Just over ten years ago at the age of 21, I started my yoga teaching journey. Well, I took my first yoga teacher-training. That was the first step. My passion for yoga was unexpected and I felt deeply drawn to pursuing a career in yoga. It’s been quite the ride! Now as a full-time yoga teacher at some of the most popular studios in the world, there’s plenty I wish I knew back then which could have saved me time and energy.
The journey was not always smooth! There have been many times I’ve considered quitting. However, teaching yoga has brought some of the most beautiful moments of my life (like leading transformational retreats in places like Hawaii, Bali and Costa Rica to name a few). These moments will carry you on your journey as a teacher, and if you persist, you will develop a thriving career.
You don’t need to be young, sexy, and flexible. You do, however, need to be creative, adaptable, and deeply determined to serve 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 pursue yoga as a career, but these are the exact things I wish I knew when I started my career, that would have saved me tons and tons of valuable time and wasted energy.
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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 teachers who make successful careers in yoga, 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’l 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 no “correct path” to becoming a yoga instructor. In fact, there is much debate as to whether a yoga-certification is even necessary to be a good teacher. To put it into perspective, one of my greatest teachers and a true yogi, 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 more competitive than it was when I did my training a decade ago. Because of that, it can be 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 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.
You can learn how to become a yoga instructor from any 200-hour or similar training. While it’s 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.
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. 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. Your yoga instructor career depends on it.
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 yoga teacher 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.
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 impulse 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 which leads to an increase in your yoga teacher salary.
6. Start teaching 2-3 classes a day.
Let’s try to address a common question: how much does a yoga teacher make?
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 yoga teachers an earn additional income, 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, a private yoga instructor earns $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 yoga instructor 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
Learning how to be a yoga teacher is just the beginning. Building yoga careers usually takes at least 2-3 years at least of consistent effort. However, you’ll have many small victories along the way that will start to add up. I often see young teachers becoming frustrated because they want it to happen faster. It almost never does. It’s important to celebrate the small wins, but 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 www.buildyouryogabiz.com.
I also offer FREE resources for yoga teachers who want to boost their career and attract private clients here: www.buildyouryogabiz.com/blueprint and a FREE 3-part video called the Yoga Retreat Blueprint to give you the tools to host your own retreat one day here: www.buildyouryogabiz.com/retreatblueprint
If you are interested in participating in one of my retreats in Thailand, or my 200 hours Yoga Alliance Certified Yoga Teacher Training in Ubud, Bali sign up here at Yogaeastwest.com. At East+West, we combine having an Indian Master with a Western Teacher such as myself, creating a luxurious ashram experience in eco-resorts in the most exotic locations around the world.
Connect with Shayna Hiller
Shayna has been teaching yoga and leading yoga retreats around the world for over a decade. She currently runs women’s empowerment retreats in Bali and Tantra-Yoga retreats in Costa Rica as well as local retreats in California and other destinations around the world.
She has over 500 hours professional training and is a Yoga-Alliance-Certified Yoga-Teacher, Pranassage Practitioner, Children’s Yoga Teacher and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. Alas, life has been (and still is) the greatest teacher of all…
Shayna is originally from New Jersey, but lived and learned in the jungles of Costa Rica for five years of her early adult life. This is where she experienced her most significant healing and personal transformation.
It is both Shayna’s passion and privilege to share her wisdom and methods to empower people of their inherent capacity to experience ecstasy and bring their deepest desires to life.
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