February 24, 2012

Four Steps to Kicking Yoga Teacher Burnout in the Asana.

Photo: Etsy.com

When I started teaching yoga, I never thought I would have this problem: Yoga teacher burnout.

Who would have thought? Yoga teachers burning themselves out? This seems to violate a basic principle of yoga. And that is—caring for oneself. Ahimsa, non-harming. But alas, without realizing it—when I took my seat as a yoga teacher I found that a lot of the time I used to take for practicing yoga was now being spent teaching it.

Whoosh! It was like my personal practice had been chucked into outer space and it was a miracle if I made it onto my mat twice a week.

I’ve learned a few things since then and I want to let you in on a little secret: The best and happiest yoga teachers are the ones that put their own practice up on a pedestal.

Yep. Your favorite yoga teacher probably spends a lot of time on their yoga mat—exploring and creatively being in the practice. Yoga teachers need this practice time in order to be fully grounded in their teaching. This way when we teach, we don’t feel depleted, exhausted or even resentful of our role as yoga teachers. Instead, we can give to our students in the fullest way possible—helping them to fill up their reservoirs and absorb all the benefits a yoga practice can offer.

Yoga teacher burnout can manifest in a few ways. You may feel that you are teaching too much and not practicing enough. You may begin to wish you didn’t have an obligation to teach, or you might start showing up to classes without giving much thought to what you will teach. Burnout can manifest in your body—with little aches and pains and you may wish you were on the other side of the mat instead of teaching.

I’ve been there. I know lots of teachers who have been there. Here are four things you can start right away to get you back on your yoga mat and avoid becoming the burnt-out-yoga-chick.

  1. Manage your calendar: I actively use Google calendar to schedule when and where I will practice. I find that if I place my practice schedule at the same level of importance as a business meeting or a weekly class that I teach—then my practice becomes a priority. Marking practice time in a calendar is also helpful when you schedule other events—if something clashes with your practice, you can decide which obligation needs to take priority.
  1. Start a home practice & practice daily! Even if it’s just for 10 minutes, practicing daily will keep you feeling inspired when you show up to teach your yoga classes. Feed your practice and your soul by giving yourself this gift each day.Having limited home space to work with has been a challenge for me in establishing a home practice. I also have three cats  that enjoy lying on my mat as I try to practice. This can be difficult if you are used to practicing in a clean, sterile, open environment such as a yoga studio. I’ve accepted that I both have limited space to work with and that I will sometimes get cat hair up my nose when I inhale. What I have done, however, is this: I roll up the carpet of my bedroom to put down my sticky mat to face my sliding glass doors to an outside balcony. I practice in the same place each day, near the same time each day so as to establish consistency and a regular schedule that I can stick with. I start with 10 minutes. Modest goal, huge gain.
  1. Try new teachers: This has been really key for me in keeping both my practice fresh and my teaching inspired. The best way to learn is by meeting new teachers and practicing in new environments. One teacher can say something that you hear all of the time—but in a way that is different to you so that you are surprised and delighted by the change in how you hear it. New teachers keep us on our toes! They also remind us how important it is to be a yoga student first and a yoga teacher second. If you’ve already exhausted your area teachers and studios, try online studios such as Yogaglo and Gaiam.
  1. Return to your roots: What was it that made you start practicing yoga in the first place? What made you come back, class after class after class? Was there a honeymoon period for you where you couldn’t not practice? What did that feel like?

    When you find yourself drifting to a place of yoga teacher burnout, remind yourself why you love the practice to begin with. What is it about yoga that you want to share with your students? Take some time to journal. Answer these questions: Why do I practice yoga, why do I teach yoga, five reasons I am grateful for my yoga practice and five reasons I am grateful for my yoga students.

love & light ~lauren


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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Jennifer Fields Feb 26, 2012 11:28am

Great post. I also struggle with burnout. I am the only certified yoga teacher where I live and the nearest studio is over an hour away so its not always practical to go take a class. I recently decided I need to be more intentional about my own practice whether its making the drive, YogaGlo or just getting on the damn mat! I think I'll use your suggestion to schedule it in my calendar just like any other appointment. Thank you

Pia Due Feb 25, 2012 1:04pm

Hi, Since 1972 when I started teaching yoga until this day when I am 66 years old I have always loved teaching yoga & meditation, as well as having trained numerous people during the years. Teaching yoga is a commitment and gives back, what we put in it. I promised myself, that the day I feel I shall stop teaching, i'll do so. These days I mostly do training for other yogateachers – and do enjoy doing so, beijinhos, NAMASTÉ.

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Lauren Hanna

Lauren Hanna, E-RYT 200, MSS Candidate, is a social worker by day and yoga ninja by night. It was in Pittsburgh that she first discovered the thrill of yoga and her love for social welfare and animal rescue work. With her cats Lotus and Calia in tow, Lauren hopes to someday combine her love for yoga and animal welfare with her career as a social worker. Lauren likes to dream a lot about saving the world – one puppy, kitten and human at a time. Lauren also loves cobblestone streets, arts & crafts, action movies and writing books with her Grandmother. If she had a billion dollars she’d probably spend it all here.

Follow her @laurenfoste.