Like most people I was drawn to yoga because of the physical benefits. I loved the adrenaline rush of a power class, the messages of possibility delivered by the teacher, and the sense of peace during savasana. I loved it all and I still do. For me, the love of yoga took me into a teacher training and before I knew it, I went from, "I don't think I ever want to teach yoga," to somehow making my fave workout into a full-time career.
Not everyone wants to become a yoga teacher. Some people simply like to be led in class and happily leave after namaste. Those people are smart, and probably wealthy. I kid, well kinda...more on this another time.
I love teaching, but the journey of stepping into the role of a professional yoga teacher is not always smooth. No one really outlines what might happen on your path, so I'll take a stab at it.
The Yoga Teacher Journey - From Ignite to (Possible) Burnout
- Enroll in a Yoga Teacher Training (YTT): "I'm doing this!" Unless you have a few thousand dollars lying around, this entails digging for quarters in your couch or starting a GoFundMe account to begin your teacher's journey. Learning from experienced and well-respected teachers doesn't come cheap. Then, it's time to spend outrageously long days with a group of people you don't know but who you'll end up loving forever more. The days are often grueling - you are emotionally and physically wrung out (think sweat and maybe even tears). In some trainings (like mine) a very strict vegan and gluten/sugar/caffeine-free diet is included in the immersion, which means even more tears for some trainees.
- Finish the YTT and feel elated: "YES, I did it!" You may feel a bit wiser, more in touch with your emotional self, more aware of your physical self. In essence, you feel ready to change the world. Plus, you know so much more about "proper alignment" that you just can't shut up about it. Watch out yoga world, there's a new Gandhi in town, and he/she is symmetrically aligned.
- Get back to the real world: "Oh shit. I'm ready to change the world, but no studio is hiring me. Don't they know I'm Gandhi reincarnate?" So, now what? You tell everyone you'll teach for free, just to get "experience." Forget that you just spent thousands of dollars learning how to become this enlightened yoga teacher, and now you've got nothing to show for it...except your almost handstand that you are ready to bust out at a moment's notice.
- First class: "Phew, someone gave me a chance. I'm going to teach. Gotta post it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat. But what if no one shows up?!" Now you'll find yourself spending far too many hours thinking of your sequence, your messaging, your delivery, your playlist. Never mind getting grounded through meditation or tuning into your chakras. Not going to happen. Only thing that is certain is that you are stressed OUT (probably sweating again) and also annoying those around you by telling them about how nervous you are.
- First class taught: "Holy crap. I forgot a side, how could I forget triangle on the other side? And I said 'left' when I meant right. Plus, that person in the back was doing her own thing. She probably hated me. Everyone probably hates me." More sweat, possible tears.
- Fast-forward to teaching more classes taught over several months: "Okay, I'm officially a yoga teacher. I'm teaching a lot more. People like my class. I still forgot friggin' triangle on the other side." You're starting to get the hang of teaching. More studios are hearing about you. You're getting offers to teach the primetime classes. People are showing up to take your class. You are getting paid (hooray!), but now you don't think you're getting paid enough (boo!). But you may have finally paid off your YTT.
- Fast-forward to teaching even more classes over several years, perhaps hosting workshops/retreats/trainings: "I'm teaching 20+ classes a week! My head is spinning poltergeist-style." You are suddenly in extremely high-demand and you both love it and hate it. You notice that your own practice is suffering due to your overly-scheduled life. Your almost handstand is now almost non-existent.
- Reassess: "The light in me honors the light in me." You might be teaching people about balance, yet not having any yourself; telling people to breathe, while finding your own breath to be shallow; advising people to rest, and at the same time not getting a good night's rest. If your goal is to teach long-term, you must take care of yourself and begin setting boundaries. While it is hard to let things go or turn down certain opportunities, it may be necessary. Get back to the LOVE of yoga. Get back on your mat and reconnect.
Being a successful yoga teacher isn't about packing the classes to the rafters. It isn't about teaching a gajillion classes, and it definitely isn't about hearing how great your class was. While these are all ego-boosters, they are not parameters for success. I feel that those who are truly successful in this industry are those who are authentic in their teachings - living their yoga, rather than just preaching it. They are the teachers who aim to find balance in their work and personal life. They are teachers who are also perpetual students, curious about their own practice so they can show up bigger for their own students. They are teachers who've gone through the fire and come out realizing they are better for it.
I'd be foolish to say I've attained this level of success...but I'm getting closer. Oh, and I only occasionally forget triangle on the other side.