Tag Archives: yoga teacher burnout

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

Advertisements

Teaching Series: the Yogastential Crisis

“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.”We + Be Retreat Yoga Photo

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.

 

 

 

Making Space – Finding Balance in Self-Employment

And so it is that you find yourself, on a dreary Thursday afternoon, vacuuming the floor and singing “We Are the World.” You are wearing pajama pants and a tan sports bra and singing the backup parts too. You sound fantastic, but your dogs are cowering under the bed in terror. A knock on the door- oh, the mail person is here with a box, and how confused she is to see that from the waist up, you appear to be strangely, smoothly naked as a Skipper doll.

$T2eC16R,!ykE9s7t)cywBRm9enlSEw~~60_35If you are a self-employed yoga teacher, you understand. Sports bra? Of course, you own 436 of them, and vacuuming is hot work. Pajamas? Naturally, because after you taught two classes and took the second shower of the day, you needed a nap so that you could get up and teach two more that evening. And why are you vacuuming at 3:30 on a Thursday? Well, it’s a matter of space.

Since leaving my 9-5ish job last July, I’ve been struggling a bit to find balance. With a traditional sort of job, your space is automatically accounted for. Days are for working (and complaining about working). Evenings are for dinner, family stuff, chores, entertainment. Stuff that doesn’t make you money, mostly. There’s a pretty clear demarcation between work/not-work.

Once you become self-employed, everything sort of gets fuzzy. You love what you do, so none of it quite feels like work… but precisely because of that, it’s not so easy (at least, in my case it isn’t) to see where work ends and the rest of your life begins.

Right now my time is split between teaching and managing a yoga studio. Time when I’m at the studio- that’s definitely work, right? Buying studio supplies, planning classes- also work. But what about blogging? In theory, I’m building an audience, or something… or is it just fun? Social media? Gotta do it if you want to promote yourself and the business- but it’s hard to stay on-task and just do the business stuff without getting sucked into a conversation in my personal news feed. What about keeping up with other yoga blogs? Research, or fun? Taking other teachers’ classes? Leading the meditation group at the studio?

After a while, although none of it seemed really like “work,” I started to notice that it always felt like I was working.  Being self-employed, in my case, means working 7 days a week. At some point I’ll be able to take a day off, but for now, it’s just not possible.

“I wish I could take a vacation,” I said to a friend, several months ago. “Isn’t your whole life a vacation?” he responded. Of course this irritated me, but there was an element of truth to it. With all of the flexibility in my schedule, why was I feeling so over-worked?

This is when it occurred to me that I was not allowing myself the luxury of enjoying the space in my work life. New to this career, not yet financially stable, I felt that I needed to be constantly doing- planning, thinking, worrying actively. From the time I woke up in the morning until the time I went to bed, I felt that all of my actions needed to somehow lead to my success as a self-employed yoga teacher. A social life was pretty much out of the question, unless it could be tied in to the goal in some way.* Cleaning the house became a necessary evil. Don’t even talk to me about mowing the lawn.

In short, somewhere in my life, I had internalized two painful misperceptions:

  1. Because I was not making “enough” money, I must not be working hard enough
  2. Until I did make “enough” money, I didn’t deserve any time for myself

Tara Brach, in her book Radical Acceptance, quotes Thomas Merton as describing the rush and pressure of modern life as a form of contemporary violence. He says: “…to be surrendering to too many demands, too many concerns, is to succumb to the violence.”

Violence is not too extreme a term. This sort of self-punishing belief system, and the non-stop working behavior, can lead to some pretty serious stuff. The symptoms of “Stressed-Out Yogis,” according to a recent issue of Yoga International, range from mild (“You catch colds and other viral or bacterial infections more easily,”) to serious (“depression, hypoglycemia, GERD, colitis, chronic fatigue, and even alcohol or drug abuse”).

It’s not lost on me that there’s an irony, here. I’m a yoga teacher. Ahimsa begins at home, right? Here’s a fun quote from that same Yoga International article by James Keogh:

“Worn down by our stressed-out, on-the-go lives, many of us turn to yoga for relief and restoration. We look to our teachers, whose calm, collected poise makes stress seem like a foreign concept, to guide us into balance. But even as they do this- and despite the aura they project in class- our teachers often face similar stressors, and a surprising number succumb to burnout themselves. Some of them reach this point because they teach 10 or more classes a week for low pay, hustling from one part of town to another; others fit in multiple classes while holding down a full-time job; and others still struggle with the business side of owning and operating a studio. And none of them is immune from relationship challenges and family catastrophes. Theoretically, they’re better equipped than the average person to deal with that kind of stress, but ironically, that expectation may only contribute to the problem.”

Saints preserve us if I ever seem to project a ‘calm and collected poise’- I think I might be a little too honest for that to ever happen- but I think it’s important for teachers to realize that if we don’t take time- make space- for self-care, there’s going to be a problem. In other words, it’s time to practice what I preach.

After reading this article, I knew it was time to figure out a way to “stop the violence” and give myself the free time I need to care for myself.

The solution? I spent two excruciating hours with my fancy color-coded Google Calendar schedule, figuring out how many actual hours a week I need to spend on work. This includes classes to be taught, class and workshop planning, studio maintenance and customer service, work-related errands, social media time, studying, and long-term planning and marketing.  Then, I blocked in specific time each day for my own yoga practice, meditation, and meals. Around that, I blocked in hours of free time to be used only for rest or leisure. During certain hours, I allowed time for house chores, but other times were just for fun.

I’m putting in a lot of substitute teaching hours this month, and the schedule is tight. But I’ve been really dedicated to following it as best I can, with some allowance for random stuff happening. Hey, a yoga teacher’s gotta be flexible, right? 😉

So far, it’s been working beautifully. It takes dedication to stick to it, and sometimes it’s a little weird, but the structure is giving me the space I need to feel a little more relaxed and at ease. And, as of last Thursday at 4 PM, my floor was clean as a whistle. Apologies to the mail carrier, though.

Here’s a beautiful poem I used in class last week- thanks to Tara Brach and her blog for the inspiration.

FIRE ~ Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would.

So building fires

requires attention

to the spaces in between,

as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build

open spaces

in the same way

we have learned

to pile on the logs,

then we can come to see how

it is fuel, and absence of the fuel

together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log

lightly from time to time.

A fire

grows

simply because the space is there,

with openings

in which the flame

that knows just how it wants to burn

can find its way.

*I am everlastingly grateful to those friends who are persistent in asking me to spend time with them, despite this insanity