What I wish I knew when I became a yoga teacher

I started seriously fantasizing about the life of a yoga teacher during my final semester of graduate school. I had just spent the last six consecutive years sleeping with a stack of library books and hunching over a lot of wooden desks, so every time I escaped to my hot yoga studio, all I could see was a group of happy instructors who had eternally rosy cheeks. Their lives were so much more exciting than mine; I just knew it. They were happy people who probably went to brunch a lot, got paid to do something they were truly passionate about, and never woke up with a backache, I thought to myself. And that’s exactly what I said to my mom over the phone as I submitted my application to a teacher training program in Los Angeles.

During the weeks leading up to teacher training, I became slightly obsessed with the Instagram accounts of some well-known teachers: Kathryn Budig, Rachel Brathen, Briohny and Dice Iida-Klien. They were positively glowing in every single photo. They were eating yummy food. They never looked tired. I was sure I had made a solid decision, and I was even more sure that I would look like that in no time.

Two years after graduating from teacher training, my life is nothing like Kathryn Budig’s (I did meet her recently, though, and fell head over heels for her). Don’t get me wrong, I totally dig the yoga teaching life — and it’s actually a lot more rewarding than I ever imagined it would be. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the world and teach at different studios, and I’ve met some pretty incredible people along the way. However, sinking into the job of being a yoga instructor was a lot harder than I expected. There are quite a few aspects of the lifestyle I wish I knew before I dove in head first because as fun as it is to romanticize the yogi way of life, it’s not all bendy unicorns and OM rainbows.  

Many people won’t take your job seriously

In most people’s minds, the only reason one would become a yoga teacher is because their application to work at Banana Republic got turned down. Or they’re a bored, frustrated housewife. Folks don’t exactly see it as a career path. Because it doesn’t take much brain power to lead people through a few stretches, now, does it?! For example, my chiropractor once started a sentence like this: “The good thing about your profession, if you can even really call it that…”

You will probably face a whole series of awkward, borderline rude comments like this one at family reunions and Christmas parties. Don’t forget the occasional tweets from otherwise funny people insinuating that yoga instructors are high-pitched, vapid human beings. This is where your yoga practice comes in handy, though, because the whole point of meditating and finding stillness in Warrior 2 is so that nobody can steal your peace — ever. Another helpful tip is to remember that there are probably more individuals out there who are influenced by you in a positive way, and they’re the ones who deserve your time and attention.

You won’t be rich

Some of you might be saying Um, duh but I was not fully aware of this fact before I sent in my hefty down payment for teacher training. Besides, it’s very easy to get confused about the matter when CNN claims that being a yoga teacher is one of the top 100 jobs today because it’s “big growth, great pay and satisfying work.” HA.

If you are looking to earn a significant living in the yoga sector, you’ve got to do more than just teach several classes a week. You’ll probably have to set some long-term goals, like hosting retreats, doing workshops at studios around the world, or creating an innovative yoga-related app. Organizing some private classes is a great idea too. You could potentially make $100 an hour!

Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to request more pay if you feel like your studio is not compensating you enough. You know what you’re worth, and if you’re not being paid accordingly, there’s no reason to put up with it.

People will ask you for health and fitness tips

Whether they’re your devoted students or people from your hometown who follow you on Instagram, a lot of folks will see you as someone who’s sort of an expert in the health and fitness arena. Also, they think you’ve become spiritually healthy or whatever and therefore have all your relationships figured out. That means they might ask questions about your diet and be weirdly interested in your personal life. 

The trick is to be transparent. You’re healthy and all that jazz, but there ain’t nothing wrong with indulging every now and then. The more you live out this philosophy, the more your yogi followers will respect you. So don’t be afraid to bring cupcakes to the studio and eat a few with your students after class.

Public speaking skills help a lot  

You’d be surprised at what a difference it makes if you’ve got a strong grasp on public speaking. Not only will it help your students absorb more of what you’re saying, it will give you more confidence in your own abilities. You won’t have to worry so much about sounding timid or stuttering, which will give you the chance to focus your energy more on your students.

Listen to the most successful and influential yoga instructors out there today — Seane Corn, Kathryn Budig, Tiffany Cruikshank, etc. — and you’ll immediately hear how they can command a room by uttering just a few words. Yes, they’re gentle and caring, but they’re also firm and articulate when they talk. And there’s a lot of variety to their voice, which keeps students engaged from start to finish. This skill is also important if you want to eventually build up a public figure or own a studio. Simply by speaking clearly and with authority, you will build up a strong presence for yourself, which is a crucial part of becoming successful.

You’ll keep a lot of students’ secrets

I don’t know what it is precisely, but there’s something about being a yoga teacher that is similar to being a priest or therapist. People want to tell you things. Very personal things. Secrets, in fact. After class, when they’re feeling relaxed and their hips are all gooey, students will rock up to the front desk and rattle off everything that happened this past weekend when their ex called. They feel like they can confide in you for some reason.

Be prepared for a flood of confidential information. I’ve heard more than my fair share of divorce stories and moody teenage offspring. Don’t, however, feel like you have to offer advice if you don’t feel up for it. Simply being a non-judgmental ear — and maybe offering a hug — will do the trick.   

You’ll work weird hours

I used to think sleeping in was part of the yoga teacher life. I mean, I had never been to a class earlier than 11AM so I just assumed all yoga studios were closed in the morning. Turns out that’s not the case. Someone’s got to teach those Monday 6AM classes — do you think the teacher who’s been there for five years is going to volunteer for them? No, my dear friend, because they have seniority over your rookie ass.

You might as well find serenity with the fact that you will have to show up to work at ungodly hours at the beginning of your teaching career. Even after that, you might be facing a strange schedule, where you have like 3 free hours in the middle of the day, only to have to go back to the studio around 5PM when your partner is just getting home from work. You’ll get used to it, though. Plus, you pay your dues with minimal whining and you’ll get to make your own hours in no time.

Customer service is part of the job

Yoga isn’t easy when you first start. It can bring up a lot of emotions people didn’t even know they had, so don’t be surprised if students have a tough time and then take it out on you. They might complain about you to the studio owner for not starting right on time or yell at you for the bathrooms not being in mint condition. If you’ve ever worked in the restaurant industry, you know how miserable it can be sometimes to answer to the customer. There’s always at least one person who makes the most ridiculous demands.

Whatever you experience, it’s important that you keep your cool. Again, that’s where your yoga comes in handy. No matter what they complain about, no matter how silly the complaint is, remember that it’s probably not your fault. After all, people come to yoga to deal with their stress and anxiety, so you’re bound to encounter the unpleasant emotions that come along with them.

(Image via Amazon)

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