How to be a yoga teacher and keep your sanity
Rollercoasters are fun, right? They take you up and down and in all different kinds of directions. You get pretty disoriented, your mind can play tricks on you, even make you question yourself and what true reality is. I’ve been on the rollercoaster of yoga teaching for quite some time now and anyone who has begun this journey will relate to this comparison I’m sure. I’ve learnt a lot along the way, including that the ride never really stops! However, the ride must continue without us every now and again so that we are able to stop in order to get our bearings and take a break and rejuvenate before hopping back on. If we don’t, then eventually we’ll burn out and be forced to jump off in a way that is much more jarring than stepping off voluntarily when we need to.
New yoga teachers are often so full of passion and unwavering love for teaching when they begin that this often falsely overshadows the need for rest, sensible working hours and time for ourselves. It’s great to find our passion in something that we love doing but just like anything else, we need to be sensible about the level of commitment we provide to our students by balancing it out with self-care.
You may be thinking “That’s not me — I look after myself — I practice what I preach”, or even worse “That doesn’t apply to me because I have endless energy and could teach every day — what does she know!?”
I’m not perfect either, believe me. I’ve been there and had moments where I’ve slipped off that rollercoaster, blissfully unaware of the impending fall until I’ve hit the concrete. In fact, it happened to me at the beginning of this year — 14 years into teaching yoga and thinking I had everything sorted out just fine, thank you! It was only looking back that I realised I’d been adding too many things to my schedule without subtracting somewhere else. I’ve reworked my schedule again (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done this over the years!) so that I have some breathing space again and things are back in balance.
Here are a few tips I’d like to share to help keep your schedule balanced in order to maintain some sanity! If you are just starting out teaching, hopefully it will assist you in your planning phase. If you already have a busy teaching schedule, perhaps it will help you to tweak it back into balance. Grab a pen and answer the questions as you go along to see if there is room for improvement.
You love yoga, which is why you became a yoga teacher in the first place. Keep practicing and don’t forget what it feels like to be a student. Whether it is your own practice or at another teacher’s class, if you haven’t got time then something is wrong and needs to change. Teaching a class should never be your own practice time, your focus should be wholly on your students then. How can I fit my practice into my schedule?
This is really important. Your initial teacher training is just the beginning and you are most certainly not done with learning. If you wish to maintain insurance and recognition through associations like Yoga Australia then continuing professional development each year is essential. Try to plan this out in advance and do your studies in an area that sparks your interest rather than rushing to do it at the last minute when your membership renewal is due. What will I study this year and when?
Stay in touch with other Yoga Teacher/Mentors
These guys will be your ongoing support network. They may be senior teachers whose classes you attend or teachers you trained with or met at yoga events or who work in the same places as you do. Maybe you haven’t touched base with anyone for a while, but it’s never too late to try. Who can I network with?
Seek expert advice and help when needed
It’s fine to get ideas and referrals from your network but yoga teachers (unless specifically qualified in that area) are not the best placed to answer questions to do with setting yourself up as a business. Seek out specific expert advice on things like taxation requirements, legalities & business structures. Forums can be a good place to get referrals and ideas. What do I need help with?
Plan financially and assess regularly
Winging it is dangerous and you will come unstuck if you don’t have a financial plan. This applies whether you are going to be working for several studios, setting up your own studio or running a few local classes at a community centre. You need a plan so you can see if you will be able to survive and/or what other supplementary work you may need to pick up. Don’t wait until you’ve run out of money and if possible, have some money in reserve in case things quieten down unexpectedly. How are my finances looking?
Work smarter, not harder
Think about how you would like your typical day/week to look and then only take on jobs that fit with that. If you don’t want to work on weekends, then don’t! That might also mean classes that are closer to home so that you don’t mind driving there multiple times, or teaching a few classes one after the other, or in similar areas if you are teaching for someone else. What do I want my work day/week to look like?
It seems crazy to even be mentioning this, but I know how hard it can seem to leave your students and take a holiday. Questions like “What if the students don’t come back?”, “What if I lose my teaching position?” or “What if a new student calls and no one is there to answer?” may start to float through your mind but instead ask yourself “What will happen if I never take a holiday?”. Seriously, you need to do this regularly; most industries have between 4–6 weeks annually. Our yoga school closes for all the school holidays (that’s 12 weeks) — we’ve always done it and students know this and are used to it. It allows us time to go on retreats and keeps us sane!!!! When is my next holiday?
Do you want to reply to messages & emails 24/7? Initially this may seem like a good idea but having clear boundaries as to when you are available and when you aren’t is really important. For example, I have a home office so only answer the phone until 4pm on weekdays and not at all on the weekends. Boundaries can apply in other ways e.g. How much time will you give a student after class before asking them to make a paid private appointment? Do you accept Facebook friend requests from students or direct them to a separate page? What are my boundaries?
Things may play on your mind like “Was that class good enough?” or “Why didn’t that student come back?”. This can take up a lot of your headspace! There are so many reasons why a student doesn’t return to class, mostly nothing to do with you and sometimes you just have to let go of that. If the reason is that they are not a good fit then it is better for everyone that they find someone that is. As much planning as we do, some things are not able to be influenced by us. Can I let go of some things?
This can be the hardest part, as we often inadvertently mimic our own teachers when we begin teaching. However, over time, you will find your own groove which I feel works better than continually reinventing yourself due to the latest trend. It’s fine to incorporate new things you have learnt but trying to be everything to everyone is just plain exhausting! What do you like doing? What type of class do you like teaching and what kind of student groups do you like to interact with? If someone thinks your class is too slow then refer them to a faster paced one — chances are if you speed it up, someone will complain about that too! Just be YOU and you can’t go wrong! Am I being my authentic self?