by Amy Ippoliti and Taro Smith, PhD.
Yoga has traditionally been seen as a path to heightened consciousness and mindfulness, though this aspect is increasingly less emphasized in the West. The practice facilitates a profound awareness of how body, mind, and spirit are linked and how each individual is connected to all life on the planet.
In a world dominated by nonstop activity and the proliferation of high-tech devices, yoga is one of the few popular endeavors that require only a sticky mat and a commitment to practice. No technology is needed.
As a yoga practitioner, you know that yoga practice is sometimes the only time of day when someone truly unplugs, enters a state of calm, moves their body, and simply breathes. As a yoga teacher, you have the honor and privilege of guiding people through that process — a process that is sometimes delightful and often challenging, but always rewarding.
Teaching yoga is often thought of as a lifestyle business. This means that you have chosen a pastime that is central to your own lifestyle and are taking the chance that you can create a career, or supplement other income, by devoting yourself to it.
We are called to teach because we love any excuse to get on our yoga mats, cherish watching our students develop, and likely have a pronounced aversion to cubicle life, endless meetings, and uncomfortable shoes!
The Vicious Cycle of Yoga Teaching
I started the “90 Minutes” course because I knew what a privilege it is to teach yoga and live the lifestyle of a yogi. However, as a trainer of yoga teachers and a teacher myself, I was witnessing firsthand the struggles we went through to make ends meet. Over and over I saw teachers in what I came to call the “vicious cycle of yoga teaching.” It goes like this:
1. Run all over town teaching eighteen or more classes a week to make ends meet.
2. Oops, no time for your own practice! No time to plan classes!
3. Teach subpar class because of lack of practice, inspiration, or groundedness.
4. Get home, have no time for reflection, fun, recreation, or family.
5. Get up the next day with even less inspiration, and teach to a dwindling number of students.
6. Make insufficient money to pay bills, afford necessary continuing education, or have much-needed free time.
Seeing good teachers teaching too many classes per week in order to pay bills and with no time or money for continuing education is painful. Many injure themselves during demonstrations because they have not been able to give time to their own practice and therefore stay strong in their bodies. Their classes and students inevitably suffer as a result.
Witnessing the graduates of my teacher trainings struggling to such a severe degree led me to put as much time into studying business as I had put into studying yoga philosophy. I wanted to help other yoga teachers, and by extension their students, by teaching them professional business practices.
Studying business and marketing gave me valuable tools, and it also taught me that there are two realities you need to face as a yoga teacher. Here they are, along with my suggestions for navigating them:
1. Most American full-time yoga teachers fall into the vicious cycle, especially new ones. Some teachers manage to avoid it, but given the changing nature of the market, there’s no guarantee that you will be able to. I suggest that you keep this reality in mind and try to avoid falling into the cycle to the best of your ability, by not teaching more classes than you can happily handle and by building your own practice time into your schedule every week.
2. We cannot control the market because there will always be yoga teachers willing to work for very little — since either they are new and eager to work or they are treating their teaching as a hobby. The choice to teach for less than market value unfortunately devalues the services all yoga professionals offer, so ultimately we must make the best of what the market will bear. The good news is that the more educated you are about professional business practices, the more likely it is that the market will reward you.
Your practice, your teaching, and your classes all benefit from your ability to view yoga as a valuable profession in today’s world. Your students need you to be as skillful at life’s practicalities as you are on the mat. As I hope is now clear, yoga and everyday life actually can’t be separated.
The Full Scope of Teaching Yoga Today
Yoga classes are often a refuge for students, a rare and precious place of quiet, reflection, and connection with self and with community. The spaces where we teach can often feel sacred, places where something special happens. But we aren’t preachers or gurus. We don’t tell others what to believe.
What we do is teach asana, a physical practice, informed by years of tradition and philosophy. We are in the business of offering a path to spiritual health and wellness. The multifaceted nature of our endeavor (art and profession, involving body, mind, and spirit) may strike some as paradoxical, but this multifaceted, twenty-first-century educational paradigm is empowering. Embrace it.
About the authors:
Amy Ippoliti and Taro Smith, PhD are the authors of The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga and founders of the online school 90 Monkeys, which has enhanced the skills of yoga teachers and studios in over 40 countries. Amy is known for bringing yoga to modern-day life in a genuine way and has been featured on the covers of Yoga Journal and Fit Yoga Magazine. Taro is the Chief Content Officer at Yoga Glo and has over two decades of experience developing yoga, medical, and wellness enterprises. They both live in Boulder, Colorado. Visit them online at 90monkeys.com and AmyIppoliti.com.
Excerpted from the book The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga. Copyright © 2016 by Amy Ippoliti and Taro Smith, PhD. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.
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