April 13, 2013

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

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 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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shanti Jun 18, 2014 9:12pm

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.

shanti Jun 18, 2014 9:02pm

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.

Behappy Jun 18, 2014 2:27am

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!

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