#2 The Ugly Side of Yoga – Three New Teachers and Their Hustle to Find Work

(Show transcripts)

So I’ve been wanting to record this podcast episode to shed a little light on the sometimes ugly side of trying to find work as a yoga teacher. This can be specially true in areas that already have a lot of yoga teachers, or to say it in more business terms, in areas where the yoga teacher market is saturated with an over supply of teachers.

I also want to use this episode to reflect on the power of asking questions, because there’s a lot we can learn about anything when we start asking questions. The right questions from the right people that is!

But first, let’s go back in time, to the time I was going through my Teacher Training. In all honesty, I had a difficult time with it, not because I had to learn to meditate, learn some Sanskrit, learn about the 8 limbs and the yoga sutras, or learn about human anatomy. Noooo! For me that was the fun part! The tough part for me was the very intense anxiety and self doubt I suffered every time I thought about actually having to teach yoga in a room full of  people. Some of you may think I’m exaggerating but I’m telling you, as crazy as it may sound the anxiety was very real. But, I also know that a whole bunch will identify with me and will know exactly what I’m talking about. I just had moments of panic whenever I pictured myself in front of people trying to teach them yoga and it all had to do with fear. Fear of being in front of a classroom, having to speak in public, and be observed, and be watched and be judged. 

So why did I sign up for a teacher’s training in the first place? well, I guess I didn’t expect the teaching part to be so difficult for me and I’m glad I didn’t because I may have never signed up for it otherwise, and then I would have never had the chance to conquer those fears. 

One of the things I did to get over the fear of teaching (and there were a few other things as well, but we’ll talk about those in more detail in another Episode I’ll record sometime soon). So, one of the things I used to conquer my fear was a habit I developed while in training and it had to do with asking a simple question from people who knew what I was going through. So, the place I was attending for teacher training was of with yoga teachers who worked there every single day (people who had already gone through their own training and had been in my shoes at some point earlier on in their own lives, so I made it a point to introduce myself and talk to as many of them as possible. 

And each time I met someone new, I would ask the same question. The question was: “How was it for you when you first started teaching”? 
Turns out that every teacher I talked to was eager to tell their story. And each story was more or less the same in the sense that they all felt very nervous and felt different degrees of confidence as to how prepared they were for the job on day one, and day two, and day three and so on. However uncomfortable and scared they felt, their desire to teach overcame everything, so they kept at it, and sooner or later, eventually teaching yoga became second nature. 

So here’s the deal: hearing experienced teachers recount similar personal stories, made me realize that fear is part of the natural process of becoming someone or something; (In this case becoming a yoga teacher) But the process of fear really applies to anything. I understood that my particular case, as precarious as it felt, was not unique to me but to most people in general. See, we all experience similar fears at the beginning of any new challenge. So hearing other teacher’s stories is quite possibly what got me through the toughest days of Teacher Training. 

The simple habit of asking this one question:  “How was it when you first started teaching”? and really listening for answers, all of a sudden gave me a push. If they can do it, I can do it. And I got courage and motivation to stop seeing myself as incapable or inadequate.

To this day, I keep the habit of asking the same question every time I meet a new teacher. I’m sincerely interested in every story and It warms my heart to see the excitement and the sparkle in someone’s eyes as they describe a personal journey. 

I often hear empowering stories of lives changed, of lives healed, of lives that found new purpose. And, yes some times, here and there, I also hear a new yoga teacher horror story. 

I’ve compiled a few of them and this episode is about 3 of those stories that touch on the sometimes ugly side of being a new yoga teacher, of hustling to find work, of putting ourselves out there, of being vulnerable.
Now, the intention here is not to scare anyone, but rather to learn from other teacher’s stories. Because that’s how we get stronger and that’s how we grow in experience and confidence. Sharing stories and solutions is how we support each other as members of a yoga community.

The first story comes from Martha. She’s 52 and she is a 500hr RYT. She’s been teaching yoga since 2008 and recently relocated to a new city because of her husband’s job. So now she’s pretty much a new yoga teacher in a new city. She’s frustrated because finding work has been harder than she imagined.

She says:”yoga teachers are a dime a dozen in my new area and the teaching market is horrible. There are so many teachers who all seem to be athletic, young and bendy, college kids. One place told me that I could use their studio to teach the early morning hours but without pay until I could build a following of at least 10 people per class. Only then we could talk about some kind of payment. I also offered to teach the 6am class at a place near my home and had to follow up several times with a girl half my age before she finally told me that they were not paying anyone new to teach because so many new teachers will do it for free… and then she also told me that in any case, it’s the young girls, the young teachers, who really draw the bigger crowds because they bring their friends and are very active in social media promoting their classes.” I felt horrible Martha says, I just felt like as a yoga teacher I didn’t belong in this city. For the first time, I felt that too old.”

Well Martha, first of all you’re not too old for anything, so please please please get that out of your head. Believing that only “young yoga teachers” can draw big crowds is just and absurd and obtuse way of thinking. Some of the best teachers I know are in their 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s because there’s one thing the younger teachers may lack, precisely because of their age, and that’s experience, deep confidence and wisdom.

 So Martha, I really hope you don’t give up wanting to teaching. You have about 12 years of teaching experience and your own unique voice that will resonate with the right crowd. Now, I do understand why you may feel out of place, especially after the responses you’ve been getting from the places you’ve visited, but those responses are more about the people who say those things and not really about you. And think about it…do you really want to associate yourself with those people in the first place? You’re just gonna have to get more creative with your efforts. Are there any people in your neighborhood that you can teach? Have you made any new friends that you can offer to teach yoga to?. Just don’t give up and don’t let mean comments let you down. I wish you all the best Martha!

Next we have the story of Amy on the day she showed up for work at the first place that hired her:

She says: “I couldn’t sleep the night before. I was nervous and excited. I had prepared so much for my first class, perfected my playlist and practiced my closing words for after Savasana. I couldn’t wait to meet my students and was feeling so much love for each and every one of them even without meeting them yet. I arrived at the studio at 8:00 in the morning. My class didn’t start until 9:00 but I wanted to have everything ready and meet every one before class. It was a very small studio that offered just two classes in the mornings and two classes in the afternoons. There was no other staff besides the scheduled teacher, so I had to do everything myself from unlocking the front door, to making sure all students were properly signed in and registered, take payments and make sure everything was clean before and after class. My pay was to be $20 per class until my numbers grew”. The pay was low but I didn’t care. I was just happy to have my first teaching job. At 8:50am my first student showed up. It was her first time at the studio. I took her $15 payment for the class and entered her details in the system. We chit chatted and waited for more people to arrive. But sadly no one else came. I was nervous and didn’t know how to handle this scenario. I called the studio owner and asked her what to do. She told me to send the student home with a refund and cancel the class for the day because she couldn’t afford to pay me the $20 if only one student showed up. Over the next three weeks, this same scenario happened 3 more times. I only got to teach 2 classes and all of them with less than 3 people each. I quit after the 3rd week and went to another studio”

Well that sucks Amy! I think I would have just taught the class to the one person even if the owner didn’t pay me for that day. I mean you already drove there, you already set up and built rapport with the new student. For a newbie, teaching yoga even if only to one person counts as building experience. Not only that, but you also missed the chance to make a big positive impact in that person’s day or life even. Instead that person also wasted her time driving to the studio only to be told she couldn’t take class because there were no other students. So talk about bad first impressions! Now the problem is that this seems to be a recurrent issue at that particular studio.

And I do understand if you freaked out not knowing how to handle the situation. Maybe the owner even required you to check with her in a case like that, I don’t know, but In any case, the owner should have told you to teach the class and not turn a new student away. That’s just bad business practice on the part of the owner and it’s no wonder her studio has low attendance numbers in the first place. How can you build attendance if you are constantly turning students away.

Lessons learned Amy, lessons learned. I’m glad you made your way out to a different studio and best of luck to you as you move forward.
The 3rd and last story comes from Silvana, a 35 year old yoga teacher in Miami

Some studio owners can be real crooks, she says, and you can’t stay with those. ( let’s make a little parentheses here because THERE ARE OF COURSE LOTS OF STUDIO OWNERS WHO ARE FAIR AND REALLY KIND PEOPLE, SO THIS IS BY NO MEANS AN ALL ENCOMPASSING STATEMENT), but this story refers to Silvana’s initial journey as a teacher. 

She says: I can’t even tell you how many times they put me to teach the worst schedules and I worked my butt off to promote those classes and increase my numbers. I always got them more clients but Instead of paying me more, they would move me to another crappy time and again I had to start with low numbers. The owner of course kept all the best classes with the high numbers that I built up. I was younger and very naive. It took me years to figure out their scheme. I’m a full time yoga teacher now and  I don’t work with those studios anymore.

Mmm…I’ve heard similar stories to Silvana’s from some other teachers in south Florida. Seems like everybody just moves around until they find the right place where they feel comfortable and not taken advantage of. 
I wonder how it is for new teachers in other areas of the country and in other areas of the world as well? Maybe some of you can let us know how easy, or how difficult it is to find work teaching yoga in the area where you live.

OK so those were the three stories I wanted to share with you today. I hope it will motivate you to start asking more questions before you agree to work some where and give you some hints for possible red flags to watch out for as well as alternatives to use when trying to find work. 

If you’re thinking about becoming a yoga teacher, I hope you can use these stories to prepare yourself and formulate your post teacher-training work strategies.

If you’re a new teacher, asking lots of questions when you apply for work and starting the habit of talking to experienced teachers can help you avoid mistakes and wasting time in places that are not a good fit.

If you are a studio owner who has the great fortune of having a tribe, please be mindful and train yourself and train your staff to be respectful and compassionate with everyone. Remember that a tribe is not a tribe without respect and compassion for each other.

And finally, I want to ask you…What was your experience like when you first started teaching yoga? Leave your comments below sharing story with us and let’s keep the conversation going.

Until next time, be your best

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