When I first started teaching in Marin County, California, I was broke and miserable. The cost of living is pretty tootin’ high around here so I had to move into my friend's spare bedroom, and eventually, my boyfriend's parents' house. I was exhausted from teaching (sometimes) over 6 classes a day, 7 days a week. My body hurt, I was grumpy, my bills were past due. It had to stop. This was supposed to be my dream job!
All of that changed when I sat down and realized a few basic business truths about teaching yoga as a career.
How and Where I Earn Money From Yoga
I’ve been teaching for only 5 years. I make between $4500 and $5000 a month through yoga alone. I have a second career as an acupuncturist, which blends nicely with my teaching and provides me with an expert viewpoint of anatomy, injury relief, physiology, and much more. BUT if all I did was teach yoga, I would still be financially comfortable.
These days, I make enough per class that I only teach 8 classes a week. I run a few special events/workshops a month, which are my big money makers, and I teach a couple of private sessions a month for beginner students or special events. I also do the email marketing and some social media campaigning for my studio, and I write for a superb online yoga publication! Each year, I help out on teacher trainings and the occasional retreat.
I make more money teaching in this way than I ever did plastering Instagram and counting "likes" obsessively with a self-loathing pit in my stomach, and I am much, much happier not running all over town like a crazy person to 7 different studios, 7 days a week.
What I Learned and How You Can Up Your Pay Scale Quickly
I really struggled with both finances and exhaustion in the first year and a half of teaching. I finally connected with my teachers for advice, and as it turned out, I had more than a few misconceptions about being a yoga teacher.
1. Always Negotiate Your Pay
My misconception: I didn’t think that yoga teachers could negotiate their starting wage, or got “raises.” I thought teachers just got more “per mat” dollars if they grew their class sizes.
If you don’t know the pay scale in your area—find out. The starting wage for brand new yoga teachers here is $35 at a gym or small studio, and $45 at a more established yoga studio. Experienced teachers, or teachers with additional skill sets and training, can expect between $50 and $75 per class.
If you stay with a studio long enough, are open to be all over their schedule and media campaigns, or have a big following, you will be offered or can negotiate $100 or more per class.
It's not about how long you've been teaching. It is about how hard you work and what you have to offer.
Some places add on a 'per mat' scale that ranges from $1-3 per mat after 10 as incentive to grow your class sizes yourself.
I had no idea that this pay scale existed in my area or that we could negotiate pay, so I started teaching at $30 per class at a gym, and $45 at a studio with a low per mat incentive. I was so happy to be teaching at all that I didn’t advocate for myself. As such, I was broke, hungry, and needed to teach a lot of classes per day to make ends meet.
What I did later was use my knowledge as an acupuncturist, my writing ability, and my additional trainings as a Yin Yoga teacher and a Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga teacher to negotiate a wage.
If you have any additional skills, use them to negotiate better pay per class. It’s not greedy, it’s not "going against your path" as a yoga teacher. It’s what fills your fridge and pays your bills and ultimately, it enables you to teach. So honor your needs.
2. Train Up and Speak Up!
My misconception: I didn’t think my previous training as an acupuncturist had anything to do with my teaching, and I didn't see the point in spending what little money I had on more training hours.
Understand that your 200-hour YTT is the absolute bare minimum. You need more. These extra hours and certifications nourish your hunger for yoga, and they give you your edge. They make you stand out—especially if you plan to teach in a saturated area like mine. It shows studio owners and students that you have spent time refining your teaching skills and learning more about your field. If nothing else, take anatomy classes, attend content-specific workshops, and become great at confidently assisting.
You can also use the things you were good at before being a yoga teacher, like email marketing, social media management, having a keen eye for retail trends, etc. then put it all in your bio and on your resume, and tell everyone—at every studio and gym—even just in passing.
It sounds obvious, but...
If you don’t announce your strengths as a teacher, no one will know!
And your bosses want to know—trust me. They will use it to market their business, just like you should use it to spread the word about what you do.
Personally, my deep knowledge of the body is the most important part of my teaching. I finally recognized it as my strength when a student pointed it out to a studio owner out of town. That owner offered me a teaching gig on the spot for twice what I was being paid at home!
A few weeks later, I had refreshed all my bios at every place I taught at. Within months, my classes had grown enormously as students began talking to each other about how "if you have an injury, you should go to Amber's classes because she knows the anatomy of the body so well."
I got a raise at a few of the studios I worked at and was able to say goodbye to the places that couldn't meet my new minimum requirement.
3. Be Reliable Outside The Classroom
My Misconception: I thought my job was to teach yoga and that was it. It's not. It's so much more.
Studios reward based on how much their students like you. How many of your events do they attend? How frequently do they reappear in your classroom? What is the general word on the street about your teaching?
I noticed that the teachers who had fuller classes (and therefore, were making more money) were not just teaching and leaving. They showed up early and helped to check people in or chatted at the water station. They learnt names. They stayed back after class and offered fresh towels to sweaty students.
When asked, they gave their opinion on which leggings and mats were their favorite. They mopped the floor while chatting with students about the eight limbs. They became friends with the students and other employees. They simply became a bigger part of that studio’s community.
This works for your yogi heart in HUGE ways.
It also works for your bank account in a few ways. The more present you are at a space you teach at (in time and friendliness), the more students will take your classes. More students = more per-mat dollars on your paycheck, AND it also makes your boss more inclined to give you that raise you asked for.
Showing whole-hearted commitment to your yoga space makes you more dependable for your students and your studio.
The more dependable you are, the more dependable your paycheck will be.
Plus if you are already on site, your boss will likely give you back-to-back classes and suddenly you no longer have to spend precious time and money driving across town. Having back-to-back classes means you can ask for an admin rate in-between and hang out doing other stuff for the studio. Example: I do the email marketing and another co-worker does the retail ordering between her classes—both wonderful items to put on the resume for future negotiating.
I have taught almost daily at the same studio for 5 years now. I know not just my students' names, but the names and preferences of the students taking a class in the room next to mine. If a teacher gets sick, I sub for them. If a student has questions, I sit with them. If a front desk person needs help checking in, I do it.
As a result of my consistency and commitment, I am rewarded generously with love, but also with that green stuff that pays my bills.
4. You're Not Just a Teacher. Be An Entrepreneur.
My misconception: I thought I had to be physically present and teaching yoga in order to earn money as a yoga teacher.
When I burned out and needed to take a month off of teaching, I got super creative with how to make money. There are more ways to earn cash teaching yoga than simply adding classes.
Some tidbits that I do between classes include:
- Pulling together all the yoga newsletters and email blasts at my studio. I put effort into learning how to use email marketing programs by taking tutorials.
- Online yoga classes. I did this for a while and earned a pretty penny.
- I do social media and very basic work-from-home admin work for studios too.
- I link my workshops to well-known or local yoga brands and create affiliations that help me market my events without me being present. These events are my biggest paying items all year. These same brands will sometimes supply clickable buttons to put on your website so you get royalties from purchases made through that button. You can do pop up trunk sales via this too. If you eventually become a brand ambassador, you often get the same benefit with Instagram discount codes too.
- You could write for your favorite online yoga publication (ehem—Thanks DOYOU!)
- Mentoring. If you are an experienced teacher, use your experience in the field to mentor someone that is struggling. That is part of teaching yoga!
5. Ask For Help
My Misconception: I thought it was me against the world. And I was losing.
Studio owners do not want their staff to be unhappy or struggling. Unhappy teachers leads to a diminished enthusiasm for teaching, which means that the business owners' "product" has gone bad. They want you to feel inspired and alive. So talk to them—they are yogis too. Let them help you.
Some of them will even invest in you by putting you through more training so you can eventually do your own events or trainings for them. This is an awesome opportunity and it has happened for many of my fellow teachers.
Also, find a mentor. Talk to someone who has been there and done that, in your city. I got advice from several of my teachers before I came up with a solid plan for what I was going to do about the mess I was in. If I hadn’t then, I never would have continued teaching.
I am a driven, passionate, and committed gal when it comes to this yoga stuff, that's why I didn’t give up when I hit rock bottom in the financial yoga world. Instead, I implemented these ideas daily, and with a few tweaks, I managed to go from broke and unable to pay rent, to completely financially independent and comfortable—all while remaining small scale and local.
If I can do it, so can you!
Image credit: Drinie Aguilar