yoga economics: a student’s perspective

This post is an email I received from a devoted reader. his thoughts, his opinion, your food for thought…

“I was interested in, and moved by, your posts on teaching. I hesitated to respond on the site ’cause as you know I’m a student, not a yoga teacher. But even though I am an off-the-charts creative artist type I have labored in the upper echelons of the corporate world long enough to have picked up plenty of business smarts by osmosis, and so I often wonder how it is that yoga in America has become such a lose/lose proposition – economically.

Teachers, unless they own the studio they teach in, make a meager income. And as you say, elite teachers usually do stop teaching led classes at some point if they can (Tias LIttle is a recent high profile example; the great Richard Freeman still does, but he does own the studio and certainly makes most of his income from TT’s and DVD/CD sales). On the student end, to take Boulder, where we lived until just recently, as an example, it is very expensive to be a serious student: $150 a month for an “unlimited” membership, on average, at a good studio, or you might get your per class cost down to $11-12 if you buy the costliest punch card. So for us as a couple taking 3 classes a week $66 a week or $264 a month for steady instruction – plus workshops or trainings several times a year.

The most expensive of the many, many health clubs in Boulder costs $60-80 a month for a couple’s membership and while there are lots of issues with “health club yoga” the fact of the matter is that nearly all of the top teachers in Boulder do teach in those clubs – it is a necessity to make ends meet and offers the kind of predictable income that teaching at the yoga studios does not.

It is just heartbreaking as sincere students to show up at a class in, say, summer when studios in Boulder are slowest and be 2 of 3-4 people at a class to be taught by a teacher with 30 years of experience and many trips to India under her belt, knowing she will net $18-24 for nearly two hours of her time. We offer dana on top (invariably refused), profuse thanks…..and meanwhile Bikrams and Core Power across town are jammed. And this is in one of the meccas of meccas. Yoga Workshop (Richard’s place) would probably be more popular, but with him lecturing on impermanence and death, on how the body is only a vehicle, on confronting our kleshas through the knots in our body-minds – in short, ’cause he and the others there are guilty of teaching and praticing actual yoga, many come once and then go where there’s music and a “real” workout.

I don’t know the solution. For us as people who chose to live cheaply in order to have more time for yoga and meditation practice it has come down to spending our limited funds on periodic private classes with a teacher well-schooled in the later teachings of Krishnamacharya plus periodic weekend and longer immersions. Led classes are now an occasional but much-appreciated luxury for us; we have had to develop a personal practice. That maturing is good, but I’d be lying if we said we didn’t miss the group energy and sangha that comes with more times together. But as you (and Desikachar and others) point out yoga was traditionally taught with a single student, or small handful, sitting at the feet of one teacher, with students and teacher both giving totally of themselves. Maybe that’s the only model that’s meant to endure.”

Thanks, K, for being such a loyal reader of this blog and for sharing your thoughts. much metta to you….peace, love, and hugs.

I know through my site meter that many of you have read my latest posts on yoga teacher pay and gratitude. a few of you have commented and I would be interested to read more of your thoughts on those topics and on this post, from both students’ and teachers’ perspectives.

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7 thoughts on “yoga economics: a student’s perspective

  1. As an opinionated student who doesn’t hesitate to respond on site…I really can’t afford all the yoga classes I go to–and, if I were really going to be the serious student I’d like to be, I’d need to devote quite a bit more time and money–much less the retreats…and I’m planning another one for the end of October…and yet, the teachers I shell out the cash to are incredibly dedicated people who are struggling to get by just like I am…so that, essentially, you’ve got students going broke paying teachers who are also going broke. I guess it’s inherent in our consumerist society–this computer I’m typing on, what I pay for the cable modem that allows me to be on-line so that I can visit this blog, the car I’ll drive to get a new computer when I need to replace this one, the apartment where I live by myself, rather than with my extended family, the mp3 player I’m listening to as I write this…and so on, all the expensive shit that’s so “necessary”….


  2. cynic-you must have a worthy talent. most yoga teachers will barter (all of my privates are trades for massage, artwork, music lessons and food)just an idea. if you really want serious yoga, it’s a worthy option.


  3. Unfortunately it sounds like yoga teachers are in the same boat we are in as private music teachers-and no we are not all able to find bartering options,but nice idea.People pay a LOT for lessons at music school with me, and yet I take home very little and live in a low income wage.Yes I love music but the hardship of staying in this career weighs daily on my mind.I can’t afford yoga,but am going anyways.It seems a shame that those of us that may need the calming peace of meditation most in our lives often cannot take the classes.Ok rant done! Cheers all…


  4. Mmm, so interesting. Perhaps the way forward really is in a private relationship with fewer student,s and getting them to do home practice?I don’t know…Still!


  5. I’m 100% with yogaforcynics. My yoga budget threatens to drown me, financially, and the thought that my teachers are drowning too makes me sad. Where is all that money going?


  6. I've always thought of yoga as very expensive–elitist even–to charge $12 per class. It's well worth the price, I believe, but you have to be able to afford it. For a few years I paid a special rate at a corporate gym of $25 per month–a couple of their yoga teachers are quite fantastic and you could take as many classes as you like. Even assuming I go to only two classes per week there, that's an $80 value for $25. I don't really want to go back to the gym–I'd like to get deeper into studying yoga with smaller classes and more philosophy, but I don't think I can afford it. Hell, I can barely afford the $25 per month for the gym! I don't know what the answer is. It makes me sad.


  7. Oh, BOY, what a topic this is… I feel as though you have opened Pandora's box. I have practiced yoga for over 16 years and taught now for almost 3 years… I always wondered if yoga teachers make any money. Well I now know that they don't, really. I am teaching at a local health club… not great pay, but regular classes/pay and I LOVE my students. I also teach at other studios (which I LOVE) but that is on a per student basis and when only one or 2 show up, well, I still teach but know I won't make anything that day. Hopefully it covers my gas. But I teach for more than pay… it is wonderful, simply wonderful to be part of a yoga class, and especially to be blessed to lead the class. The energy is different each and every time. I also give privates but many cannot afford that. I also give workshops but that too is a luxury for most. What is the answer for me: Get a day job again.

    You have certainly given us all much to ponder…

    Namaste, love your blog, Linda. Come by and read mine if you have the chance!


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