November 5, 2013

How to Use Yoga for the Good of Humanity. ~ Kristina Peterson

“The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.”

~ Helen Keller

Lately, whenever I go out to a bar or restaurant, I like to bet friends that I can probably find at least two other 200 hour certified yoga teachers in the room.

I never lose.

The other night, I made the same observation and the bartender produced her Yoga Alliance registration card.

(By the way, I don’t live in New York, Boulder, Vancouver or Los Angeles—I live in Atlanta, Georgia. I moved here from the yoga mecca of Venice, California to try and work part time in film production and full time as a yoga teacher. When I arrived in 2011, I realized very quickly that there were way too many amazing teachers here already.)

My dreams of walking away from the stress and anxiety filled world of crazy directors, self-important assistants, long hours and harsh conditions evaporated. Although other teachers and studio owners respected my training and were willing to put me on their sub lists, there was no way I would ever be able to pay my bills, minimal as they were, teaching yoga. I knew that fact going in, so I was prepared to work a part time gig slinging booze or steaks in a bar or restaurant until I could transition to “full time yoga teacher”.

Except all those jobs were already taken by “full time yoga teachers.”

So I picked up my walkie talkie and went back to the set.

Aggregately, I have amassed over 1700 hours of yoga teacher trainings, intensives and workshops since 2010 when I was first certified, registered and insured. Before my first training, I put in 15 years on the mat with master teachers. I’m CPR trained and I am a scuba diving instructor as well.

Which means zilch when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of getting a gig.

Just like my day job, success is a factor of who you know and lucky timing. I was lucky enough to be available when a studio owner sent out a mass email to her newsletter subscribers apologizing for a last minute class cancellation due to an emergency. I emailed to let her know I take months off at a time and can cover those “Can you be here by 1pm?” kind of phone calls. Friends in town from Los Angeles frequently call to get yoga teacher referrals. The first name on the list is mine. So I was getting a few teaching gigs here and there. Not enough to even approach paying my rent but enough to keep my skills from atrophying.

With so many teachers already in the marketplace and more and more coming out every year, it’s time to get creative.  

For me, teaching yoga as a career wasn’t about making oodles of cash—it was about helping people. Freeing people from the pain and suffering imposed on them by their bodies and minds. When I signed up for my first teacher training, I had no thought of teaching as a career. My teacher was part of an amazing lineage of teachers and I wanted to learn more about yoga so that I could integrate that knowledge into my personal practice. Because yoga, and an amazing therapist, literally saved my life, I wanted to share, share, share.

I am extremely grateful and extremely fortunate that my day job pays incredibly well and allows me to take large blocks of time off. So, after sitting on my zafu for a good long while, I came up with a plan.

How about looking for the people who most need yoga and are least likely to try it?

The Atlanta, Georgia area is a strange juxtaposition. A place where street names change without warning and lanes disappear and re-appear like a whimsical game of chutes and ladders. There’s no grid master plan here and you’ll never find a street sign because it’s hidden behind a tree. It’s the home of the civil rights movement and powerhouse academic colleges like Morehouse and Spelman, but many of the public elementary schools struggle just to get their students past fourth grade. Million dollar homes surround low income government housing. And because Atlanta has one of the busiest airports in the world, it is also a hub for human trafficking. There are dozens of NGO groups operating here to improve the lives of all the citizens of Atlanta, and many of them offer yoga to empower, center and balance their clients.

Centering Youth, Operation P.E.A.C.E, The Noble Truth Project, are just some of the groups here using yoga to teach people skills and tools so they can navigate this world with mindful awareness. So they can help themselves and eventually help others. It is awesome. Every city, town, rural area, every place will have someone looking to use yoga to help people. My challenge to the yoga community, to all those teacher trainees popping out every six months into an overly saturated marketplace is this:

Use your training to do good. Use your training to make those heroic shoves or small pushes that change the world.

Maybe stay with the day job, continue to enjoy the benefits of your well paying, benefit providing “cubicle”, whatever it may be. The rewards you will encounter teaching yoga to people who need it, rather than people who want it, will be infinitely greater.

Like right livelihood on Facebook.

Ed: Bryonie Wise

{photo: courtesy Robert Altman, Centering Youth}

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