Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Gift of Yoga

It has been almost four months since I decided to leave my corporate job and take the summer off to teach yoga and try figure out the next step on my path.  I have become accustomed to the gentle rhythm of teaching a few classes each week, with lots of time in between to prepare for the next class and experience my own personal yoga practice.

As the summer starts to wind down and the financial reality of my situation begins to weigh more heavily upon me, I have noticed my thoughts drifting toward the future.  I wonder if I could have a career in the yoga world and if so, what it might look like from a financial perspective.

If I do the math, I can easily see that making a living teaching yoga would require a much heavier class load than I am used to, as well as some corporate or private clients. At an average rate of $30 per class, even if I teach ten classes at the studio each week, I would only earn about $300. That would equate to about $1,200 per month, which is nowhere near able to cover my monthly expenses.

All financial considerations aside, I also wonder whether teaching yoga is my true calling or merely a place to land on the way to something else. This week I had an opportunity to experience what it would be like if I was a full time yoga teacher. Due to some vacations at the studios where I teach, there were a lot of requests for subs this week. I didn't realize it until I looked at the calendar, but by the time I said 'yes' to each of the opportunities, I had committed myself to teaching eight yoga classes in five days.

I wasn't exactly sure what to expect as I embarked upon this journey. Some of the classes were a different style than what I typically teach, so I had a reasonable amount of anxiety about how they might go.

Two of the classes were Vinyasa style yoga. That involves a more brisk sequence of poses, with each sequence followed by a "vinyasa" movement. The vinyasa movement is hard to explain, but it basically involves stepping back from a standing posture, planting your hands on the ground and lowering your body down to the mat in one breath (almost like you are coming down from a push up) and then once you are on your belly, arching your spine and coming up on your forearms in the next breath before turning your toes under and raising your hips up to the sky, landing in a Down Dog pose. If reading about doing a vinyasa sounds exhausting, try doing 10-15 of them in one class!

I normally do not take Vinyasa style classes. They are a little too intense for me and my shoulders and arms get really sore from all of those vinyasas. Teaching vinyasa feels like a race to the finish line while trying to stay one step ahead of the students. They are always looking to you with eager eyes to find out where they are going next. A few times, I actually stopped them and made them close their eyes to experience the pose they were in before I called the next pose. I am not sure if they liked it, but I needed at least a few seconds to gather my own thoughts.

Another one of the classes was a restorative class. Restorative yoga is a very gentle practice geared towards relaxation. There are fewer poses and they are held for anywhere from 3-5 minutes. I think this was my favorite class that I taught. I had a small group of four students, including one guy who was probably in his late 20's.  He had longer hair and a beard. He could have been a member of Nirvana or Soundgarden in the 90's. At one point I had the students lying on a bolster with their head resting on their hands. I looked over at this guy and he was actually smiling during the pose.

The rest of the classes are kind of a blur of faces, body parts, music, yoga poses and conversations with the students. Friday and Saturday were the toughest days because I taught back to back classes in the morning. I had to get up early both days, and at one of the studios I was working reception as well as teaching so I felt like a one woman show.

By the final class on the last day, I was completely exhausted. I barely had enough energy to drive to the studio, let alone teach the class. But somehow I made it through. While the students seemed to appreciate the class, I know that I could have done better.

I am always reminding my students to be present on their mat and fully experience their practice. But as a teacher, I want to be equally present. As much as I disliked my corporate job, there was a certain level of comfort in the anonymity. The company would still keep going if I was 15 minutes late. The excel spreadsheets never wanted to establish an emotional connection with me.

Teaching yoga comes with a completely different set of expectations. It feels wrong to just "phone it in" when I am teaching a yoga class. I want to provide my students with an amazing yoga experience each and every time. I try to build the right flow of poses. I search for inspirational quotes or mantras that they can carry with them off the mat.

Yoga is more than just an exercise routine or a way to relieve some stress. Yoga is a gift.  It is a gift that we give to ourselves. And yet as yoga students we are not in control of how that gift is delivered. The yoga teacher is the one who carefully wraps the gift and offers it to the students. And as I learned this week, the intimate connection with the students can also be a gift to the teacher. In fact, I think I enjoyed the conversations with my students as much or more than the actual teaching.

As I continue along my path, I find that I am still uncertain of the direction that I should take. There are days when teaching yoga feels like the most natural thing in the world. And there are other days where I find myself struggling for inspiration.

I guess one might argue that all jobs are that way. We have good days and bad days, highs and lows. But before I started teaching, yoga was always a high point in my life. I am not used to the idea that anything related to yoga could cause me stress or anxiety the way it did this week.

Maybe it is something I could eventually get used to.  But then again, maybe it is something I don't want to get used to. Someday I may have to choose whether the gift of yoga is something I want to share with the world, or something I would like to keep for myself.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Here and Now

This week one of my friends lost her sister unexpectedly.  It was one of those late night phone calls we all hope to never receive.  Her sister was in a car accident and was on life support at the hospital. Unfortunately, she never woke up.

This beautiful girl was only 35 years old. She had a boyfriend and three young sons.  I am sure when she was driving that night her only thought was to get home to them.  Like all of us, she probably had errands to run and e-mails to return.  Short term plans for a vacation sometime next year and longer term plans to watch her sons grow up and go off to college.  She probably thought she had her whole life ahead of her.  And in just a few brief moments, everything changed.

This tragic loss is a reminder that every one of us is living our life on borrowed time.  We never know how our life fits within the grand design of the universe.  I have made a conscious effort these past few months to make changes in my life.  To slow down and appreciate the beauty of nature, to spend time with the people I care about and to do my best to show compassion for myself and everyone I encounter.  Yet, after attending the memorial service today, it makes me wonder if I am doing enough.

How can I make sure to embrace my life in each moment?  How can I help those around me to do the same?  Sometimes I feel like I am shouting it at the top of my lungs, yet I am not sure if anyone is listening.  I hope you are listening, or reading this right now.

We spend so much time going through the motions of our lives.  And it's not our fault of course.  It is the way the deck is stacked.  So much to do and only so much time to get it all done.

But if you take a moment to assess your life and you realize that you aren't living each day to the fullest, maybe you should ask yourself what is holding you back.  Whatever it is, if you knew tomorrow would be your last day on earth would that thing still seem important?  

It may seem overwhelming to consider how to take even one small step toward living a more mindful and meaningful existence.  But if you start to peel away the layers of responsibility, expectations we have for ourselves and others, and fears and doubts about our own potential, then maybe somewhere deep down below the surface you will encounter your true self.

And if you listen intently, you may start to hear a whisper that will show you where to begin.