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.
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