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Standard Yoga Poses

Poses / July 4, 2019

Down Under teacher Amy Sullivan.

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A successful Boston-area yoga studio has set a new standard for how yoga studios compensate their teachers. Last month, Down Under School of Yoga announced its decision to forego the more typical “independent contractor” model and make every teacher on their staff an employee—even those who only teach a few classes per week. This means that all teachers are now eligible for sick days and retirement funds, and full-time teachers (who teach 12 classes or more per week) are offered health insurance.

“The reason most yoga teachers are independent contractors is because they’re being exploited, ” says Justine Wiltshire Cohen, director of Down Under, which has three locations in the Boston area. “If you teach one class for me you are an employee, and the only benefit that is tied to the number of classes you teach is health care.”

“Yoga’s dirty little secret is the vast majority of yoga studios are still calling employees independent contractors, so they don’t have to give security and benefits, ” she says. “It is almost impossible to make a living as a yoga teacher this way. The practice is meant to cultivate single focus, but 99 percent of teachers are traveling all over the city (from studio to studio). Very few have weekends, let alone two days off in a row.”

Wiltshire Cohen believes the onus is on studio owners to break this cycle and put teachers first. “You can’t teach if you’re exhausted, ” she says. “It’s a marvelously complex thing to plan a yoga class. No human being on earth could do that 30 times a week. It becomes rote, and teachers can’t keep it up longer than a couple of years. Then they give up, go back to their ‘real’ (corporate) job.”

Down Under’s decision is in line with the Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law, which suggests that in most cases, when a yoga teacher regularly teaches yoga on site, it is indicative of that person being an employee, rather than an independent contractor. While some teachers may actually be independent contractors (depending on the facts of their arrangement with the company), it is likely that many are actually employees, according to the law. (Every state has different interpretations of independent contractor law and employee law, notes Andrew Tanner, chief ambassador for Yoga Alliance.)

See also Yoga Alliance’s Position on Government-Regulated Yoga

The Cost of “Doing the Right Thing”

Wiltshire Cohen concedes that making every teacher an employee was an expensive and “daring” decision for Down Under, which is currently celebrating its 12th year in business.

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