As yoga continues to grow in popularity (36.7 million practitioners according to the 2016 Yoga in America study), an increasing number of yoga teachers find themselves looking for work opportunities. Many new teachers make an unfortunate and surprising discovery upon their entry into the yoga world: Despite the ever-expanding demographic of yoga practitioners, financial prosperity as a yoga instructor takes time to cultivate and can be energetically draining. Trying to make ends meet while gaining the necessary experience and exposure frequently results in burnout. If this scenario sounds familiar, take heart and start employing these simple self-preservation strategies.
Yes, that subbing opportunity would be great. Yes, that unexpected private client will add dollars to your bottom line. No, it is not worth it if it means giving up your personal practice.
Many new teachers make the mistake of sacrificing their personal practice in order to see more clients and teach more classes. That can leave you feeling both resentful and drained of inspiration. When you find yourself trapped in a wildly demanding teaching schedule and out of your practice, your students feel it. Inspiration falls flat, your energetic cup is empty, and it is much harder to give. Trust that your practice helped inspire you onto this path and as you continue to hold your practice as a priority, your path will continue to be supported. As your teaching path takes shape, the times of day and length of your practice might shift, but be sure to schedule time each day for the ritual of getting on your mat.
In alignment with prioritizing your personal practice, saying no to opportunities that don’t feel like a right fit is also critical. Listen to your intuition and trust when your inner guidance system is directing you elsewhere. While it is important to invest time in building a new class or cultivating new opportunities, if the energy of the studio or the client does not feel like a match, it is OK to make a change and trust that another opportunity in alignment with your path will arise. Turning down a prospect can be scary at first, but saying no helps us maintain space for something else to arise. There are kind, gracious, and gentle ways to say no without harming important relationships. And having the ability to do it is a crucial component of maintaining healthy boundaries.
Building community and nurturing your student base is an important component to teaching, but maintaining healthy boundaries is equally essential. Loose or weak boundaries can create tremendous emotional strain and stress accelerating you along the burnout path. In our Holistic Yoga Flow teacher training programs, we remind teachers, “You are not a therapist (unless of course you are).” Regardless of being a certified therapist or not, the yoga room is a space for yoga practice. As an embodied practice, yoga can be the catalyst for deep emotional releases and the revelation of ingrained habits or patterns. This is a wonderful and yet often precarious opportunity for students to receive deep healing. Some of this can be addressed between teacher and student in a balanced, healthy way, but it is always important to know when to refer a student to another professional such as a certified therapist, counselor, or doctor. Have a list of trusted resources you can offer students in order to help them cultivate the highest benefit from their yoga practice both on and off the mat. Never be afraid to refer a student to another professional for additional support. Know your professional base of knowledge and honor it accordingly for your health and theirs.
If a student has a question about a yoga posture after class that takes longer than 5–8 minutes to answer, it might be a good time to suggest a private session to help them deepen their understanding of the pose and to hone safe, sound alignment. Be available to answer questions after class with compassion and attention, but also honor your time and the space you need between classes to re-fuel and re-calibrate.
Create a supportive network of fellow teachers. A senior teacher or mentor can be an important sounding board as your teaching path evolves. A mentor can listen, guide, and provide insight as you make important decisions, feel stuck, or face challenging situations in your teaching journey. Stay connected with teachers from your teacher trainings, make an effort to connect with fellow teachers at the studios where you teach, and reach out to teachers from your community with whom you practice. It is important to know you are not alone, and this connection is key to the health and wellbeing of both you and your community.
Yoga teachers give with their bodies, minds, and hearts. As a result, self-care is a necessary piece of your health and longevity on this path. Develop supporters outside of your yoga community such as a massage therapist, energy healer, acupuncturist, naturopath, therapist, or goal coach to help you stay grounded, connected, and energized. Teachers often find themselves exchanging private yoga sessions for such services. Instead, pay for these services. Money is an equal exchange of energy, and it helps ensure each healing session does not add more stress or obligation to your already full schedule.
Additionally, maintaining proper nutrition and securing plenty of rest are key to reaching your highest potential as well as to preventing exhaustion, illness, and stress. Teachers are frequently “on the run” moving from group classes to private clients throughout the day. Always keep snacks and water on hand for sustained energy. When we are well fed and hydrated, our energy is more consistent and at the end of the day, we experience greater fulfillment and feel less drained. When you know a busy week is ahead, plan a farmer’s market trip or grocery store run to prepare. Pre-plan meals and snacks so when you come home for the evening or for a short break between classes you have easy access to food that uplifts you and doesn’t require much preparation. When we eat on the go, we tend to grab unhealthy snacks and sacrifice good nutrition. This can leave the body feeling lethargic and more susceptible to catching the latest cold or flu.
Rest is just as important as nutrition. Sleep is critical for clear mental functioning, sustained energy, and the ability to be present for your students. Lack of sleep inhibits the body’s ability to heal and repair and is even linked to mood regulation. When you are feeling energetically depleted, start with a good night’s sleep and when time permits, give yourself the beautiful gift of a midday nap!
Outside of your personal practice, invest in continuing your education. Most yoga studios support their teachers’ continuing education and will happily encourage you to take the time off to study. Teachers who continue to study continue to inspire their students, which assists the ongoing growth of their student base. You deserve to take time off to deepen your practice, fill your inspiration coffers back up and be reminded why you chose this path in the first place. Take time every year to enjoy at least one training with a teacher who inspires you. If you can’t take time away from your schedule, there are now numerous, incredible online trainings available from some of the most senior teachers in our community.
Outside of yoga, what inspires you? Take time for that! Read what uplifts you. Get creative and take yourself on an art date to a local museum. Sit outside, journal, play music, and tap into your sources off the mat for connection and revitalization.
Finally, current teacher training programs have a responsibility to help curb the painful and disheartening phenomenon of new teacher burnout by being open, honest, and forthright with new teachers about this field. Although teacher training programs are a tremendous source of revenue for many studios, we have a responsibility to make sure new teachers are fully informed when they sign on. Trainings are a wonderful opportunity for students to deepen their practices, but if their intention is to begin teaching as a full-time gig, be clear with them on the general pay structure of group classes and help give them strategies for building private clients, corporate clients, and other revenue streams that will support their transition into teaching. As teacher trainers, it is also critical to continue uplifting and educating current teachers, while emphasizing the importance of self-care, the time it takes to build a full-time teaching career, and other routes for integrating teaching yoga into their lives.