For some, it’s a spiritual calling, an exercise regimen, or a lifestyle choice. But for a growing number of people in the United States, yoga is a job. It’s just not a job that happens to pay very well.
Just ask Eve, who spent eight years working as a full-time yoga instructor in New York, including seven and a half years during which she had a steady gig at one of Manhattan’s biggest studios. Eve – who asked not to be identified by her last name because she still attends classes at the studio – said she and her co-workers had to struggle in order to scrape together a livable income.
“There hasn’t been a change in the compensation structure since 1998, I would say,” she said of her former employer. “And as you know, the cost of living in New York has just continued to skyrocket.”
The per-class amount which Eve was paid depended on the number of people in the class; if nobody showed up, she didn’t earn a dime, despite the time she spent traveling to the studio. On top of that, she was required to wear the studio’s brand of yoga attire during classes, purchased with her own hard-earned cash (albeit with the help of an employee discount). But the biggest expense was the teacher training, which cost Eve $12,000 and took weeks of grueling, full-time work to complete.
“I had colleagues who put the teacher training on their credit cards and were still paying it off two years, five years later,” said Eve. She had to work as a full-time yoga instructor for about a year before she broke even.
The industry group Yoga Alliance only grants accreditation to teacher training courses which include a minimum 200 hours of instruction, but Eve’s studio required that all teachers go through a far more intensive program. She paid her future employer thousands of dollars to go to an upstate retreat, where she worked and studied from 7 am to about 10 pm, six days a week, for four weeks. When she arrived on the first day and saw the schedule, “I actually started to cry,” she told msnbc.
Not all yoga training is as costly and intensive as the one Eve attended, but in most other respects she had a fairly typical yoga teaching experience. Adri Frick, who owns the California studio Type A Yoga, said the Bay Area yoga industry is characterized by precarious, low-paying contractor gigs.
“It saves the employers because they get to evade taxation law, and so they don’t have to pay for workers comp,” she said, regarding the widespread practice of paying teachers as independent contractors. “They also just save in accounting and administrative overhead by not keeping track of a lot of the finances.”
The casual, gig-based nature of yoga teaching makes it hard to gather hard data about the profession, and estimates of its average annual salary range from $45,000 to roughly $30,000 or less. A yoga teacher’s income may vary wildly from month to month, as practitioners go on vacation or decide to stay home due to inclement weather. And on top of all that, a flood of new teachers has made the competition for teaching slots more intense than ever. In 2005, the North American Studio Alliance estimated that there were 70,000 yoga teachers in North America. But since then, yoga practice has only grown in popularity, and the number of teacher training programs has risen as a result. Continue reading >>