Why I stopped teaching yoga.

Via Joslyn Hamilton
on Sep 30, 2010
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(…so I could have my right brain back.)

I got a marketing email today from the yoga cult company I used to work for, advertising what they call an “Art of Assisting” workshop. The headline encouraged me to “release my inner artist.” It got me thinking. Whenever I hear the words “art” and “yoga” mentioned together, my brain has a synaptic response that causes me to wince.

It’s not that I think art and yoga are mutually exclusive concepts. Quite the opposite, in fact. As far as I’m concerned, yoga—and teaching yoga in particular—is a bona fide right-brained activity. I should know. I used to be an artist, and then I became a yoga teacher.

I taught yoga for about ten years.

To know why I stopped, it’s important to know why I began.  Over the course of my yoga journey I met many people who wanted to be yoga teachers. My own path as a teacher did not begin with that same desire to teach. It began with an arbitrary opportunity.

I loved yoga and practiced every day—sometimes twice a day. I was in that phase of being compulsively in love with yoga—wanting to be better at it, wanting to get somewhere with it, wanting it to get me somewhere. This, of course, changed over the years as I slowly realized that yoga is not a goal-oriented or competitive practice (and as I got lazier, quite frankly). But back then, I was spending as much time as possible in my local yoga studio, and as a consequence, I became friends with the studio owner.

One day, Christina was in a bind and needed a sub, so she asked me if I’d like to try my hand at teaching. NOTE: This was over ten years ago. Yoga Alliance requirements were not a thing, and there weren’t trained and eager teachers every-freaking-where like there are now. So, it was a perfectly acceptable practice for a student with absolutely no credentials whatsoever to jump in and teach a group yoga class, especially if that class was based on a repetitive and standardized dialog.

Being a shy introvert, I was terrified, but with brave yogic attitude I was in the habit of always saying  “yes” to new opportunities. (I have long since abandoned this policy in favor of listening to my intuition and simply not doing things if I don’t feel like it.) So, I said yes. Yes, I would sub that class.

I was terrified, and shaking as I started teaching that day. But, to my surprise, I pulled it off. I felt—dare I say it—GOOD at it. I felt like I had gotten away with something.

So I decided to do it again.  And again.

Years passed. I went to a yoga teacher training. I got “certified.” I went to another teacher training and had “breakdowns” and “breakthroughs” just as instructed. I discovered the teacher who would become my mentor/boss for many years, and started teaching his addictive style of “power” yoga. I quit my day job in the dotcom world. I leaned on my boyfriend financially while following my low-paying teaching path. I started traveling with my teacher here and there, as his occasional assistant, while I taught at another local yoga studio. Eventually, I became a full-time traveling yoga minion and got to go all over to yoga retreats in glamorous places like Playa del Carmen and Hawaii and Illinois. I gave up my life in California and spent nine “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” months in Boston (the winter months, I might add). I built a community out of yoga. I felt like I was really doing something. I felt like I had purpose.

What I didn’t have was art.

Prior to becoming a professional yogi, I considered myself an artist. I had gone to art school and earned a useless but conversationally riveting dual degree in art photography and ceramics. In my early twenties I worked for various photographers and potters (and waitressed, naturally) while trying to figure out how to support myself while making art.  My boyfriends were always artists. I was prone to ongoing messy craft projects and was constantly journaling emotively about all my ideas. I was, in a word, CREATIVE.

But when I began to teach yoga, I stopped making things. There was something about teaching yoga that took my creativity and channeled it into sequencing classes, dreaming up imagery, constantly learning more, growing more, focusing 100% on yoga not just as an asana practice but as a lifestyle. Through this, I expressed my creative side so fully that I stopped making any other art. Teaching yoga took my right brain hostage, in a way. It was fulfilling—but also, draining. I was exhausted most of the time.  I didn’t have anything left for my inner artist.

I believe that teaching yoga as a mode of creative expression is indeed a fine and noble path, but for me, there was something missing. I felt the absence of my prior forms of artistic expression. I missed drawing, writing, and playing with clay… but I lacked the energy to bother with it. I felt sad.

And then one day, a friend convinced me to take a community pottery class. I hadn’t touched clay in years.  And as soon as I did, I knew: I needed to stop teaching yoga and get back to my creative roots. Gradually I started dropping classes. I whittled my teaching schedule down to one class and started working on the management side of yoga studios. That felt good. Eventually, I stopped teaching altogether. And at some point, I realized that I needed a clean break not just from teaching, but from the entire yoga industry. Now, I hardly ever even practice.

But I do write. And make things with my hands. And garden. And dream up new projects constantly. In fact, my next project is going to be to build out this web site: www.recoveringyogi.com. (Don’t bother going there now, though, as you’ll just end up in an infinite loop of clicking.)

I’m glad I spent roughly ten years working in the yoga industry. I had so many rich experiences that informed my own growth and my ability to now write clearly and without fear. I feel that moving on from teaching yoga to writing has been a progression of my own path as a lifelong student of art and creativity.

I think if I had been the sort of teacher who felt driven to teach, compelled by a divine force, sought out by a calling, well, I would still be teaching yoga today. But I am not a yoga teacher. I’m an artist. I think we are all artists, in fact. It’s just a matter of what medium one chooses to express their creative force. For me, that medium is words, not asana.

And when it comes to “releasing my inner artist,” I’m glad I finally realized that it wasn’t going to happen in a yoga workshop.

Brilliant illustration uptop by my very talented friend Vanessa Fiola
(who, at this point, probably does not want to be associated with me and
my incendiary P.O.Vs, but who is, unfortunately for her, stuck with me as a
bestie for life): www.vanessafiola.com


About Joslyn Hamilton

Joslyn Hamilton is a freelance writer living in beautiful Marin County, California. She is one of the co-founders of Recovering Yogi and also launched Creative Truth or Dare. Joslyn has an imaginary spice + skincare line called SimpleBasic. She is a functioning craftaholic and counts hiking, cooking, reading and rabid tweeting among her many chaste vices. Reach her directly at [email protected]


28 Responses to “Why I stopped teaching yoga.”

  1. YesuDas says:

    This has a lot in common with why I stopped teaching music. I, for one, am glad you're writing!

    Incidentally, maybe you should consider adding "riveting" to your Words I Like list.

  2. kk says:

    Why i stopped reading after the "lede": no time for un-subtle bashing of specific systems / teachers. get a life.

  3. Andrea says:

    Love this post. Thank you! (and looking forward to recoveringyogi, too 🙂

  4. SarahP says:

    Love this article Joslyn! (As I do all your writing…seriously when will a book be coming out?? 🙂 I've been discovering the creativity of playing with children lately and one thing I did with my nephew yesterday that brought me such peace is drawing with a stick in the sand at the playground. Awesome!

  5. Aminda says:

    beautiful and wonderful article and yet another example at how different we all are..

    I on the other hand feel that yoga has given my back my artistic nature.
    I was, once upon a time going to be an actress or director or dancer or SOMETHING in the performing arts. Then life took over and about 12 years ago when the twins were 9 and the youngest was 3…I walked away from it all. I closed up the Murder Mystery Theatre group; stopped doing plays, stopped teaching drama…and I went into the corporate world and left all my “childish” dreams behind me. Yoga has enlivened my right brain. And now after 6 years of teaching its as if I am me again; and in the last few months I started actively looking to audition, and even took a singing lesson.
    For me teaching has reconnected me and given me confidence. (of course i’m not traveling like you so it’s also not wearing me down)
    My teaching is what keeps me inspired to write anything, ever…
    I’m glad you write. I’m glad the world is full of differences, I’ll stick with yoga for now and doing things that scare me 🙂

  6. I think it is so fascinating to watch as the things that help us grow over time also change over time. It sounds like you learned a lot of what you needed to learn from teaching and were ready for something else.

    Great post!

  7. YogaDawg says:

    Read with interest as I just recently got back to my art. My creative-life drain came from other circumstances but found it interesting that it led me to yoga, which led me to yoga satire which got the creative juices going enough to lead me back to my art. As I say in this post "Eight years ago I laid my brushes down and I vow never again. I declare once and for all, I am an ARTIST!" I know where you are coming from Joslyn and will visit you on your blog. Best.


  8. Paul says:

    Why so angry? I hope it doesn't reflect the vibe of the studio your name is linked to. Peace.

  9. anniegirl1138 says:

    Teaching is a calling and you hear it or not.

  10. annie says:

    I taught in public school for 20 years. Stepped away when I moved from the States to Canada and doubt I will teach English again, but I missed teaching. I didn't think I could translate what I did to yoga, but my instructor encouraged me to taking a training course and gave me classes at her studio to teach. It's different, but not. Teaching yoga has been like coming home to find someone has renovated the house in some ways but still quite familiar.

    We need breaks sometimes and we need to try our hand at many things before we know where "home" is for us.

  11. YogaDawg says:

    Enjoyed Joslyn. I just recently got back to my art. Found it interesting that my dry period led me to yoga,which led me to yoga satire which got the creative juices going enough to lead me back to my art. As I say in this post, "Eight years ago I laid my brushes down and I vow never again. I declare once and for all, I am an ARTIST!" I'll check out your blog as your post has a familiar ring to it. Best.

  12. Patti says:

    Yoga is not a fitness philosophy it is a science of the mind. Sadly this is not taught by those competitors trying to prove they are someone by gliding into Scorpian. The goal of yoga is self realization which you obviously got after 10 years of doing it when you realized you were a artist hiding as a yogi. I think for some being in a yoga class could release their inner artist if that is the intention or if it is the intention to sell another workshop entitled "THE ART OF BLANK". We are awakening to the crude selling techniques using an ancient science that has become their undoing.

  13. YogiOne says:

    Thank you for the cautionary tale. Among the many things I do are creative efforts such as woodworking, and I have a large raised bed garden in the back yard. I will be careful to engage in these mindfully while I continue my yogic journey. I'll also watch out for the easy to imagine situation where I start living someone else's yogic dream rather than my own.

  14. Diana says:

    Interesting piece. I am a professional photographer and Yoga teacher. I find that the two intertwine with each other. I bring the creativity and joyful expression of photography into my Yoga class…and I bring the harmony and balance of Prana into my photography. I think Yoga teaches us to find balance, and to honor each part of ourselves. We go through cycles as human beings and may change the path we walk continually. So what? I don't feel a need to walk a certain path for a certain amount of time in a certain direction. I may move to the shoulder, or make a u-turn, or stop altogether. The important thing is that I remain aware of the fluctuation, honor its flow and not be too hard on myself. When I start to put a rigid label on myself, I find my flow stuck, trapped and lost. Yoga has taught me to say no to expectation and yes to experience.

  15. Rit says:

    Absolutely enjoyed the "minion for alleged gurus!" Warm wishes for your endeavors, whatever shape.

  16. Silvia says:

    Peace to you. Thank you for your honesty. And I appreciate this was your experience but it is not the only one possible. I agree that hard core set sequence teaching and any teacher that says "you have to" be just this one way is kinda a scary thing. The hardest pose we teach is to "be ourselves" and if the practice brought you full circle great! You are the best at being you. But I hope one day you consider that you could also see teaching/practicing yoga as art and not just strict hard and forumulatic. I wish you had found a teacher that made you feel like you had permission to be you. And I am happy you gave yourself this permission when you had a "my way or the highway" master teacher in your life. No one needs that. I too have experienced that path, and choose another way and found teachers like Shiva Rea, Twee Merrigan, Janet Stone, Rusty Wells inspiring in an unconditional love sort of way. As Shiva played in class two years ago the song, "God Made Me Funky" by Mike Dunn I thought yeah, yeah he did and may we all make a masterpiece of this life in any way shape or form we choose! Stay stoked!

  17. […] level, I already knew these things going in. I’ve dabbled with vipassana long enough (and spent enough years in the yoga world) to have had most of the competitiveness conditioned out of me. Truth is, I was never very […]

  18. Diane says:

    The calling to teach can change. I always ended up in the seat of the teacher and then I got the calling to teach and then I got other callings to do other things. The good thing is, you're listening! I love your honesty and thank you for sharing your transition! I look forward to future posts.

  19. YogiOne says:

    Turns out there was an easier way. All you had to do was teach yoga tastefully, like this: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/10/tasteful-n

  20. […] been a practicing yogi for over fifteen years. I actually taught yoga for close to a decade. I have an on/off meditation practice. I’ve sat through weeklong silent […]

  21. […] written a lot about my breakup with yoga after a long monogamous affair, and how I stopped teaching yoga when I realized it was killing my inner artist. But in my heart I still do love yoga, and I come […]

  22. […] used to manage a major Bay Area yoga studio that now charges $22 for a yoga class. We would have day-long […]

  23. […] and grateful to have made it here intact, with the generous help of my extraordinary classmates and outstanding teachers. It’s been a tough road, and not solely because of teacher training. Woven into the fabric of […]

  24. Rica says:

    I have lost my creative hand after 10 years of marriage I have focused on business and my kids, yoga was the only thing that has sparked creativity in me again. As a teacher now I have been so happy expressing my creativity in flows and sequences, and drawing them on paper. Yoga has definitely awaken my creative spirit. Thank you yoga! Everyone is different. Namaste!

  25. Ellie Ortega says:

    Thank you for all of these extremely interesting comments from you all. It just makes me feel reassured that there are different periods in our lives that maybe subconsciously yoga helped us on our journeys onto different paths…… So that the realization of what we needed at that specific moment was yoga and thereafter will take us onto the next level ………………… All relevant and all positive wether it be life practice or a couple of years…………xxxx It certainly saved my life at the time…………….xxxxxx

  26. siska says:

    Thanks for writing this, I’m always glad to learn various reasons people stop teaching.