yoga teachers are the new waiters

They say that every restaurant server in Los Angeles is an actor or actress waiting for their big break. So are yoga teachers the new wait staff?

This post over at YogaDork makes one think:

“…many aspiring teachers who hear the call will follow the dream no matter what it takes (meaning, lots of odd jobs and stretching the dollar). For some it’s not worth the stress. Caleb Asch teaches 6 classes a week, but it’s not enough to pay the bills. “The stress of not having enough to live on is a killer,” he said.

JG wrote this comment: “This quote – “The stress of not having enough to live on is a killer” – really hit home for me. I’ve been teaching full time for over five years and I’ve never made a fortune, but I always made the bills. This year has been the exception. With 30+ “one-month-intensive” YTTs in my city churning out teachers and the studios offering increasingly low pay to teachers (after all, why pay when there are people willing to teach for free?), I’m beginning to question my decision to teach, as much as I love it. 2009 may be the year I throw in the towel.”

I’ve written more than a few posts about the economics of yoga teaching and about the plethora of yoga teacher trainings in the Chicago area. The fact of the matter is that there are too many yoga teachers and not enough students, yet studios keep cranking out newbie teachers because teacher training programs pay the bills. A studio doesn’t make money teaching group classes and a yoga teacher certainly doesn’t, not when a studio owner pays a teacher anywhere from $4-$7 per student. I don’t know anyone in the real world who is willing to work 90 minutes to make $4. Yet yoga teachers are expected to and to accept it with a smile and no complaints. And if you don’t like it then you can get out because there are 10 more newly minted yoga teachers waiting to take your place, some who are more than willing to teach yoga for free just for the thrill, uh, experience. This is real world yoga stuff that Yoga Journal does not write about.

Yup, yoga teaching sure has become a funny business in this here Om-mera-ka. In fact, I had a moment last week when the thought popped into my head, “why am I doing this?” The longer I teach, the more yoga nutbars float to the surface. As a yoga teacher friend told me about the following email, “the longer we all hang around this USA, the weirder this yoga tribe is gonna get.”

I received an email with the subject line “private yoga instruction.” I receive more than a few emails like that because I have a website, but it made me suspicious because this was the entire email:

“Hello!

How much do you charge for private sessions? How long are they usually?

Thanks!”

It made me suspicious because when most people ask about private instruction they tell me where they are, what injuries or conditions they have, how they found me, what they are looking for, among other things. Their emails are not two sentences. What also made me suspicious was that it came from a [first and last name]yoga.com. I don’t want to give the name because I don’t want to give this woman any type of publicity.

I googled her name and found a very professional looking website that was, in my opinion, too slick and a bit over the top, a website that buried you with information. The young woman bills herself as “Teacher * Scholar * Consultant * Yoga * Transformation * Sustainability.”

Uh, me too.

I responded: “Why do you want to know that when you are a yoga teacher yourself and not someone in my local area looking for private yoga instruction?”

Ms. Yoga Expert immediately emailed a one sentence reply:

“I am looking to hire Yoga teachers, and gauging further inquiries and
potential offers according to responses to the questions I asked you.”

When I read that sentence I thought “yogabot.” Now is it just me or is this woman disingenuous? Why wasn’t she up front about her real intentions in the first email? Why wasn’t her subject line “yoga teachers wanted” instead of “private yoga instruction”? As far as I’m concerned, she lied and she’s dishonest. As a “scholar”, shouldn’t she know how to word an email so as not to make the person receiving the email suspicious? But what do I know? I only graduated summa cum laude so I don’t know if that makes me a scholar.

Something about the tone of her emails and even her very professional looking website made my skin crawl. I really wanted to email her back and tell her that and some other things, but of course, that would not be very yogic of me.

I don’t belong here. I need to find my own yoga tribe.

13 thoughts on “yoga teachers are the new waiters

  1. I’ve enjoyed your blog tonight, I went back and read as many posts as I could find about teaching yoga. Mostly because I want to take yoga teacher training. I’m not sure that I’d ever teach or even if I wanted to I couldn’t, at this point, afford to (daughter going to college in a year, house I love but its too big for me, single mom, and so forth). I think my main reason for wanting to take the training is that I feel a month at Kripalu would teach me far more then I will learn at my local yoga studio. Not that there is anything wrong with the studio but its an hour class as many times a week as I can get there (usually 5) different teachers each time and much of it seems to be about yoga as an exercise, although I think the teachers would be offended to hear me say that.So its disheartening to hear they are turning out teachers by the dozen. The local yoga studio I go to offers teacher training too over the course of many months but again, a whole month at Kripaul seems better to me.The posts have given me a lot to think about.best, susan

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  2. Linda I enjoy your blog and read it regularly. I find your opinions very insightful and want to share my view of the problem with yoga studios, teacher trainings, etc.:When yoga becomes a business: people focus only on the parts that can be easily sold (asana classes) and forget the rest that is just as important. For example, in this model, yoga teachers lose touch with the need for seva, or selfless action. While asanas are rarely mentioned and serve a very limited purpose, karma yoga, or selfless action, is at the heart of yoga and its benefits are limitless for those truly seeking self-realization. I believe the problem is not that there aren’t enough students and too many teachers, but that teachers are focused on the fruits and incidentally sacrifice many other important elements of yoga. Not everyone who enjoys asanas can and should quit their jobs to teach/sell yoga full time. By offering asana classes as seva or self-less service a few hours a week in the community, teachers will move further along the yoga path to liberation and also find themselves more content and peaceful with their “day job”, family life, social life, etc. Society will also benefit from more people able to access the teachings and practice of yoga.

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  3. Anonymous, I agree with you 100%For me, it comes down to walking the walk as you talk the talk. My karma yoga is teaching at a domestic violence shelter, which I’ve done for 5 years. I love it, it’s my favorite class to teach and I don’t make a dime. Frankly, if I gave up teaching, I would still teach there. Actually I think I give away a lot of my yoga more than I make money at it sometimes! Because a young former student called me for help: she has MS, is bipolar and has borderline personality disorder, and has little money. Seva, baby.

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  4. I really look forward to your thoughts on this subject since I have thought about taking yoga teacher training, not so much to teach but to learn more. I’m finding that people I know are seeing me as a yogi and, apparently, Buddhist (which is weird because I don’t call myself one, and most people I know don’t know of my blog) so I want to make sure I’m “representing” them well, and I get asked yoga questions etc a lot. I’m tending to think of taking yoga teacher training as one long, expensive, but valuable vacation. Is that weird? In any case, it’s a long way off (but I’m young yet).

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  5. Grace, you can always search “yoga teaching” on this blog and my rants, uh, posts will come up.I know many who have taken teacher trainings but have no desire to teach, they just wanted to immerse themselves in the philosophy. Of course, some trainings emphasize asana, others get more into the philosophy. you just have to try to pick the one that resonates with you. I would “interview” the teacher trainer first, which is what I did. and don’t think that just because you pay more it will be a “better” training — nothing could be further from the truth.

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  6. It always saddens me when I read these stories of the drama that happens behind the scenes in the Yoga World. I'm always left wondering why Yoga–which stands for uniting and coming together as one, as a whole–that so many teachers, it seems, go to such great extremes to separate and build boundaries. Peace & Love.

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  7. Linda, Have you ever been to any of the Sivananda Ashrams? I’ve googled them endlessly online and have been to one of their centers in Delhi, where I had a nice experience. I was wondering if you had any personal experience with them, particularly any of the ashrams in India? I’ve booked two weeks at the one in Kerala and would be interested in your insight. margaret

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  8. margart, sorry…do not have any personal experience with them….but check out Indiamike.com in their yoga forum, do a search for the ashram and you will find more than a few opinions about it!thanks for reading….

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  9. Dear Linda-Sama,I am only posting as anonymous because I have yet to set up a blog/ website… working on it. I promise I'm not a troll! I was overjoyed to find your blog a few weeks ago – your authenticity is inspiring. I am also blown away by some uncanny similarities… I too am a student of Srivatsa Ramaswami (bless his heart!); I practice & study Buddhism, and I vibe big time with and appreciate your opinions, wisdom, and experience – really, thanks. (Another crazy thing – I'll post pics on my soon to be blog later – wait until you see how crazy similar our left arm tattoos are – hummingbirds, flowers, butterfly… my jaw dropped when after reading your words, I saw your ink! 😉 I did Ramaswami's 200 hour teacher training last year – October, and I am slowly trying to find my way into teaching. I was about to start teaching at my local gym, but a hiring freeze stopped that in its tracks – maybe a blessing. Yes, it does seem that there are a zillion teachers everywhere – and the LA studios keep churning them out. (By the way, if Ms. Yoga Expert is from L.A., I have a good idea of who she is; or she's just another one… ugh.) Teaching yoga has been my calling for a long time now; or at least finding a way to be a full-time student of yoga has… but the usual self-limiting beliefs continue to challenge me. Of course I am also perplexed and repulsed by the “business of yoga,” though I do believe that the woman who is teaching the YA required business course with Ramaswami (at LMU in LA, CA), Clara Hori (Yogi Incubator) is on the right track to helping us yogis treat the business side as a yoga practice in and of itself. Still, it ain't easy. I am definitely exploring avenues of seva – hopefully I'll be teaching at a transitional (formerly homeless and or addict) community center soon. For many reasons, seva is where I am drawn first, but of course there is the reality of bills, rent, etc etc. I was lucky enough to be born into a yogi family, (I was born into SRF and began an actual asana practice with the Iyengar folks when I was 12 or so), and my practice has continued to change and grow over the years),but finding Sri T. Krishnamacharya, and eventually Ramaswami, plus a slew of other serendipitous circumstances (such as developing carpal tunnel in a job that I was doing just for health benefits, and just long enough to finish my B.A. and go back to doing massage – ha! Not with CTS, not yet anyway – can't go back to waiting tables either!), is what finally led me to save up for and take Ramaswami's training.I am so blessed to have found a teacher who offers textual & philosophical teaching as well as asana. Probably anyone reading your blog is already aware of the importance of studying yoga beyond asana alone, but I would just offer my two cents here – it is paramount! Oh, and a note about the yoga tribe here in L.A. – yeah, weird. Super weird, but I'm sure there are pockets I haven't found yet. At least I have my fellow students from Ramaswami's training, and now this blog – so, thanks again Linda! I'll post again when I have my blog rolling. I'll be reading! Namaste,Vanessa R.

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  10. Vanessa! thanks so much for reading and for commenting — your comment touched my heart.please let’s stay in touch as one devotee of Ramaswamiji to another!! I touch his feet! you are so lucky and blessed to have done his 200 hr. training.Please let me know when you start your blog and I will blogroll you here. and I want to see the tattoos! I get more ink next week.shantishantishantih!

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  11. Hi Linda!Yes, I am super lucky and blessed to have done that training. I am so grateful! So happy to stay in touch with you! I will be sure to post tatts… I'll have that blog going soon… never been big on writing for public consumption, so it's a new but exciting challenge 😉 Have fun with your new ink – that rocks!Love & light,Vanessa

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  12. Hi Linda,
    I've been teaching yoga for 12 years, traditional fitness for 25+, feel like I've paid my dues. Where I live there teacher trainings popping out too many teachers, who immediately hang out a shingle, (I think, what nerve) Personally I feel you need several years as a student before going out there messing with peoples bodies. 1-6 is just the very tip of the ice-berg. Lots of newbies, out there that seasoned teachers must compete with. Like you said, maybe it's time to move into another way to make a living. After all if you move toward enlightenment, the work does not matter, you need less from this world of form. But I agree with your recent post.

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