Teaching Yoga is Not a Legitimate Profession. ~ Mathew Bergan

Via Mathew Bergan
on Sep 17, 2013
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Photo: Barry Silver
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: Cat Beekmans


About Mathew Bergan

Mathew Bergan was born and raised is Sydney, Australia by hippies and feminist separatists in the 1960-70s. He is the director of Dancing Warrior Yoga School in Sydney. He came to yoga through dance 20 years ago, and today runs yoga teacher training. He is a tree hugger, urban mystic and arts aficionado. He has a delightful Kiwi husband that believes in him and feeds him well. Mathew is a virgin blogger and is presently writing his first yoga book. Connect with him through his webpage and Facebook.


9 Responses to “Teaching Yoga is Not a Legitimate Profession. ~ Mathew Bergan”

  1. Rogelio Nunez says:

    when people ask this question maybe they have come across the many yoga teachers that do this PT, the have a FT job and or a spouse that brings inthe big bucks.. so it does look like a hobby to them…

  2. Bonnie says:

    Great article Mathew 🙂

  3. Michele says:

    I agree with Rogelio – it is PT for a lot of us. It can be very expensive to learn and stay abreast, as you mentioned. I can't do it on what I make teaching yoga, even if I did do it full time. I don't see why it causes you so much distress that someone would ask you if you supplement your income in another way as well.

  4. Chris says:

    This is the life of every self-employed person. And I agree with the other two comments that, especially in Sydney, teaching yoga is a hobby. To be a director of a school, teach 15 classes a week and run courses on top is far from the life of 99% of yoga teachers. After all, not everybody can own a school. Although I note Mathew that you do the lion’s share of teaching at your school, many schools thrive on the labour of part time teachers. So the question at question in your article is fair to me. Good read though, thank you.

  5. Emily says:

    This seems similar to people who ask stay at home mom's if they have a real job…sometime it's not meant as rude, but just a poor way of wording the question (and don't we all make mistakes?)…and I'd argue that stay at home moms are much less respected in the world as having "real jobs" than yoga teachers. but, alas, mommies do so much without any real appreciation from the world at large, let alone their children or husbands most days, don't get paid and happily live their lives because they know what they're is best for their families. sorry to be a meanie pants, but get over it. 😉 you chose to do what you love, do you need others' approval? and, if you say namaste without truly meaning it (of which I am not accusing you), I'd say that's not very cool. as for having normal human emotions, of course you should have them, until you don't anymore, and then I'll be jealous.

  6. Denelle says:

    clicked on this link because i disagree with the title and then i was pleasantly surprised to see you defending the profession instead. rock on matthew! thank you for increasing the level of expectation from everyone around the world to see this as a real profession. as yoga teachers, we must work together to elevate the yoga industry together!

  7. Thanks everyone for your comments on my article "Teaching Yoga is Not a Legitimate Profession"
    Its interesting reading all the comments and seeing how people have reacted/responded to my blog. There have been a broad section of responses from people, and that is what I had hoped for. I love what I do and was curious to see if other people get asked the same silly question. I dont think im stressing out with this dilemma – however I remember the same silly question arose when I was in the Arts, and when I was a masseur, and when I was a film-maker. I say grrrrrrrr to silly questions! Peace and flowers….am i allowed to say namaste?….what the …..namaste Mathew x

  8. carolwilliams24 says:

    If you love what you’re doing then that the greatest job in the world… Some of us it’s worth noting that yoga has turned into a practice in extremely huge business. Also with that comes something that leaves a lot of lovers in a turn: A developing number of states are attempting to manage the yoga business.

  9. Katerina says:

    In order to succeed in something, you have to devote 90% of your time to improve your skills, therefore i believe that yoga should not be just a hobby for instructors, but the full-time job.