“Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,” they say. “Follow your dreams!” “Do what you love and the money will follow!” Sometimes, we’re quoted Rumi: “Let the beauty you love be what you do.” Or, the Bhagavad Gita: “It is better to do your own duty badly than to perfectly do another’s.”
The yoga teaching career has an aura of spirituality, dharma, health and wellness around it that, to the outside eye, would make it seem like the ideal job for someone who values these things. You love yoga, you’re always reading about it, thinking about it, talking about it, why not teach it? And, as a yoga teacher, you find that you really do love your job– you get to help other people, the work atmosphere is often ideal, most of your students and fellow teachers are the sort of people you’d choose to spend time with.
But what happens when your yoga practice—- your refuge, your solace, your peace, your sanctuary– becomes your life? Where do you turn when your getaway has become a source of uncertain income, the scene of your career challenges, and the cause of inner turmoil?
After six years (3,000+ hours) of teaching yoga and running/owning a studio, I have not only experienced a few of what I’m calling “yogastential crises,” I’ve seen others work through them, too.
These might include:
- A major change in your personal life– divorce, death, etc.– and yet you must still teach yoga classes. How do you stay authentic while still creating a safe space for students to have their own experience?
- A health crisis or injury– energy is low, you are unable to use your body to demonstrate or practice yoga yourself. Teaching is more difficult and you’ve lost your own practice (on top of other pain, stress or discomfort).
- You’ve been teaching many classes and you lack funds or time for self-care. It feels like everyone needs you and there’s not enough support for your own needs. You’re depleted, exhausted, cranky and resentful of others.
- Financial stress– teaching yoga is not particularly lucrative and you may not be able to pay your bills.
- You no longer enjoy practicing the kind of yoga you are teaching; you feel inauthentic and empty.
- You’ve fallen out of love with yoga, or you’re just not sure it works anymore. Maybe you’ve got a yoga injury, or any of the above issues are feeling overwhelming. Your own practice is non-existent, and you feel like a hypocrite.
While any of these might happen to any yoga student, when it happens to the teacher, it can be a particularly painful and even desperate situation. At some point, if you’re making yoga teaching your career, you will find yourself in the midst of a yogastential crisis. You might wonder whether or not it makes sense to keep teaching yoga, or if it’s time to throw in the (yogitoes) towel.
If you’re going through any of these– please, please know that you’re not alone. Our profession can feel really lonely if we don’t have a support system set up; sometimes we feel like we have to have it all together or we’re not really doing it right, somehow. I don’t know a yoga teacher who has not experienced one of these crises. I’ve been through most of these, and ended up a more empathetic person and a better teacher, and with a better idea of how to be create resiliency and prevent burnout.
Take heart: while pain is inevitable, suffering may, perhaps, be avoided. There are some ways that we can set ourselves up to weather the challenges of our yoga teaching careers. In the second part of this series, I’ll offer a few strategies that I’ve found helpful to stay (relatively) sane, healthy and grounded as a yoga teacher.