Note: This is a refreshed and expanded version of a post I wrote in July 2016.
A few months ago I ran into another yoga teacher and had an exchange that has been on my mind ever since. When I first met this teacher a few years ago, (lets call her Alice) she was fresh out of teacher training. Her energy and intensity made me think of her affectionately as yoga’s head cheerleader.
However in this last exchange all that light and enthusiasm was heavily dampened and frankly, she looked exhausted.
Given that my pregnancy was laden with insomnia and my daughter still loves to party late into the night, when someone tells me they are “busy” or “tired” I don’t feel bad for them...unless they have more children than I do.
So I don’t say this lightly, but when Alice told me she was tired and busy I felt for her and I could tell she was on the verge of burn out.
Sadly, I could have predicted her current downward spiral a few years ago when I first met her. While that sounds cynical, the truth is Alice’s teacher training didn’t give her the skills she needed to avoid this moment of overwhelm and fatigue. While her training taught her how to be a solid instructor and provided some fun extras like a session on Sanskrit, Ayurveda and a detailed discourse on a few of the famous yogic texts, it failed to offer her any wisdom on how to be a yoga professional.
She walked into this industry with the skills to teach a class but no idea how to set her fee’s, promote herself, prepare her a budget, her taxes, her website (oh my!).
Instead she slugged it out teaching nearly twenty classes a week, commuting for hours each day and teaching, in some cases, for less than the cost of the gas it took to to drive to the classes.
I could have predicted this moment for Alice and many new teachers like her is because I struggled with many of these things myself.
It wasn’t until I sought further education on the in’s and out’s of building a successful business and began to think of myself not only as a yoga teacher but an entrepreneur that my work turned into something sustainable that I felt proud of.
To this day I feel so passionate about sharing that information that I work with a few forward-thinking teacher training programs and wrote a book dedicated to the topic of being a successful yoga teacher.
Besides handing my book to Alice to help her with the business end and insisting that it is actually a lot more fun than it sounds, there are a few practical self-care tools important for yoga instructors that I specifically want to share with you today to avoid burn out.
Know the Signs of Burnout
While burn out can happen to anyone, it is important you notice your personal signs.
Do you start hiding out from friends and family when you feel that overwhelming fatigue?
Do you get moody and feel more sensitive than usual?
Do you have the urge to sleep all the time or do you start to get bouts of insomnia?
Do you start to get sick more often?
Burnout doesn’t happen overnight and if you are in tune with your personal tell all signs it is a lot easier to deal with it beforehand rather than wait until your tank is empty.
Do the Work to Recharge
As a Yin Yang Yoga teacher I look at everything through the lens of these two connected energies. Think of Yang as an over the top, charismatic aerobic instructor. Yang is the fire that motivates us to go above and beyond.
Yin would be more like a nurturing, soothing body-worker who lulls you into a peaceful state and allows you to rest. We need both of these energies in varying degrees. Without a good night’s sleep (Yin) you won’t be productive and energetic in the day (Yang).
When burnout is eminent it is usually time to invest in some serious Yin work. As yoga instructors we use both body and mind as tools to assist our students awakening and it is easy to forget to give ourselves that same gift.
When you start to see the signs of burnout, it is the perfect opportunity to:
- re-evaluate you nutritional needs
- book a vacation or some time off of teaching
- get into a self-care routine using meditation, bodywork or massage
- take simple walk in nature to help you recalibrate
- read a non-yoga or work related book (just for the joy of it)
- spend time with friends and family without brining up any aspect of your work
- take at least 2 full days off per week from teaching
Listen to Your Boundaries
Personally I learned the hard way what happens if you live in a constant dance with burnout. After years of taking on too much and saying yes to every demand on my time and energy, I went through an almost a year long illness that caused severe joint pain and swelling. It was so bad that I could barely walk at times, let alone practice yoga.
Even though this was happening, I continued to work six days a week. Both my teaching business and Chinese Medicine practice were flourishing but I was falling apart physically and then emotionally.
When I finally decided to make the difficult choice to close my Acupuncture practice and focus on teaching and writing, the stress that lifted was palpable. However, it took four full months of sleeping 9 hours a night and time off of teaching for me feel like I had recovered.
If I can share one humble piece of wisdom I learned from that experience it is this:
Time is the most precious commodity you have.
If you are teaching too much giving your heart and soul in return for a wage that doesn’t pay the bills or for students that don’t respect you, then now is the time to change the way you are working.
Find a new community.
Improve your business chops.
Increase your rates.
Find another angle to operate from.
The options are limitless but your time isn’t.
How do you avoid burnout? Share your self-care tips in the comments below.
Photo Credit: Flame Out by Tim Geers