Yoga & Fitness

What Every New Yoga Teacher Needs to Know Before You Quit Your Day Job

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“One day, I want to be her.”

That’s what I recall thinking during my 200-hour yoga teacher training (YTT) as I listened to our lead trainer. She was explaining some basics about the business of yoga and how to make it as a full-time teacher.

I had signed up for the training knowing, with 100 percent certainty, that I wanted to teach yoga. At the time, I was working in a job that left me feeling unfulfilled and like I was missing something. I remember driving to work each day thinking, is this it? Is this how I’m going to feel for the next 30 years? My life felt mundane and monotonous.

I knew that I didn’t want to live the rest of my life looking forward to the day I could retire. I wanted to enjoy each day. The experience of moving through my 200-hour YTT was incredibly fulfilling and transformational. It finally felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

But I would soon find that fulfillment and satisfaction don’t always translate to paying the bills.

There’s not enough talk about the financial side of yoga, mostly because there seems to be this unfounded belief that charging money or expressing the desire to be appropriately compensated for your time is “selfish” or “greedy.” This leaves many of us with unrealistic or confused expectations about the earning potential of teaching full time. It’s time we start having those conversations about yoga teacher income so that people know what to expect—and what not to expect.

In my enthusiasm for the new world that was unfolding around me, I quit my job soon after graduating from YTT to go all-in on teaching yoga. I do not recommend following my lead on this. When I quit, I had no real “plan.” Just blind faith that it would work out. Nearly 10 years later, I earn a sustainable yoga teacher income working as the co-owner and yoga director of an online yoga teacher training platform. But that certainly didn’t happen overnight.

I spent years working 60-plus hours per week balancing teaching yoga with other freelance work to help make ends meet. I said “yes” to every single teaching opportunity that came my way, even the ones that didn’t fit the vision of the type of teacher I wanted to be. I worked at the front desk at yoga studios and did marketing and social media work for those studios for way less than market value, all in the hopes of creating a sustainable career.

Was I happy? Yes. I was thrilled to be working in an industry sharing something I was passionate about. Was I tired? 1000% yes. I was exhausted and overworked and eventually found myself in a burnout stage because the pace at which I was working was unsustainable in the long-term.

So while a full-time career is possible, it can take a lot of time and hustle as you learn and discern what works best for you. There have been countless challenges along the way and moments where I thought about walking away from teaching.

A career in yoga is something that’s built, lesson by lesson, through trial and error. It requires finding the balance between the practice and the business, and each teacher’s approach is going to look drastically different from everyone else’s. But you learn by doing. Following are some of the most essential lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. Know the Average Yoga Teacher Income

A job as a yoga teacher doesn’t come with a salary, health benefits, and 401K. If you’re hired to teach at a yoga studio or a gym, you’ll likely be paid a set rate for the hour or however long your class takes. That’s it. Your pay doesn’t include any of the time you spend preparing, commuting, promoting, taking additional training, or talking with students before and after class.

The reality of this is if you teach 12 classes per week–which is a lot, from an energetic perspective–and you earn $40 per class, that’s $480 a week or roughly $25,000 per year. That’s less than half the average American salary of $59,248, according to Forbes.

2. Understand That Earning More Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Earning more than the average yoga teacher requires doing more than group classes. That may look like teaching private sessions and leading workshops, retreats, and yoga teacher trainings. Each of these carries a higher price point than studio classes but also require a different skill set—as a teacher and as an entrepreneur. And here’s the thing, you need teaching experience before you can offer students the kind of instruction that you want to share with them. And you need time to build a clientele who want to learn from you.

For example, the updated Yoga Alliance standards require you to have taken 500 hours of instruction in order to lead a yoga teacher training. That means you need a minimum of four years teaching experience before you can take on that role. And there’s a reason for this.

While a lot of knowledge is gained during a yoga teacher training, that information can’t be truly understood until it is contextualized by practice gained during time working directly with students. Over time, these insights strengthen and refine your teaching ability and allow you to serve students in a more nuanced and effective way.

That’s not to say that new YTT graduates don’t have important things to offer. I’m a firm believer in the 10 percent rule—you only need to know 10 percent more than your students to teach them something. But in any field there’s a substantial difference between what an entry-level hire and a CEO can offer. That’s also true in terms of your ability to find work and in the amount you can expect to be compensated.

Just as we tell our students that understanding a pose doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and consistent practice to be able to offer students the level of instruction that you want to share. My recommendation is to start teaching yoga part-time while you have another source of income. After all, subjecting yourself to intense stress is not the reason anyone goes into teaching yoga.

3. Embrace Entrepreneurship

In my experience, what holds many yoga teachers back is the misconception that being concerned about the business side of teaching yoga is “boring” or “greedy.” The hard truth that many yoga teachers don’t want to hear is that making an income doesn’t depend exclusively on how many trainings you’ve taken, how many years you’ve practiced, or how artistic or compassionate an instructor you are.

Embracing and getting savvy about how to efficiently spend your time on the business side of yoga, including on social media and email marketing, is what will help you be able to sustain a full-time teaching career. This is true whether you teach in person, offer online trainings, or own a studio.

You may not have gotten into this field with a burning passion to be an entrepreneur. And just getting started can leave you with lots of questions: Do I need a website? Should I open my own studio? Should I create an LLC? What about workshops? How frequently should I post to Instagram? Do I need to create a YouTube channel? The list goes on and on. There are answers, but they take time—and, ideally, a savvy mentor—to find.

There are many free podcasts and resources available for learning that you can use to get started. Then, once you feel like you’re ready to learn more about a specific topic and can afford to invest in your business, find a business training or coach that can support you.

4. Keep It Simple

Until you get to that point of business savvy, my advice is always to focus on actually creating a business rather than worrying about “looking” like you have a business. Do the things that directly connect you with students, allow you to share your teaching, and ensure there are ways for them to pay you for your offerings.  Don’t waste money you don’t yet have on photoshoots and websites that make you look fancy but don’t truly provide value to your students.

Keep it simple at first. Ask students to join you and have a way for them to pay you. This can mean posting regularly to a social media account, using that account to ask students to join your email list, and then emailing them once a week to engage with them. Then, when you offer a class or workshop or retreat, email them.

It’s all about cutting through the noise and finding an approach to business that feels ethical and authentic to who you are.

5. Remain a Student

Once you start the process of becoming a full-time teacher, it’s easy for your personal practice to be sidelined while you focus on teaching opportunities and learning the business.

But in order to stay creative, enthusiastic, and informed, you have to continue to be a student of yoga. The second you let that curiosity disappear is when your teaching becomes stale. And no matter how much work you do on the business side to get students into your class, it’s your ability to be an incredible teacher that will keep them coming back.

Pick at least one or two classes a week that you always take. Put them on your calendar and think of them as non-negotiables. Show up. Practice. Learn. It will help you destress while also serving as inspiration. This dedication will help you stay in a long-term committed relationship with yoga. And isn’t that the point?

About Our Contributor 
Kate Lombardo is an international yoga teacher trainer and wellness business strategist. She taught and led in-person training programs for years prior to expanding her reach virtually as the director of YogaRenew, where she leads online yoga teacher trainings. She’s also a vinyasa yoga sequencing nerd and could spend hours talking about meditation and positive psychology as well as business strategy and money mindset. Kate believes happiness lies in the space between seeking success and being of service.

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