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By Alexis Grant
When Liza Laird found herself unhappy with her corporate marketing job in early 2009, she enrolled in yoga teacher training. Now, like thousands of other yoga lovers, the New York City resident has turned teaching the practice into her job.
"Starting out, [my salary] is much smaller than what I was earning at my old position, but the quality of life ... is a thousand times [better]," says Laird, 27, who makes a living teaching a combination of group classes, private lessons, and yoga therapy. "I would take this salary over my old one any day, because I can actually enjoy life rather than being miserable."
As yoga grows in popularity, more workers are turning to the mat not only for peace of mind, but for an extra paycheck. Some are teaching yoga in addition to their day job, while others have transitioned full time to teaching, leaving nine-to-five behind.
"The combination of the growth of people participating in yoga and the recession has caused a lot of people to either become full-time yoga teachers or do it as an adjunct to their day job," says Bill Harper, publisher of Yoga Journal . To show just how much the industry -- as well its money-making potential -- is growing, the magazine's circulation has increased 300 percent since 2002, a time when most print publications have shrunk.
While no industry organization seems to track the rise in yoga teachers, the growth of the industry itself is obvious: About 14.3 million people in the United States practiced yoga in 2010, up from 4.3 million in 2001, according to statistics provided to Yoga Journal by market-research company GfK MRI. NAMASTA, the North American Studio Alliance, an industry organization, estimated about 70,000 people held yoga certifications in 2005, the most recent year for which data is available.
"The lifestyle is one of the things that makes yoga popular," says Cristie Newhart, operational manager of professional training at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health , a nonprofit organization that trains yoga teachers in western Massachusetts. "It's not just the physical pose. It's the breath. It's learning about nutrition. It's learning to be in touch with feelings ... People are very much attracted to living a more authentic life."
The number of students enrolled in Kripalu's 200-hour yoga teacher training increased 43 percent between 2008 and 2010, says Newhart's colleague, Nicole Flisher, Kripalu's marketing coordinator for professional training. The center's month-long courses are often filled to capacity, Flisher says, largely because trainees have "a desire to get out of the corporate rat race" or bring a sense of balance to their job.
Many yoga lovers who enroll in teacher training course don't plan to teach, and simply want to further their study. Yet even those who say they have no interest in becoming an instructor often end up teaching, says Rolf Gates , an Army-Ranger-turned-yoga-teacher who has made a career of training new teachers. "Initially it's a somewhat vague intention of ... maybe I'll teach sometime," Gates says.
But then the entrepreneurial set realizes that skill can also be a money-maker. New yoga teachers make about $50 per class, Gates says. And a Kripalu survey showed that six months after earning a certification, most teachers bring in between $50 to $200 weekly.
That's the case for Jobie Watson of Baltimore.
The 37-year-old enrolled in teacher training in late 2010 without the intention to teach; she was more interested in yoga's physical benefits and her own personal development. But just before the training began, Watson was laid off from her job as an administrative assistant. And though she was re-hired part time, she now has time to instruct classes and a need for additional income.
"I didn't really see [teaching yoga] as something that was going to be lucrative," says Watson, who trained for one weekend each month for eight months to earn her certification. "[But] it is going to end up, I think, being a decent supplement to my income."
Watson paid about $3,000 for a 200-hour course -- that's typical pricing for teacher training -- and she'll begin teaching three classes each week in May. "I'd estimate in about the time it took me to get my certificate, I'll get my money back," she says, "which is a lot more than I can say for graduate school ... The return on investment is pretty decent."
Others aren't so optimistic about the potential to earn cash through the profession. "I would not say that becoming a yoga teacher is a path to instant riches," says Stephanie Brail, 41, who earned her certification in 2008. "The training can be very expensive, [and] it can be challenging to get classes at first."
Brail, too, enrolled in teacher training for health and professional reasons -- to compliment her Internet-based, holistic-health business -- rather than a strong desire to teach. But she decided to look for gigs in Los Angeles, where she lived at the time (she has since moved to Austin), and found the yoga market saturated with teachers. After substituting consistently, she was able to land several teaching positions, but she cautions that doing so isn't always easy.
Whether the number of teachers outpaces students' demand for classes depends on where you live; in Los Angeles, Brail says, yoga is so popular that "there's a danger of it becoming shallow and trendy." In New York City, where yoga is arguably just as trendy, Laird, the marketer-turned-full-time-teacher, says there's plenty of work to go around.
"It's almost like yoga studios are becoming like Starbucks," Laird says. "There's one on every corner now. So there's plenty of opportunity for teachers -- it's just a matter of finding your way into the studio."
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