Ten tips from a Yoga teacher that loves her job and no longer struggles to pay rent.
Working for yourself, turning your passion into a career, being your own boss, all of those are probably the most common career goals of our generation. In the past, life used to be more about getting a good education in order to be quickly employed on a permanent or at least a long-term, position. Then we stepped it up a bit into wishing to be happy and enjoy everything we do, including our job. Now it seems to be the ultimate path to self-realisation: ‘do what you love and money will follow’. The truth is that you are not necessarily going to enjoy working in that thing you love doing for fun. It certainly can be so! But you need to do it right.
For the past three years, I’ve been working as a full-time Yoga teacher. I am working for myself, setting my own schedule and terms, spreading my passion, inspiring and getting inspired by my students and colleagues. What an awesome way to make a living!
Yoga teaching is probably one of the most widely recognised jobs that are done out of pure passion, beside other fitness and leisure instructors, artists, performers and travel guides. Lately, I had the chance to talk about this with few of my colleagues. It is more often now that I hear Yoga teachers wanting to stop teaching, or at least stop doing it full time. Few years into business, they would say things like,
‘I just want to be a student again’
‘It just doesn’t worth it anymore’
‘I feel like coming back to my previous job for a while’
Even though being a Yoga teacher can be great fun, if you are not rewarded enough it is very easy to get drained; after all, while teaching, you give so much energy away and it just doesn’t work if you don’t receive enough back.
Recently, a student asked me a question at the end of a class, ‘do you ever wake up in the morning and say, “I just don’t feel like teaching Yoga today?”’ I don’t think my answer was what she expected to hear… Of course I do! Just because you do something you are passionate about for living, doesn’t mean your job is easy or that it is always a blast waking up for work. It is a job. Not a hobby anymore. And if you want to turn your hobby into a job you need to consider all the pros and cons and make sure it is the right choice for you. After all, you don’t want to end up hating it, right?
If you are still in your, ‘just finished my first teacher training and want to share my passion with the world every damn day’, bliss stage, enjoy! But if you are feeling like you might get tired soon from teaching so much Yoga, or doing another job that you were meant to love so much, here are some tips to how you can keep doing your perfect job for the long-term without feeling run down.
1. Don’t be afraid to call it business
Too often I encounter the assumption that Yoga is not my ‘real job’, or not my only job, or at least not my long-term career. People tend to think that this is just something I do mainly for fun. Well if it was so, I would have stopped having fun with it long ago. Yoga teaching is my business, and it is not always an easy one. It takes a lot of planning, marketing and creativity to keep growing in this sort of an industry.
If you want your job to be taken seriously, you need to take it seriously yourself. Work with a business plan and a schedule, set goals, do some networking and keep questioning your business strategy to improve and grow.
2. Take breaks
It may seem as if a schedule where you teach only few classes per day, is almost a week off but it is not… If you are passionate about teaching, you will soon feel how exhausting it is to spread your passion non-stop for a full hour. It also can be draining to be happy and bubbly every day, as you are expected to be, because none of us is forever in a good mood.
Often once you gained your energy back after your morning class, it seems to be already time to go teach an evening session. No wonder that so many teachers end up sleeping the whole day in between their morning and night classes!
To stay fresh for the long-term, my thumb rule is to have at least one full day off a week and at least one full weekend off a month. I also go away somewhere for a weekend or even a full week holiday every two or three months. It can be something cheap and simple, it can incorporate some extra training or even a teaching gig but just breaking out of your regular environment is always refreshing. Ideally, I would suggest to do a non-yoga-related holiday but yeah, I know we are all addicted…
3. Don’t expect it to be the same
Turning your passion into a career is a big step. You will have to be ready to let it go as your fun thing and work hard, unpacking it in terms of business, marketing and education.
Don’t be surprised if you find it hard to relax while practicing a class, because your brain keeps running around, memorising new transitions and cues. When you are practicing at home, maybe you’ll feel more often that you need to go for a gentle restorative practice, or you might end up spending a lot of time creating new sequences rather than improving your own posture.
Your body will probably stop progressing as quick as it did during your teacher training boot-camp. This is a big change but you don’t have to see it as a regression.
Your purpose now is to be a good teacher, a guide, not necessarily the best practitioner. From my experience, the best teachers I had, couldn’t do with their own bodies, most of the things they taught best; here is where the most important aspect of the practice comes in hand: you need to be a good observer.
I believe that to be a good teacher you need to spend more time looking at other people’s postures and thinking how to approach them, than improving your own body. Thus, the practice might start to seem more like something you do to improve as a teacher and develop in your career, rather than your treat for yourself.
A good way to balance this is to go and practice in a place where you don’t teach, where you need to pay full price and thus you feel like it is a little present you bought to yourself.
I remember how I rediscovered the practice for myself, it was at a very hard time in my life. When I really needed it to be there for me, the mat still accepted me as a student. I suddenly felt that I could come to class and do all of my chiturangas on the knees and bawl my eyes out at the end of shavasana.
Your personal practice can still be healing and recharging, you just need to find a way in which it still works for you as a student, not a teacher.
4. You don’t have to practice every day
Three years into business, I now restricted my practice for only four times a week. Frankly, I don’t always get to that either and that’s okay. You do have to have some personal practice to stay fit and healthy and avoid injuries that happen when you demonstrate without a warm up (it doesn’t has to be Yoga by the way…). But if you teach 15 classes a week and practice seven days a week, your body will be wrecked in no-time!
You can encourage your students to practice everyday though: it’s great for them! It is their hobby/lifestyle/little treat for themselves; it is probably none of those things for you anymore. Let go of the traditional view that if you teach something, you have to do it everyday yourself. I mean, I don’t think my math teacher done math everyday…
5. Get a new hobby
Now that you accepted the fact that Yoga is no longer your hobby and you don’t have to do it everyday, you surely have some extra time for a new treat! Now… I am also one of those fanatics that has to go too far with every activity I take on and end up turning every new leisure into my reason for being… but last year I’ve done quite well taking on windsurfing for only few weeks, without getting addicted! Maybe it was because I was doing terrible…
You have to have something else you like to do, something that you have zero ambition at making a living from, something that you purely enjoy.
6. Separate business and pleasure
Even if you love it, it surely not ALL you love. You can get bored of anything if you are doing it every day, all day. You have to have time for yourself doing things that are not Yoga, not Yoga AT ALL. For example, drinking beer on the couch with your never-heard-of-Yoga friends. You have to have friends like that! You also have to restrain the connections you have with people that want to talk to you in your free time about: ‘how you got into Yoga?’ and: ‘what is Yoga?’ and: ‘can you help me to stretch my thigh?’ I know it is a bit hard to stop being everyone’s ‘kale smoothie guru’ but you just need to learn how to say ‘no!’ It is your job now, and no one likes to talk work at their free time.
You also have to have full days in your life where you don’t teach, practice or talk Yoga at all, to keep yourself balanced.
7. Demand your reward
If you are doing for work something you are passionate about, it doesn’t mean you are not also doing it for money; unfortunately, in the fun industries, the assumption that professionals are happy to do their fun job for free, or for minimal reward, is quite common.
Don’t teach for free unless it is for something YOU actually want to be part of; for example, charity classes for your local community may feel rewarding, even if you don’t get payed. Continuously offering free or cheap services to family and friends, however, will drain you in no-time.
Don’t agree doing trials for studios at no extra charge! This is so common that a studio manager will expect a free trial or even a mentorship period to ‘qualify’ you for their particular style. The truth is, even though some adjustments of style can be discussed, you are a contractor qualified for your job. Imagine if you ordered an electrician and asked that the first session will be for free!? You always should be getting payed for teaching a scheduled class… If the place doesn’t like you after the trial, it is allowed not to hire your services again.
It is up to you to set your own boundaries of minimal rate and amount of time you are willing to give away for free. Most important is that you feel you are rewarded enough, otherwise you are not going to be happy with your career choice.
8. Don’t teach too many classes
A comfortable timetable is something that takes time to build in the free-lance business. The pay is not that high so you end up agreeing to take on too many classes, or no days off, or travel too far, etc. You need to consider the pay and the time-frame each job takes and decide whether it worth it for you. I would say that 15 classes per week is a maximum amount for a full-time teacher but it is really depends on how much you need to travel and how many days you get to have off a week. Most important, make sure that you have time in your schedule to practice yourself and not to feel exhausted.
Also, if you are exhausted, don’t teach! I know that we all need to pay rent but for the long-term, it is not going to work. From my experience, students won’t always notice how drained you are; some of the best feedbacks I received from students were for classes where I was completely flat out. You must remember that the practice is mainly an internal experience and you are only a guide. But you must make it work for yourself, so you will want to keep going.
If you don’t find a way to reduce classes without getting broke, think about other business opportunities that are more profitable to add to your plan. Maybe you even take an extra job for a while to get you through; it is ok, as long as you have a plan how to come back on track. It is still better than giving up your passion, I think.
9. Keep educating yourself
A music teacher once told me, ‘if you want to be a teacher, you always need to stay within the world of education.’ You can’t teach and stay passionate about what you deliver, if you don’t continue to refresh your knowledge. You have to keep getting new ideas, new cues, new ways of looking at each pose. Otherwise, you will get bored and then your classes will become monotonous and boring as well.
For me, to keep feeling fresh, I have to attend a guided class no less than once a week. I also sign up for at least one teacher-training a year (I know it is expensive… but it can be just a short day/weekend session). I try and go to other teacher’s classes and workshops as much as I can; luckily, most of those are offered for free if you are part of the teaching team.
10. It is all about balance
Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you don’t enjoy it, come back to be a student and maybe try something else for a while.
You can also eat pizza, not practice for a month or mix up your rights and lefts five times during one session. Seriously… no one ever complained saying that the Yoga class was terrible…
To conclude, I don’t volunteer to be the expert, but from my experience those tips work like magic. I am now few years into business, kicking goals and my passion to do my work only grows.
Not everything you enjoy doing is meant to turn into a career and it is also okay to just keep something as your hobby, your little treat for yourself. But if you chose to take on this path for the long-term, it means you probably really do love it and it is a shame to lose such a great passion.
Always remember why you started teaching in the first place, don’t forget to take care of yourself and keep up with the good work. You are doing awesome!