Yoga Instructor Burn-Out

Several years ago I overheard two yoga instructors chatting. One said “oh, I teach about 15 classes per week right now; it’s my livelihood, you know.” My mind immediately was critical. “How?” my mind judged. How could you teach that many classes a week and do it well?

As you might guess, in the beautiful way the Universe instructs us, in less than a year I found myself teaching 15 classes a week; or more.

Owning a yoga studio has been a terrific blessing, but also more work that I could have dreamed. The challenge of running the Studio and teaching classes to support it; raising three young children; maintaining a marriage and a spiritual practice; is very hard work , indeed.

There are days I’d prefer to have my old life of a stay-at-home Mom. No conflict between my schedule and their schedule. Have a clean house; have homemade cookies in the cookie jar. It is a tremendous gift to have children and be able to be home when they are home; to stay home when they are ill. My husband has worked incredibly hard for the years I had that priviledge, and now I more fully appreciate that gift.

All the rules have changed now that I’m working, and the challenge of staying on the “want to teach” side instead of the “have to teach” side is one I’ve met often, and will again in the days and years to come.

For me, the first order of business is to take care of my body. Along with keeping myself hydrated, well-rested, and eating as much whole food as possible, I get a massage every month. Consider it essential, like brushing my teeth. Constant giving and no receiving is unsustainable. Massage really keeps my physical battery charged, and immune system strong. Don’t have the cash for that? Try swapping a private yoga session with a local massage therapist. But, truly, it is WAY cheaper than the co-pay for a doctor’s visit and even one round of antibiotics.

When classes seem rote, or I’ve said the same phrase constantly, it’s time for me to take a class. Seems so simple, but too often yoga instructors never take another teacher’s class. For me to hear how they describe a pose, or see how they sequence their class can inspire a shift or change for me.

The other side of taking another instructor’s class can be to approach it as a mental discipline to just “be” in the class and not be analyzing it. (“Well, I would not have done that many backbends without a twist . . . . “ – instructors know what I mean!) To truly immerse yourself as a student helps me to reconnect to my original love of yoga; and the savasana is always sweeter in a class setting for me than at home.

Speaking of a home practice, if you are a yoga teacher, you’ve got to have one – even if it’s “legs up the wall” for twenty minutes. Teaching is not practicing. Your home practice has to keep evolving and growing, or your student’s growth will outpace you. That’s fine if it happens naturally, and they move onto new things, for but don’t let it be because you yourself have stopped growing.

Subscribing to a couple yoga magazines can be helpful; always go through and tear out the sections on poses and keep them in files; I have one labeled “sequences,” one labeled “inspiration,” and another labeled “poses.” When boredom strikes, or I feel like the poses or sequencing is stale, a look through these articles can help to find a new approach, or a pose that I personally wish to master. Your students are a mirror. Recognize you tend to attract people with the same issues you have either had in the past, or are dealing with now. Your personal growth, the poses that are helping you will in turn help your students.

Ask other teachers what good books they’ve read lately, and borrow them. A book on mudras inspired me to research and practice several of them regularly, and my students love them. A book on Yoga Nidra led me to using the scripts in some of my restorative classes, and again, the students really loved the experience. Then again, if your nightstand only has yoga books, it’s time to find something else to read. Don’t think everything you read has to be spiritual or yogic. A great escapist novel or learning something new and different – perhaps another language — keeps the mind sharp, and allows you to let go of your attachment to your yogic persona.

And finally, for me, yoga is a spiritual experience. If I am able to stay connected to the Divinity — remember that I’m a spiritual being having a human experience — it allows me to be patient with myself and with my students. To remember to recognize that all is change. And that this body, this mind, this personality; they don’t teach yoga classes. The teachings flow through my vehicle.

It is my job to open up, and receive.

Shanti,

Jill

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