Yoga and Pilates instructors lead specialized exercise, stretching, and meditation classes for people of all ages. They demonstrate techniques in front of the class and then watch members perform the movements, making suggestions and form adjustments as needed. Classes range from introductory to intermediate to advanced, and they may be aimed at specific groups, such as children or the elderly. Yoga instructors lead their class through a series of asanas, or poses, aimed at building strength, flexibility, and balance. Pilates instructors teach a series of movements that are more fluid than the poses used in yoga. Pilates also builds strength and flexibility but focuses on training the individual’s core, or center.
Yoga and Pilates Instructor Career History
Yoga and Pilates have existed in other cultures for many years, but they have become more popular in the United States only in the last few decades. Yoga, which literally means to yoke together, is an ancient practice. According to the American Yoga Association, early stone carvings and illustrations dating back 5,000 years reveal depictions of people in yoga positions. Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not rooted in Hinduism. In fact, Hinduism was established much later, and early Hindu leaders adopted and promoted certain yoga beliefs and practices for their followers.
One of the earliest known yoga teachers and promoters was a man named Patanjali, who wrote about his yoga practice in a work called Yoga Sutras. His writings covered the basic philosophy and techniques that later became Hatha Yoga. Within Hatha are many styles, such as Iyengar, Ashtanga, Integral, Kripalu, and Jiva Mukti. Ashtanga Yoga, one of the most popular branches, incorporates eight elements: restraint, observance, breathing exercises, physical exercises, preparation for meditation, concentration, meditation, and self-realization. Most modern yoga instructors focus on just a few of these elements, leading classes through physical poses, breathing techniques, and preparation for meditation.
Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900s. A German living in England during the start of World War I, Pilates was forced into a camp with other foreign nationals. During this time, Pilates encouraged his fellow cellmates to keep moving, even those who were bedridden. According to Katherine Robertson, author of Pilates…the Intelligent, Elegant, Workout, Joseph Pilates developed exercise equipment specifically for the injured, converting hospital beds to “bednasiums,” which encouraged health and healing through resistance exercise.
This early rehabilitation work led to the machinery behind Pilates exercise. In addition to floor work, Joseph Pilates also incorporated complex equipment consisting of belts, loops, chains, and springs designed to strengthen and lengthen the core muscles of the body.
Today, Pilates is still practiced in its original form, with both mat work and equipment, though many instructors, because of the cost of equipment, offer classes consisting of just floor exercises.
Yoga and Pilates Instructor Job Description
Yoga and Pilates instructors teach alternatives to the more traditional exercises of aerobics, weight training, or interval training classes. With yoga, the instructors’ methods vary greatly based on the type of yoga they teach. Some instructors begin class seated or even lying down, encouraging class members to relax their muscles and focus on their breathing. After a few minutes of breathing exercises, the instructor leads the class into the various asanas, or yoga poses. These poses have Sanskrit names, though the instructor may use the English terminology for the benefit of the class, instructing students to get into the downward dog position or child’s pose. Again, depending on the yoga method, poses may be fluid, with quicker movement from position to position, or instructors may tell class members to hold poses for as long as three or four minutes, encouraging strength and control.
Most yoga classes are done barefoot on the floor, using a thin, rubber mat to keep class members from slipping while in poses. Other equipment, such as foam blocks, ropes, or cloth straps, may also be used in the poses, usually to help with form or assist in the tougher positions. During the class, yoga instructors verbally describe and demonstrate moves in front of the class. They also walk around and survey the movements of class members, making slight adjustments to members’ form to prevent injury, encourage good practice, and improve their skills.
Pilates is similar to yoga in that class participants are led through different motions. However, unlike yoga poses that are often held for minutes at a time, Pilates encompasses more fluid movement of the arms and legs using what is called core strength. This strength comes from the body’s torso, from the top of the rib cage to the lower abdomen.
The job of Pilates instructor is similar to that of a yoga teacher. Pilates teachers also demonstrate and describe motions and check class members’ form and technique. Some classes include equipment such as an apparatus called The Reformer, which is a horizontal framework of straps and strings that is used for more than 100 exercises. Class members can tone, build, lengthen, and strengthen muscles by adjusting the equipment’s springs to create different levels of resistance.
Both yoga and Pilates instructors have to prepare for their classes ahead of time to choose the exercises and equipment to be used or whether to focus on one method or area of the body. Good instructors are available after class for questions and advice. Instructors should also be open to class suggestions and comments to make the class the best it can be.
Yoga and Pilates Instructors Career Requirements
You will need at least a high school diploma to work as a yoga or Pilates instructor. In high school, take anatomy, biology, psychology, and physical education. In addition, get involved in weight lifting, dance, sports, and other activities that will help you to stay fit and learn more about exercise.
Although a college degree isn’t always necessary to work in the fitness field, you will be more attractive to employers if your qualifications contain a balance of ability and education. Useful college courses include anatomy, physiology, psychology, kinesiology, biomechanics, chemistry, physics, first aid and safety, health, and nutrition.
Certification or Licensing
Most qualified yoga and Pilates instructors become certified through a professional association, such as the Yoga Alliance or the Pilates Center. For example, the Pilates Center offers a comprehensive program consisting of training on proper form, the purpose of each exercise, how to assess and adjust class members’ posture and form, and how to properly pace the class to create an effective and comprehensive class. A certificate is awarded to those who complete a minimum of 96 hours of formal lecture and 750 hours of apprentice work and pass several written and practical tests.
It is important to note that there are no nationally recognized standards for either yoga or Pilates instruction. “Certified” training can be as short as a weekend course or as long as a multi-year program that is the equivalent of a college degree. According to the American Yoga Association, because yoga was historically passed down from teacher to student on an individual basis (creating many varieties and methods), it is unlikely that a standard training program for instruction will be created. Be sure to investigate your yoga or Pilates training program to ensure that it is a quality program, and one suited to your own approach.
Yoga and Pilates instructors are expected to be flexible and physically fit, but they do not have to be in superhuman shape. Though the American Yoga Association has established a list of strict qualities that instructors should adhere to (maintain a vegetarian diet, act ethically), the basic qualities of every good instructor are the same: to be knowledgeable and passionate about your craft and be a patient and thorough instructor.
Yoga and Pilates Instructor Career Path
The best way to explore these careers is to experience a yoga or Pilates class firsthand. In fact, you should attend several classes to learn the basics of the practice and build your skills. Ask to talk to the instructor after class about his or her job and how to get started. The instructor may recommend a certification program or give you names of other professionals to talk to about the practice.
You may also want to see if a local gym or community center has part-time positions available. Even if you are just working at the front desk, you will be able to see if you enjoy working in a health facility.
Yoga and Pilates instructors work in fitness centers, gymnasiums, spas, dance studios, and community centers. Most employers are for-profit businesses, but some are community-based, such as the YMCA or a family center. Other job possibilities can be found in corporate fitness centers, colleges, nursing homes, hospitals, and resorts. In smaller towns, positions can be found in health care facilities, schools, and community centers.
If you have been attending yoga or Pilates classes regularly, ask your instructor for ideas on training programs and if he or she knows of any job leads.
Often, facilities that provide training or internships will hire or provide job assistance to individuals who have completed programs. Students can also find jobs through classified ads and by applying to health and fitness clubs, YMCAs, YWCAs, community centers, local schools, park districts, religious groups, and other fitness organizations. Many companies now provide fitness facilities to their employees. As a result, students should consider nearby companies for prospective instructor positions.
Yoga and Pilates instructors who have taught for several years and have the proper training can move into an instructor trainer position or, if they have the necessary capital, they may choose to establish their own private studio. To own a yoga or Pilates studio, the instructor should be confident in his or her ability to attract new clients or be willing to ask old clients to move from their old class location to the new studio. With a bachelor’s degree in either sports physiology or exercise physiology, instructors can advance to the position of health club director or to teach corporate wellness programs.
According to the Pilates Method Alliance, Pilates instructors usually charge $10 to $30 for group classes and $50 to $100 for an hour of personal instruction. CareerBuilder.com reports that yoga instructors who teach in community college extension programs earn an average of $35 per hour. Those who teach in private studios can earn from $30 to $40 per class, with some facilities paying more based on the number of students attending the class. Those who teach in corporate settings can earn $75 an hour or more. CareerBuilder.com reports that, in Los Angeles, successful yoga instructors can earn approximately $50,000 per year. Some highest- profile teachers earn more than $150,000 a year by charging their clients up to $250 an hour!
A compensation survey by health and fitness organization IDEA reports that many employers offer health insurance and paid sick and vacation time to full-time employees. They also may provide discounts on products sold in the club (such as shoes, clothing, and equipment) and free memberships to use the facility.
Yoga and Pilates classes are generally held indoors, in a studio or quiet room, preferably with a wooden floor. Classes can get crowded and hectic at times. Instructors need to keep a level head and maintain a positive personality in order to motivate class participants. They need to lead challenging, yet enjoyable, classes so that members return for more instruction.
Yoga and Pilates Instructor Careers Outlook
Health professionals have long recommended daily aerobic exercise and resistance training to maintain weight, build strength, and improve overall health. But more recently, health professionals have added another recommendation: work on flexibility, posture, and stress reduction. These new concerns have given yoga and Pilates a boost in popularity.
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that the job outlook for fitness instructors should remain very strong over the next several years. As the average age of the population increases, yoga and Pilates instructors will find more opportunities to work with the elderly in retirement homes and assisted-living communities. Large companies and corporations, after realizing the stress reduction benefits of these “softer” forms of exercise, also hire yoga and Pilates instructors to hold classes for their employees.
For More Information:
- American Yoga Association
- IDEA: The Health and Fitness Association
- The Pilates Center
- Pilates Method Alliance