Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tuesday Morning

Well, it is a glorious day outside. I do hope to get outside some today to revel in it.

I spent a lot of yesterday doing a bunch of work on my computer and going to yoga. I practiced in Matt's Ashtanga class at noon, came home, ate some food, did some work and then met Anne for Peggy's int/adv. class at 3:45. Then we met up with Genevieve for some dinner at Central Market which was really great. A pretty fun day off, all things considered.

It has been an interesting few weeks in a lot of ways. After deciding to resign from YogaYoga I have had all kinds of doors open regarding local teaching opportunities that I am really excited about. While these things are opening up around here I also had several out of town gigs cancel which always throws a certain wrench in things for me as usually by the time an out of town workshop cancels it is too late to actually replace the work and so it can be a little nerve wracking. I have been thinking a lot about the business side of teaching yoga and the demands of being a one woman show with it all.

Don't get me wrong. I love teaching yoga. I love having the good fortune of my dharma and my vocation being so closely aligned. There is nothing I would rather do; I have no other hidden professional dreams right now. Just this week the financial realities of it all have been in the forefront of my mind and giving me lots to consider and to clarify. It can really be a "walking in two worlds at once" kind of task.

It is funny, in the recent teacher training someone who was reading my book found out that at the time I wrote the book I did not make my living as a yoga teacher. In fact, I have been teaching yoga since 2007 or 2008 and it has not been until the last 3 years that I have done it full time. She said, "Wow, I had no idea when you wrote this book that you were not a real yoga teacher!" It was interesting because that comment revealed a certain bias I think we can often fall into. Like there is some trajectory of what being a yoga teacher looks like externally: 1. get certified, 2. teach yoga, 3. quit day job, 4. make living as a yoga teacher, 5. open a studio, 6. become a national sensation, 7. consider yourself successful.

The truth is being a yoga teacher has nothing to do with all of that in my opinion. There is no one way that it has to look, no one way for success to manifest and for the project of teaching yoga to be worthwhile. In fact, many people who do not make a living at teaching yoga have A LOT more fun teaching because they are free to just share their love, passion and joy of the practice without it being tied to a financial reward or compensation, etc. Anyway, being a yoga teacher is not defined by those externals. It is about taking a seat inside ourselves which John Friend teaches us is a seat of worthiness. We must decide we are worthy of sharing whatever wisdom we have accumulated with others. We validate for ourselves that we have something of value to offer. We claim the seat and in so doing invite the universe to help us become more aligned and more able to serve according to our dharma. And everyone's dharma is different.

Some people are intended to have large spheres of influence and some are supposed to work invisibly behind the scenes. Some are supposed to work with children, with seniors, with "normal folks", with yoga geeks, with the physically challenged and so forth. Some people have the dharma of motherhood, fatherhood and their teaching function is less in the classroom of a yoga studio and more in the classroom of family life. It goes on like that. But my point is that the external form can vary greatly and the gauging one's success by an external form and according to society's conventional views of success is a trap for the yoga teacher.

My spiritual teacher once commented, "You know, not every best seller is a good book. And a lot of great writers never get discovered." Many really popular teachers are not teaching great yoga, in my opinion. And just because "people like it" doesn't mean it is great yoga, in my opinion. Some of the best teachers I have been in class with were teaching in small studios to a dozen people and they and their students are some of the most knowledgeable folks around. And obviously, I know that at the end of the day the mortgage company doesn't give a crap that you remained true to a tradition and taught something "unpopular but good" and so you are less profitable and cannot pay your bills. Believe, I get it. I am a realist. But I also believe that part of our dharma as yoga teachers is to educate people in what the practice is and take a certain kind of authority that is beyond "giving someone what they want." But of course, give someone nothing of what they want and you never see them again! And there is no one way to do all of this.

Anyway, whenever I consider "success" as a yoga teacher and what it means I think about my colleague who once told me about teaching nadi shodana at a community center to a group of under privileged women. She said that several years later she ran into a woman from her class at the store in the town where they lived. The woman pulled her aside and told her, "You know, that yoga helped me so much. Because of that breathing exercise you taught, I was able to stop hitting my daughter."

My friend looks at her, raises and eye and is like, "What?"

The woman continued saying, " Well, every time I got mad and wanted to hit my daughter I would lock myself in the bathroom and do that breathing until I would go out and not have to hit her. It really worked."

So whether or not this teacher is ever famous, every able to support herself 100% as a teacher or ever teaches another yoga class in her life, in my book she is highly successful. We are successful when we make a difference. When our love for this life inspires someone in such a way that they move closer to their heart and to a life that is aligned with who they really are. Money- well, as important as it is and as scary as the lack of it can feel, is really not the best gauge of what we are up to.

So the question is, as a yoga teacher, what are you up to? And what is the best gauge for that?


Fanny said...

Thanks for a great post, Christina. In the harsh light of the new financial realities of teaching at YY I have been thinking a lot about quality vs. quantity when it comes to being a yoga teacher, and your words on the matter ring true for me.

Babs said...

As a yoga teacher, I measure my success on a couple of things. First, I love, love, love it when students stop to chat after class, ask questions, or comment on the class. Second, on the "residue" I feel after teaching a class. Usually my mood is tremendously elevated! I doubt I will ever be a celebrity endorser for Jade, but I feel very successful!

Thanks for such a thoughtful post!

A Journey For Life said...

I needed that in so many ways, not just for me, but for others who know me and to help them understand why I teach, certainly isn't for the money.

Dale said...

I agree. In my asana practice, I do not decide if I practiced well that day based on the beauty of my pose (mmm, mmm, that's some fine asana!) or my flexibility or strength, or even my skill, although these are all things that I reach for. But I'm there to practice, which to me means "to do the work." And the work is hard to define, but it's that feeling when the isometrics of the UPA are engaged, and the prana is flowing, and the body is smiling (or at least considering smiling ;-).

Likewise, in my teaching, when I look back over the class or the month or the year, I do not consider numbers, or whether my kids can now jump all the way over the ocean (we worked on Hanuman today - fun :-). I consider what the ones whom I serve have said to me, whether I am leading them to work that they can do, and whether I am effectively presenting the work to them & inviting them in. My commitment is to my students, not to the studio or to the practice.

It is a huge blessing that I am completely free of financial incentive to teach yoga. I bow to yall who need to make some amount of money from your teaching practice, because it is difficult to serve two masters. Especially when one of those masters wants you to be as popular as possible, because sometimes teaching the best yoga is going to chase off a certain segment of the class.

My religion gives me clear instructions on working - at least they are easy to understand - not always clear to apply :-).

My God considers all (moral) work to be equal in terms of allowing a person to serve him. It is no better to be a priest than a janitor or a soldier than a doctor. All professions are opportunities to do God's work - to do the work of God. Whatever I find myself doing, I am to do it as if my boss were God himself. Which in fact, he is. Which is the point.

If it is God's will that be a yoga teacher or rocket scientist or pastry chef at a certain time of my life, then that is where he will put me. My work is to do the work the best that I can.

These different circumstances may look like huge changes to me, but they are really just different jobs in Earth, Inc - the company of God. And the different places I stay and people I am around are just different rooms in Earthtown (owner, God) & different citizens of earth.

So, if you are a true believer, then believe! Believe that God is putting you where you belong for now, and that your job is merely to be the best nd brightest that you know how.

Most people are at least a little concerned right now, and many are freaking out or watching their life savings dissipate. But those of us who know & love & rely on the Divine are aware that these days are no surprise to him. On the contrary, the harshest trials are loving gifts from our Father's hand, gifts that will blossom into joy in its own time.

So... Hang On Baby - Friday's Coming!!!!

Just do the work, root down into the here-and-now, and reach up to the heavens. Take hold of the hand of God & he will lift you up.


Queue the choir.

Christina Sell said...

(I only deleted Dale's second comment because it was repeat post and as great as his post was/is, one entry seemed enough!)

I have had lots of great feedback today about this entry. All of which I really appreciate tremendously. So many great perspectives and sharings came my way as a result of this post. Thanks everyone. I love hearing from you.

NeoMystic said...

Christina, what a tender and thoughtful post. It helps me to remember to remain committed to my own dharma, and not try to fit myself into the dharma of others. As Stuart Smalley would say, "To compare is to despair!" I had the truly astounding reminder that not all bestsellers are great writing; my mom left a copy of the latest Dean Koontz novel at my house a few weeks ago and I cracked it open only to have to put it right back down within minutes. I am all for a fastpaced thriller or formulaic horror novel, but this was absolutely the best example of terrible writing ever.