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Yoga Teaching is a Real Job. 

0 Heart it! ashley zuberi 164
May 24, 2018
ashley zuberi
0 Heart it! 164

Yoga teachers, I have a question. How many times have you heard a fellow teacher (or yourself) saying, “In my real job…”?

When someone asks what you do for a living, do you ever respond, “I just teach yoga”?

Be honest. I do it all the time and I’ve been teaching yoga full time since 2015. It sneaks out like this:

“Back when I had a real job, I was in marketing.” Or, ”I don’t have a real job. I’m just a yoga teacher.”

As if just teaching yoga is not enough and somehow makes me less worthy.

For me, this lack of self-worth as a yoga teacher comes from an upbringing that set an expectation that I would get a “real” job like lawyer, doctor, or even journalist upon graduation from college. Something definable. Something that my parents could brag to their friends about. 

The profession of a yoga teacher eludes such definability. But I chose to follow my passion in spite of a strong societal expectation. 

Full-time yoga teachers prosper all over the world.

Having taught yoga full time for almost four years now, I reached a breaking point sometime last year. I felt like I was doing well — I had tons of classes, private clients, workshops, corporate contracts, etc., but I was running all over town and getting close to burnout. I had proven to myself that I could survive as a full-time yoga teacher, but I wouldn’t say that I was thriving quite yet. I wanted to know how other yoga teachers were thriving in their pursuit of a full-time yoga teaching career. I felt like the only one out there struggling to make it all work and I was certain that if I had to keep going like this for five more years, I’d be heading for the exit door sooner rather than later. The idea of having to admit my parents were right in discouraging me from attempting something “new” and “risky” inspired me to get creative in my pursuit of answers and solutions.

I set out on a mission to find other full-time yoga teachers and learn how they were fitting all the pieces together to make teaching yoga full time sustainable, legitimate, and fulfilling.

After talking to 50+ self-identified full-time yoga teachers over the past year, I heard so many inspiring stories from talented teachers sharing their souls across the world out of a deep desire to help others.

I learned we all have a common passion for yoga and a necessary willingness to hustle. What we need most is a more focused approach, support from each other, and confidence in the value of our teaching.

In my interviews with fellow full-time yoga teachers, I heard from teachers in major cities like London, Hong Kong, and New York City and I listened to teachers in small towns in the heartland of the US. While each city offers unique challenges, every teacher I talked to is navigating through these challenges the best they can. And it’s working!

There is no question that full-time yoga teachers work hard, but if we continue to describe our chosen field as something that is not worthy of “real-ness,” then the rest of society will never be forced to value it as real either and our struggles to build sustainable, full-time yoga teaching careers will continue.

A quick primer on what constitutes a job.

Some definitions from a quick Google search of these words, just in case we’re not convinced teaching yoga qualifies.

Job: A paid position of regular employment.

Do we get paid for the classes we teach? Do we teach a regular class each week?

Yeah, we have a “real” job.

Profession: A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.

Do we constantly seek new training opportunities? Do we have a certification to teach yoga? (That’s a whole debate for another time.)

Yes, yoga counts as a profession! Yoga is a powerful, transformative practice and those of us who choose to teach it spend a lot of time and money learning how to guide others through the mysteries of life. We deserve the support, structure, and stability that an organized profession provides. Yet, this practice that began on the fringes of society stubbornly refuses to embrace modern custom and convenience.

Career: An occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress; the time spent by a person while committed to a particular profession.

Ok, I’ll admit this one may be harder to argue for, particularly because the opportunities for progress are challenging and not very many people (yet) stay in the teaching business for the long-haul.

But for me, the career definition fits. I’ve actually committed my entire professional career to the yoga industry in various roles. Since I started teaching in 2011 I’ve increased my income each year and my capacity to offer new experiences for my students.

Many of the well-known yoga teachers that have been teaching since the 1970s, 80s, and 90s have viable yoga teaching careers. Our soldiers get to retire from the military after 20 years of service with full pension benefits! If only we could say the same for dedicating 20 years of our life to teaching yoga…

What is the value of yoga?

I’ll admit it’s harder to make a yoga career a reality. But it can be done. It has been done.

We have to stop selling ourselves short.

As yoga teachers, we have to collectively believe that what we offer has value. 

I don’t think we don’t think this as a community, but I do think we have a hard time agreeing on what that value is worth. Following this line of inquiry requires looking at money. Yoga teachers are notoriously not excited about the money conversation. (Just look at the comments on a piece I wrote for Elephant Journal about money in 2012.)

It’s time we stop ignoring this shadow work and be willing to look at our money mindsets and our ideas around self-worth. Only then will we be able to move past this massive invisible glass ceiling that we have unconsciously and collectively installed in our profession.

The history of undervaluing yoga teachers.

I’m not really sure where this whole idea around “yoga should be free” (and thus not of value) came from.

Likely, it evolved over time from many different sources. Globally, education is valued as one of the most important factors for success but the teachers that offer that education are chronically underpaid, no matter the subject. And it’s not like fitness isn’t universally understood to better our health, yet fitness instructors are in the same boat as yoga teachers. 

Yoga offers so much value it spans multiple categories of definition, and yet somehow, the thread tying all these categories together is a global bias toward not paying the messenger.

Even the ancient yogis got “paid.”

When you look back to source texts that were around in the time of the ancient yogis, there was certainly nothing that said anything about offering spiritual knowledge for free.

According to the Dharmasutras, Brahmins “may impart Vedic instructions to a teacher, relative, friend, elder, anyone who offers exchange of knowledge he wants, or anyone who pays for such education.” (Yes, these were Vedic priests but they were also wisdom holders and teachers, so it’s the closest mainstream model we have for comparison at the time.)

The sharing of knowledge was viewed as an exchange of energy even in the 1st century BCE!

When looking at yoga-specific examples, there are plenty of references throughout history of ascetics who begged for food in exchange for the wisdom they offered for “free.”

One way or another, yoga teachers had always been taken care of in the Eastern traditions. It wasn’t until yoga met Western capitalism and “being taken care of” got equated with money that something went sideways.

It’s time to change the global consciousness around the value of yoga.

I know you know that yoga is valuable. So why do we undercut it’s value so often by saying things like: “Oh, I’m just a yoga teacher. In my real job I’m an accountant.”?

We all know that what we teach in yoga is just as, if not way more, valuable to the world then what we sit at our desks for in our “real” jobs.

It’s time we all start committing to acting like yoga professionals.

Yoga professionals are creative, innovative, astute communicators, lifelong learners, and savvy business people. We can no longer afford to separate these entrepreneurial qualities from the job description of yoga teacher.

Those qualities don’t even have to be baked into our natural way of being. They can be learned. We just have to be willing to learn them. 

There is no job on Earth that is completely 100% enjoyable. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to do those parts.

In yoga, it might not be our favorite thing to market our classes or sell ourselves, but if we don’t try our best, we won’t have anyone to share our wisdom with. With no one to share our wisdom with, our well will run dry and we’ll have to go back to our desk job as an accountant.

Together, let’s elevate the profession of yoga teaching to a viable, sustainable, profitable, meaningful, impactful career and own every step of the way.

It starts with confidently stating and believing that yoga teaching is a real job.

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