What Is Yoga Worth?

Yoga and capitalism have an uneasy relationship, in my mind at least. In ideal circumstances, the business side of yoga flows organically and with ease, and in alignment with the core teachings of yoga (e.g., nonviolence, nonattachment, non-greed and truthfulness). Before I started teaching, I never considered myself an entrepreneur or a marketer, yet I truly enjoy spreading the word about what Red Owl is offering and helping our classes meet the community’s needs.

For the past few years I have been blessed with the best possible teaching arrangement with Red Owl. I teach the yoga I feel called to share, whenever I want. I can provide as much or as little energy and labour as I want, whenever I want, and always feel appreciated and compensated for my time. Eileen’s the best. 

Occasionally, though, I am asked by others to teach a class for no financial compensation. These requests can take many forms: anything from an acquaintance or colleague who’d like me to share some teachings in my free time, to an event organizer looking for presenters.

I’m grateful that the concept of “energy exchange” and valuing one’s own time and skills was covered in my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training course. Our teachers encouraged us not to give our teachings away for free. How can we expect others to value a yoga class when we place no value on it ourselves?

Fair compensation doesn’t always have to mean monetary payment. Sometimes the best exchanges don’t. But it still has to be fair.

When I was first teaching and looking to fill my practicum hours, I’d teach to groups of friends in exchange for their feedback, referrals or a home-cooked meal.

I’d teach in people’s homes or I’d rent studio space and ask for donations just to cover my costs. I’d team-teach for the benefit of working with and learning from other teachers. Once I auditioned for a spot on a studio’s schedule by teaching an unpaid class.

I’ve taught many karma classes to raise money for or offer services to organizations that I believe in. I will continue to offer service-based yoga whenever I see a need I can fulfill.

I also aspire to be a part of a true sharing economy. Not the one that Uber or Airbnb is sellling you on, but one where humans can trade skills and resources for the benefit of all. I’d be over the moon if I could share yoga classes for bodywork, nutritious food, business accounting, instruction in home repair, a photo shoot, you name it. (Seriously, let’s talk!)

All of the situations described above are a fair exchange, whether for resources or something less tangible but equally valuable like experience, growth or service to something greater.

But I will not teach for free. I have a steady enough schedule and studentship that I don’t need to teach uncompensated classes to “get my name out there”. And I won’t make financial arrangements that I believe undervalue my contributions or undercut other teachers.

In this groupon-centric world with a yoga studio opening and closing on every street corner on a weekly basis, it’s not easy to make a fair wage from drop-in classes. But I won’t forgo payment “just til we get up and running”, nor will I accept half the going rate that I was paid in 2009.

To my fellow teachers: Value yourself, and we will all be valued.

To my fellow students: Value the teachings you are receiving, and the teachings will be valuable to you.