Does teaching yoga have to be a lonely profession? It’s seems to be a hot question and topic in our industry at present. Although people surround us all day long, many teachers feel a sense of isolation and self-doubt at some point in their careers. In an industry that is built on connection, we posed the question, ‘how do we foster a greater sense of community for yoga teachers?’ to teachers and entrepreneurs who have gone out of their way to do just that. Here’s what they had to say…
“There are many benefits of being self-employed. I love being my own boss, having complete creative control of my work and the freedom of managing my own time, but I do miss working alongside other people.
Before qualifying I worked as an account executive for a marketing agency. My desk was part of a pod of people who were on many of the same accounts. If I had any concerns about a project I was working on, a client interaction or a process query I had about 5 people within a meter, with more experience, that I could put my question to. Challenges dissolved much quicker in this environment.
When you spend your days working alone there isn’t the same opportunity to ask for advice or share experiences from others doing the same thing. This, coupled with only seeing what each other are up to on instagram creates the perfect environment for feelings of comparison to thrive. You can’t help but feel like you’re the only one struggling with doubts and challenges.
Last year I decided I needed to make an effort to create more opportunities for teachers to connect and hold space for one another, to foster connection and break down the wall of comparison and competition, this is where Gather & Grow started.
Gather & Grow is a peer-led community for teachers to meet one another and develop relationships of shared support and inspiration through gatherings, small group workshops and away days.
As teachers we have such power to lift one another up and thrive alongside each other. I honestly believe there is enough space for everyone to be great. Since making an effort to find and nurture connection with other teachers I now have a group of people I know I can rely on for a nudge, advice, inspiration and honesty when I need it and I take great joy in doing the same for them. The impact of this has been huge. Seeking connection is so important.” Clare Walters, Founder of Gather & Grow.
“Teaching yoga can be a lonely profession as the very set up of teaching classes over time can develop relational problems. In more recent years I’ve become interested in how as relational beings we can get disturbed in our nervous system when we stand at the front of the room and actively encourage our students to go ‘inside’. On the one hand, of course, this is our job but we are also regulated as human beings by interacting with other people through speech and facial movements. This is part of our social engagement system and although we may know intellectually there’s nothing to worry about, our nervous system can still get repeatedly discombobulated.
There are several ways to work with this to reduce the negative impacts of teaching on our social engagement system. One is to try to engage more with your students not just before and after class but also where possible, during your teaching. Reacting to individuals in a positive way, calling out peoples’ names, validating them and offering your own self-reflection are all ways to knit yourself into a more relational way of teaching. Another way is to consider upping the amount of 1-2-1’s that you teach. I view teaching 1-2-1 as a modality in its own right precisely because of the relational dimension and offer a specialist training for teachers to work in a boundaried but relational way. And finally, I offer and encourage teachers to have regular supervision. Whether you’re teaching 1-2-1’s or classes/workshops we can all benefit from this. Supervision is a means to learn more about ourselves through our teaching practice.
The bottom line is that we work with people and bodies so psychological material will continuously arise. I think that the evolution of western yoga is to embrace and explore the relational side to our work which goes hand in hand with exploring our embodiment. The world in its current state doesn’t need us to transcend our bodies but needs us to come into them so that we can relate better to each other. Therefore it’s crucial that we work on ourselves as teachers and that requires us to consider our relationships within our yoga profession and community.”
Kate Ellis, Yoga Teacher Trainer & Body Psychotherapist. Founder of The Art of Teaching Yoga 1-2-1.
“My vision when creating Union Station Yoga was to build a community space where our teachers, students and staff become friends and feel at home! Everyone who practices at the studio gets a name tag for their mat as a way to connect the teachers and students both on and off the mat. The small gesture of learning someone’s name can shift the way we see each other. We also love a good party to bring everyone together! It’s a rare opportunity for all of our teachers to get together and catch up.”
Paula Le Dao, Owner Union Station Yoga Studio, London
“If you are a yoga teacher then it is without a doubt that you have, or will, experience loneliness. This is the hardest job I have ever had, but talking about the tough points is essential, because often all that gets discussed are the glossy, shiny things about being a teacher, and that isn’t all there is to it. From my experience, teaching is a weird amalgamation of communication and awkward silences, because I am the only voice audible in the room. This takes some getting used to.
Although I am with other people for most of my day, it isn’t the connection that I ever imagined, and as a result I can sometimes feel exhausted, exasperated and resigned about most things. There can be projection, assumption and expectation laced within the relationship between teacher and student.
There is often a subconscious competition within the yoga community. We are pinned against one another, in a market saturated with teachers. At the bottom of it all, I have found as a teacher, I struggled to connect to my self-worth and looked for it in all the wrong places.
I believe seeing this for what it is, is part of the process of being a yoga teacher. This is what most teachers do not talk about openly, in fear of rocking the boat, of bursting the “positivity bubble” that is projected onto our industry. But until I was able to freely speak about the shadow, nothing could change. There could never be a chance for this community to grow.
Signing up for mentorship with Naomi Absalom started to shift this and with her guidance I began to uncover a lot of what was going unsaid, including how I felt about my current “job”.
It was within this raw, safe and heartfelt community I began to come together with other amazing teachers, who all felt the same. Together we uncovered the shadow that had been perpetually avoided. A side of the teaching experience that is lined with the silence of shame, guilt and unworthiness.
Through this group of teachers, I slowly began to heal this. It is still ongoing work.
Each day, I choose to surround myself with other teachers, friends, that encourage me to stand up and be me. And I do the same for them. We help each other to see clearly in the moments when the shadows of our profession are looming. I understand and believe that there is enough for everyone. That now more than ever, is the time to step up and be “uniquely” me. That we each have our own gift to offer with our teaching. Aligning with people who share this view, who support you and champion you is community. That could be one person, or a dozen.
Fostering a greater sense of community first comes from identifying the ugly side of the truth, then conversation by conversation, with ourselves and with others, can we step into celebrating our own power. I believe that if more teachers can feel safe enough to go to the shadowed places, to see some of this stuff, then we can truly create a community without competition, isolation and loneliness.”
Adrianna Zaccardi, Yoga Teacher
“When I first came to teaching, I have to be honest it was a pretty scary, intimidating time as you are completely left on your own to figure it all out. As wonderful experience as a teacher training is, nothing quite prepares you for those first few months of teaching when your commuting from studio to studio, working anti-social hours, which means a lot of missed social events. There might be a brief hello as you cross paths with the last teachers class, but it can all feel quite daunting and lonely.
I teach yoga from a place of real passion and love for the practice, with a mission to make it as accessible as I can to people. I started my business the Yoga Brunch Club over four years as I realised that there was a gap in the yoga world. Runners and cyclists often have their social clubs and meets post training sessions, however often after a yoga class you roll up your mat and head home, I wanted to create a space where yoga could be fun and social, where people could come to practice and then stay to eat, chat and socialise.
There is something pretty special about practicing yoga in a large group and beautiful space, there is an incredible energy that is created in the room as you move and breathe together. Food is a key part of the experience, with everyone sitting down to share stories over platters of delicious food prepared by the talented chefs I collaborate with. A number of people attend the events on their own, or who are new to yoga and trying it for the first time, which is wonderful. I have had people attend over the years at my events go on to form wonderful friendships, go on holidays together, meet for coffee or a yoga class.
There is a desire in us all to feel part of a community, to have the space and time to connect offline as well as online. Through my Yoga Brunch Club’s, I have started to see a real community growing, with people returning for every event and bringing friends, partners or siblings and parents. It is really wonderful to see it grow and to feel the energy and happiness building up in the room at each event.”
Clem Balfour, Founder of Yoga Brunch Club