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how to determine the value of a yoga teacher?

how to determine the value of a yoga teacher?

by jonathan fields
The Business of Yoga | Tips

energy vs education
You can’t be around the yoga business for too long without hitting up against this classic dilemma.  Picture this…You own the local studio. It’s doing nicely, but, as with most studio-owners, your eye is regularly attuned to the bottom line. You know the critical role that great teachers play in keeping your yoga business growing. Looking at your recent attendance reports, you notice sometime interesting. You’ve got two teachers on faculty, one has studied for some 20 years with the cream of the yoga crop, lived in an ashram, rocks the ayurvedic lifestyle, treats everyone with compassion, is moderately fit from an exercise standpoint, has a gentle, somewhat subdued presence.

The other recently graduated a 200-hour training, has been practicing for about three-years, drinks the occasional beer, loves cheeseburgers, is young enough to maintain a lean, uber-fit physique, is drop-dead gorgeous, has a jaw-dropping asana practice and a ton or personality and energy. Oh, and, one other thing. Though they both teach the same type of class, a level-2 vinyasa practice, the former teacher draws a consistent, highly-loyal yet smallish group of students, while latter, packs the house, mat-to-mat, toe-to-nose, like clockwork.

Now, here’s the brutal question…who’s worth more? Youch. How do I answer this without sounding profoundly un-yogalike? The first teacher brings experience, wisdom, patience and depth. The second brings energy, physical ability, looks and the wonder of a “freshly-minted” teacher. We could argue that wisdom, experience, patience and depth rule over energy, gymnastic ability, looks and lightness.  And, indeed, as spiritual beings, we hope this to be the case. But, much to many a wise teacher’s dismay, the tale of the attendance tape has increasingly been telling a different story.

High-intensity asana classes now dominate most schedules on a national basis. And, along with those classes has come a younger, hipper, fitter, more challenge-seeking population of students who demand like-minded, energized and bodied teachers. Is this a bad thing? No. It simply signifies the current reality of the practice. A swing of the yoga pendulum to the side of physicality. And, as all who have entered the practice for largely physical reasons have discovered (me included), regardless of the reason you started, the broader practice eventually makes its way into the nooks and crannies of not only your body, but your mind, heart and soul. Eventually, the pendulum swings back. But, for now, we’re still left with a brutal question.

As yoga studio owners, how do we determine who the more valuable teacher is? The immediate response always comes, “they’re both valuable, just different.” I completely agree. But, here’s where that answer runs into trouble. What happens when the wise teacher with 20-years of experience asks you for more money than the younger teacher with far less experience, but five-times the attendance?  Hmmm. There is no easy answer, here. So, let me throw something out that’s bound to raise a few feathers. Pay based on “impact.”  Compensation should be about merit, not cronyism or “time-served.” 

I know many people in many professions that have highly-advanced degrees and decades of on-the-job experience…and they’re so burnt, tired or simply devoid of talent that they don’t deliver anywhere near the impact, benefit or experience of others far their junior, but intensely more motivated, energetic and gifted in touching lives and delivering impactful results and experiences.

So, if your community members are telling you, with a five-to-one ratio, that a particular “newbie” teacher, regardless of his or her experience and education, is impacting their lives on a level that far exceeds your more experienced staff, maybe it’s time to listen. After all, aren’t we here to serve the needs of our students, in the end? If the wisdom, experience and depth of your senior teacher truly has value, it will show itself in the form of impact, both in numbers and depth of transformation. Money goes to talent and motivation. Always has. Always will.

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