Up the workers!

Do yoga teachers need a union? By Paula Hines

In 2019, a group of yoga teachers at YogaWorks, a top yoga studio chain in America, came together to form a union. Among the reasons cited were low pay and lack of benefits, though they were clear that these concerns were not just about the YogaWorks chain, but in fact industry-wide problems.

The action of these teachers forming a union — apparently the first such yoga union in the USA — has prompted discussion in the UK too. Things are not so different here, after all. On the subject of pay for instance, I find from speaking to teachers of nearly 20 years in London that pay has more or less stayed the same in  that time. Though, as we are all too aware, the cost of living has gone up everywhere. 

When I started teaching in 2011 the average pay for a 60-minute yoga class in London at a studio or gym was £30. Now, in 2020 it is still the same. I had a period where I was very fortunate to be able to make a living solely from teaching yoga, but that has not been the case for a while now. If I was not doing other work outside of teaching, to say that I would not be able to keep a roof over my head is not an exaggeration. One of my favourite teachers no longer teaches at all and went back to work in the corporate world because of the financial challenges. I don’t take for granted that one day this might be me too.

Norman Blair (yogawithnorman.co.uk), who I studied Yin Yoga with has been a full-time teacher since 2001 and wrote in his 2019 article, ‘Let’s Talk About…’ (available to read in full on his website):

“For a lot of yoga teachers, beneath the bubbly and friendly exterior, there is exhaustion and anxiety, unhappiness and frustration. As yoga teachers, we are definitely part of the gig economy. Being self-employed means no sick pay, no holiday pay, no retirement pension, no childcare provision.”

I wonder how aware yoga students are that the teacher of their class might be living on the poverty line?

Increasingly, only people who are already financially well off or do not need to rely on an income from teaching in order to live will be teaching yoga. Given that yoga is meant to be inclusive, what does this tell us? And how many great teachers have been lost already?

Maybe it is time for a yoga union here in the UK?

Paula Hines is a London-based yoga teacher and writer. Find details of upcoming events at: ucanyoga.co.uk

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