Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized

The Choice to Thrive

“Do you teach at a yoga studio?”

“I really loved it when you taught at XYZ Yoga Studio.”

“Are you planning on teaching again at XYZ yoga studio?”

Dear Yoga Student, 

I know these questions  come from a well intentioned place. I know that the studio was convenient for you. I know that you don’t understand that sometimes, I taught 2 hours of Mysore style Ashtanga for under $10. I know that you don’t understand that most of your monthly membership went to pay for the overhead of the yoga studio and not to me. I know you don’t understand that the average yoga teacher in my area gets paid around $25 to $30 per class which is roughly around 10-15% of the money the studio collected for the class. The other 90% goes to all the amenities you love and the convenient location.  I know that you don’t understand how teaching and doing assists for hours wreaks havoc on my body.

Maybe you don’t understand that I sometimes traveled 2 hours to be with you or that sometimes I had to get up at 4:30AM to an empty room because you decided that you wanted to sleep in that morning. I am sure that you don’t know that I was expected to prioritize cleaning the yoga studio toilets for $25 over a lucrative $200 teaching gig or a $75 private. You probably don’t know that , when I raised objections about this , I was painted out as acting as if I was too good to clean the toilets when all I was trying to do is have yearly wages above the poverty level. You probably don’t know that the studio took 40% of the money you paid for your workshop. You probably don’t know that I was being asked to choose the yoga studio’s financial health over the financial health of myself. 

You also don’t know that I chose to leave yoga communities that I loved because I needed to choose myself. 

Dear student, let me educate you.

When I teach outside of a yoga studio, I make sometimes 6x the amount of money per class. 

This means that I can choose to work less which means that I can spend energy on my own practice, my study  and my family. It means less injuries, more sleep, less wear and tear on my car and less damage to the environment from the daily commute.  When I started working for myself, my income doubled in 6 months. I could afford to further my education and become a better teacher for you. 

Dear student, This is just the financial aspect. This does not even touch on my experience of being a Black teacher within White dominated spaces or how horrible I felt teaching appropriated watered down practices that were as far away from yoga as Pluto is from Earth.

Dear student, I hope that when you read this, you will understand. That you will be okay with practicing with me in alternative spaces and online. I am not saying that I will never teach in a studio again. I love community and the feeling of coming together for a common goal. However, as long as I am asked to give up myself, appropriate & colonize yoga, ignore racial disparities and privilege and be broke for a spot on someone’s roster, I will continue to choose me.

P. S. Let me go ahead and address all the folks who may read this and comment on yoga and money not going together or to get a job.  I live and breathe yoga. It is not a hobby. I not only do asana daily, but I meditate and study the scriptures. I would love to live in a world where I have boundless energy and where love and light paid the bills. I would love to live in a world where I could take trainings for free and practice with my teachers for free, fly to India for free, get yogic texts for free etc. The yogis didn’t live in that world either.  While some teachers did not get paid, the community took care of the teachers so that they didn’t need to get paid.  While some communities still do, that largely disappeared during British colonization.  Also, the yoga industry has plenty of money. It is a 27 billion dollar industry. Why should that money go to companies that make leggings instead of going to the teachers? Why can’t we practice in humble yoga spaces so that our teacher can eat? Why are fancy showers more important to you than human’s thriving?

P. S.S Before a yoga studio owner comes for me, I know you are not a millionaire. However, intent does not equal impact. There are plenty yoga studio owners that I love dearly, however, they are not immune from taking responsibility for their impact. None of us are.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

5 Comments

  • Suzanne Desmond

    OMG! Shanna, you hit the nail on the head! Bravo! I talk about this ALL THE TIME with friends and fellow teachers. The commercial yoga world has transformed “yoga” into something unrecognizable to me. It’s all about asses in the seats, heat – heat & more heat, and getting a “good workout”. Not to mention the clients who want more classes or different times and then don’t show. I’m so done with all of it.
    Appreciate what you do for the yoga community and society as a whole. Love it!

  • Sandra Crain

    Shanna, you may remember me and my dribbling on the mat in your and Johanna ashtanga classes.
    Being a hairdresser 28 years my body has taken a toll, and I was slow to learn, by choice/body.

    I want to thank you for your article, it was honest and having listened to you in your classes, I understand how much study and time was spent and I always respected that of you. It’s obvious you are passionate and intelligent.
    The little time I spent with you, I really learned alot.
    I knew there was a reason for leaving, and am sorry i didnt get to say good luck.

    I have been teaching Yoga for 11 years, Rolf Gates was my first beloved teacher, then my advanced was the Himalaya Institute, which is no joke.
    I always wanted to share myself at a yoga studio, but feel there s a certain stigma and even though I am white, feel like the red headed step child. I know better, it’s just the culture. I feel good about who I am and my choices. We are so not meant to be on that path, which is rather boring anyways. Safe, straight road, same poses day after day, different teacher same pose. Promises made for the title that doesn’t really mean anything if it comes with dishonesty.
    Thank you for your time, and being you.
    I will see you again.

    Namaste
    Sandy

  • Nikkie

    This is a really great article. I’m currently working on leaving my studio, primarily for reasons you’ve outlined and because the studio I work at has no connection with the community it’s in, as well as just dropping its teachers when Covid hit, but it’s more than that. For me, it’s about making yoga as accessible as possible to as many people who are interested and you’re always so genuine in that intention. THere’s so much that the yoga community ignores and I really appreciate your work on making it visible.

  • Susan Sullivan

    Great article. If there is anything that the pandemic has taught us, it is that yoga studios are obsolete. maybe forever. One great side benefit is that wonderful teachers like yourself are accessible from all around the world. Looking forward to your workshop on yoga for all bodies. Also, I must say that you are the only yoga teacher I have ever seen showing herself propped against the wall in uttita hasta padagustasna. That is how I always do it aand I have been shamed in so many classes and by so many teachers for using the wall as a “crutch.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *