(This is part 1 of 2 posts. See Part 2 here: A Guide To Yoga Teacher Training)
There are no rose coloured lenses over this post.
A post that has been a long time coming; that could perhaps be riddled with contradiction and controversy, inspiration and interrogation.
As we continuously ask the question “what is Yoga?”, or perhaps what Yoga is not, we must assess the realities of what it is to be a Yoga Teacher. I’ve seen a few community leaders out there clarifying that there are mostly Asana teachers in the West, rather than actual Yoga Teachers. (Here, Yoga is intended to represent the entire system, and not just the physical poses/movements which are in Sanskrit called the Asana).
And, I agree with this proposition.
When considering the Yoga Sutras text, we can generally understand that the meaning of Yoga (besides it’s literal sanskrit translation, ‘Yoke’ or Union) is a stilling of the fluctuations of the mind (Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah). The physical postures (asana) are a part, a strand, of Yoga – but in reality they cannot be exclusively an experience of Yoga. This is where most people begin their path of experiencing Yoga – however, due to the realities of what is being taught in today’s world, the experience often stops there. A wall is hit, so to speak. Although, the physical poses are perhaps a prerequisite to the deeper more refined breath practices (pranayama) and then further into meditation. So it is not my intent to undermine the value of the asana.
What is missing is an emphasis on making the remainder of the Yoga system accessible to those coming into a class. Many studio owners think that their students only want the physical practice (asana), which in many cases is very dynamic, rushed, and aerobics-like. However, this may only be the reality because this is all the students actually know. They don’t know Yoga to be presented any different. Yet – my experience is that students are seeking more. Once they have a somewhat fundamental grasp on the physical postures, then what?
Want to become a Yoga Teacher?
Or, do you want to become an Asana Teacher?
If yoga teaching is a path you’re seeking, I think it’s important to ask yourself if you’re willing to dive deep into the experience of the entire yoga system (and not only asana), before you expect to teach it? Are you willing to draw people outside of their comfort zone and then guide them further into this ancient system? Truly? Are you willing to invest your time and energy into studying, learning, experiencing the essential components of the Yamas, Niyamas, Pranayama, and be lead into the deeper and yet more subtle exploration of genuine meditation?
I’m by no means suggesting any of us should attain any level of perfection or mastery (and I’m certainly far from ever claiming that myself in this lifetime). But I’m asking you to ask yourself…
Why do you want to teach?
Perhaps your job makes you miserable? Perhaps you feel lost, and Yoga is the only thing that brings you a sense of peace? Perhaps it seems like a cool and fun way to live your life? Maybe you’re seeking more validation from people around you? These reasons are not the ideal.
If you decide to become a Yoga Teacher, your own experience of Yoga will change. You will forever be a student, but you will no longer be only a student (and will often participate in classes whilst struggling to remove your teachers hat).
There are so many (too many) teacher trainings out there these days. Sadly, and strangely, the yoga teaching ‘industry’ has become very competitive. One thing I ask you to consider is that any unhappiness in your current position may not be transformed by becoming a Yoga Teacher… this is because teaching Yoga is a completely different experience and lifestyle to practicing Yoga.
Here are a few things worth consideration before you make a commitment to walking the path:
- It can be tough. Being a Yoga Teacher can be struggle to make ends meet. Most teachers continue to work part-time or full-time in another job to pay the bills. And there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t know why many teacher hide their ‘day jobs’. We all have to eat! Many teachers (of all ages) still live at home with their parents also.
- Most Yoga Teachers typically work at 3-5 studios (or gyms/businesses/wellness centres), and spend a lot of time and petrol travelling between them. In most cases you cannot tell your students where else you teach, because… it’s all business, and therefore competition. You’ll spend a number of hours each week traveling. And, this all adds up. The life of a Yoga Teacher requires a lot of “running around”, creativity, energy, irregularity (due to teaching schedules), and inconsistency.
- You’re most likely to be ‘employed’ as an independent contractor. In Australia, this means you will have a potentially big tax bill to pay each year and no superannuation gained.
- You will be expected at some stage (and maybe regularly) to do free work – free teaching, cleaning floors/dishes/classrooms, answering phones, greeting/booking/assisting people on a reception desk, and more. Free work that others often get paid to do. The term Seva, meaning service, is often used (abused?) towards to teachers to install a feeling of obligation to do things for free (so someone else benefits from saving money). This leads to a feeling of guilt for teachers, and so most always say yes. Saying no may mean loosing a teaching position all together! I must state that I strongly believe it’s important to volunteer and offer yoga freely and/or by donation – but in the context that it resonates with you, provides true value to the community, and is not about saving a business a few dollars. Let Seva be true service – heart-felt volunteering, offering, honouring.
- You are your own business. It is difficult for teachers to build a genuine following (outside of your family and friends). This takes… time. Connecting with students is essential, and, not everyone is going to like your teaching. That’s the reality. You cannot please everybody, as much as you might hope to. Just as you have teachers that resonate for you and ones that do not, the same goes for your potential students. Most Yoga Teachers, particularly those of a younger generation, now have Facebook, a website, and other forms of social media like Twitter and the infamous Instagram. Social media will possibility suck the life out of you. Yet, in today’s world it seems mostly essential. If you envision more people in your classes, people need to know you exist. Social Media is part of the new era of yoga teaching. However, most social media websites are no longer reliable to get your message out due to algorithms and plain-old saturation of mass media. It’s recommended, to be established in the long term, to invest in a website. This can be free (building it yourself with a lot of stress, learning, and hard work), or you can pay a pro (with a good chunk of money you may not have). Oh, and then you need people to be able to find your website (i.e. YOU).
Be prepared to self promote (but please do not self-inflate). Every time you share online, be sure to inspire and not merely entertain.
- On the note of business…. you’ll need to ensure you have the following: Up-to-date First Aid and CPR certificates, an ABN (Australian Business number, or equivalent in your country), Public liability insurance, Professional Indemnity Insurance, and possibly a membership to a governing body such as Yoga Australia, Yoga Alliance, Fitness Australia, etc. Oh, and savings in the bank to pay your taxes.
- If, from the heart, you wish to be an exceptional Yoga Teacher (and not an asana teacher), you’ll need to put way more than 200 hours into training. After you’ve completed your first training, it should be a top priority to attend as many workshops and masterclasses as possible. It is my belief that it should be a standard that a Yoga Teacher should be required to complete 500 hours of training in total within the first 24 months of teaching. The standards of 200 hour training programs vary tremendously. I cannot stress this enough. And therefore the standard of teachers varies just as if not more greatly. Find a niche, but not just because. Find a niche in an area that you feel truthfully drawn and connected too. Even if it’s not the current ‘trend’. Teach what you learn and teach what you love. In the meantime, be willing to sub classes to get a taste of what may resonate for you deep inside!
- Like any other workplace, you may find yourself teaching in an abusive environment. Yes, you read that one correctly. Sadly, it’s kept most often on the down-low, but there are teachers and studio owners out there abusing their staff and teaching faculty. It could be happening right under your nose right now at your local studio. I personally know numerous Yoga Teachers who have been exposed to this devastating experience. It’s mind and heart shattering. Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse is not excluded from the Yoga industry. There has been public exposure of some very well-known Yoga Teachers over the past few years. But seriously, this stuff happens way too frequently than any yoga student ever realises.
You may burn out. Fast.
- At the start of a teaching career, one can feel very excited, inspired, and valued. Most teachers push too much too soon, striving for more and more classes. I recall teaching 25 classes a week for a few months. I ended up extremely sick, voice completely gone, and I had to get a cover for all of my classes which meant zero income. Not fun. Now I teach up to 15 classes per week, and envision within the next year or two to be teaching only up to 10 maximum per week. Why? Because I know what is sustainable – physically, energetically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually sustainable.
- Say so long farewell to your self practice. In all transparency, my self-practice has gone in waves over the years, as I know it does for almost all Yoga Teachers. No matter how well intentioned you are, you will not get to your studio to practice or on your mat at home near as much as you hope. You will find waves of inspiration and discipline. But you will need to find routine and regularity to stay consistent with your practice. It may mean swapping some studio class for home practice, or vice versa. It may mean going to another studio to practice, because where you teach starts to feel like going back to work when you go to practice. These are all possibilities. Always come back to why you started your path as a student, and why you kept going along it. Go to workshops, renew your spark, take your mat outdoors, find a practice buddy. Do whatever it takes. Walk your talk. But, be gentle on yourself. Patience is a practice also.
- The path will feel competitive. The online world is a major contributor to this conundrum. You may get caught up in the whirlwind of numbers – the number of students, number of classes you teach, the number of fans/followers/likes, the number of participants, events, or workshops, sold-out retreats, or the number you get paid. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, is for the most part numbers mean not much at all. It’s a cliche but true – quality over quantity. You can pay to have likes on Facebook and Instagram, but you’re not going to get those people into your class or booking your retreats. Most successful teachers and studios put no money into marketing and thrive on organic growth. Why? Because it is quality relationships and offerings that stand the test of time. Think about all the teachers graduatiing from yoga teacher training, and how many studios are popping up on every corner, so to speak. What do you think it’ll take for them to still “stay standing” in 3-5 years?
- You will need an advanced practice. And no, I’m not referring to the ability to perform every pose in The Light On Yoga. An advanced practice comes from time, dedication, and experience (in a variety of asana, pranayama, meditation, and self-enquiry). Many come to yoga, and can attain very amazing and impressive poses (due to their movement background – hello Instagram celebrities), but haven’t done the inner work. The inner work is so truly important and essential. As a teacher you will come across students very regularly who wish to learn challenging poses (eg. inversions), and for safety purposes it is important to understand and be able to perform many of these so-called advanced poses to the degree that you can truly support that person. That does not mean you should not teach a pose which you cannot do yourself – perhaps you’ve been working on it, and you can appreciate the struggle, and you can also share the breakthroughs you’ve experienced to date. But, if you plain-old avoid poses out of fear, lack of effort, or lack of understanding, then it’s best you give that student a great referral to another teacher – and I’m sure they will be grateful for your humility and transparency. A great reason they will instil trust in you! Important to note, when I consider my greatest yoga teachers within the realm of yoga, they have walked the path for much longer than I, and have immersed themselves into all facets of the yoga system in great depth. I admire this deeply, and this is what inspires and guides my path.
- Your ego may amplify. With the number of students and friends reaching out to you for help and guidance, this can become very self-validating. Over the long term this can create a persona which no longer is about serving and inspiring, and instead becomes about significance and recognition. Stay grounded by switching off from social media, associate with circles of friends outside of yoga, spend time alone in nature, read, go to your teachers, travel, try a new class or a new method of practice, and slow down.
- You will be an artist. Becoming a Yoga Teacher requires great creativity – consistent class sequencing, variety, inspiration, theming, and the like. Of course there are certain yoga systems that remain mostly the same (like the Ashtanga series). but for the most part you will need to be constantly creating. If you teach a large number of classes each week this may begin to feel very challenging. Repeating and rehashing old sequences can be done – but not as a means to always fill a void inside because you’ve not been filling up your own cup with fresh new inspiration! Again, go to other classes, workshops, and studios to revive your love for sharing and creating!
- Doing your Teacher Training is bringing in a chunk of money. Not for you. For the school you book through. One of the greatest incomes sources for yoga studios is offering teacher trainings. Consider this – the training program is designed, created, approved, and planned. This costs money upfront. But then every year the program gets repeated over and over with a surge of income from each student. This is why most (but definitely not all) studios are now offering teacher trainings. It is so easy to pump people in and out. To certify people whom they wouldn’t even have teach in their own studio. Teacher Training is serious business. For this reason, I recommend teacher training schools that have been established for a long time with a history of students offering great feedback from their experience. And also schools with a faculty of truly senior teachers. Do not book a training program merely due to the low cost or the convenience of location.
A final note.
People can see right through your intentions. Be heart-felt. Be transparent. Do not choose Yoga as an occupation. Choose it because you’re willing to dive into all the uncomfortable and confronting layers of the self, and because you’re confident and willing to guide others to do the same.
Find a mentor, or a teacher, whom you will train closely with, and regularly. Don’t worry about where anyone else is in their practice, and follow your heart. What you perceive on social media is predominantly all ‘posed’ to appear like every yogi is living the best life. The online world, sadly, can make us feel like we cannot keep up, or like we’re not good enough.
You may find you thrive as a Yoga Teacher, or you may discover it is not for you (we can’t be great at everything, no matter how bad we want to be at times). Please know it’s a lot of hard work. It is highly rewarding, but is a lifetime of work – not a quick fix for your less-than-desirable job or lifestyle.
Rest on the Yamas and Niyamas – let these principles guide the decisions you make. As a teacher you need to be a testament to the practice. This is a responsibility, to be devotional and dedicated.
Teaching Yoga is full of real reward. I’ve made so many deep connections. My students teach me much about myself, as I hope to teach them about themselves. It is, however, still a lot of time and an investment of energy, which is why it has to also be a means to pay the bills.
Have something to contribute? Something that may add value to this conversation? Please leave a comment below!
Still interested in pursuing a path of Yoga teaching? See Part 2 – A Guide To Yoga Teacher Training
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