Before I became a yoga teacher, I assumed all my teachers must have had it all figured out. They always had such great lessons, and seemed so calm and collected. I wanted to be like that.
Well, maybe that’s not entirely true. The first yoga teacher I ever really fell for, yogically, was Coco Finaldi, because she was so darn real with us. (She also ended up becoming my business partner.) She admitted it when she was going through hard times, she told dirty jokes, and she taught the yoga sutras and all the philosophy lessons as a way to manage the chaos of life, not a way to get out of it.
I had her on the phone recently, right after a root canal, and she said, “Julie, forget the yoga sutras, forget Patanjali, let’s talk about flossing! Flossing!”
As a younger teacher, I set up a monthly meeting for yoga teachers called Yoga Kula, which I (half) jokingly referred to as a Support Group for Yoga Teachers. In your yoga teacher training, no one tells you what a hard job it can be. They tell you it will change your life, and, desperate to keep the little cash coming in from a few teaching contracts, they (I) say, with wildness in the eyes while white-knuckle gripping an organic smoothie, “It’s the best job in the world!!”
In many ways, of course, it is. It can be incredibly rewarding, and I don’t think I’ve ever been cut out for the 9 to 5 thing. I admit though, I have friends who are free every weekend and leave their work at work, and I envy them.
Teaching yoga is the sort of work you take home with you. And to parties with you. You’ll discuss the intricacies of Warrior Two with anyone who will listen. This can be annoying, and there are other pitfalls. Pitfalls up the yin-yang.
You’re not paid much, and there’s tons of competition (especially if you work in a big city like mine). Many new yoga teachers take on every class they possibly can, often due to trying to get out of the debt incurred from their very expensive teacher training. These teachers are now also independent contractors, which means they are technically their own business, and have to do their own taxes. Yoga teachers usually know squat about business or taxes.
We also tend to want to say yes to everything. We get involved in artistic projects, charity projects, training projects, and we take on classes from six different studios and hotfoot around the city on bikes or buses. Transit is our meditation. Some of us also have day jobs. Then we burn out, and start to hate yoga, as if it was yoga’s fault we don’t know how to say no.
Then there’s the most dangerous pitfall of all: an open heart. We become more sensitive to our own pain and other’s people’s. We give so much we become energy vortexes, taking on every injury and emotion that shows up in class. Our students leave feeling refreshed and renewed, and we need to lie down and eat a box of cookies. A too-open heart leaves you vulnerable to that one guy at the party who is drunk and morose and wants to tell you his life story. That guy makes a beeline for you, and there is no escape for the compassionate openhearted.
This is where boundaries come in. Many people who are attracted to a life of teaching yoga are people-pleasers by nature, which means they may already have poorly defined boundaries. An open heart requires strong arms, and an ability to say a good, loud “NO” every now and then.
One way of exploring where in your life your energy may be spilling out is to make a list. Write down the things in your life that drain you: people, places, or situations that leave you feeling worse when you walk out than when you walked in. Seriously consider cutting these things out of your life.
Equally important, though, is to write down a second list of things that nourish you. What bolsters you, helps you to shine and feel good? This is where you should direct your energy flow.
Finally, get to work on a Mission Statement. This is a really effective resource because it becomes a sort of life compass. It may take some doing, but you start by writing down what’s important to you. What are your values? What do you really care about and what do you want to share?
It can also be helpful to think about what you don’t want. If you get excited about anatomy but start nodding off when the Yoga Sutras come up, then you know not to go to India for an intensive Yoga Sutra training. When you can condense these thoughts down into a Mission Statement, it represents your values and your integrity. It can show you easily where the path lies: clearly, the “yes” is here, and the “no” is right there.
You really can’t please all the people all the time—believe me, I’ve tried. You can, though, find your guns and stick to them. You’ll weed out the students who don’t resonate with you, and then your people will find you more easily. They will come in droves, and feed you light and nourishment so you can do what you do best.
Creating boundaries doesn’t have to be a hard and arduous process. Once you know who you are and where you want to go, the boundaries create themselves. Think of them as riverbanks: without banks, the river would just be a puddle. Good solid boundaries teach the river to flow powerfully, all on its own.
Not that I’ve got it all figured out, of course. I’m still working on flossing.