“Can you teach a class for us? for free? I think it will help you advertise your work.”
She was calling from a wellness venue that was having an event to showcase its beautiful site and great programs. They wanted me to be one of the presenters. This was not the first time I’d been asked to teach for free and offered this “advertising your work” as an exchange.
I have been asked to teach for free many times over the course of my career (including a 3 year pro bono stint at a studio). And I often said yes because I felt like I wanted an opportunity to teach, and maybe in some peripheral way it would help my business, and I felt like I owed it to my community because I’ve been given so much from this practice and I want to give it back. I came up with so many stellar reasons to give my skills and expertise away.
But, when I’m really honest with myself about it, I think I taught for free mostly because I didn’t value my time or my energy.
In fact, I didn’t value myself very much.
I know that the yoga tradition was, perhaps for millennium, passed on teacher to student with no money exchanged – just commitment, good will, and perhaps some figs or barley.
What a lovely system!
But in today’s world, where good yoga teaching is a skill that requires time, energy and financial resources in order to become proficient, and decades to master (and where it’s hard to survive on figs and barley) it makes sense for that skill to be compensated accordingly.
And I think it’s rational and healthy to professionalize yoga teaching.
Here’s a report I saw about the mindfulness industry recently:
“…By 2024, the alternative healthcare industry—which includes meditation, massage, acupuncture, breathing exercises, yoga and tai chi, chiropractic services, and natural products—will be worth a staggering $19.9B.”
That’s a lot of money.
But who exactly is receiving a healthy percentage of that figure?
I know so many yoga teachers who are struggling to make their careers work, who are thinking about quitting and getting a “real” job, who have closed their studios, who wonder where their slice of that pie is?
There are many things to consider here including certifications, standards, yoga therapy vs. yoga teaching, insurance reimbursement, business acumen, the tradition, ideas around money, and issues of women valuing themselves and their skills and being valued by the larger culture.
But perhaps one of the most important aspects of this conversation is to acknowledge that good yoga teaching is, essentially, an antidote to so much of what ails us in western cultures. And if you are good at teaching yoga, you are a professional with a very valuable and unique skill.
We live in a world where 6 out of 10 Americans have at least one chronic disease and 4 out of 10 have two or more.
Lifestyle medicine is beginning to be recognized as the solution to the chronic conditions that plague our culture.
Yoga, as a holistic system, is perhaps the finest iteration of lifestyle medicine.
At a workshop last year I asked Harvard researcher Sat Bir Khalsa if he thinks that yoga is one solution to the chronic disease epidemic.
He said to me, “No, it’s not one solution, it is THE solution.”
So, if as yoga teachers, we hold a solution (I’ll stick to “a” for now) to the $3.4T health care crises (90% of which is spent on chronic conditions) why should we give such a precious and important skill away for free? An average physician’s salary in the U.S. is $300,000. Why shouldn’t well-trained, well-qualified, experienced yoga teachers be earning a lot more than they are? And not expected to give their skills and talents away for free?
As I mentioned above, there are many factors that are at play here. But, it has to start with a mindset shift.
We, as yoga professionals, have to stop thinking about yoga as a fitness or recreational activity akin to all the other gym classes, and start thinking about yoga as a lifestyle medicine intervention which can change the trajectory of health of whole populations.
And if you, as a yoga professional, don’t start thinking about it that way – don’t expect the powers that be will do it for you.
Thank you for this reminder . I am a new yoga teacher and only teach a few classes a week and personal train as well and trying to build my career doing both. I typically serve the older adult population.
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor, and have been incorporating yoga, meditation,ad ayurveda into my practice. To whom can we comunicate the positive impact of these wellness practices so insurance would cover participation in yoga classes thereby opening the opportunity to many more people?
Angie, you might consider contacting your state’s insurance commissioner, they have connections to law makers and hold insurance companies accountable.
Part of what worries me about how to make it in this field is where the article refers to “good” yoga teachers. I am a new yoga teacher (although I’ve practiced yoga studiously since 2001!), and I feel “imposter syndrome” and so I question if I’m “good enough.” Please advise. Thank you.
Hey Jane, please don’t be put off by that comment. If you are committed and you continue your studies, you are definitely “good enough.” I think the problem is more about people who take a 200 hour training and think that’s the end of the road (and that is a very common phenomenon unfortunately). 200 hours is really just the beginning IMHO. And everyone is new at some point so just keep doing what you are doing, you will get better and better!
YES! To all of this <3
I’ve been in the fitness and wellness industry for many years. I’ll never forget when I was working as a personal trainer for a private club my General Manager said he never offered discounts or packages for personal training at the club because he felt it discounted our work as fitness professionals. Our education, knowledge and skills are a valuble asset! I believe the same with yoga. The only time I offer a free yoga session is when I invite guests to try a class during the last week of an 8 week session or if I gift my time for a special occasion such as a birthday.
As fitness and wellness professionals we need to value ourselves and our gifts.
Thank you for the article, it was a great message.
Yes, yes, yes! Free yoga undermines your own self-worth, as well as that of everyone in the profession, driving down prices to the extent that teachers can’t justify their trainings. I’ve gotten cocky in my old age and would question: are you working for free? Are the massage therapists working for free? Is this benefitting kids w/ cancer, small animals–just your for-profit pocketbook? Act insulted as it IS an insult. I also like to tell them that my classes are highly niched and targeted and I’m not looking for “just anyone” as a student. New teachers: teaching for free will take a toll on your energy and attitude. Hopefully you did the cost-benefit analysis first and know when /what your “breakeven” is. Continue on that path and don’t let these marketeers distract you! Namaste
Love this Shaila 😂the older we get the less we put up with 👊🏻🙏🏻
Just starting my business and read your first paragraph thinking ‘Yes to grow my business’ but studying the science behind yoga and meditation takes a lot of time and commitment and yes we have a solution to heal people in many ways! So Thankyou for this, it makes me think I am not going in the wrong direction at all.
This came after a great time! I will reevaluate my fees and communication.
A great lesson for new teachers and those lacking confidence. Put your heart and soul into learning and practising your yoga ongoing. The world needs YOGA. And is willing to pay for it. We do make a difference and we deserve to be remunerated for the gift of health if we are delivering it appropriately and to the best of our ability. Great article.
I teach yoga in 3 halls in my rural area of Central British Colombia Canada. I have only charged drop in at 10$ for an hour and a half. As of this Sept., ive increased it to 12$, and have lost a few clients as a result. I pay the halls 15$ per class. I know in the larger cities such as Vancouver prices run from 18 to 20$ for 1 hour. .I feel I’m selling my self short. Your feedback will be greatly appreciated 😊I’m a 500hr +instructor , currently taking your slow subtle teacher training course. I have put a lot of money into my training .
I thin you are doing great! You are charging a rate that sounds appropriate to your area. I think it’s great to raise your rates but if someone says that they really need the $2 discount, talk to them about it. It’s possible that they do and they will keep coming. People really appreciate personal attention and they appreciate when you give discounts when they ask for it and demonstrate that they really need it. Also, I think that there are lots of ways to find more students – even in a rural area! The course I have coming out next month (which those who are taking the Subtle Yoga Revolution Online Teacher Training will receive as a new training bonus) will address making better connections with health care professionals.
I have so much admiration for yoga teachers, and agree with the idea that we should value ourselves and our time. I started teaching yoga about 7 years as I was retiring from a different career. When I started teaching I began in the studio where I trained. I started to call my teaching, Yoga for Every Body….mostly women with weight issues, and people that needed to learn how to relax and take care of their bodies. I wasn’t in it for the money, but the money was o.k….. Now I’m in my seventies and still teaching. More than half of what I do I am doing as my service to people that are under-served, and do it for free or donation of whatever you want to put in. Some classes are for women in prison…. and some for areas that along with being food deserts are also yoga deserts. I enjoy every class I teach, love every student in someway that participates in the class. I am not a saint…I enjoy teaching yoga….each class is a joy. I sometimes I feel like I am cheating or cheapening my fellow yoga teachers that need yoga teaching gigs to pay their bills, send their kids to college, and live in this world that requires money. I have created yoga converts of people who are never going to walk into yoga studio and pay $20 or even $10 for a class. I don’t think I am doing it because I don’t value myself but because I think everyone should have access to yoga, to learn breathing skills and how to manage their runaway damaging thinking. I want to see every yoga teacher make a good living. How do we provide a bigger yoga umbrella offering to people that have no extra $$$s.
It’s so tough isn’t it? I have always offered free teaching – I think I will always will. But how do you strike a balance? At some point, particularly for those of us who are making our living through yoga, you have to decide that your work is valuable. And, unfortunately, teaching for free definitely does water it down for those of us who are making a living teaching. Perhaps if you charge those who can pay and then donate that money to scholarships for teacher training, etc. that would be one way to help keep professionalizing yoga. There is a free yoga studio in Asheville, but I know how hard they push to get those who can to donate and they do okay that way. Not every model is going to work in every location, but I think we have to try to fine a balance. thanks for your comments.
Well, it’s certainly ironic that you offer a FREE online class download at the end of this article. Maybe you should read it again. 🙂
Haha, good point. Online marketing is a whole different animal of course. . .and I never said that I never do anything for free anymore. I still offer lots of free stuff, but only on my terms, not because others expect if from me. And only as it serves the bigger picture of my business and my message.
Lots of wonderful comments. This is a big issue for yoga teachers. I struggle with making enough money teaching yoga, I also have other jobs that I try to make work around my yoga teaching. I have over and over considered getting a full time job so I don’t have to piecemeal a lot of little jobs to make ends meet. I have been teaching for 8 years and want more consistent enrollment in my classes, but my love is teaching – not marketing, or building a website, or networking, or sales. When I am setting my rate, I try my best to keep it as low as I can, but if I don’t make enough $, then I will resent the time and effort I am putting into it. I have lost a couple of jobs because my rate was too high. I think the observation about yoga as fitness is correct. People don’t want to pay for fitness because I think that they think anyone can teach it. I even had one student tell me that what I was teaching was exactly what her physical therapist was telling her to do. So I joked and said, “and I only charge $15.” And her response? PT is free (because insurance covers it!) I pay out of pocket for my PT appointments and they are $200 an hour. If you never pay for your medical wellness, then you have no idea what it is costing you. Yoga is a very cheap way to stay healthy.
I agree, self-care is at the base of many good practices towards health and resilience. After my mild traumatic brain injury, I attended yoga classes at my neighborhood studio (4 block walk) 4-5 days per week. I didn’t pay per class, or per week, I was on the pay in advance thirty-day plan at Bob Vaccaro’s studio in Portsmouth, NH. That went on for four years, helping me identify the lost abilities of my brain, defining the compensations I to achieve my new ability level. The yoga culture also helped me let go of those abilities that were, post injury, outside of my ability. The more I understood and my abilities, the best I was able to provide the self-care needed for comfort.
I feel like from my experience people will pay for doctors and mainstream medicine because they don’t have to do anything. With yoga, they have work to do. It’s not as easy as show up and get a pill that (may or may not) fix the issue. Many people don’t want to hear that they could alleviate their symptoms with some changes. I have so many clients that sign up to come and then just don’t. Not because they don’t enjoy the class, not because they don’t feel better when they do their practices, but because it feels so much like work and not like just letting someone else do it for them. It’s hard. I’m not sure how to deal with that mindset but I do try! I want more than anything to inspire people to take charge of their health and their life!
I think this is a multifaceted issue. I started yoga as a transitional object after full time professional overloaded work with little exercise or self care. I had to develop a habit of practice. The first class with Claudia Cummins of Mansfield was so amazing in its effects on my nervous system that I have pursued understanding every day since. I found attending class to be challenging because there was always a distraction possible. SO I chose to become a yoga teacher to find the “nervous system answers” and to ensure that I would go to class. Then it was a continual self awareness and opportunity to learn more which fit my personal style and love of learning. I am a believer in yoga providing a means to healthy lifestyle and how do you say “life changing transformations and wellness.” My latest awareness is how the subtle yoga manages my everyday twinges and effects my whole body and supports my calm and quiet mind. Still grappling with challenge of making 20 dollars and hour for full class at Ohio Health fitness cause I chose to work there and love the students. Many have insurance that pays membership and makes a class cost as low as 0 for member and 4 an hour with a class card . So it competes with doing class otherwise which only costs 10 an hour, but that is 40 a month additional and many are retired. I find women spend less as well or control discretionary money. We have developed a number of yoga studios lately that will also provide a lesson for us all to see who survives . And then there is a least one teacher who does not charge and seems to do well with three classes that operate on donations in public space and not sure what payment to them but clearly less overhead. I think there may be tax advantage there but do not know. SO now I welcome the opportunity to look at marketing and the integrate learning from the recent marketing to health care providers as a means to confront and review my current practice. Stay tuned. I love yoga and what its given me and I love my students but it is ok to be able to pay the bills for training, books and rentals and equipment etc. Good discussion good training. Thanks
Carol Brown LPCC-S, LISW-S, E-RYT 500, CMT, CYT, CTYT