build a loyal student base
plan dynamic classes
optimize your own practice
become more financially stable
maintain a marketing plan
use social media effectively
create a unique brand identity
inspire even more students to embrace yoga
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The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga
The Yoga Professional's Guide to a Fulfilling Career
By Amy Ippoliti, Taro Smith
New World LibraryCopyright © 2016 Amy Ippoliti and Taro Smith, PhD
All rights reserved.
Millions of people have experienced yoga's benefits. Some have found that it lessens pain or stress, and some have incorporated yoga into their meditation or spiritual practice. Many others find that yoga just feels good and increases their overall sense of well-being.
Yoga has traditionally been seen as a path to heightened consciousness and mindfulness, though this aspect is increasingly less emphasized in the West. The practice facilitates a profound awareness of how body, mind, and spirit are linked and how each individual is connected to all life on the planet.
In a world dominated by nonstop activity and the proliferation of high-tech devices, yoga is one of the few popular endeavors that require only a sticky mat and a commitment to practice. No technology is needed.
As a yoga practitioner, you know that yoga practice is sometimes the only time of day when someone truly unplugs, enters a state of calm, moves their body, and simply breathes. As a yoga teacher, you have the honor and privilege of guiding people through that process — a process that is sometimes delightful and often challenging, but always rewarding.
Teaching yoga is often thought of as a lifestyle business. This means that you have chosen a pastime that is central to your own lifestyle and are taking the chance that you can create a career, or supplement other income, by devoting yourself to it.
We are called to teach because we love any excuse to get on our yoga mats, cherish watching our students develop, and likely have a pronounced aversion to cubicle life, endless meetings, and uncomfortable shoes!
The Good News about Teaching Yoga Today
Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, the professional organization representing yoga teachers, studios, and schools, conducted an extensive study into the current state of yoga in the United States. According to their 2016 "Yoga in America" report, 36.7 million people practice yoga, up from 20.4 million in 2012. Yoga is not only growing, it's booming. In fact, 28 percent of all Americans have taken a yoga class at some point in their lives. More men and more older people are practicing than ever before: in 2015, there were approximately 10 million male practitioners and almost 14 million practitioners over the age of fifty.
Yogis are also contributing to the economy, spending over $16 billion annually on classes, yoga clothing, equipment, and accessories, up from $10 billion in 2012. Evidently, yoga is enticing: 34 percent of Americans say they are somewhat likely or very likely to practice yoga in the next twelve months — which is equal to more than 80 million Americans. Why do they want to try yoga? They reported wanting to increase their flexibility, relieve stress, and improve their fitness levels.
According to the survey, yoga is an increasing part of life in the United States. Since 2012, the percentage of Americans aware of yoga has jumped from 75 percent to 90 percent. One in three Americans have tried yoga on their own (not in a class) at least once.
The findings also indicate that yoga practitioners tend to have a positive self-image: they are 20 percent more likely than nonpractitioners to report that they have "good balance," "good physical agility or dexterity," or "good range of motion or flexibility" or that they "give back to the community."
The study also shows that yoga students are highly concerned about their health, their community, and the environment. More than 50 percent of practitioners report trying to eat sustainable foods and live green, compared with about a third of the general population. Nearly half of yoga practitioners report donating time to their communities, compared with just 26 percent of those who don't practice yoga.
Perhaps not surprisingly, yoga teachers and teacher trainees are even more tuned in to environmental and social issues and to living and eating consciously than other yoga practitioners: 22 percent of yoga teachers and trainees are vegetarians, compared with 8 percent of other yoga practitioners and 3 percent of the general public; and 60 percent of yoga teachers and trainees use natural health and beauty products, compared with 44 percent of other yoga practitioners and 21 percent of the general public.
Statistics like these support what has always been true in the yoga circles in which I run: yogis are living life with more self-awareness and positive self-regard, and as a result of this increased sensitivity, they are making an encouraging difference for the environment and in their communities.
What does all this mean for you as a teacher or aspiring teacher? The demand for yoga teachers is higher than ever — and unlikely to decrease anytime soon.
The Challenges of Being a Yoga Teacher
With statistics like those above, it's clear that as a yoga teacher, you're part of a movement that is growing exponentially and one that is becoming more and more a part of life in our society. As exciting as this can be, it's important to recognize that there are also challenges that come along with becoming or being a teacher. This book will help you understand and minimize these challenges, see how they apply to your specific situation, and find ways to manage them with skill and finesse.
First, with the growing popularity of yoga, the demand for teacher training has created a small army of yoga teachers all over the world, and you are just one of them. It's not as easy to stand out as it used to be.
At the same time, because of this popularity, modern yoga is sometimes criticized as being overly commercialized. Awareness of these criticisms can make it difficult to feel confident promoting yourself, spreading the word about your teaching, or asking to be compensated for your time and energy.
What's more, even though you have probably invested lots of time and money in developing your yoga education, teaching yoga has not traditionally been a lucrative career.
Yoga and Money
The ethical aspects of combining yoga with business, money, and marketing can be troubling: 50 percent of yoga teachers polled in our courses reported feeling awkward about charging for their teaching. But a great many of these teachers reported that they felt uncomfortable because of what other people think about yoga and money.
The reality is that yoga means different things to different people. Here are three common categories or belief systems:
1. Those who think that yoga should maintain its roots solely in an esoteric and spiritual practice and are therefore more likely to have a hard time with the commercial side of yoga and its marketing and promotion.
2. Those who see yoga teaching as a hobby or side job. These yogis are usually fortunate enough to be able to teach without worrying about compensation.
3. Those who live fully in the twenty-first-century, modern world and see teaching yoga as a profession through which they earn a living.
If you're serious about teaching yoga as an occupation, I'd like to help you understand why the third category is the clear choice and how the other two belief systems can confuse the profession of teaching yoga.
Yoga is now a $16 billion industry in the United States. Marketing of yoga accessories — everything from mats, props, and bags to yoga-specific clothing and even jewelry and nutritional supplements — has exploded. Promoters organize yoga conferences and festivals with lots of tangentially related activities, such as music concerts, slacklining, hula hooping, stand-up paddle boarding, and even wine tasting. With the promotional efforts that accompany these enterprises, criticism is inevitable.
For yoga teachers thinking of yoga as both a practice and a profession, it's helpful to understand the current state of affairs, and also to know a little of the history of yoga in both India and the West. Yoga practice and teaching in the West have been heavily influenced by particular schools of yoga with a focus on spiritual enlightenment — the traditions of Patanjali's classical yoga and Advaita Vedanta — using yoga to transcend our identification with the material world. Practitioners of these forms of yoga renounced material wealth and other forms of indulgence, many taking vows of celibacy. But these schools of yoga and their philosophies are not the only ones; they just happen to be the forms that gained an early foothold in the West. As a result, the yoga world is dealing with the residual effects of this one outlook.
Those who object to treating yoga as a business perhaps fail to consider that yoga is not solely a spiritual practice: it is a form of education, encompassing physical activity, wellness, philosophy, and even history. And if yoga is a multifaceted form of education rather than an esoteric spiritual quest, it stands to reason that, as with other forms of training, such as piano lessons or a language course, a yoga education costs money. It is time for a more modern paradigm in the West, one that regards teaching yoga, like other forms of schooling, as a legitimate profession.
While sleazy marketing is unattractive in any field, and particularly in yoga, yoga cannot be kept free of promotion or commerce. If yoga teachers do not promote the merits of yoga and their own expertise in teaching it, then how will people find the path to those benefits? The great rewards of yoga are worth sharing with the world. The distinctive gifts that yoga teachers can offer their students are worth publicizing, and in our modern world they have monetary value.
It might help to apply some fundamental yoga philosophy to the controversy. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (second century CE) discusses two concepts for explaining reality: prakriti and purusha.
Matter Relative world Money Change Diversity The little things
Spirit The absolute The eternal Permanence Oneness The big picture
Prakriti encompasses matter, the material world, feelings and emotions, anything that changes, diversity, and the "little things," including money. Purusha encompasses spirit, the absolute, the eternal, that which does not change.
Purusha-prioritizing traditions see the material world as a problem to be fixed or to withdraw from. Sayings such as "I am not this body, I am not this mind" and "All of that is an illusion" come from a school identified with purusha. Strict followers attempt to suppress their feelings, stanch desire, conquer the human ego, and retreat from the real world through meditation in order to attain the beautiful vision of purusha. An exclusive focus on other-than-the-world makes it difficult to negotiate our twenty-first-century sphere.
There is an alternative view that embraces both prakriti and purusha. It is embodied in the Tantric schools of yoga, which are not as well known in the West. Tantra has come to be thought of as all about sexuality, but it is actually a much broader body of yoga and philosophy, one that addresses all aspects of human life. (To learn more about the origins of Tantra, we recommend The Origins of Yoga and Tantra by Geoffrey Samuel or The Alchemical Body by David G. White.)
Embracing both prakriti and purusha allows us to acknowledge that there are mouths to feed, worthy organizations working to make a difference that need our support, bills to pay, and kids to put through college. None of this is illusory; it is real.
Dichotomies that characterize yoga as beautiful and consumerism as ugly are neither helpful nor realistic. In fact, there is no escaping consumerism through yoga; humans, like everything else in the food chain, must eat and consume resources. The more interesting and important question is, How can we create a paradigm for thinking about money and consumerism that is ethical, conscious, and sustainable?
The Vicious Cycle of Yoga Teaching
I started the "90 Minutes" course because I knew what a privilege it is to teach yoga and live the lifestyle of a yogi. However, as a trainer of yoga teachers and a teacher myself, I was witnessing firsthand the struggles we went through to make ends meet. Over and over I saw teachers in what I came to call the "vicious cycle of yoga teaching." It goes like this:
1. Run all over town teaching eighteen or more classes a week to make ends meet.
2. Oops, no time for your own practice! No time to plan classes!
3. Teach subpar class because of lack of practice, inspiration, or groundedness.
4. Get home, have no time for reflection, fun, recreation, or family.
5. Get up the next day with even less inspiration, and teach to a dwindling number of students.
6. Make insufficient money to pay bills, afford necessary continuing education, or have much-needed free time.
Seeing good teachers teaching too many classes per week in order to pay bills and with no time or money for continuing education is painful. Many injure themselves during demonstrations because they have not been able to give time to their own practice and therefore stay strong in their bodies. Their classes and students inevitably suffer as a result.
Witnessing the graduates of my teacher trainings struggling to such a severe degree led me to put as much time into studying business as I had put into studying yoga philosophy. I wanted to help other yoga teachers, and by extension their students, by teaching them professional business practices.
Studying business and marketing gave me valuable tools, and it also taught me that there are two realities you need to face as a yoga teacher. Here they are, along with my suggestions for navigating them:
1. Most American full-time yoga teachers fall into the vicious cycle, especially new ones. Some teachers manage to avoid it, but given the changing nature of the market, there's no guarantee that you will be able to. I suggest that you keep this reality in mind and try to avoid falling into the cycle to the best of your ability, by not teaching more classes than you can happily handle (see pages 72–78) and by building your own practice time into your schedule every week.
2. We cannot control the market because there will always be yoga teachers willing to work for very little — since either they are new and eager to work or they are treating their teaching as a hobby. The choice to teach for less than market value unfortunately devalues the services all yoga professionals offer, so ultimately we must make the best of what the market will bear. The good news is that the more educated you are about professional business practices, the more likely it is that the market will reward you.
Your practice, your teaching, and your classes all benefit from your ability to view yoga as a valuable profession in today's world. Your students need you to be as skillful at life's practicalities as you are on the mat. As I hope is now clear, yoga and everyday life actually can't be separated.
The Full Scope of Teaching Yoga Today
Yoga classes are often a refuge for students, a rare and precious place of quiet, reflection, and connection with self and with community. The spaces where we teach can often feel sacred, places where something special happens. But we aren't preachers or gurus. We don't tell others what to believe.
What we do is teach asana, a physical practice, informed by years of tradition and philosophy. We are in the business of offering a path to spiritual health and wellness. The multifaceted nature of our endeavor (art and profession, involving body, mind, and spirit) may strike some as paradoxical, but this multifaceted, twenty-first-century educational paradigm is empowering. Embrace it.
Excerpted from The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga by Amy Ippoliti, Taro Smith. Copyright © 2016 Amy Ippoliti and Taro Smith, PhD. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I Becoming a Yoga Teacher
Chapter 1 Teaching Today 3
Chapter 2 Presenting Yourself as a Teacher 17
Part II Getting Down to Business
Chapter 3 Yoga Business Basics 43
Chapter 4 Building Your Business 65
Chapter 5 Marketing Your Business 81
Chapter 6 Social Media 95
Chapter 7 Forming Good Professional Relationships 115
Chapter 8 Managing Your Business Finances 121
Part III Teaching Well
Chapter 9 Class Planning and Preparation 129
Chapter 10 Teaching a Class 153
Chapter 11 Self-Care 167
Conclusion: Light Up the World 177
About the Authors 189