Rubbish Business Tips for Yoga Teachers
I can’t quite shake the impression that there is still a great deal of hypocrisy in the yoga world today regarding the money-making side of things. Aspiring yoga teachers need to be prepared to spend anywhere from £2,500 for their basic 200 hour training, which is, upon graduation, followed closely by authorizing bodies’ membership fees, charges of listings on yoga search engines, hall or studio hire, website hosting, insurance, equipment, CPD courses costing a small fortune and so on. But when I searched Google for some useful information on how to actually make a living as a teacher, I came across some very questionable advice.
There was a former yoga teacher who stopped teaching and returned to her 9-5 job so that she could “enjoy yoga without having to depend on it for a living.” She didn’t think there was much money to be made in it, and was put off by the idea of having to “sell her skin”. Fair enough… but why this attitude? Why couldn’t we be paid for something we really enjoy, and what can be of great benefit to other people? Any other business owners must sell their own skin, every day. Massage therapists accountants, hair salon owners and everyone else in the service sector must convince people that what they do is valuable and beneficial to their clients. In this respect, yoga teachers are absolutely no different.
The article that really ruffled my feathers, however, went a bit further than that. It started with stating that “good teachers always have a following” and went on to postulate that “if your classes are empty, you’re just not ready.” Hmmm. Perhaps all yoga teachers should just sit in a room and practice until they are blue in the face, and when they get really, really good, when they can whip out the perfect kapotasana or stand in full scorpion, their students will start to materialize in front of their doorstep, obediently following the Law of Attraction (sush… it’s a Secret!)
Yoga teachers, in general, are kind and gentle people who like to help others, often for no other reward than a nice warm feeling inside. They are often not particularly business-minded – they just want to do what they love and share it with others. So to tell this crowd that what they need is more practice, and years of living on bread and water in a shed until they get so good that their followers will find them on their own, is a ludicrous piece of advice. It is condescending to the teachers, and condescending to all other self-employed individuals or business owners as well.
There is a notion that because yoga is a spiritual practice that evolved in India thousands of years ago to help one achieve enlightenment, yoga teachers today should practice non-greed and financial restraint – translated as to “be dirt poor”. That might have been honourable in ancient India; a teacher was a valuable member of society and was looked after by his community, in exchange for his wisdom and insight. Today’s yoga as practised in the West is a completely different beast. Most contemporary yoga teachers are really asana teachers, myself included. They teach asana, and sometimes a bit of meditation, pranayama and kriyas, but it is quite limited to the physical realm, to well-being and fitness. And that’s okay. I would quite happily call myself an Asana teacher, but nobody outside the yoga world would have a bleeping idea what that meant – not convenient when trying to build up a client base. We are not yogis sitting in ashrams and meditating for days on end. Most of us are not swamis wearing an orange robe, having pledged a life of celibacy and devotion. We are modern women and men living a normal Western life, along with bills, houses, cars, and growing children.
The refusal to accept that yoga teachers are different from other small business owners is, at the very best, unhelpful. Most small businesses, in order to survive, must always be for-profit. They have to generate revenue in some way. They have to advertise, especially at the beginning, morning, noon and night. Most of their efforts need to be channelled into finding customers. As Steuart Henderson Britt said, “Doing business without advertising is like winking at a woman in the dark. Only you know you’re doing it.” Some teachers pride themselves of never having had to advertise themselves – and that’s great. They’ve managed to provide such excellent customer service and improve their clients’ lives so much that the clients willingly spread the word for them. But what if you’re not so lucky to start with? What if you have moved to a completely new place and don’t know a soul? And what if there are many teachers already around you competing for their little place in the sun? You will need to use every single marketing technique ever invented to break through. Unless you manage to stay alive by gazing at the sun, or are really good at fasting.
I think that most yoga teachers, instead of reading how to be even more modest and restrained so as not to be a sell-out and violate some ancient nebulous values, should be told to stop practising their twenty-thousandth sun salutation and instead to run, not walk, to the first business course they can find. Learn about such non-spiritual things as business plans, branding, book-keeping, business savers accounts (handy on 31st of January), internet marketing, profit margins, purple cows etc. In fact, all this should be a firm part of any yoga teacher training course syllabus.
The thought of not advertising, or not charging adequate money for yoga classes because making decent money is somehow not ethical and not in line with the idea of the noble sage, implies that profit-making businesses are somehow less valuable and therefore less “good” than what we have to offer. Again, in the olden days, a yoga teacher might have been equal to a priest, someone who served as a refuge and fulfilled many functions in his community. But this does not apply here and now. What we do is no more or less sacred than what the chiropractor next door does.
The fact is that there is almost no way of becoming a well-off teacher non-ethically. We are not flogging clothes made in sweatshops by children in Bangladesh, but help sort out people’s painful backs, dodgy knees and muddled minds. Customers and clients today are very savvy. Even if you deploy advertising strategies of the heaviest calibre, if you don’t have anything proper to back up your claims with, you will be found out in a flash. People are no fools, and will only return when they feel that what you have provided is of good value and truly serves their needs. There is a lack of trust in – and a bit of scorn for — wealthy people, but what is often forgotten is that the majority of self-made successful businessmen and women made their fortunes not by themselves in some dungeon, but with the support of everyone around them, and first and foremost their customers. Their products or services, often the result of years of hard work, were so outstanding and brought so much value to their customers that they kept coming back for more and became loyal clients.
So I conclude: If you are making loads of money as a yoga teacher, you must be doing something very right. You have managed to reach and influence many people in a very positive way. You’ve stopped hugging trees, got your crap together and created something tangible and real, which is mirrored by a comforting bank balance. And as long as you can put your hand on your heart and say, “I am proud of what I provide and it’s the best I can do,” then you deserve every penny.