By Dindin Reyes on October 10, 2015
If there was a stereotype for yoga teachers, it would probably be the following: seemingly stoned men and women who are blissed out, constantly in stretchy pants, with at least one tattoo, and are into things bordering on the strange. What's more, they will probably say the strangest things even in random conversation. Hear someone say "shine forth the radiance of your heart"? Yup, you can be sure that's a yoga teacher.
As with every stereotype, there is some truth to this picture. As a yoga teacher myself, I have to say that I actually fit every part of that description. At the same time, I'm so much more.
When you see us on our yoga mats, we're in our element. Whatever peace and joy you see and feel around us comes from a place of absolute love for what we practice — so much so that we feel the strong calling to share it. But we can't live our whole lives on the mat. Off our mats, the life-giving practice of yoga gives us enough mental strength and emotional maturity to stay peaceful and joyful in many kinds of situations. But despite all this, like you, we live in the real world with all its imperfections, triggers, and endless demands.
Next time you conjure up a yoga teacher in your mind, add a few of these real-life things to your mental image.
Like you, we also live on money, not just yoga bliss.
Though there are many ways for a yoga teacher to travel the world and live simply, the bottom line is: we need money too. Just like everyone else, to survive we have to earn. Just like in any other career, starting out is a struggle.
Rates for yoga instructors, and fitness instructors in general, can go from extremely low to relatively high. Most of us are actually paid per class that we do so the best way to earn is to teach a lot - especially when you're starting out. But imagine teaching 3-4 classes a day, daily, every month, for a period of time.
I tried this out for a while and I could see that it was a very fast recipe for getting myself burned out and falling out of love with teaching. Thus, unexpectedly, becoming a yoga teacher actually taught me to manage my time and my energy better. I became aware of how much my physical energy, my work, and my mental and physical health are all truly connected.
If you want to become a yoga teacher, or any health instructor for that matter, the first thing you need to learn is to become your own boss. And as your own boss, you have to decide how much you can actually teach so that it's still healthy for you. After you've decided that, you have to look at your income and decide either to live more simply, or to be creative and develop other skills that will help you earn money.
For me, the natural path was writing. I can say that I've never been more in control of my career than I am now. The best part about it is the will to take charge of my career path truly comes from the love of what I do.
The job market is as competitive as any other.
If you're living in a city like Manila and you're scouring for yoga teaching jobs, you're soon going to realize how full of teachers the city actually is. No matter how many studios there are and no matter how many people demand for private classes, there will always be more yoga teachers. Yoga teachers everywhere are becoming better everyday, and every so often, a new batch of yoga teachers graduate from training. For a time, I saw the situation as very bleak and discouraging. All I wanted to do was to teach and but I had such a hard time finding the opportunity to do that.
Even today, I'm still getting around this situation. As any freelancer and individual contractor would know, jobs like this mean you have to be comfortable with a certain amount of uncertainty. Did I do well on my demo? Will this studio keep me? Will I be able to teach enough classes to sustain my lifestyle?
"Practice and all is coming." All yogis know this quote from Ashtanga guru Pattabhi Jois and you can bet, we all apply it in our lives and careers. There is so much uncertainty in life and all we can do is to be comfortable with it. Otherwise, our job anxiety will make our teaching suffer. Practice your craft, support your students, be open to new opportunities, be creative — and all will come.
Our true skill is something that can't be named or quantified.
The skills we master to become good instructors revolve around the poses we teach, being able to teach them well, and catering to people with special needs through adjustments, assistance, and advice. However, the true skill that we get paid for for isn't on that list and it isn't even something quantifiable.
You know that feeling you get at the end of excellent yoga class, or even a workout? Many would describe the feeling as an overall sense of happiness, release, lightness, and even gratitude. Some would simply say they feel more relaxed. Helping you get there is what we truly do and we call it "holding space."
To hold space is to create a physical, mental, and emotional state for our students wherein they can work through their physical problems and more importantly, their emotional problems. The poses have their own benefits for our minds and hearts — what we do is to provide you with the poses and to make you feel safe and brave enough to try each and every one of them.
We get injured, too.
Yoga might look like a calm activity, but it takes strength, flexibility, and effort to pull of the poses well. And just like you, we get tired, and when we get too tired, we may slip and break our bones. Try to do a headstand, an arm balance, or a back-bend, and you'll see what I mean.
The simple truth is we're not any more special than you are. We are not simply born being able to do yoga. We're only able to do it well because of constant practice, and if you practice with the same dedication, who knows? The student could definitely surpass the teacher.
We can't solve everything, but we're there for you.
At the very start of my career shift into teaching yoga, I noticed that already, people were coming to me for advice. Whether it's about their health, or simply wanting to meet and chat, to talk online — people were pouring out their hearts to me. When they seek advice about health, students have a tendency to ask us for remedies for their ailments even though technically, we aren't licensed to recommend anything — except if your teacher is a doctor too.
As much as we'd love to help you, we don't know everything. A good yoga teacher will give you what mental and physical advice he can and at the end of it all, will advise you to seek professional help especially for medical conditions. During training, we're even advised to be honest with students and tell them if we feel we're not qualified to teach them. Better safe than sorry.
That being said though, thank you. On behalf of all teachers, thank you for the trust and the openness. Whatever kind of yoga a teacher practices and instructs, whatever background they came from, wherever they may be teaching — we all got into this career because we want to serve you. Thank you for allowing us to do that.