Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to "Make It" as a Bikram Yoga Teacher

I've thought about this topic so many times that I was half convinced that I'd already blogged about it. But I checked my archives and I have not written this post yet. It is time!

I've gotten lots of emails and questions from aspiring Bikram yoga teachers, and everybody wants to know the same thing: "Can you make a living teaching Bikram yoga?"

My answer is YES, but with a few qualifications.

First - The Numbers

Here are the numbers. On average, at least in my experience, new teachers will make about $50/class. (In some cases you'll have to teach a class or two for free as an audition of sorts, but as a rule you should be paid for all public classes!)  As a full time teacher, you would teach maybe 9-12 classes per week. Personally, I teach 10/week whenever possible. (If I teach less, I get bored. If I teach much more, I get burned out.) So do the math - you're gonna start at about $2,000/month.

If you're the sole breadwinner for a family of 4, that's probably not going to cut it.

If you're single and not carrying too much debt, this is totally feasible. You won't have enough money to drink expensive vodka at clubs every night and vacation in Croatia, but you'll have enough cash to go out for beer with friends and go hiking and stuff like that. It's comparable to the money I made as a grad student, less than the money I made as a waitress, and more than the money I made as a starving artist.

Also bear in mind that you will work lots of morning, evenings, and weekends, but you will still have some free time. I used to do some SAT tutoring in the afternoons during my "dead time," which was actually pretty profitable. You could also work from home, if you do any sort of freelance.  Just count on 3 classes/day on average, because you'll be teaching 2 and taking 1. (Gotta keep practicing!) It is tiring at first, but you can adapt to it. My first week of teaching "full time," I spent 90% of my free time napping. But now in a normal week I can teach 10x and practice beginner class 6x, plus 1 or 2 advanced classes, and I have energy to spare.

After a year or two, you may start to earn more. I don't want to tell you guys how much I make now because that's kind of tacky - you can email me if you really need to know - but I'm making significantly more than $50/class and I get some great benefits, too.

Second - How to Get Classes

This seems to be the big topic on the new teacher's discussion boards - getting classes to teach!!

There are plenty of people who chose to return to their normal jobs after training and just teach a couple times a week, and that's totally cool. Especially if you have a great salary that you're not ready or able to sacrifice, this is a really logical thing to do. Your learning curve will be a bit slower if you can only teach a couple times a week, but be patient with yourself.

If you're trying to get classes at a local studio, the etiquette is pretty standard. Call or email, introduce yourself, take class with the owner, and make yourself available. Definitely take class - it's the best way to show the owner your work ethic and your personality. Studio owners aren't looking for you to touch the floor in your backbend or lock out standing bow, but they do want to see if you're a hard worker, if you have a good attitude, and if you understand the yoga - and that stuff will all be obvious in your personal practice. Smile. Owners want to hire people who are nice to be around and won't scare off the newbies. Keep saying your dialogue out loud. Teach class to the birds and the fishes if you have to, but keep it flowing.

Now here's the big topic: what if you want to teach full time and there just aren't classes available in your area?

No choice - you have to move!!

You guys, there are so many jobs out there! And no, they're not in New York City or southern California or Vancouver or Paris. They're in Ohio and Michigan and Albama and Montana. And there are so. Many. Jobs. There are studios that are virtually begging for teachers. One of my friends - a girl who is temporarily teaching with me in Rhode Island - posted to the traveling teacher's group last week: "I need somewhere to teach in the states. What studios are looking for a good dialogue driven teacher? Graduated Fall 2009." She found a job within a couple of days, and she's gotten calls and messages from like half a dozen other studios. She's been like, "Omigod, this is great, but I'm good now, everybody can stop messaging me!!" There are so many jobs.

What you've gotta realize, especially as a new teacher, is that it doesn't really matter where you teach as long as you teach as much as possible. Sure, it's tempting to go for the exotic location or just stick with the familiar location at home, but that's not gonna make you a better teacher. If you want to make a career of this - (and if you don't, that's fine, just do it part-time) - if you really wanna go for it, you just have to get up and go where the work is. The more you teach, the better you get. The better you get, the more opportunities you will have. The more experiences you have, the more locations will be available to you. But to get yourself started? Man, it does not matter where you go. Just go to an established dialogue studio in the middle of Bumf*ck, Nowhere and teach 10/week for a couple of months. Your teaching will grow by leaps and bounds.

Specific Example - What I Did

When I graduated from TT in June 2010, I was still living in southern California.  My "home studio" could only give me maybe 4 classes a week, but I picked up tons of classes when other teachers got sick or went on summer vacation. I drove to the next-closest studio, an hour away, to pick up classes, and I taught a couple times in LA for free.  I went up to Fresno for one week and taught 10 classes there, and that helped immensely. And then I got out of there - like a bat out of hell! - and went to Baltimore because there was a studio there that could give me full time work. I had never been to Baltimore. I only knew one person there: the studio owner.

I planned to stay there for about 3 months. It ended up working out so well that I stayed there for almost a year and a half. Good fit.

While I was living in Baltimore - as my blog readers know - I also did a fair bit of traveling and teaching. In total, I've taught at 16 different studios since I graduated. (And I haven't even taught overseas yet - this is all domestic, in the U.S.) This is helpful in several ways. First, teaching in new places challenges you to grow as a teacher. It's easy to get in a rut if you just stand in the same spot and teach the same group of people every day. Second, it lets you experience more contrast. It opens up your world! You get to see all the different ways that studios operate - the styles, the policies, the communities, the attitudes, everything. This does more than just improve your teaching - it also help you figure out what you're looking for. Then you can really make an educated decision about what you want - and when that perfect opportunity finally presents itself, you will recognize it!!

I'm in such a great place right now - really, blissfully great - and I'm sure that I would not have gotten here if I hadn't done all that exploration first.

Third - Money Can't Buy Me Love!

If I hadn't gone to teacher training, I would still be a Ph.D. student and my income would actually be less that what it is now.

If I hadn't got to teacher training and had stuck with engineering, I could probably have made a six figure salary sometime within the next 10 years.

If I had become an engineer, I would be rich and miserable - because my heart was not there. Sitting in a lab for hours on end never made me happy.

There is no substitute for doing work that you love.

I have enough cash to live comfortably and have fun. I cook, I spend time with my friends, I go on adventures, I laugh often, and I teach almost every day. No substitute.

I have never regretted my choice to become a full time yoga teacher. I have no regrets and no doubts. I don't really know what I'll want in 5 years or 10 years, but I know what I want now, and this is it. It's good stuff.


I'm not even proofreading this post. I want to publish it before I head out to take class, teach class, get dinner at PF Chang's, and see Beauty and the Beast in 3D with the other yoga teachers. :) If there's anything that you think I have left out or got wrong, let me know in the comments and I will post an addendum.


Two days later, after many lovely comments and suggestions, here is Part Two!

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