So You Want to Become a Yoga Teacher (part II)?
Ok. So you now have your 200/500 hour YTT diploma and you are ready to rock? You are ready to teach and hopefully make some money doing it. But how?
I moved to Berlin from Stockholm in the fall of 2009. I had only been teaching for two years, but in Sweden I was already making almost an entire living doing it. The reason I wasn't a full-time teacher was because I also wanted to write. So I had to carve out some time for working on my novel, and I was also picking up freelance journalism/translation work. I was trying to balance the two, but yoga was like a tsunami wave and it was hard not to be swept up. It was also hard for me to say no to work that was being offered. I had never in my life before had anything come easily, and now that yoga teaching did, it felt so good not to struggle, and it was flattering as well. Finally I am good at something, I thought.
I have endured a lot of rejection in my professional life.
I moved to New York to become a rock star. But while I was working on that, I needed to pay my bills. Every other rockstar wannabe I came across then, was working in the service industry. I will do that too, I thought. Problem was I didn't have the 2 years plus New York experience that most restaurants required (and in the beginning also no work permit ... ). So I got turned down for a lot of waitress jobs before I finally (armed with a fake CV) landed a (shitty) one, gained some experience, got fired and then found another job. The road to rock stardom is (not surprisingly) also shock-full of rejection. Trying to get shows, sending demos to labels, playing in front of crowds of 3 people talking loudly with their backs turned to you. I never became a rock star (but it's amazing how many yoga teachers, especially the famous ones, come from a background of performing arts).
Later, pursuing a career as a writer, I pitched and pitched great story ideas and was turned down over and over and over again. Same thing trying to sell my novel.
But the yoga thing worked.
Problem was I didn't like living in Stockholm. In fact, I couldn't stand it. And I thought, I can continue my freelance writing/translating stuff in Berlin, and I will also find some jobs teaching yoga. How hard can it be?
My German skills were minimal. I knew absolutely nobody. After a few months I decided to rent space in a yoga studio in Prenzlauer Berg for two weekly time slots. I was paying a little over €20 per slot, and that gave me access to the space (which was sweet) and all the props. The studio also put my offerings on their website and on their flyers, but essentially it was up to me to attract customers.
I have always hated self-promotion (I think nearly everyone does). I had quit Facebook shortly after moving to Berlin and I still knew very few people. And my German skills were just a little less minimal. But I enlisted an amazing photographer friend of mine to take some glamorous asana shots of myself, made some flyers for Vinyasa Flow Yoga in English ( I wasn't the only one offering this, even back then) and started distributing them around. I also begged the few friends and acquaintances I had to attend my classes. I think I kept going in that space for just over a year. At the most I probably had 11 or 12 people (like, one time!), usually 4 or 5, sometime 7 and not that rarely 2. Needless to say, I was probably pretty much paying to teach. And I did feel mega-defeated!
But then, through connections I picked up a gig teaching a group of actors rehearsing for a play. They did yoga twice a week and pay was decent. Through luck I came in contact with the Agora Collective and started to teach yoga there. I had also made more yoga teacher friends and every now and then I was picking up subs. I also ended up getting some privates through the small space in Prenzlauer Berg and, eventually, a twice-weekly gig teaching yoga at Soundcloud. I also teamed up with a company offering online yoga and shot some yoga videos (I am glad they are no longer out there because I wouldn't be able to stand behind them anymore ...)
And then, through a strange coincidence, I ended up teaching at yellow yoga, right as it started out, very modestly with 5 X 60 minute morning classes per week at the smaller space in Kreuzberg. I was there as it expanded and grew. It wan't long before I was a full-time yoga teacher for real.
In all of this I've also come to realize that there's a very definite limit to how many classes a week I can teach, before I start to feel like a yoga robot or a yoga waitress. 10 is the very maximum. But if it's insanely packed 40 plus people classes (which I don't believe in anymore) it's way less. Because it drains me.
The way that studios 'hire' you varies.
A common 'modus operandi' of many of the smaller studios here in Berlin is to rent out time slots. That's what I did when I started and what I've come around to doing now. What is included in the price varies. Sometimes just the room and the props. Sometimes web/print promotion. Sometimes a 'cut' on the studio's 10-class cards/flatrates.
If you have a strong following already, or are a Master of Self-Promotion, this is probably the most profitable option (although it will also entail the most amount of work so the hourly pay may be quite low). But also, when starting out, this may be your only option ... unless you open your own studio ... or get lucky ...
Some studios will let you invoice a flat fee per class you teach regardless of how many people show up (in my experience this is less common at studios, but usually the way it goes if you teach at offices/co-working spaces/corporations).
Mostly, studios will pay you a minimum (€10-25) and then the amount will increase depending on how many yogis you bring in. Some studios will also have a maximum, so that beyond a certain number of yogis you don't get more money.
Some (few) studios will hire you with all that entails (health insurance, vacation, sick pay).
If I were a studio owner (which I may be some day), I would never hire anyone fresh out of a YTT (and especially not a 200-hour) unless that teacher had demonstrated some extraordinary capacities. And I think that's how most studio owners feel. And by extraordinary capacities, I don't mean being able to stand on one hand with your legs in padmasana or anything like this. Because having a mean Cirque du Soleil-style practice doesn't automatically mean that you are good at teaching. But having taught many workshops for new teachers, it's shocking to me how many people graduate from YTTs with super-messy alignment in their own practice. And that's also not good. Alignment mastery is important. And this is yet another testament to how problematic these programmes are ...
I would naturally look for someone a bit older (I'm sorry but I don't believe in the 22-year old teacher), with some years of teaching experience. And I would always audition before hiring (or even before letting someone sub for me).
But yes. You do have to start somewhere. And some people have raw, natural talent for teaching and sharing. And some work extremely hard to get what they want.
As advice to a teacher starting out, make a website (because I know that studio owners want to see that). And try to present yourself honestly and with integrity. Where did you do your training? How long have you been practicing/teaching? What is your style like. Be precise. Don't try to please everyone. Do your own thing.
And as a new teacher, you can't offer experience, but maybe you can turn your class into an experience of some sort. Pairing yoga with live music or poetry? Maybe. Offering a shot of home-made Kombucha after class. Maybe.
But what can you expect financially?
Well, not much it turns out. But I also don't think most search out this 'career path' to get rich. And for most people who decide to teach after having done something else in life, after having had a salary, the plunge in pay/living standards may be the hardest hit.
There's a big part of me that feel uncomfortable even making money from this. Yoga should be readily available to everyone and anyone. But, I am not a monk living in the Himalayas. I have rent to pay. Student loans. Bills. I want to keep my prices fair. I want to be involved in charity work. But I also need to make a living.
Right now I charge €12 for a drop-in class. The room I rent fits 25 yogis (or at least that's what I cap the number of participants at). So, sometimes I have 25 yogis in one class. Let's pretend they all pay €12 (which they don't, since many have flatrates and 10-class cards which work out to a lot less per class). That's €300. For a 75 or 90 min class. Maybe you think: Highway robbery!!! But, out of that I have to pay 19% VAT. I have to pay rent for the room. I have to pay for the music I play (via spotify or itunes). I have to pay for the candles and incense I burn and for the massage lotion I use. I also come to the studio 30 min early, and stay to tidy up after. I prepare the class. I make the playlists. And sometimes only 6 or 7 people come to class. And when I'm sick and can't teach I receive no sick pay. When I go on holiday I receive no pay. I also pay my own health insurance. I also do book-keeping, update my website, design and print class cards, blog, answer emails from students.
Nope, the pay is not great. But I am my own boss. And I love love love to teach. It is a supreme privilege. I meet so many amazing people, that I learn so much from. I get to travel quite a bit (suits my restless spirit). And I don't have to spend my days sitting in a chair, staring into a computer.
I don't regret anything. This is exactly where I am meant to be.