Yoga Teachers… Get a REAL job? ~ Elephant Journal Article
A few years ago a friend asked me point blank, “Don’t you ever want to be something more than just a yoga teacher?” My immediate reaction was, “What could be better than being a yoga teacher?” Yoga teachers inspire, uplift and support people in so many ways. If through my work I can help people find some sense of peace and happiness in this crazy life, what else could I possibly want?
The answer became clear to me not long after, when I found myself wading through the messy territory of divorce. Suddenly I saw everything through the eyes of a struggling single mom and I finally had to come to terms with the biggest drawback to being a yoga teacher... the pay. Now I wasn’t so sure that being “just” a yoga teacher was going to be enough.
As my familiar world crumbled around me and I treaded the tumultuous waters of the unknown, I tried to imagine what else I could possibly do with my life. The irony is that during this dark time, I literally felt like teaching yoga was what helped me keep my head above water. The infinite depth of the teachings, the consistency of my students longing to drink it in and the sweet relief of stepping out of my own story to be a conduit for a much bigger energy kept me from drowning in grief.
Right about the time I was coming to terms with the fact that it would be ridiculous to throw away two decades of training and all of my passion without at least giving it a chance, I felt like I got a huge splash of water thrown right in my face.
In the middle of our financial mediation, my soon to be ex-husband passionately proclaimed, “Why should I give you ANY support you when you don’t even have a REAL job?”
Ouch. Enter overwhelming self-doubt. Even though I knew how hard I worked, I still couldn’t help but wonder. Was he right? Could it be true? Was teaching yoga a poor substitute for a legitimate occupation? Should I trade in the sweet moments of fulfillment for a steady income? My heart hurt even thinking about giving up teaching. What if yoga truly is my dharma, my purpose, and the way I am meant to make an offering to the world? Did I really need to give all that up just to make more money?
Right around the time I was steeped in this inquiry, I bumped into a graduate of one of my teacher trainings. She shared how amazed she was at the way I had been handling all of the huge changes in my life. “A lot of people would have collapsed under the pressure, given up teaching and turned to a more stable job, but not you. You just got stronger, stood taller and kept doing what you love.”
Totally stunned, I thanked her and gave her a huge hug. Then I disappeared into the back room, completely lost in a river of tears. I hadn’t had the heart to tell her how hard it’s been and how much I worry. I didn’t mention all of the days when I had almost given up and that even now, there were applications for grad schools on my desk at home. I felt embarrassed of the moments when I desperately inquired into what kind of job I could jump into without a master’s degree or much experience. It’s not just that yoga was what I loved; it was all I knew. However resilient I may have seemed to her on the outside, there were many times I thought for sure I was going to have to give up it all up, just to pay the rent.
Still, she reflected something powerful for me that day. No matter how hard it’s been, I hadn’t give up. In that moment I knew, I never would. My commitment to following my truth, whatever shape it took, had grown stronger than ever.
To be fair, I will be the first to admit that trying to make a living “just” teaching yoga is wildly challenging. It has forced me to get creative and expand what I offer. I am letting go of the need to receive anyone’s approval for the choices I am making and I am instead learning to trust a deeper knowing. I am finding that the more I surrender to a natural flow, the more abundance I attract in my life. It is a daily practice to continually redirect my attention to what I want, rather than feed my fears.
There is a famous line in the Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna says to Arjuna, "It is better to live your own dharma poorly, then to live someone else’s well." I would like to offer a slight variation on that translation for those of you out there like me who feel the beautifully, unreasonable calling to teach yoga, “It is far better to live our own dharma and be poor, then to live someone else’s and be rich.”
Besides, who says we can’t have both!