In our new Realtalk Fitness series, we're sharing the realities of being a fitness instructor today. We know it takes a lot of effort to create a lasting career with a steady following, and we want to shed light on what it’s really like.
Let me preface this article by saying that working in fitness is extremely challenging and highly rewarding, though, as with any career, frustrations abound.
I've been a yoga instructor for the past 12 years, and I'm currently based in L.A. While I would never change my experience, I do see the fitness landscape changing — and not for the better.
There is so much more that goes into being a fitness instructor than actually teaching. You spend time commuting, training, and planning your classes.
That hourlong class you’re paid for ends up being three to four in prep work. While I love the hustle and study, I’ve found certain aspects of the yoga community frustrating.
Some yoga training doesn't incorporate physiology or body mechanics.
I no longer teach yoga teacher trainings because I do not want to give any more money to Yoga Alliance. Here's why: To become a certified yoga instructor, you need 200 hours of training under Yoga Alliance guidelines.
I know yoga is often touted as a spiritual practice, but that’s not why most people practice yoga. Most people step inside a gym or studio for more body-oriented reasons, and, as movement professionals, we need to focus on the reality of flesh, muscles, tendons, fascia, and bones.
Yet this is exactly what typical yoga training lacks. According to Yoga Alliance, only 20 of those 200 training hours have to be dedicated to anatomy and physiology, which can include hours devoted to chakras and nadis.
As metaphorical tools those are fine, but if someone has a left shoulder impingement or fused vertebrae, no amount of chakra alignment is going to help.
Granted, there are credible schools of yoga that go above and beyond regarding anatomy and physiology, and there are numerous teachers who take body mechanics seriously. But if you’re planning on a career in fitness, continual education from diverse resources is essential.
The sense of superiority in modern yoga is tragic.
Certain yoga schools don’t like to believe they’re teaching fitness. They buy into the notion that yoga is a separate mountain from all other movement modalities, a spiritual gateway to higher consciousness. Think about this — what does that term actually imply, and what does a "higher" version even mean?
Instead of turning to researchers for answers, magical thinking persists in the yoga vocabulary. If you’re going to theorize on the nature of the self, studying neuroscience — how our brain creates what we call our "self" — is important. Speculation without information is crippling, the result being a fundamentalism that doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of the sciences.
Finally, some yoga studios and festivals hire based on social-media reach, not on the integrity of one's instruction.
Even though many teachers champion the "spirit," they love to show off their bodies, sometimes to near pornographic levels. In an odd twist of media, many idolize posturing on Instagram and other platforms. Many studios reward this mentality.
Fitness in general is largely being built on "Look at me!" and not on "See what I can teach you." While this is wonderful news for doctors and physical therapists, a growing number of injured students are receiving the brunt of this trophy culture.
Fitness implies the development and maintenance of our physical, mental, and emotional selves. These are not separate components; they are complementary aspects of the total being. Our brains love diversity.
Moving differently on a regular basis is one of the best things we can do for our memory, intelligence, and emotional regulation. Just as we challenge ourselves in the studio, we need to challenge our minds as well. Teachers are, first and foremost, students.
From the deep well of fitness education available, movement professionals need to learn as broadly and think as creatively as possible — this might mean overturning previous assumptions and spending more time in the prep phase of instruction.
Then perhaps a newfound freedom awaits us, recognizing our restrictions, then moving through them as eloquently and courageously as possible. Anything else is just posturing.
Photo courtesy of the author