The Harsh Realities Of Teaching Yoga In A Foreign Country
In May of this year, I left England for Thailand to take up a temporary yoga teaching position in Koh Samui. I learnt a great deal overall from teaching regularly, and the experience was an enormously positive one. That said, I also encountered some aspects of the yoga world I was less prepared for.
1. Most yoga teachers are not well paid.
For the majority of teachers in the UK and the US, teaching yoga is not a lucrative activity. I'd imagined that teaching in Asia, where overheads are lower would lessen the pressure, but I was only about half right. I could have made a better living by picking up more classes, but instead I've been living month-to-month, in a country where visa rules are unstable and constantly shifting.
A better longterm outlook would mean I'd need to teach 12-15 classes a week, to give myself any kind of safety net. That's A LOT of classes.
2. Burnout is a real possibility.
I loved teaching, and it was a real joy to share some of the life lessons and wisdom I've picked up over the years, with others. After a while though, I started to notice myself repeating the same phrases again and again in class. I refreshed my teaching by watching videos online, and of course by returning to my own practice.
But nonetheless I could tell that over time, it would have become difficult to sustain my enthusiasm for teaching day-in and day-out. There was a risk that doing what I loved would have turned into a chore which is in turn, a strange contradiction.
3. Spiritual practice and finance make strange bedfellows.
My asana practice has been, and continues to be, one of the most profound gifts I've received in this lifetime. When I teach yoga, I feel as though I'm sharing this gift with my students. This approach doesn't always dovetail effectively with adhering to a schedule and needing to pay the rent.
The drive to survive and the drive toward self-actualization are both perfectly valid, but combining them can be paradoxical.
4. The yoga industry can be a confusing place.
Most people who teach yoga think of it as a vocation, rather than a job. But the reality is that most new teachers will not so much as break even from teaching public classes alone.
The most common solutions to this conundrum are threefold: workshops, retreats and teacher trainings.
Financial pressure can often lead to new teachers being fast-tracked to organizing large-scale events, and ultimately training other relatively inexperienced practitioners to teach, in order to make ends meet. I've found that I'd rather keep up the day job, and make decisions about just who, what, when and where to teach — so that I may teach from the heart, rather than the wallet.
5. Group classes are a mixed blessing.
Nowadays, most yoga is taught in group classes of from 10 to 40 people, or more.
The more people in class, the better for the studio and definitely the teacher. Good teachers can encourage every student to feel at home in class and serve a broad range of ability levels effectively. Nonetheless, not even the greatest teacher can provide the same level of individual attention to 40 people as they can to 5 or 10. I came to feel that, as the numbers of people in my classes grew, so did the potential for compromise.
6. Teaching privately offers a potential way forward.
Traditionally, yoga teachings were passed down directly from a single teacher to a student. The time I spent teaching one-on-one or in small groups, were some of the more satisfying experiences I had in Thailand. I had an opportunity to make a genuine contribution to the development of a student's practice, ensure they were practicing safely, and work in an smaller, more nurturing environment where I had time to respond to individual questions. Plus, private sessions are relatively well paid.
In the end I'm incredibly grateful that I took the opportunity to teach in another country. It offered me insights that I never would have had access to otherwise, and it's entirely possible that I'll return to teaching group classes at some stage in the future. But for now, I'm focussed on teaching privately, and to thinking of teaching yoga as a glorious addition to my professional working life, rather than as a replacement. To me, it feels like a much healthier approach overall.
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