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Yoga teachers are living the dream. But are they making a living?

yoga teacher salaries

Most yoga teachers are living the dream. For one, they love their jobs. (And enjoy excellent karma.) But are they making a living? In many cases, the answer is no.

We interviewed nearly a dozen mid-career yogis to understand if this demanding profession allows its devoted, do-gooder practitioners to pay the bills.

For salary standards, first we tapped Ava Taylor, the founder of YAMA Talent, the first-ever yoga talent agency. Taylor’s stable of super-established and highly credentialed yogis earn anywhere from $40K to $400K. While the salary range is huge, “most yoga teachers in New York can expect to make $35K or $40K,” Taylor says. “Even if you become a really popular instructor, with 50 people in your class regularly.”

“Teaching yoga is an amazing job,” says a popular instructor at trendy downtown yoga studio (whose name we’ll keep private, along with the rest of our sources). “But it isn’t easy to reach financial solvency. It’s awesome if you have a rich husband or a trust fund—I have neither, but I’ve met many teachers who do.”

Teacher trainings, workshops, and yoga retreats are some of the ways most yoga teachers earn additional income. And for the superstars—of which there are maybe a dozen or so—there are products such as DVDs, endorsement deals, and the like.

“I make just barely enough to live alone in Brooklyn, pay for health insurance, and feed myself,” says a yoga teacher with seven years experience and a notable following. Her situation is common to most we chatted with. “There’s nothing extra to sock away, so I fear having to take days off due to illness,” she says.

what do yoga teachers get paid

Most top yoga teachers in New York City get paid in good karma rather than commensurate wages, we found

While most yoga teachers prioritize their love for the work over financial solvency, at least in the short term, some can’t help but make plans for the future. “I love what I do, but can’t imagine it allowing me to save for retirement or to buy a home or to raise a family,” says the trendy-studio teacher. “I’m in school to enter another line of work in several years.”

Traditional employment terms aren’t common—like salaries. Yoga teachers typically get a flat rate and some get a little commission for every student that shows up. And to work the number of hours needed, most teachers teach at two or more studios.

A full-time yoga teacher at Equinox since 2002 says there are literal benefits from working outside the studio scene. “Having health insurance is a nice perk, considering that yoga studios don’t offer this benefit… and I feel very blessed to be part of the yoga community at the club,” she says.

While in some professions years on the job can mean pay raises for experience, that’s not necessarily the case for yogis. “In our Jivamukti training they always said to have a second job, and they weren’t kidding. I know a lot of yoga teachers who also tend bar,” says a Brooklyn-based yogi with more than a decade of teaching experience.

And most instructors agree that group classes alone don’t cut it. Private yoga classes, which can pay $100-150, help tremendously. “If I didn’t have privates,” says a New York yogi, “I just wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.” —Melisse Gelula and Alexia Brue

 

24 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. December 19th, 2011 at 9:50 am

    [...] • Are yoga teachers making a living? (Well + Good) [...]

  2. December 19th, 2011 at 10:49 am

    I made a living as a self-employed yoga instructor for over a decade before I opened a center in Brooklyn four years ago. Its not easy but can be done. Definitely a modest lifestyle. I wrote a series of essays chronicling my process. In particular, “Financial Realities and Occupational Hazards” and “Making of a Yoga Therapy Center.” They can be read here: http://yogijbrown.com/essays/

  3. December 19th, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Thanks for this great article. First time I’ve seen actual salary ranges for NYC yoga teachers. Very helpful info that is not well publicized, particularly not by studios who have teacher training programs.

  4. December 19th, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    This very question has been burning on my mind! Thank you for this story.

  5. December 19th, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    My teacher (Mokshapriya Shakti) always says “you cannot make a living teaching yoga”, and she is correct. Unless the teacher becomes a “celebrity” yoga teacher and begins getting endorsements, or selling products, its not likely a person could support themselves long term (at least not in NY) soley as a yoga teacher. Once the merchandising and “branding” is brought in, the income is no longer derived from actually teaching yoga..the yoga then becomes the bridge to another source of income. I recently opened a studio and thats an even harder way to go about making a living.

  6. December 19th, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    [...] • Are yoga teachers making a living? (Well + Good) [...]

  7. December 19th, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    What an interesting article. It’s really too bad. I wonder if the same is true for those who call themselves “meditation” teachers and the same for Reiki practitioners.

  8. December 19th, 2011 at 3:41 pm

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  9. December 19th, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    I agree with Jason Brown. It’s not easy to make a living, but it can be done: I did it for almost a decade, first in South Africa, then starting again from scratch in Melbourne.

    I’ve branched out a bit now, which has helped, but I found it very useful to look at the hours one works: you can’t realistically teach yoga eight hours a day, but you could probably do four or five without burning out. When I was doing that, split between running classes at a community centre, corporate and private clients (all of whom I charged next to nothing!) I was making an OK, if modest, living. I could live alone in the inner city (and Melbourne has expensive rents), buy food, travel. But not save, it’s true.

    I pay the teachers who work for me now in my corporate yoga business as generously as I can because I understand how tight money can be as a yoga teacher!

  10. December 20th, 2011 at 3:35 am

    Yoga is not a business. Yoga – a way of life on Earth. When your parents taught you to live, they took the money with you?

  11. December 20th, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Great article! I often wondered if yoga instructors have the same challenges as I do as a Pilates instructor. We love what we do and then money is an after thought and very rarely discussed. I found working full time lead to a lack of creativity and being burnt out! The more discussion about pay the better!

  12. December 20th, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    I’m sad to hear that teachers who teach 50 students in a class can’t make a living. This indicates to me that there’s something seriously wrong with the studio system. Where I live I can make twice as much renting an outside space and teaching 15 students than a studio teacher can with 60 people crammed into a space mat to mat (not the ideal teaching situation IMO).

  13. December 20th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    There are so many variables when it comes to whether a teacher is making a living or not. Sometimes it is a matter of balancing their passion with some business skills, like money management, negotiating all that non-fun stuff. Or, it could be that the teacher needs to find a new studio, open up their own studio or get creative with how and where they teach. One instructor story I always enjoy is Mitzi Connell. She teaches at Museums and other neat semi-public space. She even pairs yoga with wine. Her balance of business and her passion as made her a career even in a small town of Huntsville Alabama.

  14. December 20th, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    [...] recent Well+Good NYC article has some interesting insight on the topic. A quote from Ava Taylor, founder of YAMA, the premier [...]

  15. December 20th, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    I’ve been teaching vinyasa yoga in NYC for over 12 years, but even when there’s been plenty of private students and jam-packed classes—I’ve never been paid per student like in some studios—I’ve still had to work other jobs just to pay the rent (massage therapy on wall street, editorial work, odd jobs, etc). Private work comes and goes; I lost all my private students to 9-11, for example. (Don’t worry, they survived, but some left the city and some just dropped the yoga.) What I want to say though is that I’m seeing a trend of neighborhoods packed with an over-abundance of studios, and those studios offering yoga at very cheap prices. From what I’ve heard, they don’t pay their teachers well. This is for one, not cool, and also leads to teachers overworking and therefor not teaching the best class they can teach because they have three or four other classes that day. It also means they aren’t making enough money to continue their education if they want to, which would limit how much they can truly offer to their students. In my initial trainings, one of the guest teachers was Iyengar Yoga instructor Kevin Gardiner and he said that you weren’t really a teacher until you had at least 10 years experience. At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant, but now I get it. After 12 years of continuous teaching, study and practice, I still don’t think I’ve learned and experienced all that I need to to fully offer yoga’s benefits to students. It just keeps deepening and getting more subtle and rich. I’d hate to think that the cheapening of yoga through cut-throat pricing is keeping teachers from being able to pay the rent and continue to train and study.

  16. December 21st, 2011 at 6:03 am

    [...] Well+Good NYC published a very brave post this weekend that should be required reading for anyone interested in pursuing a yoga teacher training program. I believe it is the first and only article of its kind to publish actual salary ranges for yoga teachers in New York City. [...]

  17. December 21st, 2011 at 6:50 am

    [...] is also a skill, a talent, and SHOULD BE a viable career choice.  And as a recent article suggest, maybe we are not entirely there yet, but thanks to people like my friend above and the woman i’m about to introduce below – [...]

  18. December 30th, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    [...] Most yoga teachers will tell you they love what they do, except for one thing. Well + Good investigated to find out if they are actually making a living. [...]

  19. May 2nd, 2012 at 6:31 am

    [...] just launched this month, understands the hip New York yogi, from her chic sense of style to her likely limited budget.So we’re pairing the designs with other yoga-inspired brands with heftier price tags for a [...]

  20. November 30th, 2012 at 3:50 am

    “If I didn’t have privates,” says a New York yogi, “I just wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.”

    That is too funny! Me and my dirty mind…hahahaha! Sigh.

  21. March 14th, 2013 at 1:03 am

    [...] agency told the website Well+Good that while established New York yogis can earn up to $400,000, many teachers make around $35,000 or $40,000. Most instructors Manuelian knows have at least one other gig, she says: “They do massage [...]

  22. October 18th, 2013 at 10:15 am

    […] Yoga Teachers Are Living The Dream. But Are They Making a Living? | Well and Good NYC […]

  23. February 1st, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    Can anyone comment on what a private, small to mid-sized studio owner would make a year??

  24. April 15th, 2014 at 4:29 am

    Hi looking for to work as a yoga teacher.

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