Back in the old days in India, you didn’t pay for a yoga class. In fact, you wouldn’t even have a class: the traditions of yoga were taught one-to-one with your (very likely male) teacher, and the community would support the teacher by providing food and accommodation.
Much has changed obviously in our modern, Western, yoga world. Modern yoga is overwhelmingly white, middle class and female. Much of this is to do with money. Being British I know we don’t like to talk about money, but really it’s about time we did.
Yoga suffers from several related issues. Firstly, training to be a qualified, insurable yoga teacher is expensive. An initial training is about £4000, plus loss of income for any time taken off work. Then many trainings require attendance at lots of classes to get your pieces of paper signed to show you have been to loads of classes. And all the ‘optional’ (read: compulsory) workshops. So call it £5000 for ease.
Secondly, yoga teachers are paid appallingly. Senior London teacher Norman Blair has written two recent articles about the poor pay of teachers (here and here), estimating that in the past 10 years there has been a 8% increase in wages, despite an above inflation increase rise in food costs, energy costs – and the rising class prices for students. Blair shows a 70% increase in ticket prices at the Life Centre in London where he teaches! Someone, somewhere is making money, but it is rarely the teachers. Gyms in Tunbridge Wells pay between £20 – £25 per hour. One yoga studio pays the same.
It sounds OK, but when you factor in arriving early to set up, leaving later after speaking with students, class planning, keeping up to date with knowledge and research… Norman estimates it’s about £10 per hour. Above minimum wage sure – but then are we really saying that yoga is a minimum wage job? After a £5000 initial training?
It is very difficult to be a yoga teacher unless you are married to a wealthy partner, have a private income, bought your house a long time ago, or have another job – or previously held a lucrative role in the City (me!). Many teachers are part time, teaching 1-3 classes a week around another, often unrelated role. For me, however, there is a problem when people have their energy split between different roles. Yoga is constantly changing: new information on the body and how we move; new findings about the history and traditions; new considerations about trauma. To stay on top of this, plus deepen our knowledge and expertise takes time. I have been in many classes where the cues, instructions and poses are outdated and sometimes dangerous. The teacher doesn’t know: they are teaching what they were taught on their first training five plus years ago. But knowledge has moved on, but the teacher hasn’t caught up.
I would rather have a teacher who is dedicated to their profession, and who lives their yoga, not one who teaches on the side. It is possible to teach part time, have another part time job, and be dedicated to further professional development – I have done it and I know others who do also. But low wages encourage teachers out of teaching and into other better paid employment. The lack of income makes attending other training courses and workshops difficult. In addition, the real revenue generating events such as retreats and workshops cannot be organised ‘on the side’. They also take time to arrange and plan and then host. Very, very difficult if you are also working another job.
In Tunbridge Wells we are fortunate to have a couple of studios which run on a much more equitable basis than those mentioned in Blair’s articles. Plus we have many other venues which you can hire as a teacher and put on a class. When you run the class yourself there is an opportunity to generate more income, although you do have to do the marketing and operational stuff yourself, and the risk of covering the rent is on you.
This is also not to bash local studios, many of which do work to provide a more balanced payment system. Norman Blair provides some ideas for how small studios could work together to be more profitable and better navigate the sometimes punitive tax system on small businesses.
The lack of income, insecure nature of the work, and expensive training cause another issue. Yoga teachers are predominately white and middle class: they have to be, because in general this is the demographic that can afford it. They then teach other white, middle class people. This exclusion of those on lower incomes or of other ethnicities is not what yoga is about. I know having a class full of Tunbridge Wells yummy mummies makes financial sense, especially if you do lots of private classes. But for me this is not teaching yoga. This is not getting out of our comfort zone to reach out to those other people who need yoga just as much as those who can afford it.
Yoga is very expensive and this excludes many, many people. Yes, Pure Gym charge about £20 per month which makes their three yoga classes a week an absolute bargain. And they are based in the town centre, which is fairly convenient for most. They also pay the teachers the least. I teach two of these classes as a commitment to ensuring that yoga is accessible to those who would never visit Flow, or The Yoga House or Present Health. In order to do this, I do charge the usual market rates for my classes in other venues. I am currently working with local charities to set up a donation based class in an area which will best serve those who need it.
We have a vicious circle where low yoga teacher pay means teachers cannot commit fully to their teaching career, are exhausted from having to teach 12-15 classes a week to make money, and then cannot take on pro bono or other donation based classes to support margainalised groups. The expensive training excludes those from these groups who might be better placed to bring yoga to their community. This is not yoga – this is modern, western capitalism in its never ending race to the bottom.
Low Cost Yoga Options in Tunbridge Wells
- FREE: Yoga with Adrienne on You Tube
- FREE: Bedgebury Yoga sometimes offer free classes (you need to get to Bedgebury tho….)
- FREE: Sweaty Betty on the High Street sometimes offer free classes, check with the store
- £20 pm: Pure Gym membership, 3 classes per week
- £8 per class on a drop in basis: Underground Gym, North Farm
- £8 per class at Flow Tunbridge Wells for their beginners class
- Adult Education Centre – I saw a 12 week Beginners Yoga Course for £75 advertised. A big spend up front, but amazing value overall
- I will work with any committed student who is experiencing financial hardship to enable them to attend class
- I am working to set up a donation based class
My average annual gross income generated by yoga: £20,000
Amount spent on training (official training courses, not additional workshops)
- 2015: initial 200 hour foundation training – £4000
- 2016: applied anatomy course – £200
- 2016: mindfulness teacher training – £2000
- 2017: meditation teacher training – £1400
- 2018: teaching immersion – £500
- 2019: history of yoga course – £300
- 2019: advanced teacher training: £2800
- total to date: £11,300