In my last post I made some distinction between the dharma to teach, the dharma for fame and the dharma for money. I also make distinctions between my personal practice, my practice of teaching, and the practice of running my business. While there is overlap between these domains, I find it helpful to see them separately. (Ultimately, I am interested in the places of overlap, but teasing them out a bit can be useful at first.)
I find mantra very helpful in cultivating mood. Drawing, writing and reading inspirational books is helpful. I have a few simple and profound pranayama practices and inner-inquiry practices I learned from my guru which are also helpful. I sit in meditation almost daily which is also helpful. And so on.
I have been on the hunt for this mood of sanctity since I was a small child. I always loved church and Sunday School and have always had an active prayer life. By the time I was 18, I was in throes of bulimia and other self-destructive behaviors. This mood became a Necessity for me, not a passing interest. Had I not found doorways into the vastness of my inner life at an early age, if I had not found a way to coonnect my life to a larger stream of inquiry, had I not explored a way to rely on something greater than my limited self, I would have been dead before I turned 20. No doubt. But instead, I suppose, I got interested in God. And yoga has been part of that.
The God part was first for me. Necessity was next. Yoga came later. Asana even later still.
Of course, making my spiritual life into a life or death matter isn’t a long-term strategy and created as many problems over the long haul as it solved initially, but that is a different post for a different day.
Simply put, my practice is about doing more of those things that help me cultivate a mood of devotion and surrender as well as minimizing those things that interfere with it. My practice is not so much about checking items off a to-do list or about creating an ever-increasing list of things from which I am abstaining to prove my purity or to make up for my sinful nature. It’s not like that for me. (Clearly, I have controlling, obsessive and self-critical tendencies so practice can be like that for me. Truth be told, practice has been like that at times. But that is not essentially what I am up to these days. And I work with some diligence to stay off that road as I have found it counter-productive at this stage of my life.)
My practice is about God. My practice is about Love and about an ever-expansive relationship with myself and my Self. Sometimes that expansive relationship is full of things I enjoy learning about and other times there is some tough stuff to face. But either way, I am who I have so I am working with it.
So there is the domain of personal practice.
The Practice of Teaching
From spiritual teachings to inner insight to asana techniques, I endeavor to refine and improve my craft of teaching. I study the subject of yoga and also the subject of teaching and learning. I am passionately interested in growing my skill-set and improving my work as a teacher.
And truth be told, there are things that I teach that not everyone likes. There are methods of teaching that not everyone enjoys. I can’t tell you the number of people who come to my workshops who found me on Youtube doing advanced poses with my local peeps who are very upset when I harp on their down dog when they first meet me. They came to learn tricks in handstand and I am stuck on down dog. I get it. I am sure it is very frustrating for them.
(And I can see how video clips of “highlight moments in a class” can be misleading and give the impression that those moments are the bulk of the class when nothing could be further from the truth. Maybe I should start a series of online tutorials which is just- “well here I am in down dog AGAIN.” And the next day, “Well, today in down dog I am still looking for that length in my spine without collapsing in my shoulders.” And the next day, down dog…and so on. But I digress.)
And, rest assured plenty of people would rather I do fewer demonstrations and give shorter explanations and more than one person has said they wished I would just flow them through it all.
Again, all that is perfectly understandable, but it’s not how I teach.
So we are clear, not everyone who comes to me for a class or a workshop becomes a student. I am talking here about those students who are invested in learning from me. When curiosity turns to interest and interest turns to commitment and commitment turns to investment then something pretty amazing happens for both of us. In my experience, the teacher-student relationship transforms both the teacher and the student for we are held in each other’s grace and we grow together. The process is not for everyone. It cannot be rushed because the yoga can not be rushed. It is fraught with perils and problems. In the same way that it takes time to build a personal practice and to stabilize flashes of insight into living wisdom, it takes time to develop trust and rapport with our teachers and students.
As I was saying— as annoying as some of my teaching style might be for some, the ones who stick it out make improvement. So while this part might sound arrogant, I simply mean to say that I think my methods work because I have seen them work.
And it is not just poses. What inspires me more than any arm balance or back bend is how people’s faces soften over time and how, once a student is invested in the process of learning with me and with the community, they open in beautiful and surprising ways. Posture means both outer position of the body as well as inner attitude and so, as someone’s teacher, I am watching for both.
The Practice of Business
Over the last ten years of training people to teach yoga these two questions have not gone away.
I personally don’t have any business advice for people and shy away from that subject in my trainings. My Business of Yoga class usually boils down to “keep your day job” but that sounds hypocritical since everyone in the class is watching me make a good living as a yoga teacher. No matter what I say about how long it took me to carve out a viable business offering, I will sound full of shit and be wide open for criticsm and my life will suggest the opposite is possible. So clearly, I am contributing to the expectations that are so troublesome and problematic. (But that, also, is another blog post for another day.)
I know how I have slowly built my business over the last twenty years but I do not know how someone else might do it. I really don’t. Everyone person is different, every teaching circumstance is different, every city has a different dynamic. What is simliar is that we are in the business of helping people wake up in a world committed to sleep. That is not going to be that billable. And figuring out how to make yoga billable doesn’t connect me to the mood in which I enjoy living. It connects me to panic, fear, disappointment, competition, comparison, fatigue and overwhelm. The shortest distance to burn out for me is to contemplate the current yoga marketplace. The shortest distance to Love is to help people in their practice.
So, look, this little section on the business part isn’t going to end with some new-age shit about “you can have it all” or “just stick to excellence and eventually you will get paid on it.” I mean, you might.
You really might.
You also might not.
There really is no way to know how you are going to get paid or even if you are going to get paid.
I taught years of what I thought were great asana classes down the hall from new graduates of a 200-hour teacher training program and my numbers were always smaller than theirs. I had good numbers for an alignment teacher. Great numbers for alignment teacher, in fact. But I never had the numbers the flow class had. Ever. Still don’t. They have creative flows, fun and good music. I have alignment, rigor and a demanding, sarcastic and preachy teaching style.
And no music.
If I was a student, I might not pick my class either.
So I have changed my advice.
My advice is, do what you feel you must do. (Of course, another blog post could be written on the personal and communal consequences of such a course of action, but that, too, is for another day.
However, I implore you to also teach at least one class each week or one workshop per quarter where you do the thing you love, that you are called to do, that brings together your life of practice with your life of teaching and that has no concern for business outcomes. I encourage you to find a way to make an offering that keeps you connected to the Heart of what it is to teach really amazing yoga. Make a contribution. Feed your soul. Help some people improve. Teach what you feel needs to be taught in the best way possible, even if only two people want what you are offering and are willing to pay the price of your teaching style to get it.
Again, I am not suggesting that you do these things all the time and go broke. I am suggesting that you find a way to feed the soul of who you are as a teacher. I am suggesting that you find the place where the domain of personal practice overlaps with the domain of good teaching and allow the pressure of the business to fade just a little bit to the background.
Your Heart will thank you for it.
And so will those two people.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."