For Love or Money
Are you getting paid enough? Or are you happy to teach just for the love of yoga? Sarah Tucker explores some of the issues facing today’s instructors
Do you teach for love or money? Or both? This is something I addressed recently when several of the yoga clubs where I teach failed to pay on time. The beginning of the year can be a time when all the big bills emerge and although delayed payment usually doesn’t matter, this time it did.
And for the first time in a long time, I focused on my financial worth. I focused on how much I was being paid. If I could teach yoga for free, I would. I feel privileged to teach and it is a joyous experience. I have always felt a little bit awkward about asking for payment, but bills need to be paid. And I want to improve my worth by adding to my portfolio of talents. All this costs money. In teacher training courses, how much you are paid is usually only given a brief mention, but it’s important because this shows how you value yourself.
Thankfully, there is now some recognition of the need for yoga instructors to be more business minded. Helpful tips such as having an up-to-date Linkedin page, using social media, creating a spreadsheet to track revenue and expenses and manage the books are all valuable. But it does not answer how yoga instructors are to value their time and expertise.
Asking for payment was addressed during the teacher training I received five years ago, where I was told of the need to value yourself. “If you do not value yourself, others won’t,” my group was told. So, although the ‘doing it for free’ idea may be worthy, society does not work that way. Money still makes the world go round, albeit frequently in the wrong way.
Disparity in payment
In researching this article, I discovered a vast disparity in payments. The average pay for a yoga instructor in the UK is just under £20 per session, which is usually an hour practice. Inner city clubs pay between £10 to £20 more than those clubs in the suburbs. It does not follow the more expensive the club, the more they pay their yoga instructors. Indeed, there are cases where the local council run clubs pay more than the independent chains.
There are great geographic disparities too. Instructors are paid more south of Watford than north of it, although this changes in Scotland and Wales, where the payment reflects the cost of living they encounter. In the cities you earn more than in the suburbs. This is also regardless of whether the practice is for 45 minutes or an hour and a half.
So, for example, instructors will be paid anything from £30 to £50 in central London, and anything from £19 to £25 in the suburbs. Areas where there is a large number of yoga instructors (Brighton, London) where supply would appear to outstrip demand, the payment per class is still around the £30 to £50 as clients are prepared to pay for experienced instructors. This can be frustrating when you have invested a lot of time and money into becoming qualified and adding to your value by taking further courses.
“You do not become rich through teaching yoga alone,” says Chris James, who has bucked the statement by becoming a highly experienced yoga instructor and who now has a highly successful company in products improving gut health (3R cleanse). “You are able to earn more from private clients, anything from £80 to £200 plus travel expenses, but because of their work, they may have a timetable which does not fit around yours, so if you are going down this path, do not rely on this for regular income.”
He adds: “It takes time to develop yourself as a brand, attending exhibitions, creating a sound reputation, and associating yourself with brands which align to your own values. It is up to the individual how they wish to develop their yoga practice as an instructor and everyone is different. Some may love to continually update their social media contacts, which is an important part of sharing your message, as well as conventional media, but some may not enjoy this part. This is when you employ others to do the marketing for you, but in my experience, the best person to market yourself to new opportunities is you.”
Too many teachers
Yoga instructor Laura Lyons says leading teacher trainings is more lucrative. “There are many teacher training courses out there ranging from several months training to three years. And you need to be certified to train teachers, so there is the initial outlay of cost and funds. Most courses charge around £3,000, and then you have potential instructors out there who may not only cover for you, but also encourage others to join your teaching scheme. It is a pyramid way of selling without it appearing that way.”
The number of qualified yoga instructors has accelerated dramatically in recent years. DCS Insurance, which has a specialist yoga instructor insurance, told me the number of yoga instructors insuring with them over the past few years has increased exponentially. “We don’t obviously insure all instructors in the UK, but from insuring a few hundred instructors, we are now insuring many thousands, most of whom are women, and many of whom have added yoga to their portfolio of teaching qualifications which may also include Pilates and personal trainer.”
However, the more you diversify and qualify in various areas such as yoga therapy courses, the more valuable it makes you in terms of what you are able to offer clubs, companies, individuals, retreats and workshops, it notes.
Most lucrative venues
So, as the supply of yoga instructors increases, and private clients may provide the most profitable but unreliable source of income, what alternatives are there? The most lucrative avenues for yoga instructors seem to be via running independent workshops once a month, and directly working with companies.
Instructors who teach in clubs have a ready source of clients who may be interested in monthly or bi-monthly workshops with them. Hiring a church or school hall is invariably less expensive than hiring a room in a sports club. Some forward thinking companies, are paying for yoga instructors to teach their staff in the early hours and before they leave to help with concentration (in the mornings) and stress (in the evenings). What you charge is totally independent of what you are paid in clubs or workshops.
One instructor I spoke to, who preferred to remain anonymous told me: “I was approached by a lady who came to my yoga classes regularly and asked if I would like to teach a small group each morning and afternoon. I had learnt from experience that the early morning sessions attract more than the evening, and that it is better to get the commitment up front from the company, because numbers may trail off during the first few months. I was busy anyway, so I suggested a fee, literally doubling my hourly rate, and asking for two month’s payment up front. They said yes. Didn’t quibble at all. It gave me the courage to ask for a rise from a club I had been working for over three years and they upped my hourly rate as well.”
Online or away
Google yoga and you will see many instructors are now sharing their practice in 20 or 30-day yoga sessions and increasing their income and profile this way. Publishers are also looking for instructors who have a ready-made market and tens of thousands of followers, to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Deliciously Ella and Joe Wicks, but it takes discipline and diligence to make social media work for you. And having a USP (unique selling point) to stand out.
If you are able to put together a well-produced series of yoga tutorials, you could start your own online yoga studio and attract advertising and followers in the process. This may also attract interest from those holding high-profile events, and gain earnings in the region of £300 to £800 from sponsored Instagram posts.
Holding your own yoga retreat is an alternative many instructors have taken, incorporating a holiday into making money. I’ve been a travel broadcaster and editor for over 23 years now, and the number of yoga retreats, tour operators, online websites and hotels offering yoga breaks has more than quadrupled over the past year alone. The 50-something baby boomers are now realising the vacuum of materialism, which has left them with a need to find meaning, and they have turned (often being encouraged to do so by their GP) to yoga. They are also the generation who have the most disposable and discretionary income.
This has meant yoga instructors have found another avenue to make money, by teaching overseas. How much of this is passed on to the yoga instructors who teach at these venues varies considerably though. The instructors I spoke to who regularly teach at yoga retreats recommended charging a fixed up-front fee per week, including travel expenses, regardless of how many attend. Others are prepared to teach for a free holiday, although I would not recommend this option, as it may be a holiday for your clients, but it will not be one for you! There are also yoga festivals all around the world now, where international yoga instructors come to teach, and learn.
I recently attended a yoga retreat in Nyons, southern France, where Tim Sibley, an established yoga instructor in south-west London, held a week-long break for 14, at the home of one of his ex-clients. “You need the studio, the air conditioning, rooms with private ensuite and something for them to do when they are not practicing yoga,” he told me. “It is a big ask and I’m lucky enough to have found a place which ticks all these boxes and clients who are prepared to pay to incorporate yoga into what is essentially a healthy holiday.”
The cost was £899, excluding flights, but including transfers and all food (all excellent and vegan). Having looked at the price of other retreats, this might be a benchmark when gauging what to charge for your own retreats. Of course, you need to factor in what the venue is charging you and take into account your own costs both in terms of travel and what you will be losing for classes you would have taken if you had been at home. I attended the retreat not because I needed a holiday nor because I have a love of France (I have a home there myself!), it was because I followed the instructor. All of the other clients on the retreat were followers as well. Once you have developed a following as an instructor it is a further step to diversifying your skillset for a growing market.
I teach in schools and am actively encouraging yoga onto the national curriculum. This is an outlet which may prove both lucrative and worthwhile. From personal experience, I have found teaching in schools to be the most rewarding of all my teaching practice. With the increase in anxiety and other issues among teenagers and children, there is a real need and potential for yoga instructors to take the initiative and approach schools, both in the private and public sector, in their area. Mental health issues are of paramount importance in schools, and there is funding support for initiatives such as yoga, recognised as one of the tools that may help children deal with issues such as anxiety, loneliness and self-esteem.
What you are paid for in this service depends very much on the head teacher and the bursar. One instructor from Hertfordshire I spoke to who teaches in schools told me: “I taught in this one school where the head, children, PTA were all very supportive of the yoga. The only person who wasn’t was the bursar. They would delay payment and lose invoices. I got to the point where I couldn’t work there anymore. It was making me stressed.”
If there is a progressive head or deputy head, or head of wellbeing, they will find a budget for you. But if they do not buy into the idea of yoga impacting on mental health, then it is not worth pursuing. “Yoga clubs are one thing, but it is the commitment from schools to show they care about mindfulness and the mental wellbeing of children that matters, and we consider yoga in school a sound investment,” said David Bell, a head teacher in Essex. “We asked our parents if they would be happy to support a yoga instructor and as many of the parents, and not just the mothers, take part in yoga themselves. They were willing to do this.”
In short, there are many outlets for yoga instructors to diversify earning money from their practice. The key is to value yourself; to know your worth. Take several paths, from organising your own workshops four times a year, establishing a relationship with several clubs and schools and let them come to you, rather than you chase them. Few enter into teaching yoga for the financial benefits. Indeed, teaching in all its forms has always been undervalued financially. Yet the concept of wealth in yoga has more to do with the emotional, spiritual and mental benefits. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean you have to get paid less than you are worth.
Sarah Tucker is a yoga instructor, author and novelist.
Her new book The Brilliant Book of Excellent
Energies is out in May (sarahtucker.info)
First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.