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Yoga Instructor

The Real Poop

You've been working in a high-stress, high-powered corporate job for over ten years. You had stress-related kinks in your neck, cramps in your calves, and you were seeing a therapist three times weekly. Then, a friend suggested you try yoga to mellow out.

That was three years ago, and you haven't skipped a day since. Even if it means waking up for a 5am class.

At one of these classes, while you were trying to "center" yourself and quiet your racing mind, you realized—mid downward-facing dog—that your yoga instructor always looks so happy. There she is, smiling, beaming at you, radiating sunshine and flower petals and puppies.

You're good at yoga. You'’re sure you can do her job. So why not become a yoga instructor?

Good question. Why not become a yoga instructor? There'’s several possible reasons, but first….

Let's take a moment and breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Aaahhh, yoga. If you've been alive at all in the past ten years, then you know vaguely what yoga is, and you also know that it's trendier than voting for Barack Obama circa 2008. Because everyone who's anyone within the granola-crunching, quinoa-eating set (and increasingly, the arthritic, hip-afflicted baby-boomer set in search of low-impact exercise) is a self-declared yogi. Generally speaking, it's not a bad idea to hop on this bandwagon and ride it for all it's worth (which, in monetary terms, isn'’t all that much).

But yoga instructors aren’t exactly Wall Street stockbrokers. They make less (sometimes, much less) than half of what a high school teacher makes, and high school teachers aren’t paid that well to begin with. So you have to think hard. (Or “meditate,” if that makes it easier for you.) While you love yoga as a little side hobby, will you be equally able to focus on your asana, pranayama, and dhyana when you’re having a hard time paying the utilities bill and can no longer afford your kale, spinach, and mango morning smoothie? Maybe not so much.

And while it’s certainly doable, becoming a yoga instructor is a definite commitment. Don’t expect to walk into your nearest yoga shala, and walk out—voilà!—a yoga instructor. Most practicing yoga instructors need to be certified as Registered Yoga Teachers through Yoga Alliance. The minimum credential requires completion of a 200-hour training program. The next rung up the yogi ladder? Five hundred hours of training and 100 hours of teaching experience. Assuming you dedicate five hours every day to your training, that second-tier certification will take four months. 

A warning, though: The certification process ain’t cheap. Expect to invest upwards of $3,000 into your training program. A drop in the bucket compared to the cost of a university degree, but still a lot of money when yoga instructors aren’t very well paid and generally overworked.

It’s not a surprise, then, that a lot of people become certified yoga instructors later in life, after they’ve given corporate life a chance. These are often people who saved up some money from their old jobs, which helps mitigate some of the financial risks. Straight out of the gate, you’ll almost definitely have a difficult time finding clients—and even when you do, you might only be making $2 to $3 per person hour-long session. Ouch.

And while you’re expected to dedicate yourself wholly to creating a peaceful and stress-free environment for your clients, the life of a professional yoga instructor is surprisingly stressful. While some part-time yoga instructors teach only three to four classes a week, full-time instructors will take on a heavy load between roughly 12 and 21 classes a week. When you have four classes in one day—some at private shalas, some at hospitals or retirement homes (be prepared for a dose of old people smell), and several private one-on-one clients, you know who isn’t getting their yoga on? You. No time to practice!

Or maybe, this morning you’re feeling a little down, or worn out, and in need of some TLC yourself? Tough. You gotta put your best face forward, walk into that class with a smile on your face, and give your yogis your all. Their yoga studio is your office. Yoga instructors don’t call in sick. Because yoga instructors are, or at least need to project themselves as, superhumans immune to the commonplace viruses and bacterial infections we mortals face.

Still think you have what it takes to be a yoga instructor? Here are some of the things you should be sure you have.

A passion for yoga. (Shocking, we know.) Contorting your body into all sorts of stressful positions and then remembering to “breathe in, breathe out” needs to give you a rush. (And not just a head rush from falling blood pressure.)

You need to be physically fit, which as a dedicated yogi, you probably are. Cautionary note: We hate to break it to you, but as a yoga instructor, you’ll be looked at as a sort of fitness inspiration for your clients. Which means if you don’t look stereotypically “fit,” then you might have a hard time convincing your clients to take you seriously. Harsh, but true.

And as a yoga instructor, you’re classified as a “fitness professional.” You’ve probably got the fitness down. How about the “professional” part?

Your job is about providing a safe space in which others can learn about and safely practice yoga. Which means you need to be a naturally inspirational and motivational person capable of getting your clients to do exactly that. Are you that kind of person? Here’s a quick test: When your best friend announced his intention to jump off the third story of your high school and land on a skateboard planted below, you were the person who said, “Go on! You can do it!” Lo and behold, he did it. And now he’s a professional stuntman. Has that happened to you? If so, pretty good bet that you’ll be awesome at getting people to do unspeakably weird poses with their body that a body isn’t meant to do.

By the way, in accomplishing this, crinkly-eyed smiles and “good vibes” should be your weapons of choice. Remember, your yogis are your customers. And like anyone in customer service, you need to be (able to pretend to be) friendly, approachable, and polite. You are not a trainer on The Biggest Loser. If you’re screaming at your clients or otherwise losing your cool, it won’t be long before your “Om” turns into an, “Om…my god, I was just fired.”

So listen to your clients, communicate with them, and respect them, after all, some of your clients might be pretty powerful, stressed-out people who shouldn’t be messed with. And by the way, you can be pretty darn sure every single one of your clients—even the least powerful of them—is wealthier than you are.

There you have it. Becoming a yoga instructor might bring meaning to your life, paint a smile on your face, and make the whole world seem a little brighter; But more likely, becoming a yoga instructor will have you begging for your 9-to-5 job with enough of a paycheck that you could actually afford to take the yoga classes you’re now teaching.

Typical Words Yoga Instructors Need to Know:

Adho Mukha Svanasana: downward-facing dog

Asana: means “seat,” the physical postures

Buddha: an enlightened person, “the Buddha” refers to Sidhhartha Gautama, who became enlightened and then taught yoga in India a really long time ago

Iyengar: yoga with props like belts and blocks that’s good for newbies

Namaste: also not a stereotype, said at the end of the class to position yourself within the universe

Om: actually not a stereotype, a chant used before, during, and after yoga classes

Power yoga: way more athletic version of yoga originating with '80s Westerners looking for a new fad

Sutra: classical texts, such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

Prana: life energy, chi

Pranayama: breath awareness

Yoga: means “union”