Of Course It’s Hard To Make Money As A Yoga Teacher. Here's How To Make It Work
Surviving in the fitness industry is no small feat. Every few months a new article reminds you of this, such as a recent New York magazine story on the economic challenges of teaching yoga. While industry professionals have varying responses, one thing is clear: Moving people for a living requires serious hustle.
Movement is what I’ve built my career around. For 11 years I’ve physically moved people as a yoga and fitness instructor at Equinox Fitness, mentally moved minds as a music and religion journalist, and emotionally moved people on the dance floor as a DJ and producer.
Moving people for a living requires serious hustle.
While I have no package to sell you on exactly how to build a successful career, I can point to three crucial components that have helped me survive and thrive as a movement professional.
1. Be knowledgeable and willing to try something new.
Staying informed on research and new modalities is essential. I received my yoga teacher certification 12 years ago, but a year ago I became certified with ACE and AFAA, two top fitness industry programs. While yoga trainings are wonderful, schools can be quite specific in how they train teachers to move bodies. The reality is we move in an infinite number of directions. We want to be safe in our instruction, but we also don’t want to limit our possibilities.
A few weeks ago I began teaching a new class called Fully Loaded at Equinox. It’s a VIPR-based class specifically aimed at multiplanar movement. It's certainly a change of pace from teaching yoga, and the students can be more demanding.
But continually educating yourself on various aspects of movement alongside better body mechanics (are people really still doing crunches?) is necessary in staying ahead of the game.
2. Don't teach the same class over and over again.
I have a short attention span for monotony. If I show up to a class and in the first three minutes I know exactly what’s ahead for the next 87, it is not a class I will return to.
If an instructor stops challenging himself (or herself), they will not challenge their classes. Or they’ll only challenge them in the same way, helping no one. Education fuels creativity: The more classes you take and disciplines you study, the more ideas you can later apply.
For 12 years I’ve created a new yoga sequence and playlist every single week. Not only does this challenge me, it keeps things fresh for everyone else. Your creative impulse inspires others to develop their own.
3. You must constantly evolve.
The combination of education and creativity leads to innovation, which is what propels you forward in the fitness industry.
Music has been my life — and has helped me innovate my movement practices. Years of studying neuroscience and movement helped me create Flow Play for Equinox, a national music, yoga, and neuroscience program, among others I've developed. Music is the prime driver behind movement. Knowing how music works neurochemically makes you a more knowledgeable professional; your classes feel the effects, even if they don’t know why.
A famous study of London cabdrivers showed that their hippocampi (the region of the human brain that deals with memory and spatial navigation) were much larger than in us regular drivers. Years later, another study showed that after GPS was introduced their hippocampi shrunk.
Fitness professionals should take note of this. Teaching and practicing the same formats — yoga, cycling, tabatas, or others — day in and day out, will, over time, make you complacent. Evolving your career through education, creativity, and innovation will not only keep you in the best possible shape physically, mentally, and emotionally, it might just help you stay financially supported by the industry you love so much.