Jobless yogis follow their bliss to teacher training

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - As unemployment soars, some corporate types are swapping their designer suits for drawstring pants and their six-figure salaries for the more spiritual rewards of teaching yoga.

A yoga instructor trains a member of her class in Santa Monica, California, March 13, 2009. REUTERS/Yogaworks/Handout

Newly minted yoga teacher Veronica Wolkow says leaving her lucrative position in financial services to teach yoga was a journey from “stressed out” to “compassionate” and the best thing she ever did.

“I would not return to the stock market for all the money in the world,” said Wolkow, who specializes in teaching yoga to children, seniors and people with disabilities.

“I got rid of all the suits in my closet. No longer do I have dry cleaning bills. I no longer read the Wall Street Journal or even care about how stocks are doing,” she said in an interview from Los Angeles.

Although she must rely on savings and temporary jobs to make ends meet, she has no regrets.

“Yoga does not provide me with an income stream at this time,” she said. “My bank account is smaller, yes. But my world is bigger.”

California-based Jessica Hinkle, who manages the teacher training program at Yoga Works, a national chain of yoga studios, said many people train with an eye toward changing careers.

“Others recently laid off are seeing this as a unique opportunity to do something they never had time for before,” she explained.


With U.S. unemployment topping eight percent in February, many people are trying to reinvent themselves. But although an estimated 6 million people are practicing yoga regularly, income earned from teaching the 5000-year-old practice can be as precarious as a wobbly triangle pose.

Caleb Asch had been teaching yoga for 14 years when he lost his day job as an assistant film editor in October. But teaching his six classes a week are not enough to make ends meet.

“Income from yoga isn’t nearly enough to survive on,” he said from his base in Santa Monica, California. “Ironically it’s enough to keep me from collecting unemployment.”

Although he enjoys teaching, he would return to his old job if he could because “the stress of not having enough to live on is a killer,” he said.

For James Sklar, of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, turning to teaching yoga after giving up his organic restaurant was the best decision he could have made.

“The restaurant was stressful, the money wasn’t there, I was always playing catch-up,” said Sklar, adding that his portfolio supplements his yoga income.

“I’m doing yoga for the love of it,” he said “I forgot to pick up my first paycheck because I forgot it was a job.”

When Jethro Liou worked for a private equity firm he earned “mid-six figures.” Today he’s pulling in the “high 20’s.” He also loves the work, but supplements it with consulting jobs.

Hard times have also thinned his southern California clientele.

“You can definitely see the change since everyone’s discretionary income has dropped. The number of students coming to class is less.”

On top of that, he sees a glut of yoga teachers.

“In high population coastal cities there are just as many yoga teachers as there are waiters,” he said. “I didn’t realize that almost everyone in L.A. is a yoga teacher.”