Yoga teacher burnout is something a friend of mine went through several years ago and at the time I didn’t really understand what it meant. Until I got to experience it too.
It’s interesting because teaching yoga is a profession that follows a passion for the practice. We fall in love with yoga, quit our job, become yoga teachers, and then a few years down the line we experience burnout.
And evermore interesting is the fact that other people with normal jobs don’t get it.
“But you are living your dream!” my friends would say to me.
And yet there is so much more to it than meets the eye.
So here is the reality behind teaching yoga. Yes, we love the practice, yes we may love to teach it. We love to share this experience with others as it may help them the way it has helped us.
However, and this is a big, HOWEVER, when your income now depends on your passion, it becomes a different ballgame. It becomes a business.
Most yoga teachers don’t actually earn that much money. We often struggle to pay our bills, we often work many jobs or teach long hours meaning that we don’t actually have the time and energy for your own practice.
Indeed, according to a national study carried out in the US in 2016 titled: ‘Yoga in America‘: Only 29% of yoga teachers report yoga as their primary income!
The success of a yoga teacher is so commonly measured by how many classes they taught, how many students were in each class, and of course, how many followers they have on social media.
When I first started teaching yoga I had actually just opened my very own yoga studio in a small town. To make ends meet, I taught 15 yoga classes a week, plus 6 English classes, plus I was trying to finish my Ph.D. at the time, plus I was managing this small studio.
Let’s just say I was on autopilot most of the time. There was this one moment when I looked around my full class at the time and I wondered, “Why are they all here?”. And that’s when I knew. I need to take things a bit easier.
Fast forward several years.
Nowadays, I teach far fewer classes, I have hired extra teachers to take over the workload and I have kept up my English teaching as I still need that little extra help in paying the bills.
More importantly, I have the energy and motivation for my own practice and I always look forward to going to my studio to teach.
In her book The Thriving Yoga Teacher: How To Create A Sustainable Career Doing What You Love Michelle Lenane says it beautifully: “Teaching yoga isn’t all peace love and leggings. Its hard work”.
If yoga teacher burnout is something you can relate to then worry not and continue reading for my 13 tips to avoid it.
What are the signs of yoga teacher burnout?
Let us first have a look at what burnout actually is. According to Psychology Today, “Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.”
The Mayo Clinic actually refers to it as job burnout: “Job burnout is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”
Psychology Today then discusses what causes burnout: “Burnout is not simply a result of working long hours or juggling too many tasks, though those both play a role. The cynicism, depression, and lethargy that are characteristic of burnout most often occur when a person is not in control of how a job is carried out, at work or at home, or is asked to complete tasks that conflict with their sense of self.”
Some signs that you might be experiencing yoga teacher burnout are:
- Being irritable and moody
- Change is sleeping habits
- Ill health and increased sickness
- Lack of satisfaction
As VeryWell Mind points out: “More simply put, if you feel exhausted, start to hate your job, and begin to feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout.”
As may be expected, people who work in a helping profession, such as health care are more prone to burnout. In my opinion, teaching yoga can also be considered as a helping profession. We are there for our students, receive any tension they bring to class, work with them and all their expectations, and try to create a calm and nurturing space for them and also us.
Let’s now have a look at my 13 tips to avoid yoga teacher burnout.
1. Prioritize your own practice
As a yoga teacher as important to keep up your own practice. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to let it slip. New yoga teachers tend to lose the teaching/practice balance and instead focus on teaching. And yet it is very important to point out that yoga teachers need to prioritize their practice.
I am speaking from experience here as that is exactly what I did. I taught so many hours that I honestly didn’t have the time or energy to practice.
And then I remember an interview with a teacher (I wish I could remember her name) who said that your practice doesn’t have to be physical practice. It can be a meditation practice or just silent sitting.
With time I managed to sort out my teaching schedule, so I tend to practice after my morning class. I don’t set a time. I just promise myself to do something every day. When I have the energy I do a full practice, when I don’t I just do sun salutations. And when I’m not feeling well I may just do a quiet meditation.
So my advice would be for anyone experiencing yoga teacher burnout to do what works for you. You don’t have to do a full practice every single day. If you have the time and energy then go for that! But if not, try to keep up a short and sweet daily practice as that will also help keep you connected to what you love and what you share.
2. Write down your weekly schedule
It helps to be organized. And so I like to plan out my week so that I know what to expect and what is coming. On the days I teach many classes I try to do a quiet meditation or short practice for myself. On the days I don’t teach or I don’t have to demonstrate too much, I aim to do a full practice.
Get yourself a planner and write out your weekly schedule. This will also help you see if you actually have more time than you thought, or if you could change things around to make more time for yourself.
In my opinion and from my experience, recharging is vital for yoga teachers. I travel to India every year and so being with my teacher and my fellow practitioners from all around the world really help me recharge my yoga batteries and help me with my own practice and my teaching.
My students also notice this. They always tell me I have come back differently. More passionate.
Of course, your trip doesn’t have to be on the other side of the world. it can even be to attend a workshop in a studio or go to a yoga retreat not too far away.
It is being away from your teaching and getting to be the students amongst students that really can do wonders for your energy levels and your passion for the practice.
4. Practice the art of saying no
Whether it is needing to teach more classes for the money or to help out another teacher or to not let down a student, we may have the tendency to take on more than we can chew. Unfortunately with time, all this will do is leave us feeling tired and depleted. And so it is important to start saying no.
This could be seen as an act of ahimsa, non-violence. And this is non-violence to ourselves as we are taking care of ourselves and making sure we stay clear of burnout.
5. Take a moment for yourself
I used to teach my classes back to back. This meant that I didn’t have any time between classes to rest and focus. And so at the end of the day, my head left like it was going to explode after all the conversations I had had with my students about this problem and that problem.
And so now I like to have a breather between classes and basically between anything I am doing. If you like drinking coffee, then take the time to enjoy every sip. If you like going for walks, use this time to be quiet and listen to your own thoughts.
And when students are about to come into your class, take a few deep breaths and smile. You’ve got this.
6. Maintain healthy boundaries
Yoga studios are a space where people feel safe. And so yoga teachers are people we sometimes confide in. I have had many students come to me with all their problems and life stresses and it is very difficult sometimes to not be affected by it. We have our own lives and our own problems to deal with.
And so if possible, in order to avoid yoga teacher burnout, try to not get dragged into too many of your student’s problems. If you feel it is necessary or you want to help, then, of course, do what you can.
But if you feel it is affecting you and you would rather take a step back, then be clear about it with yourself and then do your best to maintain healthy boundaries. And at the end of the day you are their yoga teacher, not their therapist.
7. Invest in self-care
Self-care can be in the form of making time for yourself, eating healthy and nutritious food, taking the time to practice, and having a long hot bubble bath at the end of a long day. Anything really that you feel your body and soul need. Refuel and recharge is possible on a daily basis.
And of course, let me add a nice massage to that list!
8. Continue your education
A yoga teacher training is the start of a long and wonderful yoga-teaching journey. It is very important to keep up your education as this will help you grow as a teacher, it will help you broaden your horizons and it will also help you connect to the practice beyond the physical level.
There are so many layers to yoga and so you may already know what you are more interested in. This could be the history, the philosophy, the anatomy. Start with what sparks your interest and take it from there.
If you are looking for some help with finding good yoga books, you may like my article: 25 Of The Best Yoga Books Every Yogi Will Love
9. Ground yourself before and after class
Each yoga teacher has developed their own methods of what this means. Some like to sit quietly for a few minutes. Othe like to do a headstand. Others like to chant om before each class. Do whatever works for you. And after class, some teachers like to wash their hands, and others light an incense stick.
Before each class, it is a way to clear the energy and prepare the class for the students coming in. After the class, it is about leaving the energy of the students in the class and off of you.
10. Diversify your income
Yoga teachers can earn a decent living with time. Undformately at first, you may need to build up your audience and experience first. Most new teachers have to teach many classes each day at first. And so it is advisable to teach yoga part-time till you gain more experience as then you will be able to charge more per class.
The importance of diversifying your income can be seen in the national study carried out in the US in 2016 titled: ‘Yoga in America‘. They found that just under 1/3 of yoga teachers report yoga as their primary income. And that is huge!
That basically means that for every 100 yoga teachers, 30 have another source of income.
If you want to know more about the business side of yoga I would recommend the book: The Thriving Yoga Teacher: How To Create A Sustainable Career Doing What You Love.
11. Daily digital detox
Moden-day self-care can also take on the form of a digital detox. With social media having such a huge part to play in our lives as yoga teachers, it is very easy to stay glued to our phones. This could be to take images, post images, announce classes, reply to messages, look for hashtags, reply to DMs…
It’s ok to not respond immediately. It’s ok to set a time each day to go over all that needs to be done. One simple rule you can set for yourself is:
No mobile phone after a certain time at night.
Simple enough no?
12. Identify the source
If you are experiencing yoga teacher burnout or you feel you are getting there, then try to take a step back and identify the source. Once you know the source of your burnout, you are in a better position to deal with it and in turn, bring more love and passion back into your teaching.
The most common sources of burnout for yoga teachers are:
- Financial worries
- Physical and emotional stress
- Lack of connection with the practice
Be very honest with yourself and try to find the root of your problem. If you would like to read more about burnout, you may like this book available on Amazon which has many relatable examples and applicable advice: Burnout to Breakthrough: Building Resilience to Refuel, Recharge, and Reclaim What Matters
13. You are not your teaching
I am going to end with my tip which is actually the closest to my heart. You are not your teaching. You are not your teaching. You are not your teaching.
You are so much more than that!
As yoga teachers, we associate our ego to the size of our classes. I had many students, I’m an amazing yoga teacher. I didn’t have many students, I’m not a good yoga teacher. I got a compliment today. I’m an amazing yoga teacher. I got a negative comment today. I should just quit.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Love your own practice and share what you love. If it resonates with your audience, great! If not, then maybe you have not found the right audience! Or maybe you may be better matched in a different setting. For example, writing about yoga, or even just practicing yoga rather than teaching it.
If you are currently looking for a job as a yoga instructor, then check out the vacancies on Jooble.