What Does Yoga Pay? And What Does Love Got to do With it?


“Life is not a problem to be solved,” wrote Kierkegaard, “But a reality to be experienced.”

So it may not be a surprise that the broke-ass business of yoga is not yet fixed. It may not even be a problem that needs fixing, however, we definitely know more since I wrote the article that shook up the yoga world to the tune of 72,000 views.

First, I want to answer the number one complaint, and actually, it was about me.  People are angry that I don’t have all the answers. Believe me, I am very upset too, as I have wanted to have all the answers for as long as I can remember. It just hasn’t worked out that way.

But I do know more now and it’s thanks to your comments. The truth is in there, hiding in plain sight. Here is a brief summary of more than 150 thought-provoking insightful comments. Read the originals if you want added enlightenment.

1. Organizations are scary.

Vanda Scaravelli, the first Western woman to be trained in yoga, wrote: “Be careful, VERY CAREFUL, about organizations.” She was right. Of the people most upset by hearing that yoga may need fixing, it was the largest organizations.

Yoga Rocks the Park, which is a fun in the sun, mini yoga festival on the weekends, wants everyone to know that: 1.They are only about love. 2. They are not making any money. 3. They expose new people to yoga. 4. They pay all their teachers fairly.

However, several yoga teachers wrote in to say that they hadn’t been paid. So I guess those checks are in the mail. And while the festivals are fun, let’s not pretend that they aren’t a little bit about money, okay? We’re all in the real world here, and we have to work together to sustain our industry.

2. Self-Esteem Is Not the Root of All Our Problems

Another point raised is about our yogi self-esteem. While some of us probably got into yoga as a way to feel better about self-worth, others are just fine, thank you. However, even those of us with our shit together cannot seem to make a living. So the fact that some teachers are willing to work for next to nothing does not completely explain the broken business model of yoga.

3. Some Yoga Studios are Not about Yoga

This was interesting. One writer said that the fanciest of yoga studios, you know the ones with mahogany floors and waterfalls in the lobby, are tax-write offs. The more money they lose, the better, sort of like modern-day agribusiness.

That explains a lot, except for this: If they are all about losing money, then why can’t they pay their teachers a living wage? Then they would lose even more money, the teachers would make money, and everyone would be happy.

4. Yoga Teachers are not Exactly Starving

A summary of comments showed that the average amount a local yoga teacher earns for spreading enlightenment is around $30,000 a year. The average starting salary for a college graduate is $45,000 (I know, college graduates are suffering. But this is the U.S. average.)

The more classes and workshops you teach will net you more money. If you are part-time, then you will earn less. But this seems to be typical, and although pricey, a YTT usually costs less than the $80,000 to $200,000 of a four-year college degree.

Readers noted that teachers, dancers, artists, musicians, and writers also spend a lot on education and end up being underpaid. One ‘doctor’ said that offering free yoga is no different than opening a free clinic. Maybe we should just quit whining?

5. Take that YTT because you love yoga

You may not make a lot of money by becoming a yoga teacher, but you will probably be happy you took that YTT. Like many, I took teacher training because I wanted to know more about the practice I loved. I never regretted it. Study yoga because you love it, not because you want to get rich from it. Love is still a worthwhile investment.

6. I want to destroy yoga

Um, no. I love yoga. I only ask the questions that make us more mindful about our business. Believe me, I know that mindfulness is uncomfortable. But how else can we address the problems in our industry to make sure the practice survives for our children?

It’s easy to sit in a cave and ignore the reality of having to put food on the table or buy medical insurance. As one blogger wrote, yogis need some money unless they can live on feathers and face paint. I am a yogi, but I also exist in the real world, and if I still don’t have all the answers, then I'm okay with asking the questions for now.

Michelle Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She is an award-winning journalist and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga, and Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga. She is an E-RYT 500 and teaches in Denver, Co.