We Asked 3 People What Teaching Yoga is Really Like. Here’s What They Said

Staff at the Penny Hoarder take a yoga break at the office in St. Petersburg, Fla. Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

Whether we’re talking hatha or Ashtanga, yoga is hot.

More than 20 million Americans practice this ancient fusion of exercise and spirituality, fueling a $27 billion industry.

For many new yogis, falling in love with yoga is quickly followed by the thought of becoming a yoga . Which is quickly followed by many questions.

Like… Do I have the right body? How much does training cost? Will I actually make money?

The answers are “yes,” “it depends” and “maybe,” according to Taya Smythe, who’s been a yoga teacher for seven years.

I asked her and two others for their advice on becoming a yoga teacher — as well as the inside scoop on what this career is really like.

So if you’ve ever daydreamed about downward dog-ing for a living, keep reading.

Do You Have the Right Body?  

Truth time: To be a yoga teacher, do you have to be a size zero who can turn yourself into a pretzel upon command?

The answer is an unequivocal “no,” according to the teachers I spoke to.

“There is absolutely nothing physical or body-related to being a yoga teacher,” says Dave Ursillo, a yoga teacher from Rhode Island.

“Great yoga teachers excel at holding space for students, creating nurturing environments for one and all, and sharing the gift of yoga with presence and humility.”

Lindsay Hogg, who teaches yoga in Canada, agrees: “I am not a typical [yoga] body type at all… I’m sure some people judge me sometimes, but then they take my class and it rocks.”

How Much Does Training Cost?

If you’d like to become an official yoga teacher, you need to complete a certification course —  preferably one recognized by Yoga Alliance, a nonprofit organization that certifies Registered Yoga Schools.

The most basic level is the RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) 200-hour course, which involves classroom training, hands-on instruction and a final exam.

The timeline and costs of these courses vary widely: Ursillo’s course lasted six months and cost $2,000, while Hogg’s intensive course lasted two weeks and cost CA$5,000 (approximately US$4,000).

Some teachers choose to attend yoga school in India or other foreign countries, where courses (and cost of living) are much cheaper.

Training is available in the many different styles of yoga, from hatha to Bikram to vinyasa — so it’s wise to try as many as you can before committing to a course.

“Find a style that complements what you enjoy and what feels good and natural in your body,” recommends Ursillo.

And wherever you go, consider your decision carefully.

“Training can vary so much in type, destination and cost,” explains Hogg. “Make sure you talk to some other teachers that have completed the training, so you can have a game plan on how to start teaching right after.”

Smythe trained in Indiana in 2009; her course lasted six months and cost approximately $3,000.

She emphasizes the importance of interviewing your potential teacher(s) before committing to a course.

Specifically, she recommends you ask these questions:

  • What their outline looks like IN DETAIL so they cannot trail off about how “I see how the energy of the group is” — that means they have nothing planned, and that’s BS when you’re paying thousands of dollars.
  • What inspired them to lead trainings — and if they say “heart” six times and “called” 12 [times], then bail because their vision is underdeveloped and plagiarized from a quote at a yoga festival last summer.
  • What will happen weekly during the training, so you have clear expectations if you sign up, and you get a feel for the pace and workload that will occur.
  • Their personal experience with yoga, [to help you] get a feel for if you resonate with this person before you (if they’re going to lecture about their eating disorder that was healed in their own training, for the six months you spend with them, maybe look into another program).

How Much Do Yoga Instructors Make?

With the influx of yoga teachers in the past several years, yoga teaching jobs are becoming more competitive.

The majority of teachers I talked to found their first jobs at the studios where they did their training — another reason to choose your course wisely.

That’s how Ursillo found his first job; he now teaches yoga one to five times per week.

“I am grateful for the income and treat it like a little bonus to doing something I love (teaching people, sharing, serving) while developing key skill sets and experience that money can’t buy,” he says.

Hogg, the Canadian yogi, also earns a part-time income from her work as a teacher, making up the rest through website and social media work.

Like Ursillo, she teaches at the studio where she trained — and had to “put in a lot of volunteer/trial hours” before earning her first paycheck.

She teaches a handful of classes each month, earning CA$40 CAD (approximately $32 US) per class.

That seems to be a fairly standard rate, though Ursillo notes some studios pay up to $60-$100 per class if they include bonuses for student turnout.

Keep in mind that although your actual teaching time may only be one hour, most studios require you to be there 30 minutes before class to sign students in, as well as 30 minutes afterwards to close up shop.

If you make an average of $30 per class, that works out to around $15 an hour.

Should You Become a Yoga Teacher?

As you can see, becoming a yoga teacher is not a path to monetary riches (though spiritual and physical wealth are different).

The industry may be booming right now — and you may enjoy yoga — but that still doesn’t mean teaching yoga is a fit for you.

“Maybe it seems like the ‘right path’ because it’s established rather than it being what is really calling you,” Smythe warns.

“Following your highest excitement is what will ground you and support you. Check in with that often.”

For example, let’s say your training costs $3,000, and you earn $15 an hour and teach two classes per week. Although it might be a fun side gig, it’ll still take you more than two years to recoup the cost of your investment.

In other words, don’t become a yoga teacher if you’re in it for the money.

Only do it if you’re committed to bettering the lives of your students.

“The most important thing is realizing you’re stepping into that yoga room for others,” says Hogg. “The class is not about you; it’s about your students.”

“Being a great teacher is remembering and continually renewing your commitment to students,” Ursillo adds.

“In the end, [it’s] about leading by example as you strive to be the best soul that you can be.”

Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.