What It's Really Like To Teach Yoga After Kids


Image by Tasiania/Shutterstock

Ok, I know we’re not supposed to talk about money + yoga because that’s taboo.

But.

Yoga’s complicated. It can be at once an ascetic spiritual practice, an embodied meditation tool, a commodified secular fitness regimen, an ancient ethical philosophy, and a New Age approach to wellness.

And yes, lots of people teach yoga only for the joy of it, as heart service, with no expectation of anything in return (e.g. payment). 

(And that's AWESOME.)

But, after 14 years in the yoga world, and having witnessed the explosion of the yoga-industrial-complex, I also know more and more teachers who are turning their yoga-teaching labor of love into the kind of vocational/professional labor of love that also helps to pay the bills.

And that’s ok. That’s great! That’s fine.

(Um, right? Is it? Erm, ok, that's another conversation.)

More power to any worker bee who manages to get paid to do what she loves, amirite?

But there’s something I’d like to put out there for every full-time yoga teacher who’s thinking about getting pregnant anytime soon.

This is what it’s like to teach yoga after kids.

It’s really hard.

It’s really friggin’ hard.

I’d go so far to say: it's a super-gendered microcosm of the well-documented American problem of affordable childcare (and the lack thereof), and the way in which women's careers often go in the freezer once they have children.

I don't know any parent alive who doesn't struggle with the push-pull complexities of childcare. The huge expense, the non-stop sickness from all the kiddie germs, the guilt over having someone else raise your kid, the aching for your sweet one when you're stuck doing a job you hate just to pay the bills and keep your insurance; and on the flip side, the mind-numbing daily routine of being a stay-at-home-parent, the loneliness of spending your days isolated from other adults, the grief and frustration of watching your career go down the tubes while your colleagues speed ahead, the ache for the professional work you love that you no longer have time to do because you're home making sandwiches and wiping butts. 

It's so damn hard, for everyone, truly. 

The relentless dukkha of parenting is trying to figure out just the right balance of letting the tribe raise your child whilst missing said kid and maintaining a toe in the water of your professional self and managing four hours of sleep a night, all at the same time.

But what I’ve witnessed in the yoga world is that: when they hit thirtysomething, full-time male yoga teachers (yes, even the ones with children) continue to successfully build their careers. Full-time female teachers get pregnant and quit teaching (or scale back dramatically) after the little bambino comes along.

Why? Because it’s next to impossible to maintain teaching yoga full-time as a viable career path once you have children.

Not being dramatic here. Just being real.

Let’s break it down.

As a 30ish singleton in SF, I made it work, with ease. Teaching 5-6 days a week (11-12 classes) and bartending two evenings a week, I made a comfortable six figures annually, up to the point where I could quit bartending and just teach full-time. Privates, studio classes, corporate classes, non-profit free classes, you know the drill. It was all viable, joyful, inspiring, sometimes exhausting, and largely rewarding.

Sure, there was an urban hustle involved, zipping from class to class and studio to studio a few times a day, but that’s part of what you sign up for as a budding urban yoga teacher, right? Teaching like this provided a more-than-comfortable income that let me shop at Whole Foods, pay for health insurance, travel and train internationally, buy fresh flowers for my kitchen table, and cover my Nob Hill one-bedroom rent and then some.

The key to that financial success, though, was the fact that in the Bay Area, an established yoga teacher can make $250+ teaching a popular class that’s paid by the head, privates pay $200 give or take, and corporate classes pay upwards of $150 an hour.  

(Ohmigod, she's talking about money, I feel so awkward right now.) 

Deep breath, you'll be fine.

In B-markets, places like Austin or Portland or Asheville, the numbers shift dramatically. The same class that paid $250 in Oakland will pay $40-50 there. And that’s a fair wage, since the economy is so much smaller there vs. larger A-market cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or NYC. So although the cost of living is much cheaper there, your wages are also adjusted accordingly.

I can think of at least four amazing, beloved, high-caliber female teachers who've fallen out of the yoga scene completely after having kids. I’m not sure whether that was by choice or not, but I can tell you this: it's damn hard to make teaching work, or to make it worth your time.

But WHYYYYY, you say? Why are you pissing on my dreams? Where is your positive yoga attitude, mmmhmmmm?

One word: CHILDCARE.

Just like so many Americans these days, your access to affordable childcare will determine whether you’re able to continue working as a full-time yoga teacher after you have kids. I can’t emphasize that enough.

Here are your options for teaching yoga after having kids:

1. Have family or friends nearby who can provide free childcare. If you're getting paid $35-40 a class, it doesn't make financial sense to pay $15-20/hour for a sitter. By the time you commute to the studio, pay for parking, get there in time to check in and greet students, teach a 75-minute class, say goodbye to students, and drive home, you've spent at least $45-60. It's a wash.

2. Teach in the evenings and weekends (or a similar complementary schedule to your partner’s work schedule). This is what worked for us, and was the life-saver/game-changer that allowed me to jump right back into teaching when my son was 10 weeks old. He’s three now, so since he was teeny, I’ve always taught evenings and weekend mornings, so that my husband and I could trade off childcare. It has worked really well for us, thank you baby Jesus. 

But what if you're a single parent, or if your partner travels often for work? Forget it.

3. Bring your kid along and give them an iPad for an hour while they wait in the lobby. Ugh. Not an ideal solution, but I've seen a lot of mamas have to do this as a last resort. But what happens if your child is under age 5? Or has special needs? Or is puking? Or needs to poop and be wiped in the middle of class? I for one know I couldn’t relax and be fully present teaching a class if I had one eye on my little guy out in the lobby flying solo the whole time. That’s tough.

4. Teach at a studio that offers childcare. THIS IS HUGE. Studio owners, you have to know: childcare availability is make-or-break. You have a boatload of new mamas who’d love to come practice yoga but can’t afford to pay a babysitter $15-20/hr on top of the $20 drop-in class rate. Offer childcare. If you build it, they will come. And it just may allow your veteran teachers to continue teaching, too. 

(Props to folks at studios like Yoga Flow and YoYoYogi and OMpower and The Grinning Yogi who are all over this. Way to rock it, friends. You are setting the standard.)

5. Have a partner who has a high enough income that you don't need to teach for profit. Your teaching becomes essentially a service offering or a professional labor of love. You do it for fun, or for charity, or for the greater good, or for the joy of it, but not for the money it contributes to your family’s bottom line. This is not sexy, nor does it feel particularly empowering nor feminist nor politically correct to admit. But it’s the truth for many yoga teachers I know.

Right now, this is me. I’m fortunate to have a partner with a great corporate job, who's doing good things for the world. (Amen.) Not everyone's so lucky. If he didn’t have that reliable job (with benefits, that rare and blessed beast not often seen in Yoga-land), I’d need to quit teaching and get a steady 9-5 gig. With his solid employment, I can afford to be an independent contractor and freelance writer, teaching 3-4 classes a week and writing on the side, and caring for my son when he's not in school. 

In other words: PRIVILEGE. Gah. 

(I realize how lucky I am. Enter the guilt. Even more reason to create systems to support yoga teachers to continue to teach when they're NOT in such a privileged position.)

6. Take some time off teaching til the kids are old enough to go to school. ‘Nuff said. I imagine many yoga teachers will go this route. (How does that feel? Do you miss it? Are you taking time off by choice, or because you have no other choice?)

7. Stop teaching altogether. At some point, after you pay for childcare and effectively lose money to teach a class, you realize it's not worth it. So you decide to keep your personal passion for yoga, drop the vocational aspect of it all, and shift careers in favor of something more lucrative and/or flexible in terms of hours and childcare. There goes one more wise and experienced teacher who's no longer sharing her gifts and helping people feel better in their bodies. :(

8. Teach for free, and/or not as your main vocation. Honestly, I recommend this, a thousand times over. If I could give every single bright-eyed eager rookie teacher graduating from teacher training one piece of advice, it would be this: get another job (or keep your current one), something reliable that has benefits and sick days, and use that to pay your mortgage. It will take the pressure off your yoga teaching to be the primary source of income, and empower you to teach a class or two a week because it brings you joy and serves folks who are suffering, not because it puts food on the table. And you won’t be stressing about numbers or feeling the pressure to teach 17-20 classes a week just to make it. (That's a recipe for BURNOUT, baby!)

In all seriousness: I think full-time yoga teachers should consider the childcare factor very mindfully (dare I say soberly?) when making big decisions about babies and careers and five-year plans. Make a plan now. If your heart is in this work, figure out a way that you can make it happen while raising your little sweet pea. Ask veteran teachers for advice. Reach out to mentors who've done it before you. Make friends with children the same age and plan childcare swaps. 

It's do-able; it just takes some creative planning and a little gumption and the recognition that your teaching career may ebb and flow as your wee one grows.

Don't get me wrong: raising kids as a yoga teacher is friggin’ AWESOME. I mean, what better environment for your children to call a second home than the warm, loving, open-hearted buzz of a yoga studio? And what better community than one that's focused on living mindfully, consuming simply, walking gently upon the world, and treating one another as if you're all God in drag? 

It’s the best. So much goodness, in so many ways.

(Not the mention the cuteness when your little cherub finally starts to put his hands together and sing OMMMMM for the first time.)

But financially, take off the rose-colored glasses. Think seriously about how you’re going to make it work. If you're going to be a yoga teacher in a B-market city or smaller, and you want your income to actually contribute to your family's bottom line, you need to have family or friends around to watch your children or rearrange your teaching schedule or figure out how to make $150 a class. Because otherwise you're working for free.

What do you think? Yoga-teaching mamas, how do you make it work? What’s your magic recipe for success? Did I forget any other options? And male yoga teachers — especially those of you with young kids — am I being unfair here?

Love to hear your thoughts.


Rachel Meyer is a Boston-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, Yoga International, YogaDork, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga.

Comments

Did you just write this for me? I'm a new mom with a 4 month old and I've been trying to figure out this equation. I was a full time yoga teacher in the Bay Area and my partner and I moved an hour north to pay less rent and have him focus on his career. I'm still doing at home and work online with yoga teachers as well as some flexible program management for a studio but I miss teaching yoga and living near more likeminded yogis. It's nice to have a pause button on the teaching and the move so I can connect with my new community and re enter with a more clear vision of what is like to offer. But I agree, I am very lucky to be able to do this, but of course the extra income would be useful. I am still breastfeeding and not pumping, so teaching in this window is stressful but I imagine doing what you do- teaching nights and weekends will work well for us (this will also sound easier when sleep starts to extend for baby and I). I'm trying to surrender and take time for my practice because my body needs it right now postpartum. I'm so glad you brought up this topic because it does make me sad to not be teaching, but I also cherish this time with y new baby. I'm always astonished at the lack of a life handbook ��
Rach said…
Sari, I feel you! So glad you could relate. We lived in Petaluma after my son turned six months, and it was hard for me to be away from the SF/Oakland yoga communities, too. I think the post-baby isolation is often unexpected for us new mamas, especially when we have the kinds of babies who don't love riding in the car. ;) And I hear you on the breastfeeding! It's such a THING, isn't it? I think we underestimate the effect that has on our ability to sneak out and teach, too. I felt like it ran my life that first year or so. I promise it will get easier, so much easier, especially when you are no longer the solo source of nourishment for your babe! If I could go back and tell myself anything at 4 mos, I'd tell myself to just relax and enjoy that stage, because in just a few months I'd be back at full speed career-wise. You sound like you're already there, so props to you! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. :)
Rach said…
Beach Yogini: Yup. Ouch is right.
Rach,
Thanks again for writing this and bringing food for thought to the community. I agree that childcare is huge for students and teachers. I agree that there are larger societal issues here to examine. I am just glad you brought this up especially for other soon to be yoga teacher mamas. It's been great listening to yoga girl podcasts and reading stoked yogi's blog since they both just had a kid. For retreats they seem to get good help from their moms. I know I'm not ready to teach just yet because I'm really putting all of my focus into staying healthy and keeping baby healthy. Obviously, I was feeling a bit isolated and now I'm talking so much out of relief. Thanks for encouraging me to appreciate this moment. And yes, you are spot on, we're driving to Alameda tomorrow so I can get back on my SUP board and baby hates the car ride, it's devastating. But it too will pass. We are so blessed and it feels great to connect. Namaste
Unknown said…
you totally are on point here. I resonate with every single statement that you make and am in pretty much the same situation in London, UK having taught full time for 10 years and also write and also now with a 2 year old have spent the last year shifting focus and strategising how to make the yoga teaching work for the long run whilst my husband also has the corporate job that does good for the world (builds renewable energy projects in africa) yet also pays the bills... you're like my parallel universe doppelgänger! I could offer one more option to the equation that could offer some sustainability.... which is to align your teaching with where you're at in your life... i.e, when pregnant , teach pregnancy yoga, when postnatal, teach postnatal yoga and take your baby with you... and then when your babe is more grown and starting out in some sort of childcare, you can ease back into your regular classes in the lunchtime / evening slots.. i found that by aligning the flow of my teaching with the flow of my life i would bring the right kind of energy into the room and be on the same page as the students which worked out to be really successful in building up student numbers. a second suggestion is that i'd really emphasise the importance of building your network and investing time and energy into the right community that understand and support you, finding your 'tribe' that has your back goes a long way in helping your ride the wave of change. A third suggestion, which i'm lately exploring is thinking outside of the box in terms of reaching your students...ie. rather than studios, make the most of technology and branch out into the online teaching platforms. A great way to expand your reach and make passive income which is pretty much awesome if you can get it. thanks for reading! Rachel, I would love to see a FB community group set up off the back of this article.....tammy xxxx www.tammysyoga.co.uk

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