A Trade Union for Yoga Teachers
Written by Brighton Yoga Foundation Chair Davy Jones
You may be surprised that some yoga teachers feel the need to join a trade union. After all, teaching yoga is a privilege, very rewarding and something we love to do. But sadly, it is increasingly obvious that “yogaworld” is not immune to the pressures and issues facing society as a whole. It is not all “love and light”. Witness the multiple scandals involving sexual abuse by yoga gurus; and the demand that the yoga community addresses its stark “whiteness”; and many disputes in recent years over pay and condition for yoga teachers. Brighton Yoga Foundation believes that all these issues should be addressed.
I have been a trade unionist for virtually my entire adult life. I have always believed that unions were essential to counter the overwhelming power and advantage that employers have. We are stronger when we stand together against injustice – in society generally, but also where we work.
The workplaces of yoga teachers are not exactly the cotton mills of the 19th century. But increasingly as yoga becomes more popular and widespread, employers have moved in with motives that are not always as benevolent as we might hope. In the United States, and now in London too, there are large corporations running chains of yoga studios. And they often act as large corporations do in other sectors.
I was recently reminded of this very abruptly. I taught my first ever yoga class at LA Fitness in Hove in January 2008. I have been teaching there almost continuously since then including when the gym was taken over by Sports Direct. Two days before Xmas I was dismissed (to take effect from 1st January), along with every other yoga teacher at SD clubs nationally, as they have decided to take yoga off their timetables, temporarily at least. No consultation, no discussion, not even an adherence to the two weeks’ notice period in my written contract.
We are lucky in Brighton & Hove that we generally have independent yoga studios run by people with a sympathetic yogic outlook. But elsewhere the picture is more mixed with some teachers reporting horror stories about how they have been treated even at some smaller independent studios. And all the time the big corporate yoga chains have their eyes on Brighton with its huge yoga community.
When people think about trade unions, they tend to hark back to the old days of industrial workers such as miners or car workers. More recently, it has been teachers, nurses and local government workers. But nowadays the growth in unions is taking place amongst “precarious” workers – often freelancers, or those on zero hours contracts.
The IWGB (Independent Workers of Great Britain) has scored some major victories for Deliveroo drivers and cleaners in the last few years. Now they have set up a yoga teachers branch – with over 130 members round the country. I was the first to join in Brighton. Others have joined since and there will be many more. Yoga teachers deserve a stronger voice. Brighton Yoga Foundation supports them. If you want more information on the yoga teachers union, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read more about the Yoga Teachers Union here