Friend or Foe?:  Are Yoga Teachers Their Own Worst Enemies?

We need to talk.  About us.

For awhile now I’ve observed a growing number of yoga teachers, some new but many well-established, commenting upon how something has changed in the industry, that it’s become much harder to acquire new students never mind retain them.  As an aside, it’s partially an indictment of our current global society and the normalisation of immediate gratification.  People want to be thin and flexible before they begin a practice; they don’t want to work towards inner peace, they want it from a single 45-minute class.  Poof!  Inner harmony.  Sorted.

There are the teachers who have remained close to home with a long history in their neighbourhoods who might argue they don’t have any difficulties maintaining their client base.  There will be those who were blessed with particular opportunities such as a marketable physique, financial backing, an overconfident personality, or just sheer luck.  And good for them, but chances are their well-intended business advice will be less successful for others.  “Well, it worked for me,” isn’t an effective strategy.  So, with the exceptions out of the way, let’s talk turkey.


The pandemic was a catalyst for a whole host of new yoga teachers to arrive on the scene.  Once small communities of instructors who may have happily coexisted before lockdown suddenly felt the squeeze as new teachers emerged looking for students and studios.  If established teachers had been worried about competition before the pandemic, the swathes of new colleagues gave them more cause for alarm.

Maybe this panic felt conspicuous in small towns and villages; perhaps cities lend themselves to an expectation of healthy competition which yields a more balanced perspective.  Yet as we surfaced from the various lockdowns, many teachers were eager to resume their ‘normal’ stream of income that would never return.  Some reappeared with a host of online classes, a prudent response to the unexpected, while others cautiously resumed in-person classes bedecked with masques, anti-bac wipes, and infrared thermometers.

But online or off, how many justified a newfound territorialism about their students off the back of the pandemic?  How many who had considered themselves the local yoga teacher became edgy about “interlopers”?

I’ve seen this happen in dance over the years as well.  Worried about missing out on potential clients, teachers would hoard them possessively rather than share.  They would discourage any curiosity in students to explore other techniques or tutors even to the detriment of their progress, sometimes to deliberately impede it.

Seeing this dynamic in our yoga communities then is no surprise, but for the teachers who are worried about competition, I’ll let you in on a little secret –


It’s only going to get worse.

Large studios are expensive to run and the best way to compensate for lean classes and diminishing revenue is by offering teacher training courses…  which means more competition for the studios themselves and you…  which means more training courses producing more new teachers and so on and so on.

Thus, we have some choices before us – we can cling to our worries, eyeing each other with suspicion and assuming the worst intentions when yet another teacher arrives on the scene.  We can schedule classes that we know full well conflict with a nearby colleague’s that are offered at the same time in the same style hoping some of the interest they generate will boost our own numbers.  Still, some of us may choose a different tactic.


Sure, you’re a vegan, but are you a poacher?

There is a difference between graciously sharing students and deliberately infiltrating another teacher’s social media threads to entice students away.  I haven’t seen this manoeuvre often, but its usage is on the rise.

Given the yoga community is relatively small, we know who you are and yes, we do warn each other about you.  Apart from being rude and selfish, never mind eroding the fragile trust within the collective, this nasty tactic completely belies the tenets of yoga.  Give it a rest and create your own thread.

We need to recognise that coming together as a united community is the only way we can all move forward and survive.  Not thrive, survive, because some of us teach for pleasure (or ego) whilst others teach to put food on the table or gain financial independence to escape an abusive relationship.  No one ultimately benefits by turning on each other.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting a cloying kumbaya solution.  I did not say we all have to like each other, but newsflash –


You can still respect and support a colleague even if you don’t like them.

It’s called maturity and exercising foresight.  You see, only our peers can truly appreciate all of the ups and downs of this industry, yet I’ve known teachers who present themselves as love and light to their students, but who are standoffish to associates.  Only we get a peek behind that curtain and it ain’t pretty.  There’s enough conflict and drama in the world without us creating our own.  So put the swords down, relax your sneer, and contribute to building a unified community that can withstand what is a saturated market doomed to become worse.

Do you know there are some yoga teachers in small towns who do meet up regularly in order to strengthen the bonds between them?  They may not all like each other, but they’re respectful and civil with each other, and some of them even collaborate on events.

And here’s a thought, if most of the new teachers are barely qualified, if not outright under-prepared frankly, what if yoga communities created local consortiums who met regularly not only to reconnect but to offer mentoring  to new teachers?


Having a beginner’s mind at any level does not negate there are undeniable distinctions between new and long-established teachers.

What would happen if established teachers began to host a gathering of colleagues, not to create an exclusive clique, but an inclusive group that recognises some teachers do have more experience and knowledge to share, that teachers new to the craft are still apprentices?

Now that is something we need to change in this new narrative – being an apprentice is nothing to be ashamed about.


If we truly care about this craft we claim to love, do we act in our own best interests or do what is best to uphold high standards?

A problem arises when teachers of less or little experience or training balk at the concept of being considered an apprentice.  We don’t emerge from minimal training at a Master level, and that’s okay.

There’s more shame in not respecting our lineage, the teachers who came before us, than in being an apprentice.

The accumulation of knowledge takes time, effort, and an eclectic blend of training.  Lengthening our studies and diversifying our experiences results in a more robust and rich foundation, but that requires an open-mind which begins with teachers.


Students who train with a variety of teachers are not disloyal, they’re cultivating an informed practice.

Do you eat the same meal every day?  Read the same book?  Listen to the same song, or watch the same movie?

Why do some of us behave as though students should only ever practice with one teacher?  Is the issue really about loyalty or a question of our own insecurity?  If a teacher is good enough, students return over and over.  Chances are the size of the local population can easily support more than one teacher anyway.  16,000+ residents?  Calm down, you’re fine.

Toxic territorialism means that instead of supporting a local colleague, we might plagiarise their ideas and lingo, perhaps even pretend that our style or training is comparable to theirs.  We need to admit 200 hours barely skims the surface.  Until we can learn to accept there is enough room for everyone, until we become aware of our own insecurities, no one wins especially not the students.

A yoga community that offers a variety of styles and teachers suggests a collective investment in holistic knowledge and wellness where progress and growth are held sacrosanct, not the individual egos.

So let’s change the narrative of paranoia.


If we each offer our own unique style, why aren’t we hiring each other?

I’m not referring to the big-name yoga teachers often from abroad, the ones presenting weekend workshops who drift through the large studios typically owned by investment firms.  Those events can be useful on occasion, but the large sums of money and time little teachers spend on them year after year cannot be ignored.  Nor can the realisation that their habitual attendance at these institutions enables an external locus rather than a vested interest in local teachers.

Are we sufficiently nurturing our own communities?

I’m talking about other little teachers who fly under the radar, but who have been practising for decades cultivating their skills with extensive training while they develop a style all their own.  They may not get the same publicity as the big names, but the quality of their craft speaks for itself if we’re willing to listen.

Why are we comfortable showering money on those who need it the least and yet are hesitant to share that same amount of money amongst peers in our own communities?

If we truly, truly, believe what we offer is different to anyone else, if we’re actually as special as we think we are, then we aren’t competitors, we’re colleagues.


Are you your own worst enemy?

Look….  studios rise and fall.  Students come and go.  The one thing that endures is the quality of our character.  So maybe when you hear that a local peer has created a new and interesting class or event, instead of defensively reacting with ‘I could do that too!’, change your attitude – ‘oh, that sounds interesting.  Would any of you like to join me and attend this workshop?’

If your students like you, if they have a long history with you, they’re not going to suddenly abandon you.  That’s your ego feeding you poison which you divvy out to students.  And in the unlikely event students do leave, that’s your sign you need to make some improvements – to your instruction techniques, your training, maybe to your customer service! – but trust there are more students out there waiting for you.

Over more than 20 years I’ve taken from dozens of teachers because it improved my practice.  Some were awful, others were a font of knowledge, but the ones who inspired me, well, they’re the ones I still return to now…  time and time again.