Do you remember those triumphant stories that made the headlines of magazines a few years ago? They praised graduates from prestigious schools who had "given up everything to live their passion", usually some authentic craft or manual profession because as the philosopher would say, "it takes little to be happy". I myself was the subject of such a portrait in a magazine, built on the rhetoric of the "revelation" used to tell these career change stories, often staged following the tired triptych: "meaningless and useless job in marketing or luxury / authentic experience that opens eyes to the profound meaning of life / redemption and reconciliation with one's deeper self in a job-vocation-mission so fulfilling and meaningful, you should try it, just take the leap and believe in your dreams"..
Except that in reality, it was quite far from the discourse I had held with the person who interviewed me. Surprisingly, the story was much more complex, chaotic, and pragmatic than that. Because behind the facade of wellness influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers, holding their matcha latte and polished morning routine, behind the #sograteful stories for doing this incredible job where human connection is at the heart (thanks Classpass, ce merveilleux pourvoyeur de chaleur et de convivialité) et les photos de retraites et formations dans des lieux paradisiaques #yogawithaview, hides an extremely precarious job, poorly paid and exhausting for many yoga teachers, especially in large urban centers. Due to fierce competition, inadequate wages, a race for the most polished-yet-informative Instagram, spiritual bypassing, precarious working conditions, stopping one's own practice, and all at the expense of a family and social life reduced to nothing, many yoga teachers decide to quit everything and return to a salaried job.
That's the decision Juliette, a yoga teacher in Paris, made in June 2022. Far from considering this return to salaried work as a failure, she chose instead to publicly explain on her Instagram account the reasons that pushed her to stop teaching yoga full-time. A reality that contrasts with the usual images of always fit and smiling teachers flooding the social network.
Living off prana
She explains: "After three years of full-time teaching, I realized the path I was taking was no longer right for me.". Initially driven by the desire to share her passion for yoga, she remained pragmatic at the beginning, juggling yoga teaching and other freelance activities that provided some financial security. But quickly, she experienced the fear of " not being able to pay the rent at the end of the month in Paris " and accepted classes a bit haphazardly. As a result, in a city like Paris: spending considerable time commuting, " 45 minutes each way, for a one-hour class."For my part, when I lived and taught in Paris, I eventually opted for cycling, and I did at least two hours a day to get to my various classes, which I had confined to the northeast of the capital. Commuting time obviously not counted in the class payment, which averages around 35 to 55 euros for one to one and a half hours, from which, as Juliette points out, about a quarter has to be deducted for social contributions. This payment also includes the time spent preparing for classes beforehand. We'll let you do the math to estimate the real hourly wage for a class.
In an article for Elle magazine, Isabelle Morin-Larbey, from the National Federation of Yoga Teachers, emphasizes: "It's an illusion to think that one can make a good living by being a yoga teacher. In big cities, it's almost impossible: generally, teachers are self-employed, run from one studio to another to give their classes, to be paid a pittance. It's a paradox: yoga is a very rich industry, but the teachers, who are the main links, are precarious." These low wages also do not really allow saving to protect against the uncertainties inherent to the independent status: sick leaves barely or not compensated, seasonal declines in class attendance, unpaid leave, global pandemic... Laure Pépin, a yoga teacher in Paris, testified on her Instagram in 2021 about the precariousness she faced due to the closures of studios during the covid pandemic, forcing her to move back with her father.
Yoga teachers of all countries, unite! !
Unfortunately, it's hard to negotiate pay conditions because the profession is so fragmented. With teachers operating as self-employed entrepreneurs serving multiple clients, any form of collective organization and demands becomes complex, if not impossible. Often without a contract, dismissible overnight, the balance of power is rarely in favor of the yoga teacher, even less so when they're just starting out. Among yoga teachers, they share stories of times they tried to negotiate higher pay or, shockingly, refused to work for free, only to be often told that if they aren't happy to contribute to this "amazing adventure", they are free to leave – many others are just waiting to take their place, to clean the toilets, sweep the floors, manage the reception, communication, and incidentally teach a yoga class for a paltry sum AND WITH A SMILE, #loveandlight, what an incredible opportunity, it's like being on Star Academy.
Soon, one realizes that to thrive in this cutthroat market, one must differentiate. Another cause of fatigue described by Juliette, but also by Célia, who teaches a few weekly yoga classes in Chambéry alongside her salaried job. Starting her teaching training in 2019, the pandemic seriously hindered her business launch. Another consequence of the pandemic was the boom of online yoga classes and social media, which, according to Célia and Juliette, established a constant comparison dynamic and a feeling of never doing enough. " There's this narrative that one must find their niche, start an online activity for consistent income without burning out, be a standardized product on social media, promoting the guilt-ridden message of 'where there's a will there's a way' and creating a rat race for training to 'sell oneself better'... I didn’t identify with it anymore ", analyzes Juliette. Célia agrees and adds: "Yoga on social media also dictates trends, like the handstand, for instance, shapes new ways of practicing, asserts ‘do's and don'ts’. I couldn’t relate to these representations of yoga and wellness on social media, which eventually turned a passion into a duty. Without social media and the comparisons they induce, I believe I'd feel much more free and legitimate in my teaching". She mentions that in Chambéry, none of the people attending her classes follow her on social media, and things work mainly through word of mouth, a simplicity she appreciates. However, she also chose to return to a salaried job, due to the need to repay a student loan, cognitive dissonance regarding the wellness industry, and also due to the loneliness and isolation stemming from the profession.
Solo with myself
As a yoga teacher, one doesn’t really have colleagues. One meets other teachers, in person or on social media, builds communities, collaborates, but the job can be quite solitary daily unless one actively works on fostering professional sociability: no colleagues to spontaneously grab a coffee with, no meetings to discuss our profession, and some might say, all the better! For others, it’s a daily burden, especially as it's accompanied by a noticeable decrease in one’s social life outside work. To earn a decent living, it's best to work during peak times, which means evening and weekend slots. Goodbye romantic movie dates, nights out with friends, family dinners, and weekends... Juliette tells : "You become the annoying friend who's never available. I never got home before 9 pm, I worked every weekend. I know others have it worse, but after a while, I realized I needed daily social interactions, to be part of a team, and not have this completely shifted life rhythm." This misalignment often blurs the lines between professional and personal life, leading sometimes to burnout, another taboo in the field even though it's quite common.
Burned-out yoga teachers, who no longer have the time or money to practice for themselves, end up feeling guilty about preaching philosophies they don’t follow, feverishly asking each other: "Do you still find time for your practice?" Juliette also speaks of the physical fatigue linked to the job, which requires her to regularly see an osteopath.
Lament of the robot teacher
Both Juliette and Célia decided to return to salaried jobs while continuing to teach a few yoga classes on the side. They're not the only ones to make this choice: according to a survey conducted by the National Union of Yoga Teachers (SNPY) in 2021, 76% of teachers only partially make a living from their teaching, and 55% of them juggle multiple jobs. Corinne, an executive in an environmental services company and part-time yoga teacher, made the same choice. She'd like to teach yoga full-time but doesn't take the plunge due to the unstable nature of the job. She's experienced having her classes suddenly canceled by studios and pressure when her classes weren’t full enough. She also anticipates the potential degradation of her relationship with yoga if her teaching becomes the main source of income. She doesn’t want the discipline to become a source of unrest and self-doubt. The need to teach numerous classes to make ends meet results in a well-known phenomenon among yoga teachers: the standardization of classes, which become increasingly mechanical, due to a lack of time to prepare, practice, and explore. The teaching becomes industrial, contrary to the original intention that drives them to pass on the discipline.
The thousand-dollar question, which this article will not answer, remains: is it possible to decently make a living from teaching yoga? As Juliette points out, the job is far from being the worst, especially because it remains a chosen path. In this regard, the "deconversion" journeys of yoga teachers often reveal them to be rather privileged individuals, who therefore have the financial and social possibility of returning to more conventional and materially better-valued jobs.
Can one make a living from teaching yoga?
So, is this article a privileged complaint? Its aim is to inform about the actualities of the profession, which is often idealized, and its precarity usually silenced. On the other hand, the downward leveling of working conditions benefits no one. It reminds me of the time when, sick and having to cancel a class, I was retorted with, "You could still come and teach; being a yoga teacher is not like working in a mine or a factory." Telling ourselves and hearing from others that others have it worse can only lead to a dangerous slippery slope. Lastly, this article raises the question of the sustainability of yoga teaching as a profession, in a context where teacher training courses are proliferating, a new gold mine boosted by the (arduous and expensive) possibility of accessing public funding, which now allows teacher-trainers to earn a decent salary... Resulting in a Ponzi scheme dynamic: teachers who don't earn from their classes, launching training to train other teachers who also won't earn from their classes, and so on.
So, how can we envision different ways to organize yoga teaching that are fairer for teachers? We hand the mic to you.
Thanks to Célia, Corinne, Juliette, and Laure for their testimonies.