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I found my passion. Now what?

Ashanga yoga has an interesting reputation. Those outside of the practice, or those who aren’t suited for it, often demean it.

“It’s only for 12 year old boys”

“It’s just hard for the sake of hard”

“Ashtanga is only about the gross body, what I teach is more subtle, more powerful”

“That’s yoga Type-A people”

I’ve heard so much rage, so much judgement from people, from yogis, over the years. The one thing I understand is that Ashtanga is one of the few branches that demands discipline. You’re expected to be on your mat 6 days a week with a few exceptions. You are on time.

While assisting a Mysore practice with Clayton years ago, we had to arrive at 4:30am to practice before the doors opened to students at 6am. If you showed up at 4:31am, you found the door locked and you didn’t assist that day.

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“Follow your passion” is the worst advice for any person starting a new career.


I know. “But, I love yoga and I want to share my passion with everyone!”

I know. I understand.

That spark that ignites the passion is critical. Passion gets you to your first step. There has to be more. Much more. Discipline is key to reaching your goals and dreams without burnout. Passion gets you to the door, discipline opens it!

How do you find discipline in your teaching career? Here are a few ideas.

  • Take notes…create a practice diary. We teach what we practice. Do you still practice? What does that look like? Do you make excuses to avoid the mat?
  • R&D…research new themes for your class and develop sequences that support the theme. Real research isn’t just searching the net for what someone else is doing. Make it unique, from your heart.
  • Take another one…teacher trainings are time consuming and increasingly expensive but a training or a teacher intensive can be the catalyst to get your passion back on the right track and create good work habits.
  • Clean up after yourself…What? Seriously. When you exit the studio, leave it better than you found it. Be an example of selfless effort. When a teacher leaves their props behind for ‘someone else to use’, so do the students. It makes a mess that the next group has to clean up.

Check out this passionate article about the value of disciple from Christian motivational speaker, Scott Cochrane:

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http://www.scottcochrane.com/index.php/2018/05/29/what-to-do-when-you-discover-that-passion-alone-isnt-enough/

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Right thought | wrong speech

We all do it. We all excuse it.
When is gossip right speech and when is it just wrong?

In many teacher trainings, discussions about the Yamas and Niyamas are often condensed into easily digestible concepts.

Satya = truthfulness, right speech, non-gossip…sorta. It’s much more complicated than that but it’s a good start.

Every workplace, including yoga studios and fitness clubs, has a policy against malicious gossip. If you’ve ever needed to go to human resources to address it, you know that the line between malicious and unintended is broad and mobile.

When is gossip a positive? Here are three areas to consider:

Are you sharing your personal experience or speculating about others?  Malcolm Gladwell talks a little about the other minds problems in his book, What the Dog Saw. That’s the phrase psychologists use to describe our innate curiosity about the interior lives of others. How often do we ask, what do you think about this? Tell me more about that? It’s fact vs fiction.

Are you exploring bigger concepts or just looking for angry allies? Discussions that are often, and sometimes rightly, avoided at work can be had with close work-friends with respect and integrity. Talking about cultural antagonisms, social movements or even the weather can be an honest exchange for deeper understanding. But, phrases like “don’t you agree that…” are a form of peer pressure that are often used to gather support an unstated agenda.

Humour vs snark. Many people love a catty sense of humour. It takes time to get to that level with work-friends. Friendly jabs at those who are present can be fun. A friendly jab at someone not present who has already heard it directly on other occasions can be on the line. A ‘friendly’ jab at someone called out or named, who is not present and has no idea tends to go over the line.

We all do it. We all excuse it. When is it right speech and when is it just wrong?


Check out this interesting article on how to “Gossip Like a Leader”

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I quit! And, you’re fired!

Have you ever left a studio?

Of course, schedules change or you need more time for yourself.

But, have you ever quit?

Sometimes we forget to look at the big picture when where excited about teaching each class.

I once taught at a local Ashtanga shala near my home. It was just a 15 walk away. How wonderful! But, the dynamics of the city changed. And, as the studio struggled to maintain students. I saw my paychecks shrink. Being paid per head is great when the room is full.  But, it was just a short walk down the street. The class time was convenient. I love teaching. What’s the problem?

I did the math.  The numbers revealed the ugly truth. The pay no longer covered the time and energy I spent getting there. I was clearing less than minimum wage, far less than the normal rate for a senior teacher. So, I left.

It’s not always about money though. I taught at another studio that paid a fair flat rate. I was really excited to be a part of the community. This studio was renown throughout the area, the world, and had a legacy. But the community wasn’t welcoming. The addition of a “power yoga” class was sneered at by existing teachers. Yes, air quotes were often used and not so subtle references to “trendy yoga” and “ridiculous poses”.  What I taught was different and many teachers in the space weren’t capable of the vigorous asana. So, they belittled what they were afraid of. It was pretty toxic. So, I left.


“We often say ‘yes’ with regrets.

But sometimes, we have to say no.

Sometimes, we have to walk away. “

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Have you ever fired a student?

I know, I know…it sounds like self-sabotage.  It’s really self-preservation.

I volunteered at the International Film Festival for years. There were several dedicated volunteers who had been with the festival for decades. When I was invited to join the seasonal staff, I used them as a valuable resource for best practices. Things would go well if things went their way. Too often, new volunteers found themselves iced out and discouraged from coming back.

One year, the operations director uninvited dozens of long time volunteers from the festival. It was scandalous. They were fired. And, we were better for it. The general atmosphere was more welcoming and friendly to everyone. A heavy weight was lifted from everyone’s shoulders.


Sometimes, students need to leave your class for their own benefit or for the benefit of your teaching. The student who stays in the beginner class because it’s safe or easy, needs to move on. The regular student who dominates your time and energy before, during and after class is interfering with your serving the other students.

We often say “yes” with regrets. But sometimes, we have to say no. Sometimes, we have to walk away.


Check out this interesting article from James Altucher about the realities of selling oneself…pay close attention to points B and I.

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…in with the new

Every January, teachers, trainers, instructors all talk about the surge. You know those people who make New Year’ resolutions and show up to class en masse for a few weeks.

Some teachers thrive with the crowds.  The more the merrier. Others are caught off guard with a room full of people who don’t know thew cues or understand the language.

Regular students are greatly impacted too. During the first week of January, I had a regular student declare the he “hates those resolution people”. Hmm.

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The New Year is a dynamic time in the club or studio. There a a lot opportunities to get it right and to get it wrong. Here are a few things to consider during the influx of new students.

1. Humility. Keep your ego in check. The larger class size is not about you. People go for what time, place and price are most convenient.

2. Clarity. Regulars know your tone and cues, sometimes even your sequence. Be as clear and direct as possible as if you have a room full of strangers…because you may! Feeling confused or lost can drive people away.

3. Empathy. New students can get guidance and empathy from regulars who are welcoming. Offer up a story about your own first class or first breakthrough to help remind regulars that everyone has a first time some time.

4. Loyalty. Not every one will stick around. Schedules change or some other class is preferred. But to keep class retention high, offer solutions, not just resolutions, to new students showing up in January.


Check out this interesting article from INC magazine about customer loyalty done right.

https://www.inc.com/alison-davis/cvs-pharmacy-just-took-a-big-step-to-increase-customer-loyalty-heres-how-you-can-use-this-idea-to-meet-your-customers-needs.html

Mindful ~ Schmindful

Mindfulness has become an action word in marketing and business on the same level as disruptor, hack or even metta (I still hear it used with seriousness).

So how can you bring authentic mindfulness into your classes, especially corporate clients, without sounding like a old fashioned feminine product?

  1. Be honest: Sometimes you feel, great sometimes you don’t. Did you engage in some serious road rage on the way to the studio? Well, that’s ok. We’re all there sometimes, including teachers. I once watched a teacher scream obscenities out of her car window in traffic and minutes later glide into the studio on a goddess cloud with namaste hands.  Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde don’t represent mindfulness.
  2. Be present: The Dalai Lama said it really well “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow.” If your head is in the past or future, how can you keep your students present?
  3. Be nice: Everyone has baggage. The size ranges from a coin purse to a steamer trunk. If someone starts unpacking their baggage or setting off triggers, you don’t have to like it (remember #1?) or even accept it. Just be polite. Be nice. It only becomes your issue if you choose to pick up what someone else is unpacking.

 

Simple actions every day can set a reasonable standard that we all can strive for in our pursuit of mindfulness.


 

Check out this article on Mindful Working

with more tips for students and teachers in every day life.

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Measure Twice, Cut Once

As teachers, we teach what we know. Sometimes it’s easy to get into a rut of teaching what we’re good at. I’ve taken classes with yogis who have dance backgrounds and very flexible hips. Every class explored hip openers. Every class featured the teacher demonstrating the “right way” to do a pose.

What about the rest of us?  How can a student find his or her individual practice when, as teachers, we preach right vs wrong poses and only teach what we can do well.

We all come to the mat for different reasons. And, every body is very different. Someone handed me an article about a decade ago that explained why some people will never get their hips to the ground in virasana. NEVER. It’s not about flexibility, knee health or dedication to the practice. It’s about the shape of the pelvis and its relationship to the femur head. Bone against bone. I constantly meet students who have become convinced that they aren’t “really doing yoga” because their hero’s pose doesn’t look like the picture in the magazine, the teacher at the front of the room, etc. So, what’s right and what’s wrong here?

By relying on what’s easy for us, we can involuntarily teach our students to measure themselves against our personal standard instead of what’s right for them.

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I recently taught an inversion workshop during a period of time when my own handstands weren’t very stable. I still had to demo the action of lifting up instead of kicking up. I fell backwards and sideways every-single-time.

I was embarrassed but it was what it was. I got the point across.

Thankfully, one student remarked that she was terrified of trying a handstand without a wall until she saw me, the teacher, fall …fail. I wasn’t perfect. I did something I wasn’t good at and it helped the class.

There is no right…just right now.

We should often try to teach those poses that we don’t love or aren’t proficient in. The students come to benefit from the wisdom of our journeys. If that journey is long and difficult, the wisdom we share may be deeper and more impactful in a positive way.

Every time I teach pincha mayurasana, I tell the story of getting unilateral direction for success. I tried to follow that direction for over 8 years and never went up. EIGHT YEARS!!  Then I noticed another teacher doing it differently. I tried it and I’ve had a stable pincha mayurasana ever since. But, it works for me. The other direction works for others. I teach both and everything in between so students have the opportunity to find their own practice and not just watch me do it the right way at the front of the room.

 

I’m not a doctor but I play one in the studio…

We’re yoga teachers…not doctors!

As teachers, we always ask if there are any injuries in the room that we should know about before beginning class. It’s a precaution and helps teachers become more responsive to the room. And, covers our asses if there’s ever a lawsuit.

The replies usually fall into two extremes. Students sit silent while rubbing the injured/tweaky body part or they tell everything that’s going on in an overwhelmingly long list.

As teachers, we’re very excited about the health benefits of yoga. Many of us teach because we’ve experienced a personal healing-physical, mental, spiritual. We want others to have the same joy.

But there’s a thick line between enthusiasm and irresponsibility.

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Someone recently posted a snarky article begging yoga teachers, specifically, to stop telling students that inversions reverse blood flow. I’m no doctor but I know enough anatomy to know that reversing blood flow is not possible.  No matter how long you hold that hand stand. Consistent twisting in a flow class does not wring out the liver and detox the body.

Many teachers believe these things and repeat them.

Too often, at the end of class students ask teachers for advice for tweaks and even chronic conditions. Typically the question is leading. “What stretch can I do to help my tweaky shoulder?” As yoga teachers, we’re not capable of diagnosing anything and risk causing harm to the students we love and care for by giving medical advice. Being proficient in the Latin names of muscles does not give teachers license to diagnose and treat.

But, it is impressive to students. Increasingly, it’s a way to fill the studio with adoring students who look to the front of the room to heal all that hurts.

I know, I know…there are yoga teachers with medical backgrounds. Former nurses and doctors who love yoga enough to share teachings. There are yoga teachers who concurrently work as therapists. That’s not the majourity.

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The more we know the more likely we are to steer students to experts. It feels great when students seek our input but we must let go of the ego.We can spread good vibes without misleading students about our expertise.

Yoga can be life-changing. Whether it’s for the better or not depends on our honest approach to the risks and benefits.

We need to stop playing doctor in the studio.

Tran$parency

Every time a yoga manager tells me to keep any aspect of my pay a secret, I wonder…which side of that ugly wall of unfairness am I on?

I teach a few public classes at a handful of studios. I love seeing the progress of regular students over time and meeting new people.

A yoga studio is a great place to work.

Recently, I was given a raise (it does happen!) and immediately told not to tell anyone about it.

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In my non-yoga life, promotions and raises are celebrated. Being financially appreciated is something we all want and work hard to achieve. Yes, there’s a little flash of envy when someone else gets it but there’s also healthy competition.

The reality of our world is that, too often, men are given higher pay than women in the same job; whites are paid higher than non-whites for the same work. In yoga, the long term quality of teaching can earn less than the short term popularity of a teacher.

Bias, both conscious and unconscious, thrives in secrecy.

Have I kept my raise a secret? Reluctantly. The situation reminds me of a work experience I had when I was around 17 or 18 years old. I was working at a retail outlet store on Townsend Street (last time I drove by, Adobe took over the whole building). I was excited to be there, starting my independent life. There were experienced retail mavens and people just taking the j-o-b to pay the rent. Over lunch, a few of us started talking about bills and money. I quickly realised that everyone else was paid more than I was.  Not just a little more, 50-75% more. I asked my manager to meet. And, I asked why. I expected to hear that I was too new, too green or had to prove myself before being paid the same as others. She turned red and stuttered. The owner was in the office and turned red as well. They declared that it was “a mistake that would be corrected immediately”.

I believed them and never sued for discrimination. Ageism against the young used to be an issue. Today, ageism against anyone over 50, especially in yoga, is a growing problem.

Every time a yoga manager tells me to keep any aspect of my pay a secret, I wonder…which side of that ugly wall of unfairness am I on?

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This article in New York Magazine gives more insight into the benefits of salary transparency.

 

One last savasana

How do you handle grief in the classroom?

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I remember the first time I heard about a yoga student dying. I was just a few years into my practice and the teacher announced the death of a regular student from cancer. She was only 40-something. And, one of a hundred faces I saw in class every day. I never knew her name or noticed when she stopped coming.

But, yogis aren’t supposed to die.

Since then, I’ve had to mourn two of my teachers, Larry Schultz and Sri K Pattabhi Jois. Yoga teachers don’t live to be 108 years old.

Yogis are people. We live. We practice. If were lucky, we grow old and then die.

But, as a teacher, what if a student dies?

I have several septuagenarians and octogenarians in my regular classes. They are amazing and an inspiration to me, and everyone who meets them. But, there have been some close calls. One bad fall, a complication in surgery, an issue with a chronic health condition can be fatal.

When a student isn’t in class for a while, I wonder. I’m afraid that I’ll never see them again.

Coping with loss can affect all of us. How can a teacher hold a space while grieving?

  1. Ask the studio if there is a protocol for handling the death of a regular student
  2. Ask the family or friends if they’d like a special class to remember the life of that student
  3. Acknowledge your own sadness, to yourself and others
  4. Remember, “it’s not about you”. It’s the natural cycle of life
  5. Talk to your fellow teachers. Your community of co-workers can support you

The Front Line

yogajoesWhen I started my yoga life, you could earn free classes through work trade.

I checked in classes, cleaned the bathrooms and mopped the studio floor.  I was happy to do it. If there was no one available, teachers had to check in their own classes.

Working the front desk was a privilege.

Today, it’s a job. People apply to work full or part-time, checking in classes and greeting students as they arrive. With retail, class packages, teacher-trainings and such, the job is much more complicated than when I checked in classes.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that the front desk is the front line in the studio. Students trust the person who’s informing them about the studio. Not only about where the bathroom is but also which classes to try.

I’m always shocked to hear about teachers being rude, dismissive or even abusive to those who work at the front desk.

These are our co-workers. And, the people who can make a difference in our teaching careers. Being a professional yoga teacher means being a professional co-worker.


5 ways to be an awesome co-worker

1. Let them know you’re there. Say “hello”.  Introduce yourself if you don’t know the person. When a teacher breezes past the front desk, even if late, it makes their job harder. If they don’t know that you’re there on time, it adds to the stress of check-in.

2. Say “please” and “thank you”. You learned it kindergarten, you know it’s right.

3. Don’t complain if there’s a small mistake. When a studio pays per head, you have to work hand-in-hand with the front desk to make sure the number is right. It’s no one’s fault if it’s wrong. It’s an opportunity to work together.

4. Invite them to your workshops/retreats at a discount. Most studios offer employee discounts. If you have an event outside of the studio, invite your co-workers to come. Offer a discount or an exclusive invitation to do a work-trade.

5. Do unto others. If you have a request or question during check-in or while the front desk is busy with students, be respectful when interrupting. “Sorry to interrupt…” “May I ask…” How would you respond to someone shouting or knocking on the table to get your attention? Sounds crazy, but teachers treat the front desk staff that way all the time.

**Photo credit: yogajoes.com