Confessions of a Jaded Yoga Teacher (or, Why I Quit The Full Time Yoga Game)

(originally published in 2014)

Somewhere amid the endless stream of asana selfies, the preachy social media posts about self-care, ahimsa, and various other “yogic principles,” the desperate pleas to get someone to sub one of my weekend classes when I was ill or had an important family event to attend, the hours spent in traffic, praying I’d make it to the studio on time for class, and the uncertainty of whether my next paycheck from X studio would actually cover this month’s rent, I came to realize that this career I had chosen and had relied upon as a source of stability and purpose would ultimately lead me toward burnout and frustration if I kept it going the way it was. Almost six years after I began teaching my first public class, teaching yoga full time was not only no longer paying the bills; it was also no longer fulfilling me on a personal level like it did during the first few years. When you have to teach more than 14 classes a week and put countless miles on the odometer to make ends meet, it starts to wear on you and leads you to question whether you can keep doing this at 35, 40…or, god forbid, 50.

Don’t get me wrong, I still sincerely love teaching yoga. Like any job, some days and some classes feel better than others, but I love the overall sense of spontaneity and variety that’s inherent to the job. As much as I’ve bitched and moaned about having to drive 20 miles in rush hour traffic to teach some of my weekly classes, I deeply appreciate the diverse communities of strong, interesting people that I’ve been lucky enough to meet by teaching at many different studios throughout the greater Boston area. I also appreciate the downtime that my job has given me over the years. It’s pretty awesome to be able to enjoy a leisurely lunch or coffee talk session midday with a friend, to take a yoga class at noon during the week, go for a midday run, or even better, take a midday nap, which is something I became a real pro at. These are all things that I would definitely not have the luxury to enjoy if I worked a traditional 9-5 type of job.

But with great freedom comes great responsibility. And responsibility is something I’ve always struggled with. It became challenging for me to remain consistent with my class schedule. Certain time slots and studios just didn’t work out, and I’d find myself subbing out or dropping classes, and in many cases leaving studios altogether. As yoga teachers we definitely have a responsibility to our students who show up faithfully, and this can honestly be hard to uphold when you commute 45 minutes each way into the city to teach a 90 minute class with 3 students that ends up paying you $15. Yes, we can spend our time, energy and money marketing ourselves, taking countless trainings to improve and refine our teaching, and be patient, faithful lapdogs, hoping that studio owners will notice our loyalty and reward us with more classes on the schedule, or better yet, that coveted, ever elusive “full time” status at their elite, big city studio. But frankly, I didn’t have that kind of patience, loyalty, or desire, and I realized I was never going to be that skinny, effervescent, but slightly icy, fancy fashionista prototype of a teacher that sadly seems to prevail at those elite studios at which I tried to teach. Full disclosure: I did sort of have a full time gig at an “assembly line” chain of studios for about two years and I quit before they could fire me because it didn’t feel authentic for me to teach in a formulaic way or to uphold their shiny, fluffy, new age BS agenda.

It shocks many of my non-yoga friends that the evils of the corporate world definitely still permeate the yoga world and the business of yoga; they’re just oftentimes hidden beneath a thin veneer of new agey bullshit and “yoga speak,” which I feel is worse in some ways. I wish I could find a career that’s completely free from bullshit, but alas, unless I’m missing out on some kind of miracle out there, such a job doesn’t really exist. And if I’m gonna have to ingest bullshit, I’d rather have it served to me in a no-frills, upfront manner, instead of hidden in some kind of kombucha, kale smoothie concoction in a mason jar that has the word namaste printed on it over the image of a lotus flower. Don’t tell me to “be myself and shine my light and teach from my heart” and then tear apart my class because I “talked too much” or didn’t teach the “required” number of sun salutations. And don’t talk to me about yogic principles like speaking with integrity, avoiding gossip, and being humble when you’re a studio owner who exudes the bitterness, pettiness and competition of a middle school girl with all your social media posts. Talk about not practicing what you preach. If I knew I was going to end up work with a bunch of catty, bitter women in a gossip mill of a studio I would have kept my job as a teacher’s aide at an elementary school, where at least the bullshit was served in more of a tell-it-like-it-is kind of way.

I do realize that it’s possible to move beyond the drudgery and drama that accompanies a full time schedule of studio classes by “advancing” or branching out in the field of yoga teaching, just as it is in pretty much every career path. I’ve had friends and colleagues go on to open studios, start successful teacher training and mentorship programs, or broaden their horizons to incorporate teaching practices like ayurveda. Those are all lovely, lucrative directions that I’m sure I could venture into if I had the passion or inclination, but the truth is, I just don’t. I’m not a super spiritual, philosophical person, I’m not an “anatomy geek,” a “health freak” or an entrepreneurial type. I’m more of a bookish, music and pop culture geek, writer type who was drawn to teaching yoga after a rather failed attempt at elementary school classroom teaching. I love the art of teaching, whether it’s leading an art lesson to a group of third graders, teaching a workshop to a group of after school professionals about how to bring yoga into the classroom, or teaching a group of 15-30 adults a 60 minute vinyasa yoga class at a local studio. I think I will always maintain a love of teaching no matter what the discipline or where life takes me, but I think it’s time to drop to part time status with the vinyasa yoga after having led a group of type-A, high energy suburbanites in an overheated room through the 10,000th sun salutation of my career. Teaching warrior 1 and warrior 2 over and over again, day after day, just doesn’t have the same allure it did a few years ago.

I love deconstructing the warrior postures just as much as the next yoga teacher, and I love speaking to the benefits of the practice that extend beyond the physical postures in ways that aren’t super technical or esoteric. The practice of yoga asana has been invaluable in helping my legit ADD self to slow down and find ways to ground, calm, and be still. It has also helped my sometimes over analytical self connect to a more light hearted, carefree way of being. Perhaps most importantly, it has allowed my shy, reticent, uncertain self to find a little more human connection and confidence. But that’s about as far as it’s gone. I’ve barely even dabbled in meditation, yogic philosophy, or ayurveda, and quite frankly, I’m not finding those things to be interesting or relevant right now. I haven’t done a lot of work to market or sell myself as a yoga teacher or to carve out a niche that makes me “stand out” and gets droves of students to flock to my “sold out” classes. I don’t wear lululemon (I don’t even like the company and can’t justify spending upwards of $100 on fancy yoga pants, but that’s a whole other article), and I don’t feel the need to cram my instagram account with pictures of me in such fancy clothes, or worse, in my undies, doing scorpion pose and crazy contorted backbends (shapes my body can’t really assume safely at this point anyway). Those sorts of things just aren’t my cup of caffeine free organic green tea. And I prefer a strong cup of black coffee to be completely honest.

I guess my point is that I don’t really enjoy “selling” the so called yogic lifestyle, either in a superficial or a super serious way. I like teaching group classes on a part time basis, I love the feeling of taking a nice deep, slow, challenging flow class as a student, but I don’t like having to walk the walk and talk the talk in all its different ways in order to market myself as a yoga teacher. My sense of humor is often sarcastic and sophomoric, I have a penchant for the dark side (as opposed to a bunch of love, light, namastes, and flowery emoticons), and I love to indulge in a fair amount of unhealthy foods, alcoholic beverages, loud rock concerts and trashy TV. I realize those things are considered to be rather out of alignment with the yogic lifestyle, and I’m also okay with their presence in my life. For me, it’s not a “guilty pleasure” to have a glass of red wine late at night, to see a band play until 1AM, or to polish off half a bag of chips while watching back to back episodes of “Supernatural.” It’s a normal part of my everyday life that I accept. I also realize that it’s not a requirement that all “serious” yoga teachers exist on a steady diet of quinoa, kale and green smoothies, along with daily mediation, readings of hindu texts, and instagram posts of themselves in a bra and panties doing fancy handstands in their kitchen. I just realize that after years of trying to embrace a more so called modern yogic lifestyle, it just wasn’t something that was resonating with me or something that I could do with integrity. I’d rather have a slightly more 9 to 5-y type of job that actually pays the bills, teach a few classes a week as more of a hobby, and go home and enjoy my TV watching, junk food eating, wine drinking, pop culture, punk rock lifestyle in a carefree, unattached way.

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