Two people doing a yoga pose

The Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) launched a branch representing yoga teachers last week, taking on an industry worth almost £1 billion in the UK.

The IWGB is a trade union, whose members’ organise in semi-autonomous branches. The union specialises in organising “gig economy” workers, who form branches and choose what actions they want to take.

IWGB have run successful campaigns to bring cleaning staff in-house at the University of London.  They also ran the “Boycott Senate House” Library campaign and organise Deliveroo drivers.

Yoga teachers first began organising last year, independent of IWGB.  The new Yoga Teachers’ Union (YTU) branch credited Norman Blair with starting a discussion about pay and conditions last year.

Blair, of Yoga with Norman, wrote an article detailing how the spoils of a growing industry had gone to the studios, not teachers. He then published this on Facebook, which led to instructors talking about what actions could be taken.

“The fact is that pay rates for teaching yoga classes have stayed substantially the same for the last twenty years.”, Blair said.

“In that time – just as a comparison – the average house price has more than tripled (from £91,200 in 1999 to £280,000 in 2019). Wages have gone up in the same time period – 1999 to 2019 – by about 70%. And the cost of attending yoga classes has gone up.”

Lynette Greenway, BAME Officer of the IWGB YTU, said in a press release that the “labour of yoga teachers has been systematically undervalued”.

“We clean and prep venues, travel extensively, plan classes, sign students in, do free marketing for our employers, deal with our students’ emotional and spiritual dilemmas, and show up and stay well beyond our teaching time, and more.  This is all unpaid overtime, and there’s a deeply ingrained false belief that it is ‘unyogic’ to ask for adequate compensation.”

Like many creative or fitness workers, yoga teachers are largely self-employed, without sick pay, paid leave, or pension contributions. Yoga teachers have also reported pushing through injury or ignoring their own health to teach as many classes as possible. The IWGB claim members report an “endemic culture of bullying, harassment and discrimination” in the industry.

The IWGB Yoga Teachers’ Union is not the first union for yoga instructors. In 2019, teachers in New York, who led classes for US giant YogaWorks, formed Unionize Yoga. Members were also concerned about stagnant pay and bullying, but the union went on hiatus after YogaWorks closed its New York branches. The firm had been struggling financially.

Simran Uppal, Secretary for IWGB YTU, added: “The global yoga industry is worth around £60 billion and much of that wealth is being extracted from underpaid, exploited yoga teachers. We’re not monks protected by an ashram or a wealthy elite of wellness celebrities. We have to survive just like the other precarious workers in the IWGB and around the world.”

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Image credit: Earl McGehee – Creative Commons