Most, if not nearly all, yoga teachers and massage therapists only get paid when they work and even then only when you (the students/clients) show up. In other words, most, if not nearly all, yoga teachers and massage therapists do not have access to paid time off. Most, if not nearly all, yoga teachers and massage therapists have come to accept this system, a system that is not only economically disadvantageous to teachers of yoga and massage therapists, but also disruptive to consistent care, and morally indefensible.
There have been several articles written about the untenable economics of being a yoga teacher. You can read one of them here. While this is an important related issue, it is not the only pressing issue for the professional yoga world. The idea that yoga teachers must save a portion of the already little pay they receive in order to plan for unforeseen illness and injury, family emergencies, vacation time, and even holiday closures that nearly everyone else in the economic system takes for granted is shameful and irrational (based on the already paltry pay that most yoga teachers make).
Most often students have little to no knowledge that their yoga teachers are being burdened with low wages and lack of paid time off. Nor are students aware that this burden is a direct result of policies at their yoga studio or gym. Certainly, students are not directly to blame for this system and once they find out many will be likely to be concerned for the welfare of their teachers. However, yoga students, whether they are aware of it or not, indirectly support this system with their dollars.
In some cases, students find out this information and are either personally offended, but take no action to help create change, or even come up with cleverly cynical rationalizations like “Well, you get to do yoga for a living, so…you know.” I urge all yoga students to ask both their teachers and their studio managers/owners if this is the way teachers are being treated. If they find out that, yes in fact this is what is going on, then I encourage you to demand a change to yoga teacher pay that includes paid time off for illness, vacation, and holidays. I encourage you to follow up and make sure that changes are made, and if changes are not forthcoming to take your business to a studio that is responsive to the concerns of its members and the needs of its teachers.
This issue is so important to us that when we started NOURISH in 2009, we included paid time off for yoga teachers and massage therapists in our model. Teachers and therapists at NOURISH earn 4 or more weeks per year of paid sick and vacation time. One of the reasons we are able to do this is because NOURISH yoga teachers and massage therapists get paid their salary whether or not and regardless of how many of you (students/clients) show up. So the logistics of how much to pay for days off are straightforward.
Furthermore, when NOURISH chooses to close for a national holiday or any other reason, our yoga teachers and massage therapists get paid for their regular work, without losing any accrued sick or vacation days. For those of you who have always received your regular salary on Christmas, New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and for others even more, this might be a bit of a privilege shock. Most, if not nearly all, yoga teachers and massage therapists do not get paid on those holidays, unless of course they work on those holidays which most people enjoy as a much needed break. So again, I challenge you to ask your teachers, massage therapists, and yoga studio/gym managers/owners, “What happens on holidays?” And if warranted, demand a change that is fair to the yoga teachers and massage therapists whose job it is to take care of you.
As a wellness center owner, a yoga teacher, and person of good will who believes in fairness and economic justice, I implore all gyms, yoga studios, spas, and wellness centers to reexamine your employment practices with regard to paid time off for yoga teachers and massage therapists. You’ll find that when you provide paid time off, your employees are healthier, happier, and more productive for the short and long term. But more importantly, you’ll find that we’re all in this together and that taking care of the people that take care of others will strengthen your moral bottom line.