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Finding Your Niche (or not) as a Yoga Teacher

The yoga industry continues to boom, not only as more people discover the benefits of yoga, but also as more new teachers continue to get certified and spread the magic.

Overall, this is a fantastic development, but it does present some challenges for the yoga professional. Namely, how do you reach students and support yourself when so many other teachers are trying to do the exact same thing?

Yoga teachers need to have a clear idea of who they are, what they are passionate about, and what kind of yoga teacher they want to be before they launch into any kind of intense marketing or business planning.

I have witnessed yoga teachers invest time and resources into marketing especially, with limited or no success, and I have come to believe that lack of success is often due to the fact that they did not have a clear understanding of their own identity as a teacher.

In getting to know the “teacher-self,” it’s important to ask yourself: what am I most interested in teaching?

Yoga is a vast body of knowledge and includes a huge variety of subjects. Most contemporary yoga teachers are generally educated in asana, pranayama, and meditation, and some in more esoteric practices and philosophies as well.

“Generalist” teachers often play a much different, but equally important role in the yoga community. These are often the teachers who are leading voices in their communities and in the yoga industry, shaping the conversation and acting as magnets for new yoga students because of their ability to speak to many people’s interests.

As a generalist teacher with a broader offering, you may experience these positives:

  • Working with many types of people from all walks of life
  • Studios are always looking for teachers who can teach across a broad range of subjects
  • The yoga industry has historically trended towards more generalist classes, although niche markets are definitely growing.

Some challenges you may encounter might be:

  • Being lost among a sea of similar yoga teachers
  • More intense competition for jobs at yoga studios and centers
  • Many people view “generally” view yoga as asana, and you may get pigeon-holed into teaching primarily asana classes

However, we can also apply our knowledge of yoga in a way that speaks to niche populations such as yoga for pregnant mothers, geriatric populations, and veterans, as well as therapeutic yoga, restorative yoga, and so much more.

Furthermore, as all-levels classes become more popular, populations who cannot participate in those classes or require particular teachings are looking for safe spaces to practice yoga.

As a specialist teacher, you may find some of these positives:

  • Student loyalty tends to be higher in niche populations who are practicing for a specific reason
  • You can establish yourself as an expert and give your teaching credibility
  • Create marketing campaigns for your specific demographic that stand out amidst the sea of yoga promotions
  • Focus your educational costs towards your chosen subject
  • Studios will often look to you to lead series and workshops for your specific offerings
  • You can become a teacher’s teacher! Diversify your income by offering trainings to new or general yoga teachers who want to augment their skills

However, there are some challenges that come with specializing:

  • Teaching only to your chosen demographic can limit your potential student reach
  • You may have to work harder to educate potential students about the benefits of your particular yoga offering
  • Your specialty may be time dependent and students may “graduate” from your class (think pre-natal yoga)

So ask yourself, armed with this information, what kind of teacher do I want to be? Do you love teaching chair yoga for seniors? Is it your dharma to teach packed group classes a yummy, sweaty vinyasa with a bit of pranayama and meditation?

Reflect on your yoga practice and the classes that you teach. Journal, meditate, and think about the particularities of yoga that get you fired up. Do you just live for philosophy? Is yoga therapy your passion? Through self-inquiry (svadhyaya), you can begin map out your relationship with the many topics of yoga and begin to create a clearer picture of who you are as a teacher.

You may find, as many of us teachers have, that you may have a bit of a generalist and a specialist in you, and that’s okay too.

joey_Gottlieb-201x300About the Author: Joey Gottlieb rolled out a yoga mat for the first time depressed and nursing a blown hamstring and an inflamed shoulder, and after eight weeks of consistent practice under the eye of some wonderful teachers, he found himself with a peaceful mind, a fully cooperating hamstring, and able to reach above his head.

Since those first weeks of practice, Joey has made an extensive study of yoga as a transformational, guiding practice. He has studied most intensively in the Tantric traditions of yoga, developing a style of therapeutically-minded vinyasa yoga emphasizing personal empowerment and light-heartedness. As the son of two diplomats, he draws on a diverse array of cultural experiences to link his yoga practice to the world at large. He writes for the 90 Monkeys blog and continues to assist his teacher and mentor, Amy Ippoliti, in her public workshops and teacher trainings.

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