Don’t get me wrong, I love yoga.
I love being a yoga teacher. It’s been an integral part of me and my life for more than ten years. I’m still uncomfortable with telling people that I teach yoga for a living. Here’s why:
1. People basically see us as a fitness instructor. Don’t worry, I’m not hating on fitness instruction. That’s a valuable and important part of health in our society. However, most of us don’t just lead people through physical exercises. As for myself, I teach philosophy as much as I teach alignment (some might say even more so), and I encourage people to let go of whatever prevents them from being happy and free.
I’ve studied anatomy, physiology, alignment, philosophy and eastern traditions and weave that all through classes that include chanting and live music. I know many other instructors do the same. It’s not just about fitness, dammit! Rock hard abs aren’t our goal, supreme freedom is!
2. People automatically assume that we’re flaky. Somewhere along the line, spirituality and spiritual pursuits got coupled with absent-mindedness and a disregard for the rigors of society. Not so! Yogis aim to be well-integrated members of society.
In fact, many are working behind the scenes and in the trenches to create the conditions for positive change in our communities. Furthermore, many of us pay our bills, respond to phone calls in a timely fashion and show up on time to teach our classes. We can be level headed and responsible. My god, you should see my iCal calendar!
3. The number one response is, “Oh, I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.” Really? Were we required to know Spanish before we enrolled in Spanish class in high school? No. We went to class to learn and develop our Spanish skills. Same with yoga. Flexibility is not a per-requisite. Open-mindedness is.
4. The number two response is, “Oh, wow! Can you put your legs behind your head?” This is often followed by a wink. Yeah, I know where you’re going with that. It can just stop right there, because I’m a professional and take my work seriously. This is kinda like asking a doctor, “Oh wow! So, you see people naked!” Largely inappropriate.
5. The number three response is, “Awesome, so I’ve been having this pain in my (insert body part here), can you help me with that?” Again, kinda like asking a doctor for how to cure your ailments while sitting next to them on a plane. Technically, they’re not on duty, and would probably like to just get to their next destination with relative peace.
It’s not that I don’t love helping people when I can, and I know most yogis are more than happy to bend over backwards (pun intended) to assist folks, but again, let’s be appropriate. If we meet in a coffee shop, probably not the best time. Ask for our card or website and join us for a class, where we can more appropriately address your needs.
6. People assume that I bailed out into yoga because I failed at another career. Not so. For me, this has actually been my only career, the thing that I turned to after graduating college with a degree in physics. Yeah, it was a weird leap and my family is still confused about how I made that transition, but I love my job and chose it wholeheartedly. I applaud others who do the same, particularly those who have been brave enough to exit unsatisfying careers to pick up yoga and carry it’s inspiration and well-being into a new career that they love.
7. People think this career is easy. Ask any full-time yoga instructor. It’s not. It’s a full-time, slogging thought the ditches, often undervalued, day in and day out fight for what we love. We only stick with it because we love the heck out of it and believe in its benefits – because we’ve experienced them ourselves – and want to share that with others. It’s not glorious. It takes a lot of work, a lot of trial and error, and many years of scraping by and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, teaching under any circumstance (sick, injured, personal tragedy). For many of us, this is far more than a career, it’s a calling – something that an inspired person lives for, often at the expense of other things. It’s high time credit be given where credit it due. There are no shortcuts in this industry, everyone stays for the long haul, for the sheer love of the practice.
If, as a yoga instructor, some of these reasons feel true for you, maybe we can do our best to spread the word about the fact that we are in a career that demands smarts, training, creativity, cleverness, perseverance and above all, passion. Yogis, I salute you!
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Editor: Carolyn Gilligan