Why I’ve joined a union for yoga teachers

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. Or the demand that the yoga community addresses its stark “whiteness”. And recent disputes over pay cuts for teachers.

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. That we are stronger when we stand together against injustice – in society generally, but also in the workplace.

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.

When people think about trade unions, they hark back to 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 100 members round the country. I think I am the first to join in Brighton. I won’t be the last. Yoga teachers deserve a stronger voice. If you want more information on the yoga teachers union, contact me on davy@inspirationyoga.net