What does it take to succeed as an Ashtanga teacher or studio?
I think we all can agree that it ain’t easy being an Ashtanga teacher.
Talk to any of the senior Western teachers and you can get stories about the slow, slow starts to their teaching careers. Tales of rooms with very few students. Questionable looks from parents (the teachers’ parents). Encouragement from Guruji: “Slow growing is good.” The additions of Hanuman to add “external prana” to the studio (i.e. money).
Yoga’s boomed since, of course, and I think a fair number of these teachers have (like Guruji himself) finally gotten the rewards for their long years of labor. But I’m certain it still is tough, making sure there are enough students, managing the business side of things and keeping the yoga teaching as they want it to be.
I know, for instance, just how critical it is to be a good business person in order to run a business. One can be the absolute best at what one does and still fail miserably if the routine, but necessary, business matters aren’t handled.
For a yoga teacher — especially one who is running/owning a shala — those matter can include: rent; insurance; maintenance costs; start-up purchases (yoga blocks, mats, etc.) and continuing purchases; basic business costs (an accountant, computers, the website and online schedule, printing schedules and other material).
From that I want to turn to the number 30.
In comments about the closing of the Greenwich Jois shala, 30 students seemed to pop up a few times as representing a crowded, and potentially even robust, Mysore room. That does seem like a pretty full Mysore room, even spread out over a three-hour morning.
I’m not so sure we should assume that’s a winning number, however.
What follows is going to be very broadstroke, but I think it demonstrates the difficulty of maintaining an Ashtanga shala.
First off, think about a big chain yoga studio. They have a couple handful of classes each day, at least; maybe approaching 20. I’ve been in some, and they can crowd 40 or more people in. Many aren’t nearly that busy, but if you get three to four classes approaching that size, you’ve got a student base of 100 to maybe 125, easy. Add some other classes, and you might have close to 200 regular students.
Contrast that with 30.
But there’s more, really.
Lets just say an Ashtanga studio does have 30 regular students, all paying their fees on schedule. (Did I just venture into fantasyland? A little, perhaps.) To make the math easy, I’m going to say they are paying a high for some areas, low for other areas fee of $200/month.
That’s $6,000 a month, $72,000 a year.
An OK salary? Maybe. But then one needs to start chipping away at expenses: rent (I know the Jois Encinitas rent was said in the Vanity Fair article to be $10,000 a month), those business expenses, insurance ($140 for full time instructors via Yoga Alliance). How about transportation?
How about paying teachers? Even if there is one main (certified? authorized?) teacher, there has to be some assistance, right? I know the pay for assistants can be pretty small, but a few hundred dollars a month cuts into that $6,000.
See where 30 students doesn’t go very far?
Of course, there are other ways for yoga teachers — probably especially ones who are running their own shalas — to make more money: private sessions, weekend workshops, maybe a little retail in the shala, etc. But that doesn’t help much if you aren’t making a solid, base living via the studio.
It certainly doesn’t make it easy to keep the studio open.
And 30 students probably isn’t going to let many teachers do that, unless the overhead is as close to nill as possible: Perhaps the teacher just rents space for the Mysore class, for instance. But, still, does that leave much more than $4,500 to $5,000 per month left? (Again, I’m broad brushing here, spitballing, as they say.)
As Bobbie wrote a few months back, Ashtanga isn’t popular, really. If you run a “yoga” studio, you can draw in students for a bunch of different reasons: 15 regulars for Mysore, 20 for Iyengar, 50 for the flow classes scheduled so conveniently after work. Even if one charges those 85 students just $125/month, you’re pulling in more than $10,000. You might have more overhead, but you also have more students.
Another key difference: Unlike with Ashtanga, students at a “yoga” studio probably aren’t being encouraged to come six days a week. It is entirely possible that those three or four classes I imagined above, with 40 or so students, actually represent double that number because the students might be practicing just three times a week. That would also be why a chain yoga studio would charge far less than an Ashtanga one. We might really be talking 200 or 250 students, all being charged $90 per month. Now we’re in the $20,000 per month range. (This link settles on 273 students as the number needed, and that only ends up giving the owner a $3,000/month salary.)
The bottom-line, I guess I’m arguing, is even a really crowded Mysore room — 40 students, 50? — is still cutting things pretty thin when it comes to keeping that Ashtanga studio open. (Ten grand per month in student fees at the Encinitas Jois shala, for instance, might only cover rent, according to the above number I cited.)
And I’m probably arguing, further, than some of the fundamentals to Ashtanga conspire to create a fairly difficult yoga to make profitable. Unless you can draw hundreds of students and charge even more than $200 per month.
I know we have readers who are yoga teachers or run (or help run) shalas. Do feel free to weigh in on your experiences.
Posted by Steve