One of the things in my life I’m most grateful for is that I get to teach yoga in exchange for money. This means that I have turned my deepest spiritual commitment into a livelihood. Yet, at times, my work becomes stressful and can compromise my well-being. This would probably seem counter-intuitive to anyone other than a yoga teacher, as folks have often intimated that I must have the dream job since I just get to do yoga all day. Because of this belief, I have found it difficult to admit that I’m getting burned out from my work.
This summer I was able to talk with some of the faculty from the SSCY 200 hour yoga teacher training about how to avoid burnout as a yoga teacher. I’d been giving it a lot of thought because by the start of summer I was experiencing increased anxiety, physical pain and a need (and thankfully the opportunity) to take the entire summer off from teaching. Talking to these long time teachers and yogis helped me to realize that there are myriad ways to minimize the toll that teaching can take, and many of these actions can in turn make us more effective teachers.
It was quickly and unanimously agreed that the number one way to prevent burnout is to commit to a regular yoga sadhana (practice). We are not practicing yoga when we teach; we are teaching yoga. The lifetime practice of yoga requires a daily commitment – whatever that looks like for individual teachers based on their yoga lineage and lifestyle. This not only allows us to ‘keep the tank full’, but informs our teaching, and helps us come to class grounded and balanced no matter what else is happening in our lives. One teacher joked, “That’s it. Problem solved. Article written!”
7 Ways to prevent Yoga Teacher Burnout
1. Don’t stop Learning
But even with a regular sadhana, we can find ourselves at some point lacking enthusiasm or feeling bored with our own class offerings. To prevent this stagnation we need to continue to learn as teachers (and not just to fulfill our continuing education credits to maintain our Yoga Alliance designation). We need to explore aspects of yoga that are calling to us. We need to study with teachers we resonate with. We need to read books and blogs and attend community classes simply because we are yoga students first, teachers second.
2. Keep a Substitute in the Wings
When we are not feeling 100% – whether from sickness, injury or emotional stresses in our lives, we need to ask for help and that help has to be easily accessible. Having a substitute teacher list for all of our classes allows us to take care of ourselves, gives our students opportunities to experience other teachers, and might also allow new teachers an opportunity to gain experience.
3. Simplify and Streamline your Classes
We don’t need to create a new class plan for every individual class we teach. Some teachers choose a theme for the week – whether it’s workshopping a certain pose, using the same quotes or focusing on a particular aspect of spiritual growth – that can be carried throughout the week but modified based on the style of yoga being taught. Just as important is to review the plan after class and make notes of what worked, what didn’t and what changes we may have made during class, or plan to in the future. Our teaching must continually evolve based on experience and education, but we don’t need to start from scratch every class. Make notes, keep notes and have a plan. This practice conserves energy, reduces stress, and ensures that we are offering variety to our students from week to week.
4. Conserve Energy and Stay Hydrated
We yoga teachers tend to talk a lot through the course of a class which means more exhaling than inhaling. Prana is lost! But so is moisture. I’ve made it a practice to fill my water bottle at the start of class and make sure it is empty by the end. I’ve also found that recording a class, or just listening intently to my words, has helped me discover ways to use words more sparingly. Like good poetry – choose the best words in the best order. We, as teachers, also need to offer our students silence so they can focus on their inner listening and we can exemplify the stillness of the practice.
5. Demonstrate Less
We also need to offer stillness to our body at times. As teachers we are expected to demonstrate poses, but we should do so carefully, ideally at less than 80% of our fullest expression and if assymetrical, on both sides. In beginner or special needs classes, oftentimes there is a need to demonstrate for the entire length of the pose, but sometimes I find myself demonstrating a pose when no one can actually see me! Spending less time in the pose also allows me to keep an eye on the students so as to offer individualized cues or hands on assists. Similarly, when injured, I’ve known teachers to ask more experienced student if they might be willing to demonstrate certain poses for the class when need be.
6. Fair Remuneration
One of the most challenging aspects of teaching yoga has been figuring out what is fair remuneration for my work. As a natural karma yogi, it is tempting to teach for free. But as a householder yogi living in the world, teaching yoga is my ‘right livelihood’ and my energy needs to be exchanged for money. I know teachers who teach freely for Yoga Outreach, but balance that with higher paid classes in the the corporate sector. Some teachers work full time elsewhere and only teach yoga as a community service. And some teachers teach twenty classes per week just to make ends meet. A lot needs to be taken into consideration – travel time, prep time, the needs of the students, our relationship with our employers and our own financial needs. There’s no one answer as to what we, as yoga teachers, ‘should’ be paid. But if we find ourselves resentful of what we’re being paid, or if a class depletes us rather than fills us up, it is time to take a closer look.
7. Build your Teaching Community
Believe it or not, teaching yoga can feel like walking a lonely road at times. Connecting with other teachers in our community in order to share experiences and resources, ask for input and celebrate accomplishments is indispensable! I meet with some of my teacher peers every few months and it has been such an unexpected gift! Case in point, just last week I shared the rough draft of this article with them and they offered even more insight and wisdom.
As yoga teachers, we are all going about our ‘right livelihood’ in our own unique ways. I am still learning how to take care of myself in order to offer my students my best self. Thankfully the yoga teachings stand on their own – offering my students their own glimpses of their best selves. We all meet there together – just by showing up on our mats! Be gentle with yourselves. Take good care!
Kenzie Pattillo completed her 200 hour YTT at SSCY in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver and currently teaches hatha, yin and restorative yoga in her community and at yoga getaways at the Centre.
As an E-RYT 200, and having recently completed her 500 hour YTT through Semperviva Yoga College, she looks forward to joining the YTT asana faculty this summer at SSCY.