September 18, 2013

Teaching Yoga is Not a Legitimate Profession. ~ Mathew Bergan

Photo: Barry Silver

“Is teaching yoga what you do for work,” a student asked, “or do you have a real job?”

Is teaching yoga really seen as another “hobby” in the eyes of the general public?

I get asked this a couple of times a year and leaves me dumb founded as to what people actually think a yoga teacher does? If in fact they do anything at all, second to this, live in the “real” world?

When I consider the 15 classes I teach each week, the time I put aside to deepen my own yoga practice, then attend to the management and directing of a busy yoga studio; running a yoga teacher training program, people management, emails, phone calls, keeping abreast with social media, and then some. There’s not a lot of me left at the end of the week—next to a stiff whiskey!

I have consciously and subconsciously prepared myself for this misnomer. My retort goes something like this:

“I kind of know what you mean” I say to them. “Yoga might look like a hobby to some (giving them some benefit of the doubt) a few gentle stretches, some meditation, a quiet lie down, a nice breakfast at a café after class, some heartfelt conversation. I’m guessing from an outside perspective, yoga possibly could look like a hobby?” I say with an empathetic smile.

I continue with, “yoga might not fit ‘traditional’ work practices, but this is my full-time work. It keeps me busy, very busy!”

Lately my response has been more direct:

“I never know how to answer this question,” I say to them indifferently. I break it down for them. “Yoga is my career. In fact it is everything I could wish for. I go to work before the sun rises and I get home at sundown just like any other trades-person. I pay my own taxes, insurances, superannuation and a mortgage on my home, just like anybody else.” They nod politely, sensing they might be treading on eggshells.

I continue with, “I am my own self made boss. I’ve invested close to $80,000 dollars ‘skilling up’ to be the teacher I am today. I take what I do seriously, in fact very seriously”.

“Namaste,” I say with a peachy smile.

As a yoga teacher, it’s widely perceived that expressing anger, annoyance or, god forbid, rage, is “unyogic.”

I ask, why would anyone perceive we shouldn’t feel the full spectrum of human emotions everyone else does during challenging, tense or uncomfortable situations?

Do we really radiate the illusion that we are complete, realized and beyond this mortal world?

I was “caught” partying (dancing) late one night and was told the perception of a yoga teacher was that they appeared to live a monastic, pure life. The dance floor was not considered a yogi’s temple for self expression. Not to mention the fluorescent green gin and tonic I had in my hand.

To shed some light on the idea that yoga teachers don’t appear to live in the “real” world, I find myself torn between sweet niceties and cold hard facts. My yang dominates over my yin. My inner bitch wants to throttle the ignorant. However, this goes against everything yoga has taught me (ahimsa, non-violence) and everything my yoga teachers have said (wisdom).

My conundrum is befuddling on all levels.

I have considered taking up smacking difficult students in class, just like the old days! Then again this is fraught with legal complications.

Fortunately, years of breath work and asana (body work) keep in check unwarranted sympathetic arousal.

I would happily say today, my body does the thinking and my brain does the listening. My stomach, my exhalation, my nervous system and heart centre have become my greatest seat of intelligence. Fortunately, laser sharp alpha waves calm my wavering litigious mind. This switch has served me well—less paperwork and legal fees!

Again, I find myself returning to the essence of Tantra, which teaches us to deepen our experience of things that challenge us. To deepen our perception of the world we live in—to watch and not to react. Mmmm, maybe the latter is Buddha’s influence (?) As yoga author Donna Farhi says, “get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable!” Be present to this energy and consciously work with it to transform the self and ascend towards higher states of living/thinking—the crown chakra.

My parasympathetic triggers have become my judicious anchors. Soft diaphragm, measured swallowing, slow motion blinking, earth under two feet my sanity mantra.

Thank god we have modern science to smooth things out: today my neutral smile is fake, my forehead is frozen with botulism, and my kidneys are on fire with rage (oops, the secret’s out)!

However I project a delightful manner of serenity and indifference to the world that my yoga teachers would be proud of.

I skip the whiskey and instead find solace on the yoga mat pondering my navel centre.

Though I do ask myself, has my $80,000 been spent well, or should I really return to my former self—pouring beers at the local tavern?

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Assistant Ed: Gabriela Magana / Ed: Catherine Monkman

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Mathew Bergan