The Business of Yoga

Even before I started teaching yoga, I felt a great sense of sadness that yoga teachers get paid so little and have to teach up to 30 classes per week to survive. It just doesn’t make any sense. They are doing some of the most necessary work in this world- giving themselves completely to their students and playing out the roles of healers, physical therapists, fitness instructors, cheerleaders, spiritual guides, sources of inspiration, and on and on. Most of them commute from one part of town to another all day long, are completely exhausted, and can’t find time to take class themselves. They don’t receive any benefits (no health insurance of any kind), receive no vacation or sick time, lose money when either of those occur as well as every time classes are not held due to a holiday, and they have to pay for liability insurance out of their own pocket. It mystifies me that people who work jobs in one location spend many of their daily hours on the internet, chatting with co-workers, running out to do errands or hang out in coffee shops, and sitting around eating (often) free food, all while making more money per hour than a yoga teacher and are guaranteed a monthly paycheck that not only covers their living expenses, but allows them to save for vacations, eat out, etc. And, in a lot of positions (such as my former lab position), it is easy to argue that the impact these employees have on their local environments does not come anywhere close to the work of a yoga teacher. One of the reasons that I most love teaching yoga is because I get to directly witness the effects of my class on my students. Many of them tell me, “I feel so relaxed!”, “I don’t feel stressed anymore!”, “I feel great!”, or “I did something that I didn’t even know I could do!” at the end of class. The work itself is much more satisfying to me then spending all of my days in a sterile building, moving drops of liquid from one tube to another, with the eventual goal of getting a paper published. And I know that the benefits of practicing will only keep increasing and spreading to the people who interact with those who learn to create more space within themselves, who pause before they respond, who become more compassionate with one other, and more solid within themselves.
However, because yoga teachers get paid so little, the only way for them to survive is by offering retreats and additional trainings in addition to their regular classes. These trainings attract the dedicated students who have witnessed the change in their own lives from the practice of yoga and who see themselves teaching others. The problem is, there are so many students who are now certified instructors from all of these trainings (with more and more getting certified every month) that cities are over-saturated with instructors and there are no teaching jobs to be found. Now, people are clamoring to own the right to teach yoga to every company in the city (and then parcel out a minimal amount to the teachers who are actually teaching the classes)!
My teacher, David, who recently won the “Best of Boston” award (twice) for the best yoga teacher in Boston admitted in class on Sunday, that he has been avoiding doing forward folding postures, which are very introverted and introspective poses, in his own practice recently, because for him, they mean that he has to face all of the struggles that he has had to overcome to get to where he is today- the owner of the largest yoga studio in Boston with thirty teachers on the payroll, eight bodyworkers, and 50 work study students, not knowing if he will be able to keep this all going on a month to month basis. He said that when he looks out, he sees all of the bright, shiny people that make up this community that he has built, but when he is forced to go inside of himself, he faces all of the fear and adversity that lies behind it.
Again, I feel stunned and saddened by this fact. In every class that I take from him, I see how much good he is putting out into the world- positively affecting the way people live their everyday lives. He puts his entire heart and soul into what he does, and he offers the world something unique and something that is very much needed. His 200 hour teacher training was one of the most transformational experiences of my entire life.
Why is this world we live in so out of balance? Why are the people who are doing the most affecting work not able to survive while countless others are getting rich from greed and dishonest practices?
Something has to start changing. We need to start giving back to and supporting the people who positively affect our lives and make sure that they can fully take care of themselves so that they can continue to provide this important, life changing work.


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