The (Not-so-Glamorous) Reality of Being a Yoga Teacher. ~ Jen Mullholand

Via on Apr 13, 2013

YOGA TEACHER

So you want to be a yoga teacher? Well, let me tell you a thing or two. And it ain’t too pretty.

In the past year, I have been asked by several newly minted teachers how to go about finding work as a yoga teacher. I tell them the truth. After all, one of the yamas (restraints) that we are supposed to honor as yogis-in-training (thanks Manorama for that gem) is the practice of satya. I am not one to sugar coat things. After all, it says in the Bible “the truth shall set you free.” (I am by no means big on the Bible, but I appreciate some of its little nuggets.)

Let’s face it. The truth of the matter is that being a yoga teacher is hard work.

It’s rarely glamourous. Those posts you see on Facebook from yogalibrities, the folks who travel all over the world teaching and take their picture in handstand or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana in the farthest most remote corners of the planet (think Bali)? Many of them were simply in the right place at the right time. They are yoga outliers. Granted, I know they worked really hard to get there. And yes, hard work is ultimately rewarded, but there is something to be said for being lucky too (or being cute, which doesn’t hurt either).

And another hard truth is—most of us just aren’t gonna get so lucky.

No matter how many classes we teach, how much we practice, how difficult the postures, how many japa mala mantras we say or how many Facebook posts or blogs we post. We are going to be small (underpaid) fish in a big pond.

Now this might not be sitting so well with some of you. I hate to break it to new teachers (or those of you fooling yourself), but after being in the business of teaching yoga for nearly a decade, I have come to realize it takes a lot of patience (and some suffering) to make it as a yoga teacher.

You have to be not only physically strong, but you also need to be mentally tough. There’s a reason I study with teachers that are full of tapas (fiery discipline). Not only do I get physically stronger, I get tough enough to deal with the reality of being on the path as a teacher of yoga. That this is not an easy path I have chosen. I could have chosen to stay in my cushy corporate job that I hated. I could have forged a path of lies, telling myself how much I love spreadsheets and jackass portfolio managers. I could have chosen to stay miserable. I could have chosen to stay depressed and to take Prozac for the majority of my adult life. But instead, I chose the challenging path of teaching yoga, knowing full well it would be rocky and miserable at times. But also knowing there would be victories and triumphs along the path as well.

So what advice do I offer to these new teachers? I tell them the reality of the situation.

That this is a tough way to make a living. There are a ton of yoga teachers out there, all trying to survive and thrive. A very select few will indeed “make it big.” And if anyone tells you that there is not competition out there, that we can all thrive if we simply support each other? Well, those folks—they have their heads in the sand or up their asses.

I believe that there is competition in the yoga world, be it for teaching jobs or the most kick-ass practice or the best OM. It is present. It’s the 8,000 pound Ganesh in the room.

But no one has the balls to talk about it because it’s “unyogic” to do so. And in my opinion, to be “yogic” means to step into the shit storm and deal with reality head on. Coating the reality with syrupy sweet falsehoods does nothing to serve the yoga community—a community that is built on compassion, caring, honesty and courage. If I had been told this many years ago, I could have saved myself a lot of suffering as I toiled through my first few years of teaching. Yes, this is going to be fricking hard. And no, there’s really no way to avoid it. You are either in, or you are out. So I chose to stay in. Thankfully so.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love teaching yoga. It’s a gift and a blessing.

And I am so fortunate to have a husband that is supportive of my creative endeavor of teaching. But it is fricking hard, as I have recently re-learned after moving from Chicago to Seattle, a completely different yoga culture. As a teacher of yoga, I have to not only be the teacher when I step into the studio to teach class, but I also have to be a storyteller, a poet, a physical therapist, a massage therapist and a psychologist. Not to mention the countless hours of sending invoices, creating fresh classes, doing my own practice , marketing and social media. Some people even seem to believe that I can dispense medical advice. Yes, I have a graduate degree. And it’s in journalism, not medicine. Wearing all those hats can get pretty damn exhausting.

I hope everyone who teaches yoga finds their way on this path.

I hope that we can all co-exist, that we can all share in the challenges that this path of practice offers. I hope that we can share in not just the good, uplifting stuff, but also in the heavy, dark stuff. Because we will all go through it, at one point or another. And I really hope that we can all be honest with each other and ultimately be willing to share in the trials, the tribulations and the triumphs of teaching yoga.

 

Jen MullholandJen Mullholand is a Seattle-based yogi and a recent transplant to the Pacific Northwest from Chicago. She is a E-RYT 200 yoga teacher who aspires to bring some joy and light into the lives of all beings. She believes it’s her mission in teaching yoga (and writing) to not only help people recognize the good in life, but to recognize and acknowledge the challenges of life as part of the journey. She also just happens to have a Masters degree in journalism, which she is finally putting to good use on her blog, www.jenmullholand.com/blog. You can also follow her on Facebook at Jen Mullholand Yoga (www.facebook.com/jenmullholandyoga).

 

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Ed: Kate Bartolotta

 

 

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43 Responses to “The (Not-so-Glamorous) Reality of Being a Yoga Teacher. ~ Jen Mullholand”

  1. kathik says:

    "I also have to be a storyteller, a poet, a physical therapist, a massage therapist and a psychologist." Really, you don't. You shouldn't. I totally see your point, sometimes it feels that way, but it seems to me you're putting waaay too much pressure on yourself.
    The only thing you 'should' be is fully present for your students and 100% YOU. Your passion and unique expression is your greatest resource, asset and, yes, money-maker. It sounds wishy-washy I know, but I truly believe this. Students, whether they realize it consciously or not, will value a genuine, honest connection so much more than a picture-perfect Yoga Teacher.
    You're totally right, though, in that we need to share the 'dark' stuff and not just shove it under the Mysore rug :). Teaching is a practice in and of itself, and if you're paying attention, you're gonna see a lot of your own crap… not to mention the practicalities that challenge all of us. True mentors are hard to come by. Other teachers are 'competition,' and this sucks. It can feel like a lonely road. I will resist sharing a training resource I use for the sake of editorial integrity, ha, but if you're interested, contact me. It's helped me a lot. Not that it's still not freakin' hard sometimes. Try owning a studio…. Oy.
    Thanks for writing this. I'm super-grateful to be living in a mid-sized Midwest town that does not yet have yoga on every corner ; I can only imagine how hard it is to stay true to yourself and on track in a big yoga city.
    You're brave, brave, brave and what you do matters more than you'll probably realize!

    • jenmullholand says:

      great insights! Thanks for sharing! Wise words. I try to be as authentic as is possible. And that's all I can give. But there is pressure, a lot of which I put on myself. So grateful to hear that I am not the only one walking this road.

    • Jinny says:

      Hi :) Could I have details of the training resource you mention? I'm teaching in a rural city (population 60K) and would like to develop my own classes. Thank you, Jinny

    • Lalana says:

      I would be interested in what training you mentioned if didn't mind sharing with me as well:) The Yoga Dork in me is curious.

  2. hey, just follow your heart…the rest is just serendipity:)

  3. Judi says:

    You are right on! I have noticed, as a new yoga teacher, (freshly minted as you put it,) that everyone has to pay their dues but it manifests in different ways for different people. The upside is that with every unexpected challenge, there is a treasure to unearth beneath it.

    Your direct authenticity shines through these words. Good (and available) mentors are extremely hard to find! I believe this is a big deal because a big part of the yoga tradition has to do with the relationship of one teacher transmuting knowledge down to one student. I wish teachers still chose students like in the old days, and retreated into the hills and forests to sit near and practice. Yoga as a service industry comes with so many inherent challenges, even beyond the teaching side of things.

    • jenmullholand says:

      thanks Judi for sharing. All I can say is that I was blessed to have an amazing mentor who supported me in my infant stages as a teacher. He helped me to blossom into the teacher that I am today. Without his guidance, man, I would have been screwed. Unfortunately, for many new teachers, there's not that mentorship phase, and they have to figure it out by themselves. We can only hope that we all find our way, somehow!

  4. As for me, the universe knew the only way I would do what it took to stay healthy & sane was to put me in a situation of teaching health & wellness. I personally know I would not practice @ the level my mind, body & soul need for support on my journey if I didn’t teach. I’m 41, I’ve been teaching for 20 yrs, my earliest memories are of meditating a/my aunt & yoga w/my mother. It works if you work it.

  5. guest says:

    I am not a Yoga person but happened to read your words via facebook. You sound tired. Take a break away from what you love so much. Distance may help. You have expectations that are not met both articulated and not. Relieve the pressure by releasing yourself from these 'old' contracts'. You may be at the end of something and this can be very exciting. Your honest reflection makes me think you are professing a statement of freedom. Love is internal. Outside are contracts we make with ideas and experiences. Open your heart to allow your internal Love to shine and Release your contracts towards freedom. You will find a new chapter awaiting that has what you value and what you cherish by your side.

    • bec says:

      I think you are using her words to shame her into feeling wrong (aka "tired) for her brave ability to honesty share the difficult experience of teaching yoga. just because something is difficult, doesn't necessarily mean its not rewarding, exciting, beautiful.

      her experience doesn't mean anything unless she decided to give it meaning. thats her job, not yours.

    • sil says:

      Nicely said.

  6. livetstrae says:

    Dear Jen

    Thank you for your honesty. I think you are right in everything you write. It's not always easy and fun. I don't think you sound tired and I think that it wonderful that you say it like it is!!! Being a yoga teacher is a rewarding but a not-so-glamorous job that requires many skills and many different jobs in one. And still we love it <3

  7. Jinny says:

    Hi Jen and everyone above who has posted :) Great piece with lots of truth in it that I have experienced myself in the past few years of being a new teacher. I'm really pleased you wrote this as I am in a really challenging space keeping yoga teaching at the centre of my life where I want it to be. Of course we all have different perspectives and all our experiences are valid for us and I'm really pleased you shared yours. It resonates with me that there is competition because people are teaching yoga as a business and maybe in some cases there would be competition even without the business factor. Whether I'm energised or tired, stressed or calm, teaching yoga gives and teaches me more than anything so far in my life. I'll share this with a friend who is signing up for teacher training. Thank you :) <3

  8. bec says:

    "You have to be not only physically strong, but you also need to be mentally tough." here, here. really enjoyed the honesty in this. bravo :)

  9. Dianne Bondy Dianne says:

    Nicely Written thank you Jen for your honesty

  10. Kendra says:

    I LOVE your take on this. Surely honesty is yogic?

    • jenmullholand says:

      Satya – it's a yama. Not saying that I live my life completely from all the limbs of yoga, but I really try and honor the path as best I can. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Natalie McGreal says:

    Thank you so much for writing this!

  12. drkellih says:

    TRUTH!!!!

  13. LoRo says:

    I hear your frustration! But I think that rather than just a public rant on the challenges that being a yoga instructor brings, perhaps a more proactive dialogue on what can be done to change the culture and business that fosters the development of yoga teachers, but also business practices in the industry might bring more agency to the conversation. I for one, would love to see a teachers’s union that promotes fair wages, an option to buy into or opt into a share of the studios we teach at so that we can have things like health insurance, maternity leave, time off, etc., so that our pocketbook is not taxed when these issues come up and that our industry is abble to provide a stable life that we can support ourselves and families on. This is a fairly new “industry” and we need to stick together, have conversations that promote the things that we need so we don’t feel like we’re living paycheck to paycheck or competing for the things that we all need and want. All professions have their challenges, but we are truly the fortunate in that we felt a bigger calling and are able to do what we love and help others find the joy that this path has brought to us and that is available to them. Keep your chin up and let’s move the conversation is a different direction-to one that ensures that our industry is working for us and not the other way around.

  14. Hi says:

    Wow, I love the discussions. I work in the fitness industry – and love it! I too want fitness professionals to make more money, have more benefit, and alike. However, and perhaps unfortunately – the market determines a lot of that value. And yeah I get it, I want to make more money too! But how and why – Do personal trainers and yogis deserve more income than what they are currently receiving? That is intended as a rhetorical question. But its simply supply and demand. Jen M, is correct, it is very difficult to make a living solely as a yoga instructor, and that makes sense to me. In this society – any career that only requires a 3 month certification lends itself to being an underpaid vocation. Also, as "certified" yoga instructor – why is there pressure to have extensive knowledge in the field of medicine and PT? Yogis are not Physical Therapist and or Psychologist – recipients work and study really hard for years to earn a degree in these respective fields. Students participating in classes are expecting way too much from our dear yoga instructors – its just exercise of body and mind!

    • narayani says:

      No, it's not 'just exercise of body and mind' – there is a reason this knowledge has lasted 7,000 years. The spiritual benefits are not to be denied, please actually practice yoga before making such declarative statements. So much more to this 'science of living'. . . . which is why students tend to ask more of yoga teachers. And teachers quickly find out they are always students as well. . . . oh, the beauty of the dual universe and the beauty of union. . .

    • Guest says:

      I love massage therapy, and am certified, but I also realize that if I did it full time to "make a living" I would quickly burn out. Having a part time "job" and doing what I love, on the side, helps me to continue to love what I do

  15. .I. says:

    "i turned hope inside out a thousand times to see if it was ever anything more than dressed up fear but the two go hand in hand, you can't have one without the other" -Eyedea

  16. Yes, I agree with LoRo – maybe we can clarify for new teachers what the challenges are, and how to work though them. Firstly perhaps, I would not recommend anyone quit a job before beginning to teach 2 or 3 classes a week and getting some experience, and a bit of a clientele. I also think starting a business (leaning to organize you income and expenses, marketing your classes, getting on the web etc.) is challenging in any field. It is a bit naive to think otherwise, hence my first point.

    Some teachers have more of a background in marketing, and/or have a natural clientele due to past work or complementary work in another wellness field, so it is different for everyone.

    Finally, I don't know what you mean exactly by the "dark". I think if you elaborated on some of the struggles and how you've worked with them, this article would be more helpful and less 'sensational'. In my view, the most challenging thing for yoga teachers is the projection of students, and having to hold space for other people on a daily (several times a day) basis, continue to be creative and dynamic while also dealing with our own personal, spiritual growth and other socio-personal challenges. Teaching yoga, like practicing yoga, brings about transformation, and that transformation requires time and integration and maturity to deal with. That's a tall order if we don't take regular retreat or have mentors, or wise friends to support us as we support others in our role as facilitator day after day.

    I wish all yoga teachers to meet facilitators in other fields who can support them in their lives and roles. This is a precious piece of advice Donna Farhi gave in her book Teaching Yoga.

    Om!! Chetana

    • jenmullholand says:

      Hi Chetana – I never meant for this to come across as sensational, just to bring to light some of the issues that are facing teachers today (and also other fitness profrssionals). What I mean by the "dark" is to recognize times of struggle in our lives and to be accepting of those times, not to simply sweep them under the rug or ignore them completely. We need to have mentors, support groups and friends who are on the path, whom we can share in these struggles with. That is what I hope will happen with this open dialogue. And I really like Donna's book, btw. Thanks for the reminder.

  17. Heather says:

    Hi Jen… thank you for your post. I have experienced all that you write and share your opinions. I come from a family of teachers and spent many years deciding what it was I wanted to teach. I didn't decide on yoga, yoga came into my life and it was a difficult decision to follow this path because I knew it was never going to be for money. Being a yoga teacher is a calling and it really is the one thing I am best suited to do. I keep my heart and mind focussed on the other rewards teaching brings… contributing to my community and a day filled with little victories. Like you, I teach full time and when I'm not teaching I'm in the studio practicing with my teacher. I'm a grassroots teacher… many places I teach have no props, no serenity, just students who want to practice (on dirty floors, with noisy neighbours, with no calming music). That's okay, at the end of the day, I'm the one who gets the most benefit because I'm following my dharma and am aligned with a purposeful life.

    • jenmullholand says:

      that's all you can ask for, is to be aligned with your dharma. sweet. thanks for sharing Heather. And honestly, the best practices come when we are just surrounded by those who really do love the practice.

  18. Trish says:

    Love this article.

    Thank you for the honesty.

  19. Chuck Culp says:

    Jen,
    Great article. As yoga professionals, we need to police our own business. I search studio websites and report inaccurate information to appropriate authorities. You would be amazed by the amount of fraud that is occurring in my area.The only way to be treated as a professional is to act like one. Good luck with your profession ;-)

  20. Edith says:

    I love this. I appreciate the honesty and the optimism. I can completely relate about having to choose the path you know and hate vs. the path that isn't always steady and love. THANK YOU!!!!

  21. Jim McMahon says:

    I think that teaching yoga is just like everything else – you have to attract a following and market yourself wherever you teach. And you have to appeal to the local audience if you want people to show up. In highly competitive markets, like Los Angeles, the teachers that pack the rooms seem to have developed a particular style that attracts a group of regular patrons. While it may be disappointing to a new teacher to learn that people don't just fill the room once you're certified, it shouldn't be surprising. You have to market your new yoga business…

  22. Although we are not required to have these degrees, I also feel sometimes that students view me as a therapist, physical therapist, doctor, or a host of other specialties. It's challenging, but I believe the best approach is to be honest. Sometimes, I have an idea of what might be best for an injury and I do share it because that's what I want from my teacher, but I share it with the understanding that, "You know your body best, and this may help, and it may not, so pay attention, and consider seeing a professional."

    Thanks for sharing!
    Renee

  23. maren marks says:

    I think as a yoga community and as a planet we are moving into scary, uncomfortable territory as we become more aware of how our lifestyles are creating impacts to ourselves, one another and our planet. I think the work that we need to do is difficult to face. Whether it's giving up using plastic or perhaps, for me, a growing discomfort using petroleum. The yoga teacher IS the modern day doctor, PT, counselor, etc. Why? Because yoga is up for the challenge of all of these roles and frankly each of us is too. That's why we do this. Society may not recognize us fiscally this way, but we know the score, if we authentically follow, love and understand yoga. We wake up every day, trust this beautiful system and leap, because we see the truth reflected back in another person's eyes after they practice.

    I like the reminder that we are all in this together and the same darkness rises for each of us. We can learn to recognize it and share a little light when we are strong enough to see a need. I think that is what being a teacher is all about – doing my best to stay strong enough to hold a space and to offer what I can beyond my own shadows.

  24. Anandarupa says:

    Thank you, I'm forging my way into my yoga path. I love yoga, teaching and studying yoga. At 38 I'm starting life over, letting go of my past and attempting to live in satya. I opened a small studio in the town that I live in and only 4 months into it I have to let go of ego everyday. Sometimes as I walk down the street to the entrance knowing that perhaps no one will show today but as one of my gurus advised me on those days still practice, do your class and visualize the room with a few people in it, begin to let the energy flow. Release all expectations and attachments to the outcome is probably the best advice I was ever given. That and in this journey its never about you.
    Thanks for sharing your experience as sometimes regardless of advice we have been given or the knowing that we feel in our hearts about our journey it's good to be reminded how 'human' we are and that we are all forging our paths.

    Hari Aum – from Anandarupa, NZ

  25. Honestly, I think your article is pure BS. Sorry, but it is. Anyone can be successful! Maybe you haven't because your attitude is crap! Decide to succeed you will! Want to work in Bali? GO! It is realistic. IT is NOT realistic to tell people to squash their dreams before they begin because YOU can't manage to manifest yours!!!! Anyone with a little bit of drive can succeed in WHATEVER they dream. Don't tell them otherwise, it is terrible. So for all of those reading this article, thinking you cannot…. this author is MAD, you can, and you should… just because SHE cannot, doesn't mean a thing. You can do it. I DID! I live in Thailand, I teach Yoga and I travel, I am not the best teacher, but I BELIEVE in myself and you should too. Hey~ We're always looking for teachers – look there's an opportunity to teach, make money, travel and succeed right there!… If only the author could believed in herself I am sure this article would have taken a different tone.

  26. Behappy says:

    As a not that new yoga teacher any more (3 years teaching) I would like to share my humble opinion on this article, as well. First of all, I do not agree with some other comments that the author is tired and needs a break. It is simply hard to teach, to find a group within an "over offer" of yoga teachers (hope this is the right word, sorry for any mistakes) AND to pay what you have to pay AND to make a living. I am writing this from beautiful Spain and here we already have to pay about $ 420 to in order to be self employed (in my case I am over 40 and this is what I have to pay then) and you have to pay the rent of a room. So, when you are starting who has this money and how long does it take to earn it? It can be a question of years and you are working hard and harder only to get out about 200 Euros (after paying taxes, do not forget the VAT), groups come and go and it is a struggle and of course, the competition does not sleep. All in all it is business and also yoga teachers have to live from something.
    We have houses that have to be paid, we have children and we have to eat. That is the truth. The other truth is that sometimes when I come out of class (they pay me 9 Euros the hour in the gym, so do not say I am after money) I think that I invested lots of time in preparing the class in studying about yoga DOING MY OWN PRACTICE, not to forget … all this for little money and I wonder why should I continue? It fulfills my heart and my whole body with joy when people walk out of the class and say, that I made them feel better that my yoga helps them to get along in life and that I give them tools in order to get over anxiety etc. This is pure happiness and makes my day and say YES YES YES this is what I wanted. But then the bills come in … this is the Yin and Yang of the Yoga side – the struggle to survive and the happiness in peoples faces you receive on the other hand.

    Then I would like to make a comment on the celeb yoga teachers. I followed some of them and stopped it. I was amazed seeing her/him in handstand at the beach, then in handstand in the park, then before the shopping center. Then I thought, ok, I know he/she can do a handstand but what has this person to give on to me? Some nice quotes on their Facebook pages, perfect teeth in perfect smiles, perfect hair done, latest yoga Fashion sponsored by …., this did not give me anything personally. Now I am with Forrest Yoga and will study with Ana soon and I think I have found a way to get something new out of my practice. I am a bit bored of yoga selfies, I admit, and I need to receive more of a person than the perfect smile and the thought: ooh gosh! how gorgeous he/she looks on the beach! So I must have that body!!
    It is a big industry by now and hey, we even talk about yoga celebs! BTW I think it sounds nice to travel around the world and to be really popular but on the other hand I love to stay home with my family and just be a Mom who can share her yoga wisdom with her teenage son who is in trouble with strong emotions, school, relationships, pressure .. I meditate with him, he says, he is happy and proud that he has parents he can talk to and who understand him. This is when my "Bali retreat" happens in the living room and I am all around happy and knew I took the right choice when I did not return to the office.

    Mixed up some issues I know but needed to say that.

    Have a great time out there all and good luck to all "old and new" yoga teachers, you rock! LOVE to you all!

  27. shanti says:

    Unfortunate any job requires one to be competitive…. it's human nature to be competitive and also it is very primitive (survival of the fittest). If you are a really yogi you would put faith in God to provide for you what you need. Also unfortunately lots of teachers teach nowadays to get attention become the yoga rock star it's really a ego trip. I think teaching yoga is a gift and sometimes you many need to keep your day job while you teach… and you should be okay with that.

  28. shanti says:

    Unfortunate any job requires one to be competitive…. it's human nature to be competitive and also it is very primitive (survival of the fittest). If you are a really yogi you would put faith in God to provide for you what you need. Also unfortunately lots of teachers teach nowadays to get attention become the yoga rock star it's really a ego trip. I think teaching yoga is a gift and sometimes you many need to keep your day job while you teach… and you should be okay with that.

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