To pay or not to pay?

“Seek payment for any yoga teaching work – don’t undervalue your work”. Should yoga teachers offering classes in underserved communities look for payment?

Plenty, if not most, of service professionals are considered that – people who have training in a therapeutic science and are paid for their work.  Social workers, therapists, counselers. They aren’t always highly compensated, but they are paid. And from the other side – often a service we pay for, we valued more than something we get for free. At a practical level, most yoga teachers who teach enough to gain experience are not getting rich. We live in the world, the expensive world, and need to pay bills. Rarely is teaching yoga full time in the sense of receiving benefits or having income you can count on. Receiving payment for a yoga service class on par with other pay can make it sustainable to save the time in a schedule for the free class.

Teaching people experiencing poverty

Some people can and do pay for yoga therapy – this might take the form of private sessions, or people in a treatment facility who receive yoga as part of the “package”.  Some trauma survivors just pay for public yoga classes at a studio or gym without making their trauma history known. Sometimes, however, the people most in need of yoga can’t pay for it. People experiencing homelessness or living in poverty face tremendous stress, and are often considered members of those groups first, and trauma survivors only as an after thought. Being able to pay for psychological treatment to get a PTSD diagnosis, and even seeking such treatment, are a form of privilege. Anti-poverty organizations may have a budget, but pay barely a living wage to the staff who do the mission’s main work. If a yoga class required a budget, it just wouldn’t happen.

Finding a middle ground

Offering yoga on a donation class basis may be one avenue to compensating the teacher, particularly if this donation basis is made clear from the start. In one of my own classes, where some people could pay and others probably could not –  in part because I’ve also promoted the class to people living in homeless shelters – I worry that asking even for an optional donation may create divisions in the class between those who can pay and those who can’t. Students may not feel comfortable returning to the class if others give money and they do not, and if they realize they’ll be asked each time. Some settings (such as a library, an otherwise great site for an open-to-all community class) my prohibit the collection of money. However, funding for a class does not need to come from participants. Some organizations may have a budget for activities.  Looking at my own income, at least, it would not take that  much to put the pay for a community class on par with what a teacher would earn elsewhere. In some cases a teacher may be able to connect with a group that has non-profit status and can offer a small stipend. A yoga teacher offering a class is offering a professional skill, and generally not just dropping in when they feel like it and cancelling when things get busy, but committing to a regular one-hour schedule over weeks or months.

What kind of yoga service work do you do, and how do you keep it financially sustainable?

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