10 years ago, I was sitting in my apartment in New Jersey, hating my job but reveling in my new addiction to yoga. I recall wondering to myself if teaching yoga was a legitimate career path or just another fantasy. Sitting here now as a full-time yoga teacher at some of the most popular yoga studios in the world, there’s plenty I wish I knew back then. I would have done many, many things different!
If I’m being very honest, teaching yoga full-time professionally is hard, and not for everyone. There have been many times I’ve considered quitting, and the truth is that most don’t make it. However, teaching yoga has also brought some of the most beautiful moments of my life (like leading heart-opening retreats for 20 people in Maui). These moments will carry you on your journey as a teacher, and if you persist, you will develop a thriving career. I’m convinced that anyone with the willingness to stick through the tough moments can build the yoga career of their dreams. I’m also convinced that you don’t need to fit the mold of what a yoga teacher is supposed to look like. You don’t need to be young, sexy, and flexible. You do, however, need to be creative, adaptable, and deeply determined to help others.
This is my definitive guide to becoming a thriving yoga teacher, on the path of least resistance. Of course, there are other ways to do it, but these are the exact things I wish I knew when I started my career, that would have saved me tons and tons of time and wasted energy.
1. Develop a regular practice (at least 3 times a week).
Before running off to India and paying for an expensive teacher training, make sure that you are dedicated to a regular practice. Your daily yoga practice will forever be your litmus test as a teacher to how connected you are. If I had to name a single quality of a good teacher, it’s that they maintain a regular, dedicated practice to something. It’s very important that you start your career with this foundation, otherwise, your students will intuitively feel your lack of personal dedication. Less important than what that practice is that there’s a commitment to something regular.
Once you’ve established a regular practice, you likely have a feeling you want to go deeper. This is a good sign you’re ready to take the next step and do the yoga teacher training.
2. Sign up for a yoga teacher training.
There is much debate as to whether a yoga certification is necessary to be a good teacher. To put it into perspective, the best yogi that I’ve ever met, our head philosophy & meditation instructor Gurumukh at the East West Institute, does not have a Yoga Alliance certification. He merely grew up from age 4 in a yoga ashram! That said, the reality of the yoga market now is that it’s extremely competitive. It’s also difficult for studios to gauge the quality of teachers, so the Yoga Alliance certification has become somewhat of a “baseline requirement” for most studios. It’s somewhat similar to having a college degree. Sure, some employers don’t require one, and if you’re especially good you can transcend the need for one. However, it’s the safe bet to have one. Given the choice between having it and not having it, I’d advise that you take it.
While some sort of 200-hour or similar training is usually necessary, I don’t believe having the Yoga Alliance certification is the only route. Most studios are open to considering other certifications as long as they are reputable. I also find that it gives you a leg up if you’ve done trainings with well-known teachers, or trained close to the source in India.
If you are looking for more guidance on choosing a teacher training program, you can read Yoga Teacher Training 101.
3. Make a target list of studios you want to teach at.
Most young teachers go out blindly knocking on doors trying to pick up teaching gigs without any intention, and this ends up hurting them in the long run. In reality, most studios aren’t managed well, and many won’t last more than 5 years. It’s important to align yourself with studios that you believe in, and that are managed well enough to continue to expand. If the studio is growing, naturally you will have the opportunity to grow with that studio.
I highly recommend to young, ambitious teachers that they try to break into the larger, well-known studios when starting. It can be harder at first, but this will forever give you a leg up in your career. Your future employers will gauge your skills as a teacher based on where you’ve taught in the past, and teaching at a big-named studio early in your career can catapult you into opportunities more quickly.
4. Practice regularly at studios in your target list.
The best way to get yourself considered for a teaching job at a yoga studio is to be a regular, engaged member. When you start showing up for a few months, the teachers and staff will get to know you and it’s much more likely you’ll be considered for job openings when they come. If you’re trying to land a teaching job, resist the temptation early on to float from studio to studio. Stay grounded in one, and you’ll begin to develop a community faster.
Don’t hesitate to schmooze. Go to as many of their events as possible, especially their social events if they have them. This will give the staff a chance to get to know you on a more personal level. If possible, join the studio’s work-trade program. This is always a huge leg up and will show the studio owners that you are invested in them. They will also get to know your professional standards, which is a huge part of how studios evaluate teachers.
5. Build a niche for yourself.
Become known for something. The best way to do this is to find something unique about your practice that you can make your “thing”. The best teachers I know all have clear identities, such as “the teacher who integrates dance,” or “the teacher who is breathwork heavy.” Spend lots of time refining your niche and how this translates into your teaching style. Initially, the impulsive is to want to excel at everything, but developing specialty is a good thing. Your students will feel your confidence, and confidence is developed over time. If you are teaching exactly what every other teacher is teaching, you will be easily replaceable. With a clear style, naturally you will attract loyal students.
6. Start teaching 2-3 classes a day.
Just doing some basic math here, most studios pay out $40-$75 a class. If you are teaching 2-3 classes a day, 5 days a week, you’ll be pocketing about $2,750 a month or $33,000 a year. That may or may not be enough to sustain your lifestyle. In my experience, teaching 2-3 classes a day 5 days a week is very difficult, and hard to sustain for a long period of time. Most teachers like taking a month or more off out of the year to recharge and dedicate to more learning. Nobody gets rich or even makes a decent living teaching only in yoga studios. This is important to internalize from the beginning. Think of your studio classes as just your marketing platform for your retreats and private classes. That’s where it becomes necessary to make additional streams of income.
There are many ways to make additional streams of income as a yoga teacher, but the two most reliable are offering private or small group classes and arranging retreats.
7. Start offering private classes
Now that you are teaching classes regularly for groups of 20-30 people, this is your opportunity to capitalize on the exposure. You should constantly be marketing your private classes. Whereas studio classes pay $40-75 a class, privates can earn you $100-$150 an hour or more. Having a roster of just 4-5 regular private clients a week can quickly double your earnings. If you notice anyone in your class who is particularly engaged, don’t be afraid to come up to them after class and make them aware of your offering of private classes. You shouldn’t feel shy or like you are “selling” to them. Your classes are valuable, they can change your student’s life, and it’s worth the $100 a class.
Pro Tip: Great teachers make a point to learn all their student’s names in every class. You’ll be surprised how far this goes in creating a relationship with them over time, and eventually getting them to sign up for private classes.
8. Start arranging retreats
Your studio classes are also an opportunity to market your retreats. Most studios have no problem with you announcing retreats in your class, and many will even support them in putting them on their website and marketing. Announce your retreats after every single class. Make it a habit. If you offer two retreats a year, you could fairly easily make $8,000 per retreat. That’s another $16,000 in your pocket every year.
Your first retreats will be a little bit of a challenge, and more likely than not you’ll only make a small amount of money. Think of it as an investment in yourself. Ask for help from some of the more experienced teachers you know in how they price and market their retreats. It’s all about the details. Choose new, exotic locations every couple years to keep things fresh.
Pro tip: Wait until the end of class to announce your retreats, when everyone is blissed out. This will also keep it top of mind for students to come up to you after class and ask for more information.
Just from these two tips, you could easily boost your salary range from in the low $30,000’s a year to $60-70,000 a year or even more.
Final Tip: Set realistic expectations for yourself.
Building a yoga career will likely take you 2-3 years at least of consistent effort. You’ll have many small victories along the way that will add up. I often see young teachers becoming frustrated because they want it to happen faster. It almost never does. Prepare yourself for the long-haul!
If you’d like to learn more about maximizing your potential as a yoga teacher, I offer a low-cost course on building your yoga career on my website ShaynaHiller.com.