Yoga Business

Can You Earn a Living as a Yoga Teacher?

With everybody seemingly into yoga, it naturally follows that yoga teachers around the world must be thriving right about now, right? Hm, unfortunately, no.

Although most yoga instructors would love to earn a living with yoga, very few of them are actually able to make it happen.

Why is it so hard to make it as a yoga professional? Is it even possible? Yes, of course it is!

Just so you know: I’m not a yoga teacher. I am a cofounder at YogaTrail, where our main mission is to help yoga teachers manage and grow their business. And in my role as CEO (whoohoo!), I’ve spoken with over a thousand yoga teachers to understand their struggles and learn about all the tricks and methods they use to help them do what they do. All around the world.

I’ve watched a number of yoga teachers evolve from just starting out after completing their first teacher training, to teaching consistently jam-packed classes at multiple venues, then leading workshops and international retreats, and even going on to launch their own yoga studio. But, I’ve also seen some instructors run themselves ragged with unsustainable teaching schedules that never provide them with enough income to live on. Sometimes, this can even lead to “burnout” and abandonment of the teaching path altogether. A tragedy!

This article will give you a birds-eye view of what it takes to build a sustainable, rewarding career as a yoga professional. Don’t be scared, this won’t be overwhelming. Hopefully, it will be inspiring!

The Market is Huge

An astounding 15% of US adults practice yoga today, and there are an estimated 300 million yogis worldwide. Sure, not all of these people are going to classes every week, and many people do like to practice on their own… but it’s undeniable: yoga is ‘booming’.

Yoga is Popular

Last year, yogis spent $6 billion on yoga classes in the States, and much more than that in Europe, Asia, Latin America… and that’s just the money going into classes.

On top of that, consider all the workshops, retreats, and the (massive) yoga teacher training market — it’s pretty safe to say that more than $50 billion are changing hands from “yoga consumers” to yoga providers every year.

This in turn means that, in principle at least, it should certainly be possible to earn a living as a yoga professional. There are only about 100,000 yoga teachers in the US, and perhaps a million teachers on the planet. So if the money being spent on classes were equally divided among all teachers, everybody would be earning very good money — definitely enough to support not only yourself, but a family too!

But, all that treasure is not being divided equally.

Most Yoga Teachers Are Not Earning a Living with Yoga

A 2016 YogaTrail Global Survey of ~5,000 teachers revealed that for the vast majority of teachers, their yoga does not provide them with their primary source of income.

YogaTrail Global Teacher Survey 2016: “How much do you earn from teaching yoga?”

And sadly, earning a living with yoga is not only hard — it’s getting harder. Because, as yoga has become really popular, it seems that teaching yoga has grown to be very popular too… and teacher training programs keep cranking out thousands of new teachers every month.

They say that for every existing yoga teacher, there are two in training… and that’s a little scary!

So Should You Give Up?

Do these sobering statistics mean you should just forget about pursuing your passion as a full-time career? Absolutely not. Don’t give up!

If you’re determined, you can earn a good living as a yoga teacher. It’s not a matter of luck, and it won’t just happen by itself. It will require a little extra effort on your part but at the same time, it really isn’t as difficult as you imagine. 

With just a few adjustments to your perspective, adopting some good habits, and with the help of some free and easy-to-use tools, you can become a pretty successful yoga professional in a relatively short time.

Obviously, being a good teacher, knowing your stuff, and caring about your students and your work are prerequisites. Assuming you have these basics working for you, you can build a very rewarding career as a yoga teacher.

Yes you can! Here’s how:

1. See Your Teaching as a Business

For a lot of yogis, ‘money’ is a dirty word. Some even think that you’re not really supposed to earn a real income by teaching yoga. Like a starving artist, you should just share your yoga knowledge out of love.

OK, for some teachers, that works. Their yoga teaching is only a ‘part-time passion’, and they’ve got other jobs (or they’re financially independent somehow). They never expected yoga to provide them with abundance, and they’re totally fine with that.

You probably didn’t become a yoga teacher to make a lot of money either, right? No, of course not — you wanted to help people live happier and healthier lives, and bring yoga to those who need it.

However: we all have to eat. Fact is, most of the teachers on YogaTrail say they really would like to earn a living with their yoga. And not have to wait tables or work in an office.

Now, there’s a fundamental difference between working in an office and teaching yoga. No, no, it’s not that ‘one sucks, the other is awesome’. Plenty of office workers really love what they do and happily show up for work every day. No, the fundamental difference is: yoga teachers are entrepreneurs, while office workers are not.

In almost every country in the world, yoga teachers usually are independent freelancers who teach in many different places and situations. So by definition, they’re entrepreneurs. And as such, they should understand that being successful is very much a matter of being resourceful and ‘business-minded’. And not just about showing up for work, like an employee.

Unfortunately, most yoga teachers have terrible business sense. “Marketing? What’s that?” they wonder.

Many yoga teachers tend to sell themselves short, if they ‘sell’ themselves at all. They’re shy about getting paid, or sometimes even ashamed to ask for fair compensation. They don’t really negotiate with studios about rates, and they don’t really have the ambition to ‘build a business’. In fact, that’s another word that makes many people want to run away.

Does this sound like you? If so, don’t worry, it’s easy to change. And it doesn’t mean that you have to change who you are. It’s only a matter looking at things from a different perspective.

There’s also a silver lining to this state of affairs: in a world where yoga teachers are bad at ‘businessy things’, it won’t take much for you to stand out. All you have to do is to regard your teaching self and what you do as something that’s valuable. Something that people expect to pay for.

In short, you must see your teaching as a business. I’m not saying that it’s all it is — just that ‘business’ is an (important) aspect of your yoga. OK?

Yes, there are thousands of yoga teachers who are willing to work for free or next to nothing (usually in order to get started and make a name for themselves). And if you’re a new teacher, that might be something you have to go through yourself, too. But it’s only temporary!

Once you have some experience and have developed your own personal style, people will be more than happy to pay you for your knowledge and for your energy. And ‘people’ here is a very broad term: it means studio owners, students in your classes, companies, private clients, online fans, retreat organizers, teacher training programs, clothing brands that want to be associated with you.

There are lots of opportunities for you out there. So after step #1, here’s the second step:

2. Be Open to Opportunities

Once you see yourself as an entrepreneur, you will start to think like one. And what does that mean?

Entrepreneurs see everything around them through a weird mental filter. Reading about a new health trend in a magazine, or hearing about a new company moving into town, even just passing what looks like a new hotel while riding on a bus, an entrepreneur will be asking themselves: “is there an opportunity here?” Often, there is. And just by being on the lookout for them, opportunities will start to present themselves to you. All the time, everywhere.

No, this doesn’t mean that you should be visualizing dollar signs when you’re chatting with your neighbour. Or handing out your business card at the scene of an accident where someone got hurt. That would be very wrong… Being open to opportunities doesn’t mean being sleazy, or seeking ways to exploit people — it just means being open to the idea that situations might be constantly manifesting where your yoga could genuinely make life better for others and for yourself.

For example: that new hotel you just passed on the bus — maybe they’d like to have a yoga teacher on call? Then they could offer special wellness services to their guests. This would help them provide guests with a top-notch experience, and attract some new clients, too. And it could enable travellers to practice yoga while they’re on the road (or, even better, discover yoga for the first time!).

For you of course, being on call at a hotel will help you to connect with new clients on a regular basis. It’s “win-win-win”. So while your bus is passing that hotel, you might just look it up on your phone. Find their contact info, and send them a brief message to introduce yourself and let them know about your availability. That’s it! Simple. See how that works?

If they don’t reply, or say “no, thanks”, it doesn’t matter — you didn’t invest too much effort, did you? And a little failure is an important lesson for entrepreneurs.

There are literally dozens opportunities of various kinds all around you, right now.

The traditional picture for yoga instructors is that they teach yoga classes in dedicated yoga studios, but those gigs are not the easiest ones to get, and they’re often not the most financially rewarding jobs either.

Did you know that most yoga classes don’t happen in studios? In the latest Yoga in America survey, 4 out of 5 yogis say they’ve practiced yoga outside of a studio in the last year. In fact, the majority (55%) of yoga practitioners have never practiced yoga in a yoga studio at all — ever!

You can teach in gyms, of course. But you can also lead classes in companies (corporate yoga), in retirement homes (senior yoga), in schools and kinder gardens (yoga for kids), at weddings…  the fact is, lots of organizations and groups in your town would love to hire a nice yoga teacher to lead classes for them regularly.

At some point, you can also organize your own yoga classes. If you have a good student following, you don’t need a studio or other venue that supplies the clients; you just need some kind of location, and your yogis can bring their own mats. You can easily find suitable and maybe even unique venues to rent (or use for free); think about art galleries, co-working spaces, community centers, churches — even just a patch of grass in a park.

Lastly, know this: teaching on-the-ground classes is only one of the many ways that yoga professionals do what they do. The truth is that for the more successful yoga teachers, the income they earn from teaching live classes contributes only a tiny fraction of their bottom line.

Asides from normal classes, you can be involved in workshops and special events such as festivals, retreats, teacher trainings; you can also produce yoga videos and online courses, get endorsement deals with brands, you can write e-books, or even sell yoga-related merchandise… the variety of ways that your yoga knowledge can contribute to your income is nearly limitless.

However, many of these ‘other’ kinds of opportunities aren’t viable until you’ve paid your dues, taught lots of classes, and built up a decent following of students. And that leads us to step #3, which is the most important one:

3. Appreciate What You Have

The ‘new opportunities’ described above can get you going as a yoga teacher… but actually, they’re not the thing that will take you where you really want to be. Once you have a little traction, by far the biggest opportunity for you out there isn’t ‘out there’ at all — it’s staring you in the face on a regular basis. I’m talking about your existing students, of course!

The yogis who know you already, and who love your teaching are the key to your success as a yoga teacher.

Don’t believe it? Think back to the last class you taught: how many new faces did you see there for the first time? Not many, I bet.

You see, yoga teachers are not like hotels, taxis, or clothing stores; you’re more like a doctor or a local bar, which is to say: almost all of your business is ‘repeat business’. And for that reason, doing well (i.e. having lots of people show up for class) is not so much about attracting new clients. Those are rare. For you, it’s all about your existing clients.

Fact: unless they’re traveling (or they’re totally new to yoga), yogis usually aren’t looking for a new yoga teacher. They’ve got teachers that they love already! And this is why connecting with a new first-time client is difficult. Retaining clients, and driving repeat business is much, much easier.

You want to see lots of people in your classes, yes? But how to fill those empty spaces? Well, it’s simple logic: if most people coming to a class are yogis who came to your class before, it stands to reason that most people who are not coming to class (but could be) are also yogis who came before. The question is: why didn’t they come?

Who knows? Maybe they didn’t feel like doing yoga on that day. Maybe they just weren’t even thinking about yoga. Or maybe, they didn’t even know that your class was happening! Whatever the reason, you actually have a direct influence on it.

It’s up to you to get your yogis to show up. Inspire them, motivate and encourage them, and above all, make sure that everyone knows when and where you’re teaching. If you do these things, your life (as a yoga teacher) will be good.

With a solid base of loyal and engaged students, things will get a lot easier:

  • The classes you teach will pay you more (because they’ll be full)
  • You’ll be able to organize your own classes outside of studios (knowing that people will come)
  • You can run successful workshops and retreats, and get people signing up (without having to do much marketing)
  • You’ll enjoy a steady stream of people wanting to book private lessons with you, or subscribing to your online content
  • You can even leverage your followers and engage them to bring in new clients for you!

One quick note about ‘followers’: we’re not talking “accounts following your Instagram account”, or “fans liking your Facebook page”. Social media is mostly useless. For a yoga teacher, ‘followers’ are real people who care about what’s happening with you, who will come to your classes, and who will sign up for your events. 

To build and nurture a good following, you need to do a little more than just show up to teach classes. Go the extra mile, and work a little smarter. Nothing major — you just need a few good (new) habits.

Small stuff like learning the names of your students, talking to people before and after class, and making sure to always get your yogis’ contact information. For example, after class, you can use the YogaTrail app on your phone to add any new faces you see to your student list.

It should be your priority to nurture and grow this list. It will let you reach your yogis when you need to (like when you start teaching at a new location, or at a different time, or you’re subbing somewhere, or you have an upcoming workshop, etc).

You can maintain your list in an Excel spreadsheet or some other software like Mailchimp (which lets you send gorgeous newsletters). I recommend YogaTrail (of course!), because it’s the surest and easiest way to keep your students in the loop about your schedule and other updates. But whatever you choose: stop using pen and paper, and don’t rely on Facebook to communicate with your yogis — it doesn’t work.

Yes, You Can

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that it’s possible to not only earn a living as a yoga professional, but maybe even a good living. That it won’t require you to have super-natural people skills, or to become someone you’re not, or to do things that you really don’t want to do.

Maybe you thought that being a yoga teacher mostly involved standing in front of a room of yogis and remembering the Sanskrit names of asanas… but if that’s all they told you in your teacher training, you didn’t get a complete education.

If you hate or fear ‘businessy’ things, you’re not the first, and you’re certainly not alone — but you should get over that.

Once you accept that being a yoga teacher involves a few extra things outside of actual teaching, you’ll find that your teaching can be something that’s financially sustainable. And in the long run, that is the only way you’ll be able to keep sharing yoga with the world around you.

Making it as a yoga teacher is not rocket science. It just takes an entrepreneurial mindset, some common sense, and a little bit of organisation. People just like you are making it happen for themselves all the time, and so can you. Now go forth and thrive. We’re rooting for you!

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Alex Klein

Co-founder & CEO at @YogaTrail. Entrepreneur, physicist, gymnast.
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