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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

Hustle and Flow

In my first few years as a yoga student, I remember the day when my favourite teacher walked in about 3 minutes before class. He scanned the room, scowled and walked out. We could all hear him berating the front desk staff because there weren’t enough people in the room. It wasn’t worth his time.

We weren’t worth his time.

‘At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.’ ~Maya Angelou

Today, I see teachers behaving in a similar way towards one another.  When I became a yoga teacher, I understood it a little better.  I gained empathy for his situation.  But, I’ll never forget how I felt in that moment then and, too often, today.

As teachers, we’re all hustlers.  We need to get to the next gig. We need to boost our numbers.  We are each an army of one.

The popularity of yoga brings great opportunity for students and teachers. But, in yoga saturated areas, it can be very difficult to pay the bills as a full-time teacher who isn’t sitting on a trust fund or big savings from a past life.

We’re all in this together. 

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Tips for for using your hunger to keep you energized without becoming hangry:

  1. Remember that all of your fellow yoga teachers are your co-workers.  You don’t have to agree on everything, just work well together. Some of the best career opportunities come from your community.  The bigger, the better
  2. If you can’t say anything nice, stay neutral.  No one has to know what you’re thinking.  But, if pushed, remember that it’s your experience in that situation or with that person and not everyone else’s. Very likely, someone else can tell a story about you too.
  3. Respect the variety.  Full-time teachers are often dismissive towards part-time teachers. Traditionalists vs Non-Traditionalists.  Experienced vs New.  There are many ways we can divide the industry.  The variety has helped it grow into a multi-billion dollar industry. Without those others, this couldn’t be a career option. The more, the merrier.
  4. Do the math.  I taught at an Ashtanga studio for 3 months before realizing that I was actually paying $5-10 to teach each class. Commute costs and lost time wasn’t covered by what I was paid.
  5. Be real with yourself. Someone else’s success or failure is not yours. It does’t change your life unless you allow it in negative ways. Can you celebrate or support other teachers without being envious?

There’s so much more to say on this topic.  Stay tuned.

Check out this 2015 article from the Wanderlust Blog by Andrea Rice.  More real talk on the hustle and flow.

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