Teaching Yoga & Working For Yourself: 10 Questions, 10 Answers
I teach at the Vancouver School of Yoga and this week one of the students in the 300 Hour Advanced Program asked if I could be a case study for the business component. I was asked to answer 10 questions related to starting out as a yoga teacher and managing the business side of working for myself. I decided to post my answers here as I think these are questions that many new and aspiring yoga teachers are curious about. So for what it is worth here are the 10 questions, and my 10 best answers.
As A New Teacher:
When you started out, why did you want to teach yoga?
- I didn’t actually start out wanting to teach yoga. I know that sounds strange but even when I signed up for my first 1 year long teacher training I didn’t really believe I could ever become a teacher. I had the intention to “maybe one day” become one, but there was a lack of confidence at play in the beginning for sure. Despite that lack of confidence though I took my studies very seriously and threw myself into the training as I was passionate about the potential of Yoga as a healing tool in my life.
Who were/are your biggest influencers/encouragers?
- I had a friend who asked me to sub his classes when he went away, that was one of my first teaching jobs before I had even graduated my TT program. So without his confidence in me I might never have gotten up the nerve to actually apply for a teaching job! Not long after that Gloria Latham (the owner of Semperviva Yoga Studios and the woman whose holistic health centre I worked in) said to me “I’m going to open a Yoga Studio and you are going to teach there”. So I did. I had to get over my confidence issues fast. The fact that I am teaching at all is due in large part to the support of these two people (as well as countless others over the years).
How did you get work?
- Like I mentioned above, opportunities were presented and I simply said yes to them. I know I was scared and full of doubt, but I did it anyway. A year or two after teaching in Vancouver I made the choice to move to a smaller community in order to raise my son, and there I had to make the opportunities myself. So I learned how to do that too. All along the way my career has been about saying yes to opportunities when they are presented, but also knowing when to make stuff happen for myself.
What drives you to continue teaching yoga?
- Forming relationships with my students and being able to witness the ways in which Yoga enriches their lives. I practice Yoga because I know it works for me and has been an instrumental aspect of my own healing journey, but I teach because I have seen that it can work for others too.
What direction have you taken with your teaching?
- I have been teaching since 2002, and for most of my career that meant 6-16 yoga classes per week, while working at other jobs as well. From 2009 onwards I began to add in more workshops, teacher trainings and online courses, as I wanted to teach to some of the other topics beyond the asanas. At this point I do less public classes, more workshops and progressive series, teacher teaching intensives, and online work. This feels good right now as it means that when I am in the classroom I have put a lot of creative thought into what I am offering, and this is what keeps it interesting for me. I don’t necessarily think this is the direction that all teachers should take, or aspire to, but it is simply where I am at now and represents how my own journey has evolved.
As A Small Business:
What was the ‘start up phase’ like?
- It was all very organic and gradual. I had been teaching for seven years before I really clued in that this was a business and that I would benefit from learning some small business skills. I made all kinds of mistakes, some of which were financially costly, others that simply ate up huge amounts of time and energy. If I were to do it over I would have taken the business side of my work more seriously from the beginning and invested in learning business skills before I started teaching full time.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
- More than I can list here! Lack of community support (living in a small town), lack of mentorship, lack of time & money ( I was a single parent when I started on this journey), lack of business skills, lack of computer skills etc, etc. Each challenge forced me to grow in a new way though and on the good days I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of it and can appreciate the creative freedom my work offers me, on the bad days I want to have a big cry and walk away from it all to go get a regular job.
How did you get the get the word out about your classes/offerings?
- Word of mouth, it is always word of mouth. Even now when I have much more sophisticated tools for getting my information out there such as social media, newsletters, targeted advertising etc, it is word of mouth that really matters. It is important that prospective students can find you if they are looking for you (website, social media pages, contact info, schedule etc), but word of mouth from others is what really creates momentum. This takes time to build, and in the meantime you must use whatever means possible to make sure you are visible to the students you want to serve, but keep showing up to teach amazing classes and build relationships with your students at the same time.
How has it been to support you and your family?
- Challenging, I won’t lie. There have been some very lean years since I started teaching full time, and these weren’t necessarily years when I was working less either. You need to do a lot of teaching work to bring in a good income (especially if you have a family to feed as well as yourself), so while I do love my work it has also consumed me at times and caused a certain amount of resentment within my family. I keep telling my husband it will all pay off when I finally start making some good money from it- but he laughs about that now as we both know I will keep doing this whether the money is there or not. I love the creative freedom & inspiration my work offers me as well as the relationships it allows me to be part of, those between my students and I as well as those between my colleagues and I, these things feed me deeply and keep me going.
What is your top advice for aspiring yoga teachers/self employed peoples?
- My best business advice for yoga teachers is that if you want your teaching work to be your primary income stream then take the business side seriously and lay good foundations. Learn about bookkeeping, marketing, contracting, etc. Take the time to create a clear vision around how you want to offer your work to the world, and who you want to offer it to. Get clear on who you are as a teacher (your strengths and weaknesses) and create a business structure that is in alignment with that. Don’t just jump on the full time teaching train without a plan or you will quickly burn out. You need a business plan that allows you the time to take care of what needs to be done in any small business (invoicing, bookkeeping, emails, content creation, etc.) be the sole employee, and still keep up with your own practices and studies (as these are the sources of your inspiration as a teacher). This is no joke. You will need to be organized and disciplined, plus you will need to be willing to work hard and aim in the direction of your vision- even if it takes you years to make it there. I think this is the same for any small business, and if you pay all your bills from your teaching work then you are running a small business. Invest in it by getting organized and it will take you far.
If I was going to offer any parting words in addition to what I have said above it would only be to remind you that we don’t often get onto this path of practice with a clearly thought out plan or intention. Often it is simply a calling, or a draw towards that which nourishes us on some level that we can’t quite articulate yet. Any clarity I have at this point has come from many years of consistent inquiry, sincere practice, and a willingness to move out of my comfort zone and try new things.