly to teach yoga doesn’t make it any less heartfelt. If anything, having the time, effort and exploration that I have dedicated to yoga recognised creates a certain security that ensures I am more relaxed, open and inspired.

If I feel that I am working for the profit of studios and spending time worrying whether I’ll be able to cover the cost of parking, while I teach Vinyasa across town (not to mention the monthly living expenses), this fundamentally changes something for me.

Upside down economics?

If a yoga class is €15-20 per punter, then how does it make sense that some teachers, even if they pack the room, walk away with €20 in their own pocket? You’d have to teach about 20 classes a week, every week of the year, to make the average minimum wage of an unskilled worker. Although €20 isn’t an awful hourly salary the last time I checked, no studio is offering a single teacher 20 classes a week, so you have to hustle, plead and beg for prime spots all over town. And anyone that has tried to teach half that amount in 7 days regularly, will tell you how easy it is to burn out.

I understand that studios have their overheads and that they invest in marketing and branding their venue but this hardly feels like a good way of attracting or retaining quality teachers.

Yet, now I am wondering how many brilliant, experienced, sensitive, insightful teachers has the yoga industry sacrificed because they just can’t make the numbers? Since yoga became big business, how many yogis has it put out of business?

Here are 4 reasons the yoga industry is at risk of brain drain:

Teaching yoga is easy to get into, but…

All it takes is 200 hours of study, which is often crammed into 3 weeks, to certify someone to teach yoga, but it’s not well enough paid to encourage reinvestment in continuous development.
The average 200 hour course is approx. €3000 these days. If you teach a class that bring in €25 a week, it will take you 2 and a bit years to recover your costs.

It is not regulated

There is no single regulatory body of yoga that set or monitor teaching standards effectively which leads to my next point…

So, there is little differentiation in pay

Someone who has been teaching for 5, 10, 15 or 20 years, is paid almost the same as someone that has just completed their 200 hours.

People expect something for nothing

There number of people out there expecting freebies, without much in exchange, is unprecedented
and like nothing I’ve witnessed in any other industry.

And 4 things you can do about it:

Know your worth

It’s all to easy to quantify your self-worth with your ability to earn, but do not forget that no-one but you can put a value on what you have to offer. If the chips are down, don’t let it knock your confidence.

Don’t give up your day job

It’s been said before, but keeping a part-time job is often a smart move, as it releases some of the financial pressure from looking to yoga to bring home the (veggie) bacon to pay the bills.

Be selective over who I work with

Look for partnerships that feel good, with people that are on the same page, and define deals that work both ways.

Honour your integrity

If you’re just starting on your teacher journey, then take those €20 classes and enjoy the experience because teaching yoga, combined with a dedicated personal practice, is the best way to learn how to teach well. Otherwise, don’t settle for anything that compromises your personal or professional integrity or create inner conflict for you.

My intention is not to slam or shame studios here, merely to bring attention to the fact that being a professional yoga teacher can be hard and comes with it’s own share of sacrifices, often in the form of financial stability. And I don’t want those struggling to feel like they struggle alone.