by Ali Valdez
After years of leading 200 and 500 yoga teacher trainings, I find myself settling into a rhythm on certain topics. Naturally as the program evolves, things change, educational tools shift, new approaches are taken. One thing that never changes is the practical advice that I share the last weekend of every teacher training during the Business of Yoga section of the course, a topic that I also sometimes address at yoga conferences.
I hear a lot that yoga teacher trainings seldom cover topics on business. New graduates are pumped out a dime a dozen, and sent merrily on their way without a clue on what to do next. When I took my first teacher training, it was the same way, but I didn’t think about any of that stuff many moons back because I had my ‘real’ job, too.
For many years yoga was a hobby job, a weekend gig. But now, there are pockets to be found where yoga is the well-paying ‘real’ job.
This is creating competition, the need to differentiate and clearly define one’s offerings. It is also forcing the hand of innovation. Today in my program, people need to brand, develop workshops and create a business plan. The results are entirely a mixed bag. For some new yoga professionals, there are only two choices in their mind: yoga classes or open a studio. It’s a self-limiting paradigm in my opinion. So what to do? May I suggest getting to the root of things with my five practical tips for every new yoga teacher setting the foundation for their future work.
Know Yourself. The best thing any teacher training program can bring out is the divine essence of who you are. Once you can tap into the sweetness of that, skies the limit. You have been given some insights into the tools of yoga to start making wise choices, to live mindfully and to architect your reality. Apply these tools to get to the heart of who you really are. From that place, you can understand what you have to offer your students. Looking and copying what others are doing might help get you off the ground, but seldom keeps you flying. What are your strengths? Having a 200 hour certification is not a strength. Also what are your tendencies and habits? Don’t start something you know you lack the desire to do or the discipline to develop expertise or your offerings will fall flat or easily become outdated.
When I host sessions at yoga conferences, I always ask people to introduce themselves and tell me about their yoga. There are always a handful of people trying to drum up workshops across a smattering of yoga types in all sorts of environments.
Answer me with one thing you do brilliantly and that you love and start building from there. Remember one wheel can have many spokes. You can diversify once you have a solid base and credibility in the field.
Once you landed on your identity, then you have a place from which to prepare a kick ass resume, set up your website and get your marketing collaterals in order.
Remember, Yoga is a Spiritual Practice. This means the law of karma. Don’t be hasty to box up that Yoga Sutras; in fact keep it by your bed for nightly reminders of why you are here if you sign up to carry the mantle of yoga teacher. It’s a big deal because this is a service business. This is a community building business. As I tell my students:
“You are now in the business of transformation. Every day, you are in this practice and here to serve, not just one hour on Tuesday nights.”
You are signing up for important lessons, to meet challenges with grace, to do the ‘real’ work and to love and serve your students. No, this does not mean being sainted or being perfect, but it does mean being really honest about what you are bringing to the table.
Value Your Time & Expertise. Knowing your own value is sometimes a tricky thing to quantify. You are here to serve but you are not here to be taken for granted or advantage of by the people with whom you share your service. Do the math on the cost of being a yoga teacher. Do you know what you spend on gas, parking, or the value of your time sitting in traffic driving from point A to point B. Get a very clear understanding of what you are expected to do wherever you teach. I knew a studio that made you sign in guests 30 minutes before your class, clean the room and wipe down the mirrors afterwards.
All for the $30 they paid you to teach your packed :90 Bikram class that had 80 people. Not to mention waiting for the gal who wants to take a long shower and dry her hair before you can lock up. You’re three hours in at $10 per hour.
I know many, myself included, that takes the notion of seva way too far. You adore your home studio, it is a privilege to teach and it should come from the heart, an absolute love of the practice. But it’s also perfectly ok to get paid for your time. You should be compensated for your hard-earned skills just like any other job and do the seva on your own time, donating your income as you see fit to charitable causes. I had a few late nights lathering up the mirrors in a sudsy mountain, taking pride in making my home studio clean, warm and welcome for the next morning’s class. I was willing to do this when I saw the owner doing the same, many times we did them together. Management seldom changes when you establish behavior patterns, for better or for worse. So best to clear that up at the start.
Stay Hungry to Learn. I was sharing with an intensive group this weekend about the one thing that really annoys me about teachers: those that quit learning. Two hundred hours is an arbitrary pimple on the ass of the vast bodily landscape of yoga. When people quit practicing, or pass up any further education, I get worried.
The two hundred hour can only provide you with highlights, a robust sampling of the fruits of yoga, but it really is prolonged learning and applying of new things that will keep the practice fresh and exciting but also meaningful for your students. Diversify and try new styles, read and research, set a hypothesis about the practice and set out to validate it. However you do it, don’t say you’re a yoga teacher and quit studying and stop practicing because you are too busy teaching yoga. This one I have never understood.
Never Forget Your Teacher. In the era of Instagram, words are few. (see my blog on said topic here). Always honor and acknowledge your teachers, learn about and understand their lineage. Every day with your sequencing and teaching you are representing something learned and handed down.
With yoga, you are holding a diamond in some shape or form. Some diamonds have higher CCCC than others.
There are thousands of teachers out there pounding the pavement with absolutely no idea where what they are teaching came from. So your studio branded their own signature flow, but that hardly makes for a lineage. It makes me bristle how many yoga teachers went their day unaware on August 20th at the passing of Mr. Iyengar.
When I travel around and practice in other places, I always read the teachers bio and the vision statement of the studio. I want who I have studied with to matter to those attending my programs. I want to be a part of a family tree, one with many branches but I need a solid trunk and deep root system to endure the change of seasons and grow stronger each year. Your teacher is not all the weekend workshops you attend. No system of substance can be mastered in just a few days, nor the wisdom from a true master fully extracted. Attend the workshops by all means (please see #4 on this list), but find your true teacher. Pick one and go deep in your studies. Also, when you need real advice on something, your weekend workshop teachers probably won’t even remember who you are.
As I type this, I just received a text from my beloved teacher, Andrey Lappa, whose book I am currently editing. See what I mean?!
Being a new yoga teacher is like graduating from college. You have the whole world in front of you. That is exciting but can also be scary. You need a plan, and that plan comes from knowing what makes you tick, continuing to do the work, staying true to the practice and remembering who helped love and get you there. Best of luck new teachers. If you have any questions, please reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.