Filling Your Cup: Seasonal Rhythms for Yoga Teachers
If I have learned one thing in my forty years of living it is that life moves in cyclical patterns of rhythm and flow. Expansion and contraction are an immutable truth and I feel that the art of living (of which I am a keen student), is about learning how to best align with this pulse rather than fight against it. This is of course a large focus of my professional work and if you have been following my blog for a while this is nothing new to you- however today I wanted to talk about this concept from the context of my yearly work schedule and the way that I have crafted my teaching career in order to honor seasonal rhythms as well as my own personal rhythms of contraction and expansion.
I am a yoga teacher, which means I teach yoga asana, breathwork and meditation, but which also means that I teach mindfulness within action. Being a student of yoga for coming on two decades now, my yoga has supported me in living the whole of my life in a more mindful way, which means my yoga has helped me to become more conscious as an individual, as a parent, a wife, a sister, a friend, a teacher, and a small business owner. Each of these domains of my life has needed attention at times when it became apparent that they were out of synch with the greater vision of overall balance I aim to create with my life. In other words my practices originally helped me to learn how to navigate life in my own body, heart and mind, but eventually began to support me in becoming more skilful in intimate relationships and the outer world, and over time any areas of my life that were not in balance came into awareness. And for many years the most unbalanced part of my life was my relationship to work.
Being a full time yoga teacher often means a necessity to hustle in order to make ends meet. Over my years I have taught anywhere from 6-20 classes per week, often while also working other jobs as well, leading teacher trainings, and working with private clients. Teaching is an act of service; it is extroverted work and requires that you often give more than you get back- energetically. That is how it must be. And that is not a problem unless you are not taking care of yourself and refilling your cup. I feel this is especially true of teaching yoga as a large part of what we do as teachers is not only to educate or offer information, but also to inspire, to light others up and encourage them on their own path of self discovery. But in order to light someone else up our own fire must be lit. And when yoga teachers are so busy hustling, week in and week out, that fire can become dulled.
Again self-care for yoga teachers is not a new topic for me to discuss, but today I wanted to share with you the way in which I work with this necessity of needing periods of time in which to refill my own cup, while still maintaining a busy yearly teaching schedule. I share this not with the thought that what works for me will work for everyone, but rather with the desire to share my own process in hopes that it might offer insight into your own. I do a lot of work with yoga teachers these days and the topic of yoga teacher burnout and how to stay inspired always comes up in conversation, so in response to these big questions I make this offering.
Seasonal Wisdom & Your Work Year
I look at my work year as having four primary seasons, and they are
- Autumn (Sept – mid December)
- Winter Holiday’s (mid December- early January)
- Spring & Early Summer (January-June)
- Summer (July- August)
If you have worked in the yoga industry for any period of time you know that these groupings represent fairly consistent seasonal fluctuations- students tend to be more committed to their practices during the Autumn and Spring/Early Summer seasons, less present during the Winter Holiday and Summer seasons. This is actually a good thing as it means that it gives us a chance, as teachers, to craft our yearly schedule in a way that offers us breaks in which to nourish ourselves, knowing there will be seasons where we must give more as well. I’ll go through each season below and share what I have learned and what I focus on in each one, starting with Summer as that is the season in which I am writing this.
Summer is the quiet season for yoga studios everywhere, and even for independent teachers like myself my inbox gets less traffic. So a couple of years ago I made the decision to take most of the summer off from live teaching since I always found it to be a challenging season in which to teach. Few people came to class, and when they did they seemed less inspired about practice, and the truth was I also was less inspired about teaching. I finally recognized that I needed time to re-source my inspiration and that summer was the ideal time to do it, even if it meant less money coming in to pay my bills. So now summers are my time to back off from teaching, focus on being a student, and work on the back end of my business, which is harder to do during the busy season. Summer is now my season for content creation, organizing my yearly schedule, and cleaning up whatever needs cleaning up in my business. It is also a time to learn. This summer I am going on a meditation retreat and a weekend writing & storytelling workshop, while also taking an online course related to herbalism, so summer is a time for nourishing my own interests and passions. And finally summer is a time for family and friends, for quality time together and time spent outdoors. Summer is a time for unplugging, reading fiction, and slowing down. And because the Spring/Early Summer season is a long one I really need the down time of summer by the time July hits.
- This may or may not ring true for you, ask yourself how you feel during the summer months and whether or not it is a giving or receiving time for you
- If you live in a seasonal town where summer is your busy season (as I did for many years) then look at where you will find your own season of rest and restoration
- When I do teach yoga in the summer months I like to focus on creating a balance between work and play, relaxation and gentle effort in my classes- this is in alignment with the Ayurvedic teachings on the fiery nature of this season
If I have rested well and put some time into crafting my Fall programs then Autumn is an exciting season. After the summer many yoga students are feeling ready to get back into a good routine and return to nourishing habits, which means they are also re- inspired and ready to dedicate themselves to practice and learning again. The Autumn season generally gets going around mid- September and goes through to mid December when it slumps for the holidays again. So it is a short but rich season, and one of my favourites in the yearly cycle. I find this season to be very supportive of the inner work of yoga as well as the intellectual work of learning, and as a student myself I am always wildly inspired to dive deeper into practice and study at this time of year. For this reason I love to offer workshops, coaching programs and trainings that support personal practice, study, and the opportunity for teachers to do some refining work in their teaching. Ayurveda considers Autumn as a season where Vata Dosha tends to go out of balance more easily, leading to feelings of restlessness, anxiety, and depletion and I have found this to be absolutely true if I don’t get some down time in the summer and then launch right into the busyness of the “back to school” energy of the Fall. So while your work picks up at this time of year it is important to be mindful to attend to grounding practices and nourishing daily rhythms or you can easily burn out at this time.
- Most yoga studios increase their schedules at this time of year so as you pick up more classes ensure that your personal self care practices remain in place
- If you had a very extroverted summer season you may need extra rest in the Fall so honour that need as the nights get longer and get good quality sleep so you can maintain your energy levels
- Pick a focus for your own personal practice/studies during this season, something to inspire you as a student and which will also inspire your teaching work
- Students often benefit greatly from yoga classes that emphasize grounding and nourishing work at this time of year as the summer season throws many people out of their routines
The winter holidays are another short period in which the yoga studio can become quite quiet as many people go on holiday or spend more time with family. Again this gives us an opportunity to step back momentarily before the busiest season begins in the New Year. Knowing that many people turn towards holiday activities of some type I do not offer any programs from mid December until the New Year, it is a short break but it means a lot to me. This is one of the darkest times of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the energy flow is naturally introverted, so I relish the opportunity to retreat a bit, step back from teaching, and spend more time resting and being with my own family. I love the winter holidays but don’t believe that celebrating them in a highly extroverted or social way makes sense, as it is so out of alignment with the seasonal energy at this time. For this reason I am very picky about which social occasions I say yes to so that I can attend to inner nourishment more, especially after a few months of busy teaching work.
- If you have been working lots during the Fall season see if you can enjoy a few extra days off during the holiday period- even if it means less money coming in you probably need a little break
- Use this time for personal ritual and re-dedication, this season is often a fruitful one in terms of personal inquiry and subtle practice
- When teaching yoga classes at this time pay attention to your students and you will notice many are very tired – offer them more restorative opportunities and make your classes a warm and welcoming place to come when the days are dark and cold
Spring & Early Summer
This is the longest and most extroverted teaching season of my year, and it is for most yoga teachers I think (whether you are aware of it or not). The season generally begins in early January when yoga studios and workshops fill with people wanting to “get serious” about their practice again. And as the season waxes out of deep winter and into early spring this really does make sense. If we have nourished ourselves during autumn and taken a bit of rest in deep winter, then this season should be one in which our energy moves towards the surface again. For me personally this is a season of high inspiration (generally from Feb onwards) and I teach a huge amount of training programs, workshops, online courses, and events during this period- and I love it! But I cannot do it all, so during this very busy season I am less available for social occasions and I need to be strict about my personal self-care routines and non – negotiable daily practices or I will overextend myself. Each of us has different constitutions, and many of you are likely more naturally extroverted than I am, but I know myself well and know that in order to teach more I need to take very good care of myself, and any busy period of teaching must be followed by a few days of silence and rest. This personal discipline is very necessary during this time if I want to show up as the teacher I wish to be and offer my students the highest value in the programs I create.
- Tap into the rising energy of this season and say yes to more work opportunities, but know which practices help you to work in a sustainable way and make time for them daily
- Be willing to make conscious choices about how much energy you have available and what you want to put it into, if you are working more during these months you may need to put other things aside for a period of time so that you can show up fully as a teacher
- The true Spring season (around mid Feb- May) is the season in which we can turn up the heat according to Ayurveda and work harder in our physical yoga practices, so you will likely be teaching and practicing more lively classes at this time of year and your students will benefit from being offered more skilful challenges in their practice
And that takes us back around to Summer again, following the full cycle of a teaching year. As I sit here writing this I have just passed through a wonderfully full Spring season in which I taught numerous programs live & online, traveled lots, and met many new people. Now I am at home and looking forward to a couple months in which to rest and recuperate so that I can receive fresh inspiration in the Fall season. It is my belief that inspiration is a current that continually flows through our lives but one that expresses itself very differently in different seasons, and we are only able to hold and receive that inspiration if our container is strong. Building conscious periods of rest into our weekly and yearly schedule is one way to strengthen our container so that we may be a vessel in which to receive inspiration, and offer it outwards to others. Sweet summer blessings to you all and please share your own insights on seasonal rhythms and the way that you work with them as both a student and teacher of yoga. I love to hear from you!