The Yoga Hustle (n.): A phase at the beginning of one’s teaching career or upon arrival in a new city; a period in which a yoga teacher takes on every possible class that his/her schedule will accommodate.
Thanks to Instagram, we have a clear image of the ‘leisurely yogi lifestyle’ that becoming a successful yoga teacher can yield. Never mind that the scantily clad beach asana photos in no way reflect the reality of daily life. Nevertheless, social media is actively shaping our collective vision of what being a yoga teacher looks like and giving us a false sense of the work involved.
Don’t fall for it, and certainly don’t quit your well-paying job and jump into teaching yoga with the hopes that it will lead you to life on the beach, free of responsibilities. If you are going to quit your job to become a yoga teacher, do so because you love to teach and want to share the practice, period. Because, you will most certainly go through a period of The Yoga Hustle and it looks something like this:
— Wake up at 6:30am to sit on your meditation cushion for a handful of minutes and get in a brief home practice before you rush out the door to teach the first of several classes that day.
— Between classes, zigzag across town to coffee-shop-nearest-next-class and buy an almond milk latte in hopes that it will help you drop into writing some social media posts. But with only 30 minutes until the next class, you get sucked into perusing not posting on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, which only feeds your anxiety.
— Get home between 9:00 and 10:00pm with just enough energy to dig something out of the fridge and shower before you fall into bed comatose.
Why Do It?
Let me be clear: The Hustle is a very real phenomenon. It’s also a necessary part of becoming a full-time yoga teacher. This period demands your time, your energy, and your focus in order to sharpen your teaching blade and make your mark in the face of talented and plentiful competition. It is a right of passage that centralizes around one theme: Do Your Work.
If you make the – ahem – “economically sound” decision to become a full time yoga teacher, The Hustle is your chance to get your name out there and build a following. Making a living teaching yoga is a numbers game, and the one true key to success is a strong and consistent student base. Teaching as much as possible not only gives you exposure, it also provides an opportunity to try on different studios and different times of day to get a better sense of when and where feels like a good fit. In other words, it gives you a chance to find your people.
In order to survive, however, it is important to remain grounded in the purpose this period serves, to get clarity around your expectations and boundaries, and to become unrelenting in your commitment to self-care. Like we do with the mind through our yoga practice, we must learn to yoke The Hustle, for if left unrestrained, it can quickly become an all-consuming force that sends us headfirst into burnout.
The Burnout Phase
Burnout isn’t just an adjective. It is a real condition with real psycho-emotional and physiological effects. Those of us prone to “I can do everything” thinking (read: “Sure, I can teach more!”) are most susceptible, and we often don’t see it coming. For those of us in The Hustle, it often happens because we prioritize teaching and let self-care become a matter of “if there is extra time.” (There never is.) We wake up one day, haggard and foggy brained and coffee-dependent, and realize that we haven’t actually done our own practice in weeks – or even months. We start to teach go-to sequences because we don’t have the time or mental capacity to think about content, which quickly becomes boring. And then we start to resent our work.
If we let The Hustle take over our lives, burnout becomes inevitable. Just as simply, however, we can pull on the reigns and steer The Hustle to make it a manageable and even enjoyable experience.
Keys to Surviving
1. Make a road map. If you enter The Hustle without a clear goal (read: exit strategy), you have no hope of escape; rather, you will run from studio to studio endlessly and grow weary in the process. Get clear on what you want to be doing one month, six months, one year from now, and make a plan of action to start you moving in that direction. Figure out how much on average you need to make per week to live comfortably. (Yes, yoga teacher, you need to behave like the sole proprietor you are and have a real notion of the financials of your small business.) Using that number as a baseline, write out your ideal schedule. Which of your current classes do you love? Which yield consistent turnout (i.e. revenue)? Which classes do you find draining? Figure out how far you are from both your target number and your ideal schedule. Over time, start to make shifts in this direction. Be sure to block out dedicated admin time in your week and don’t waiver when the tempting subbing opportunity shows up.
2. Be authentic in your teaching. Trying to do what others do the way they do it is draining and unsustainable in the long run. Get clear on your purpose and let that be what guides your teaching, in terms of content as well as context. In his trainings, Jason always asks students, “If you could teach one thing, what would this be?” The answer to this question is rarely “Handstand.” How do you want students to feel when they walk away from your classes? What take-away do you most want to share about the practice? The more you can stay connected to this, the more meaningful your teaching will feel. And don’t get distracted by the paths that your peers are taking; you are you and you have your own gifts to share.
3. Consistency will save your sanity. Another Jason-ism: Don’t be afraid to teach the same sequence all week – or all month! Teaching the same sequence saves you some brain space and it gives you the chance to refine the sequence over time. It also allows the students the opportunity to drill, to repeat, to learn. How novel.
4. Make time for self care. Time can’t be found. But you can choose to prioritize your health and well-being to avoid burnout. Create and commit to some easy non-negotiables that will help nourish and replenish you. Hike on Saturdays. Schedule a massage (and keep the appointment). Have a bedtime and stick to it. Do the things that feed your body, mind and soul — things that you enjoy doing – so that you have an easier time setting boundaries and saying no to things that aren’t serving you.
5. Be a student. Stay inspired. You are a yoga teacher now. Make your practice part of your job. Many of us become yoga teachers because we love to practice yoga – but like Jason always says, just because you like to eat food doesn’t mean you should open a restaurant. In other words, practicing yoga and teaching yoga are two very different experiences. It is this realization that sends most of us crashing into the burnout wall. Don’t let your practice fall by the wayside. You need to feed the fire that set you on this journey in the first place.
Mira Valeria is a San Francisco-based Yoga instructor and the founder of Santa Fe Thrive, an indoor cycling and yoga studio in Santa Fe, NM. She is a writer, translator and wanderlust polyglot. She is available for private lessons, workshops, teacher trainings and interpreting gigs around the globe.