They say, "Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life." I believe this to be both true and untrue.
When I decided to invest the time and money into a yoga teacher training there was no question in my mind I was going to teach yoga for a living.
There was a day during this first teacher training that we talked about some of the realities that awaited those of us who planned to turn teaching yoga into a job. This advice was incredibly valuable and important to consider. For example, as new teachers it is unlikely to make a sizable income teaching yoga.
New teachers need to build experience and in order to do so we must teach classes to develop our skill. At first this means teaching wherever it is that the door is open to us. Fitness centers and gyms are great places to get your feet wet and gain some experience. However, these places usually do not pay as well as dedicated yoga studios. For those of us lucky enough to get into a studio it is not uncommon to assist experienced teachers for a while, and though it's great experience this pays very little.
It is important to digest the fact that making a living from teaching yoga can take years to accomplish. My teachers emphasized the importance of keeping other avenues of income to pay the bills while we grew as teachers, which made sense.
Other recommendations were things I had not considered. We were warned not to pretend to know more than we did. As the years have gone on I am so grateful that this was something my teachers took time to say to us.
We can’t, especially in the beginning, be expected to know it all… All the anatomy, Sanskrit, philosophy, energetics, history, therapeutics, etc.
We leave teacher training with an awareness of how to safely guide students into the form of the basic poses. Let’s be honest, during training our experience of teaching is to each other, bendy-flexy, body aware yogis who have likely had years of practice. This is not who you are going to be teaching when you leave, though, for the most part.
My teachers warned us that when we did start to teach the general population to simply be confident in what we knew and not to pretend to know more than we did. Experience and knowledge are developed over time and we are not doctors, physiotherapists, or psychologists—we are yoga teachers and it is okay to admit when you don’t know something. Best. Advice. Ever.
In the years since this first training I have had the amazing good fortune to turn my passion for yoga and drive to teach it into a full-time job. Now as I look back I have my own list of things I would warn new teachers about as they turn a passion for yoga into a sustainable career.
In my opinion, you really have to love people, and love working with people, to be a great teacher. Be prepared to have your buttons pushed, to develop your patience, and create your boundaries. Our students come in all shapes and sizes, with all kinds of expectations and requests. Being a yoga teacher is not only about teaching asana, pranayama and philosophy—you will have to deal with all kinds of bookings, transactions, set up, clean up, and a ticker tape of requests that may range anywhere from “I’m really busy this week can I come to class 10 mins late?” to the extreme, “can I bring my 4 year old to your yin-restorative class?”
Being in a service industry job takes patience and you have to continue to remind yourself that ultimately we teach to serve.
Learning anything new is best refined through the practical ground of experience.
If we are lucky we have had strong teachers ourselves that supply us with a tool box inclusive of clear cuing, keen eyes of observation, and hopefully a sense of class arc in terms of how to safely warm bodies up, bring the class to a peak, and wind it all down.
Ultimately, we need time and practice to become strong, inspiring, teachers. It takes time to create meaningful sequences. It takes time to learn the subtleties of timing, and to continually address conscious breath, to adjust plans on the fly when unexpected new students arrive, and to weave a theme seamlessly through the experience so students leave feeling like they have been delivered the whole yoga meal deal.
I believe there are those of us who are born to do this, we just need to develop our skill by actually using our voice until the words naturally spill forward.
There will be times that finding motivation for personal practice will be difficult. For me this is a sign that I am not paying attention to the shifts around me, in the seasons, or in my life.
Self practice is an important time to reconnect. For me taking time to shift the focus, tempo or style of my practice can be a huge gift in reigniting inspiration. After all, we cannot serve from an empty cup. Sometimes our practice simply moves towards meditation or study of philosophy. The point is, it doesn’t really matter what your practice is, just that you are holding space to keep some kind of practice for yourself.
I’m sure there are famous and notable teachers that you don’t completely resonate with either. Does this mean they do not have an incredible gift to share with the world? No. The universe is abundant and we must believe that if we seek to share from a true place of love and service that the right people will show up for us. Comparison is the thief of joy. Each of us has a unique gift and we must be brave enough to share it from an authentic place.
The essence comes back to union. Through the evolution of your work you will find more connection than you may even be prepared for—connection to yourself, to the community you serve, to the rhythm of nature and the undercurrent that draws it all together.
Turning a passion for yoga into your job is not for everyone—it is not for the faint of heart. But, for those of us who are called to brave the journey, it is well worth the work.
Photo by Paul Hoelen