Yoga in most major metropolitan, upper-middle class areas these days have an abundance of yoga studios, offering different styles of yoga. With the popularization of yoga as a method for “wellness” (however you’d like to define this blanket term) and mindfulness, you’d be hard-pressed not to also walk into a teacher with a basic 200-hour yoga certification. Most studios also have their own in-house yoga teacher training programs that they market to their student base, turning students into teachers. All of these factors combined together have created an environment that is oversaturated with more teachers than class time slots to teach. What isn’t seen is the subtle undercurrent of competition between teachers, as well.
In order to make a sustainable living as a yoga teacher, you need to be part entrepreneur, part marketer, part customer service specialist, and part therapist, all on top of being a teacher. In short, it’s a daily hustle to wear so many hats, and it takes a while to get into a rhythm. All of this can gradually pull away from your initial love and dedication in your decision to become a yoga teacher in the first place, and sometimes it can be difficult to recognize when you’re too far deep.
Something that I’m sure everyone is aware of is the presence of the glamorization of yoga on the Internet, especially in the medium that is Instagram. Inspirational quotes, lines from the Yoga Sutras, thought-provoking captions…you know those posts. Some of them are sponsored ads or brand endorsements (in which the FTC requires full disclosure — hello #fyrefest), stylized photos from staged photoshoots, teachers and yogis in complex asanas than 99% of us will never be able to achieve — but at the core of it, Instagram is free marketing for people like yoga teachers. And why not take advantage of it if it’s at your disposal? I definitely do because $0.00 is definitely better than a fee to hire marketing help (plus, yoga teachers aren’t exactly raking it in).
What I think is dangerous and that students should be aware of are the teachers who let the marketing, the self-promotion, and especially the recognition consume much of their identity and day-to-day life is that it becomes clear that it is all a sham and none of it is authentic. Teaching yoga, in my mind, is meant to be an indefinite passion project with many acts of service to provide a space for people to zone out, move, breathe, learn, convene, and coalesce. Teaching yoga is meant to bring our collective humanity to a place better than we were before.
I take my role as a teacher very seriously, so it is important to be as real as I can both in and out of the classroom.
I look at my peers and colleagues who do this yoga thing with me and I stay current with what they’re up to, cheer them on, and wish them full classes because I know that each of us has something different to offer, which resonates with different student bases. I resonate and align with the teachers who have a similar style to me, whom I get along with personally, and share the same values as me — and this includes maintaining an authentic, human presence on social media channels. When I talk to them about their sequence, can they give an informed, reasonable explanation? When I talk to them about the Sanskrit they are chanting, do they know what they are singing and why? Or is it that they care about seeing their classes at capacity, filming the next video for XYZ platform, being booked for XYZ festival, or to get flown to XYZ studio to teach master classes?
It is said that friends hold up mirrors to you to analyze yourself. This happens when I see or read things that I am at odds with — I see what I do not want to embody and project on to my students. I take my role as a teacher very seriously, so it is important to be as real as I can both in and out of the classroom. I look at the mirror that is held in front of me and look at myself — am I staying true to myself? Am I someone I would want to learn from? Am I being honest both inwardly and outwardly? Answers to these might not be immediate, and they might not be answers I want to acknowledge, but taking time to think about the answers reaffirms or disproves authenticity.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being an entrepreneur as a yoga teacher. Yoga teachers have bills to pay, meals to buy, and need to survive like the next person. Selling things is an exchange of currency for knowledge you’ve curated with your own time and effort, is reasonable and fair. But what I take issue with is constantly needing others to validate your position — and this can be done in many subtle ways from the speech someone has, to how they act behind closed doors to people who aren’t students. Take a look at your teacher’s or favorite Instagram yogi’s most recent posts and evaluate the entire thing — post and caption. What impact does it have on you?
We all have these tools of social media at our disposal. It is just our intention which needs to be checked. What is in it for you, as a teacher? Why do you teach? What is your teaching philosophy, and how did you come to form it? At the core of it, I think that some people feed into the power, the notoriety, and the attention that comes with more and more people knowing their name. It seems to be human nature to get caught up with authority.
To quote from a high school classmate:
A juggling coach, Bill Berry, once told me that it is ok to want to receive applause, but it is best used as a metric of how much you have given. The primary goal is to give, receiving applause is a secondary effect of the primary goal.
As humans, we all want to feel like we belong and that we matter. It’s well and good to receive compliments from students and peers alike. You’ll know you’re onto something when students start to become frequently seen faces within the classroom and bring their friends. That, I think, is the greatest unspoken validation.
All these words I’ve typed are meant to be a conversation starter, or something to mill over. By no means am I trying to say that I am better than the next yoga teacher or the one who does go the route of aggressive marketing. I strongly feel that it should not comprise the majority of one’s teaching identity, and takes away from being a well-rounded yoga practitioner, however this seems to the case with some Internet yoga personalities and teachers. People aren’t dumb — they’ll see right through it.
Disclosure: This piece is solely of my own opinion. I was inspired to write this from a post written by a high school classmate, Leo James.