Category Archives: Business and Yoga

Teaching Series: Preventing Burnout

So now you’re a yoga teacher.* You’re in love with your life, you’re in love with yoga, everything is super amazing, rainbows and sunshine!

Or, maybe it is for a while, anyway. If you haven’t read the first part of this series, I recommend checking it out to review some of the “yogastential crises” that can arise for yoga teachers throughout their career. Even though yoga and meditation have changed my life, and there is nothing I’d rather do for a living than to share these practices with others– it is not all incense and “Namaste.” I’ve fallen out of love with yoga multiple times (or at least with certain aspects of, or styles of contemporary yoga). I’ve had serious financial stress. I’ve had brutal injuries and personal grief and no choice but to show up and teach.

I haven’t always handled these situations particularly skillfully, but I have always learned something. Along the way, I’ve found some ways to manage the yoga-teacher work/life balance that I’ve found helpful to both prevent burnout and create a structure that will support you, Fellow Yoga Teacher, in the event of a personal crisis. Here’s a clickbait sentence for you: Check out my Ten Strategies For Avoiding Yoga Teacher Burnout Below!

1. Find time for your own practice. If you are able to take classes with a teacher locally, do! Working with another teacher that you like and trust is an excellent way to receive the benefits of yoga and to feel cared for and nurtured. If that is not possible, create space in your home for your own practice and commit to it, even if it’s just 20 minutes and two poses, twice a week. 

Your own practice means just that– your practice. This is time for you on your mat. It does not have to look anything like a studio practice. It does not have to be structured in any particular way, and it definitely should not be a time that you are creating a sequence for your students or rehearsing for class.

What happens if you don’t manage to find time to practice? Your teaching might start to feel stale, or boring to you. You might lose touch with the reasons why you wanted to teach yoga in the first place. Possibly even worse is a feeling of resentment and frustration that arises while you are teaching because your own needs are not being met.

2. Consider another movement practice. From time to time, our asana practice may not feel like a refuge; it might feel like work. Or, we may find that we are not getting a well-rounded physical experience from just practicing yoga. Adding another movement practice to your routine will give you the opportunity to practice mindful embodiment and joyful movement in a way that has nothing at all to do with yoga– and sometimes that can be a really good, healthy thing! Jazzercise, walking, Tai Chi, Jiu Jitsu, soccer, biking, swimming, gym time– whatever gets you into your body and feeling good about moving.

When I first started teaching, I thought yoga was THE THING. I would never need to exercise or do anything else. After a few years of just yoga, I was really craving something different in my body. Adding strength training, cardio, and other creative workouts to my own weekly routine has given me a renewed appreciation for my yoga practice, and keeps my body more balanced. It’s also really, really nice to do something sometimes that isn’t yoga. When your whole life is yoga (work, friends, recreation)– you definitely run the risk of burning out. Similarly…

3. Have non-yoga interests & friends.  Immersion into the yogic path is wonderful. However, when it is our livelihood, our pastime, and our refuge, we can easily become imbalanced and insulated. Continue to cultivate interests and friendships that are outside of the “yoga world.”

One of the best experiences of my adult life was learning to ride a dirt bike (yep, motorcycle you ride in the woods). It was completely different from anything that I had ever done, and as a new yoga teacher, I probably would have felt it was un-yogic and vaguely wrong in some way. However, the time I spent doing something so outside the yoga box and the awesome community of people I met doing it (hint: we have very little else in common beyond the bikes) were really refreshing, eye-opening and gave me a different way of interacting with the world.

4. Have a mentor or teacher that you can turn to. I’ve found it helpful to have a mentor or teacher that I can trust. This might be a yoga professional, or it might be someone else in your life. In my case, it’s several different people that can advise me when I need help with running my business; teaching a class; dealing with teaching challenges; my own meditation practice.

5. Have a peer group that you can use for reflection and support. Make connections with other yoga teachers and use them to get and give support. Teaching yoga can be difficult and lonely at times as you are offering so much to others. Having peers that you can call after a difficult class, or if you’re experiencing isolation, can help prevent burnout.

Look, I know how it feels to teach a class and think, “That was the worst class anyone has ever taught, ever. I have no business doing this for a living.” Every yoga teacher knows what that feels like. But in that moment of self-doubt and misery, we feel really isolated. Having a friend at the other end of a call or a text will remind you that 1) everyone has a bad class, or a bad day, or a bad year and 2) we’re really not alone.

6. Pursue Continuing Education that lights you up.  Workshops, online courses, online classes, online blogs are great ways to keep your teaching fresh and to keep yourself interested and connected to the teaching experience. You can might study philosophy, pranayama, alignment, anatomy, a different style of yoga, history, alternate movement practices and how to integrate them into yoga, chanting, Sanskrit, cueing, meditation, or anything at all that sparks your interest.

Free or low-cost online workshops and series are available online through Yoga Journal, Yoga Alliance, and Yoga International. I often find that just taking an online class can  provide me with material to keep my students (and me!) engaged and inquisitive.

7. Separate work from non-work. Because our schedules tend to be erratic, and we often do our class planning and business work at home, it is essential that we create a separation between “work” and “non-work.” I use a paper schedule to plan my day, separating it into blocks of time in which I am working, planning, relaxing/eating, exercising, meditating, etc. Creating structure around your work schedule is crucial to maintain a healthy work/life balance. It helps you to stay focused during work time (even when you’re working on your couch) and to give yourself permission to really relax when you’re not working.

8. Balances Your Yes and No: While there will be times in our lives where we need to work a lot, saying “yes” to as many opportunities as we can, keep in mind that for our own physical and emotional well-being, we cannot do all things for all people, and that we need to put our own self-care first so that we can care for others. Does saying “yes” to someone else mean that you’re saying “no” to yourself? If you are finding difficulty with this, check in with a mentor, peer, or therapist to get feedback on finding balance.

9. Eat well and rest enough.  While this is good advice for anybody, it’s an essential part of self-care for yoga teachers. If we show up to teach tired and poorly nourished, we’re not able to effectively care for our students. You’re gonna be CRANKY! And if you can’t take it out on your students (I hope you don’t)– it’s going to come out somewhere else. Road rage. A fight with a loved one. Screaming at stupid television commercials.

Oh, and do what you can to make sure you have at least one day off from work. I know, I know– you’re trying to make a living and you have to say “yes” to as many opportunities as you can. If you absolutely must work every day, create an end date by which you’ll make a change. This is one of the biggest pieces of advice I can offer you. You need time off. Period. 

10. Create your wellness team & and maintenance schedule.  You know this: in order to care for others, we must first care for ourselves. You probably will not need all of the following, but keep in mind that in addition to caring for our students’ bodies by using our own, we are teaching them to be emotionally and mentally well. If our own bodies, hearts and minds are not in good shape, we will have a much harder time doing our job.  Not only do we need to have a wellness team, it’s important that we not wait until we are burnt out, sick, or on the verge of collapse before we make an appointment. Invest in caring for your body and emotional well-being on a regular schedule. Your team might include your massage therapist or other body-worker; acupuncturist; therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist; physical therapist, kinesiologist, chiropractor, osteopath; recovery support groups; and even a good GP that you can call when you need one. 

What do you think, yoga teachers? I’d love to hear your strategies, what works, what doesn’t, and how you’ve gotten through the challenging times. Please leave a comment below and let’s support each other!

*Or at least I’m going to assume you are, since you’re reading this post that’s probably not very interesting to you personally otherwise

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The Yoga of Self-Expression

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.” -Martha Graham, as quoted in The Life and Work of Martha Graham (1991) by Agnes de Mille

When I was a little kid, I loved to draw. I could draw lots of kind of funny-looking things: people, flowers, animals. Often there was a joy in the simple expression of putting pencil to paper. As I grew older, however, and began to compare my artistic attempts to others’, I would get frustrated. I could see that what I was doing wasn’t the same, but I didn’t know how to make it “right.”

One particularly upsetting day, I was struggling to draw a person. I tried again and again to draw a nose that made sense- that looked like what I thought a drawing of a nose on a face should look like- but it just wasn’t happening. I was overwhelmed with frustration and maybe even the beginning of a sense of grief that I wasn’t able to live up to what I thought I should be able to do. This is when my mother intervened with a little bit of absolutely brilliant parenting.

She opened one of the many magazines that we had around the house and flipped to a cartoon of some little kids that was part of a frequent column. “Look,” she said. I looked: the children had been drawn with no noses at all. And yet they were still clearly children. They were a different expression of an idea of children, but they were people, and the nose was assumed, or it wasn’t, but it didn’t matter, because suddenly it became clear to me that there were many different ways to draw, to visualize, to convey the idea of something.

My lovely mom in that moment, took on the role of a teacher. Teachers can cultivate our individuality  or (perhaps with the best of intentions) impose someone else’s idea on us. My mother had given me a gift that is still carrying me 30 years later: the knowledge that self-expression is individual, unique, and not better or worse than anyone else’s expression.

Perhaps you can remember a time when you felt stifled by a teacher. Last week, for some reason, I recalled with stunning clarity a picture of a potato that I drew in high school. Well, let me be clear– I had started drawing this potato in my art class, but it wasn’t going very well. My attempts to capture the essence of potato in colored pencil form were failing pretty spectacularly. Our art teacher was a demanding and troubled guy, and the best you could sort of hope for in that class was to be left alone. Sadly, his eye fell on me and the potato art that day. He sat down beside me, took the drawing, and completed it for me. It was a masterpiece. Subtle shading, deep-set eyes and utterly potato-like curves. It could have been promo material for the Idaho Potato Board.

I remember watching him draw my potato, explaining where I’d gone wrong; I remember taking it home and somehow it even ended up framed over my dresser for a time! But every time I looked at it, I felt sad, a little shamed- it wasn’t really mine, and in fact it was a reminder of how I had failed as an artist according to the teacher’s standards.

This memory came to me during a class I was teaching last week, actually. I was watching a group of my students in Warrior 1. Each of them looked different. Their feet were in different places, their knees were more or less bent, their arms were doing slightly different things, and their hips were in varying degrees of proverbial Warrior 1 “square”-ness. And I thought of how, in previous years, I would ask them to place their feet in particular ways, and move their hips into a certain position, and place their arms just so, in an attempt to “get them into the pose.” I’ve attended classes recently that asked the same thing of me. And knowing now what I do about my body, and my students’ bodies, I wouldn’t confine them to exacting specifications. The cues I give to the class at large are much broader and likely to ask them to explore their own range of motion and comfort. My assists or adjustments are becoming more rare- while I love the idea of communicating through touch, I’m more cognizant now of how I may be inadvertently indicating “wrongness” on their part- that I might be sort of metaphorically taking their pen and drawing their potato.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe that we are always trying to do the best we can as teachers. I certainly was. It’s simply that with time, I’ve gotten more information- injuries in my body, observation of my students, research from teachers that I respect, and communication with my students.  While I have no interest in taking on the role of a guru, there is an element of power inherent in the word teacher. I believe that entails moral responsibility. For me, it means that I want to empower my students to recognize their own power, grace, and strength within their yoga practice. I want them to learn the value of their own unique expression of creativity in their body.

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How could I do better than to emulate the instinctive wisdom of a mother? To demonstrate to my students that however their creativity presents itself- as artists, as yogis, as human beings- is not only okay, it’s an expression of their luminous, radiant nature and an opportunity to celebrate their singular essential goodness. To me, if a yoga practice is making me feel like I am wrong in any way, I’m happy to hand the pencil back to the teacher and move on.

(Gratitude and love to my wonderful mother, whose love of me and celebration of my life is so complete that she would be proud of me if I lived in a cardboard box down by the river). 

 

 

Yoga + Business = Yuck? Maybe Not

Balance Your Chakras and Your Budget

As you may know, I was not always a yoga instructor. For most of my adult life, I worked in Customer Service, both as a call center representative and as part of the management team in the same environment.

If there were to be some sort of competition for “world’s lousiest job,” I know there’d be lots of contenders*. However, I can say confidently that working in customer service has to be one of the most thankless, underpaid jobs that you can do. Essentially (at least in my case), it was a position that required me to attempt to bridge the gap, over and over, between an unhappy customer and the company’s policies. Eight hours of conflict per day. My colleagues and I did our best to smile, to be pleasant, to empathize and remember that the voice at the other end of the phone that was calling us names was just another suffering human being, but it was really, really hard. Ah, and let’s not forget about the sales and service goals that always dangled just beyond our reach.

My yoga practice did help to alleviate the suffering I felt at this job. Through a consistent practice, I was better able to maintain compassion, to deal with the stress and unhappiness in more productive ways, and to eventually decrease the number of sick days I found myself having to take. Nonetheless, I felt incredibly free the day that I left to take on a yoga career.

So, now that I teach yoga, and manage a yoga studio, is it, as someone suggested to me recently, like being on vacation all the time? Is everyone in the yoga community so enlightened, compassionate, and loving that conflict does not exist?

Nope.

Yoga, in the modern context, is very much a business. It has customers- who must be convinced that their hard-earned dollars should be spent on you, and not someone else; it has bills to be paid. It has competition in other studios, friendly or otherwise. It has parking issues, water bottle issues, and all kinds of silly things that you don’t even want to hear about. It takes a lot of love and it requires many long hours that don’t often pay much in return.

And, inevitably, there’s conflict that will arise. Recently, I’ve had a few situations where I had to call on my customer service background to bridge the gap between customer (student) expectations and the needs of the studio.

My first reaction to these situations was a kind of visceral, oozy “yuck.” Nobody likes saying “no” to a customer, or having to defend a policy or decision. And there is certainly an (albeit unspoken) expectation in the yoga community that we all DO get along, that we’re all super friendly and loving, getting together after class to share green smoothies and mat-cleaner recipes… or, at the other end of the spectrum, shopping together at Lululemon, or attending retreats in Bali, sipping fresh coconut water or whatever. I’m guessing about this part.

Anyway. My “yuck” reaction was a lot like feeling attacked. I felt overwhelmed, defensive, cornered. Having to deal with an upset “customer” (or student, in this context) dragged me back, mentally, to my customer service days. The conflict didn’t feel good at all. Why was this unhappy situation part of my new happier life? Where’s the metta? Can’t we all just take Savasana?

After the initial reaction wore off, I became interested in understanding why I felt this way, and how to synchronize my “yoga feelings” (compassion, love, etc.) with my “business feelings” (more practical financial and fairness concerns). As I mentioned earlier, I’d always felt I could handle these things pretty well in my previous life- but seeing the business conflict in this new setting, my strongly unpleasant reaction told me that I wasn’t as emotionally or spiritually mature as I’d wanted to believe.

Interestingly, by bringing my awareness to both my reaction, and to the reactions of the parties involved, I’ve been able to feel a lot less yucky about these situations (I’ve used my meditation practice to help me. I can’t say it enough: practicing a daily sit is so beneficial to me). I’ve been able to break it down into a bit of a formula that I think might be helpful for future situations.

Laura’s 4 Step Guide to Yoga + Business = Not So Bad After All

  1. Check Your Motives. I reviewed the situation to determine that I am acting out of the best possible motivation (as I currently understand it) for all parties involved. If I found that I was acting in a way that was not completely fair to the other party, either out of defensiveness, laziness or some other human motive, I adjusted my actions accordingly. Here we actively practice asteya- not stealing, as well as aparigraha- not hoarding.
  2. Look at Your Words. I did my best to examine my own behavior. Was I blaming someone else for the problems? (This always makes me feel slimy, although it’s a natural reaction for many of us). Was I portraying the situation honestly? Knowing that I was practicing satya, truthfulness, I didn’t have anything to hide when I spoke to the upset parties.
  3. Practice Active Compassion. In a recent situation where two parties were in conflict and I was at the pivot point, I could understand why they both felt the way they did. There was no question that both parties had valid emotional responses. Rather than attempt to argue or change mind, I empathized, apologized, and followed #2- spoke honestly about the situation and how it could be resolved. Active compassion is ahimsa in action.
  4. Let Go of The Results. After I’d done the inquiry in Steps 1 & 2, and done my best to experience active compassion in #3, there was simply nothing more to be done. The reaction of others, at that point, was in their hands. This is vairagya, non-attachment, in the yoga tradition. The Gita reminds us that we have a right to our actions, but not to the fruits of our actions. While it’s not always easy, there’s nothing left to do at #4 but let it go.

These aren’t groundbreaking ideas I’m sharing with you. It’s not even anything I didn’t know a few years ago. So why is it WORKING now when it wasn’t before?

I think the difference today is that I’m spending more time being honest with myself, which has created more space to listen and consider rather than reacting quickly.  A daily meditation practice helps me to notice my emotions as they arise, and to be able to really “listen” when something that I am experiencing does not “feel right.” I know now that the discomfort I feel at these times is a sign that I have something to learn from the situation, and there’s often a better way to handle it.

I also recognize today that #4- the “letting go”- is easier now because I am actively practicing steps #1-3. In previous customer service conflict issues, I was unable to let go of the situation because I didn’t feel good about how I’d handled it- or I wasn’t able to handle it in the way I wanted due to the restrictions of the company I worked for. This is a concern that is probably worthy of another post- how to live yoga when your employer won’t allow it. For today, I’ll just say that if you are practicing these 4 steps to the best of your ability at any given time, then you can feel good.

Yoga and business do seem to be at odds. Despite the challenges, It’s my pleasure to combine the two if it allows more people to experience the lightness and freedom- physical, emotional, mental- that come with the practice.

* having also worked at a dangerously over-populated dog kennel, I feel I’m qualified to defend at least two potential entries

Oh, and in the interest of fairness to another business- the image at the top of the screen is a picture I took of a postcard I received last week from Windrose Trading Company. I haven’t ordered anything from them, don’t know anything about them except that this postcard made me laugh out loud.