Being a yoga teacher. Where does the dream finishes and real life starts

What do you think it takes to be a Yoga teacher? Passion? Professional training?Practising in India? Esoteric powers? Crystal knowledge? Being a vegan? Wearing Lululemon leggings, sarongs or white vests? Maybe a bindi on the third eye? Following a specific religion, lineage or guru? Being a guru yourself? Today I am writing about what is it to be a Yoga teacher. The good, the bad and some bits in the middle. As someone wise once said, 'as a yoga teacher, people expect you to be well, active and positive all the time'. There is no other profession where people are expected to always give to others without getting anything back but 'good energy', donations or hugs. Welcome to the glamorous-not-so-glamourous life of a person that teaches Yoga.

I often say I am not a Yoga teacher. I am a person that teaches Yoga regularly, but as human, I have much more qualities and skills that I use on my day to day apart from Yoga-related stuff. Maybe you will be surprised to know that I have never taught at a studio, wore a white turban or claimed to have healing properties. I don't call myself a guru, a healer nor a coach. I don't teach every day nor aspire to do it one day. Not anymore.

Over three years ago, when I took my first Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) in Rishikesh, India, I didn't think of teaching Yoga to others. As a student and practitioner myself, for over 12 years now, I thought it was a great opportunity to learn about the practise further, both Philosophy and the more physical aspects of it, asana. That month was an amazing experience, I was totally humbled by practicing and studying where Yoga was born, near mother Ganga aka the Ganges river. Going back to London, where I was a Global Strategist at a cool advertising agency in East London, nothing was making so much sense anymore and eventually I thought it was about time to try out something new: quitting my corporate job to become a Yoga teacher. This was a massive one. Giving up a well paid stable job and an amazing lifestyle to follow my passion, meaning teaching Yoga to others, empowering them the same way my teachers have done to myself. I felt confident, powerful and decided to change the world, one class after the other.

Beautiful. Looking back, no other decision would have made more sense. Now that I was feeling so connected with 'my true self', how could I keep planning campaigns for a dairy company? How could I help brands to sell more products to people? How could I work for the biggest corporations on the planet? Not anymore. I just wanted to keep perfecting myself as a human, inspiring others to do the same. However, I was far from knowing what real life is for a Yoga teacher, meaning when you are not posting Yoga poses on Instagram or sharing 'the good vibes' in real life.

Now comes the tricky question. What is the day to day of a Yoga teacher? How do they get a full salary? Are they employed? Are they self-employed? Do they pay taxes? Do they even make enough money to pay taxes? The life-changing bits start here. When you start teaching Yoga, you get what I can 'Yoga blind', similar to what happens when you meet the person of your dreams. You don't see defects or you simply love them. All I wanted was to teach and I didn't care how much I was paid, how many people came to class or how many followers I had on Instagram. To be fully honest, I did care, but I though I was so good doing my job that things 'would grow organically' and somehow I would be blessed by the 'yoga super star' angels. After all, my intentions were so great.

The first couple of months were ok. I was motivated, developing my practise and studies further, eating green smoothies and thinking of great collabs and cool spots where I could be teaching myself. I even co-developed a vegan yoga-bag with a Portuguese brand. Quickly, I've started following all the cool yogi IG accounts, from big brands to local yogis, and my account was growing. Yay. Last but not least, I created Yodragon Yoga, a cool Yoga brand, which has evolved to Pause and Flow, as you see today (I've done the naming, concept, website and all content myself, with the help of Jo Studio from a design perspective). I made progress indeed, but not exactly financially, which was ok because I had savings and it was temporary. Further down, I got some freelance work as a writer and brand strategist to balance things out but I ALL I wanted was to become a full-time yogi. Teaching in far tropical places seemed like a dream. So it happened.

I went back to India to do my 300h Advanced YTT in Goa this time, where I've learn anatomy and how to do amazing sequences for western bodies. Then, the healing properties of Yoga started to make all sense. I guess I needed some kind of healing myself, specially after finishing a 6 and 1/2 years relationship with 'the love of my life' and teaching for 2 months at my Yoga School in Goa. When you teach at your Yoga School, you work as a karma yogi, meaning you are not paid. Not even one penny. You are given accommodation, food and expected to be available from 5am to 10pm, 6 days per week, maybe 7. This didn't work out for me. I was shrinking physical and emotionally, day after day, practise after practise. But I had to keep going, I was following my passion, right? And people loved my classes.

In April 2017 I've moved back to Lisboa. It was a massive cultural chock, after living abroad for over 7 years. However, this woman here never sees big challenges as big. So I started teaching around the city, using models I've seen working in London and India. Big mistake or not, I could barely pay for my food and rent. I didn't see this, so I kept going, and going, and going. Things kept growing too, organically - meaning one more IG follower every week, a new student each class. Eventually I went travelling to Asia again, this time solo for 6 months. I didn't teach not even once, apart from a Meditation class in Bali, donation based. I won a cap, which I lost in one week. I kept living out of my savings, in the hope things would make sense again. I've started to lose my mojo teaching, and not exactly loving the examples I saw around me in paradise. Nor in town.

Yoga teacher being paid by donation or not paid at all, eating and sleeping for free in dorms, whilst their students were on holiday, living the sexy spiritual hopping life. Looooong story short, I came back to Lisbon in December 2018, after Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Japan. It was an AMAZING experience I cannot put to words. Onde back in Lisbon I though I had the best idea ever: opening a self-care school, where adults could go to learn about to take care of themselves. I've called it the School of Good. Off course, that was all i wanted: to make good to others.

What about myself? Getting more stretched daily, not having time (or the energy) to practise, developing new partnerships, teaching around the city, writing newsletters, responding to e-mails, updating social media. Getting less than 20 euros per class, sometimes a bit more but never enough to make a living out of it. All 'debaixo da mesa'. How many classes do I had to teach to get a full salary? How many events did I have to create, cater and host? How many e-mails did I have to respond to get one person to come? How many meditation classes did I have to teach to get a chair at a co-work? How many people did I have to meet to show what a cool Yoga teacher I am? How many useless posts did I have to post on social media?

Enough is enough, yogis. I was Yoga burnt out last year, actually I may be a bit Yoga burnt out these days. With this, I am not saying there are no amazing things in your life when you are a Yoga teacher. Actually, I love teaching Yoga. If you have came to my classes, retreats and workshops you know I teach from the heart. And, because I want to keep doing it properly, I need to protect myself a bit these days. The good news is that I will be teaching more focused, where and to whom it makes sense.

What does this mean? With this amazing experience of creating a brand from scratch, meeting amazing people from all walks of life and countries, teaching in paradise and at the urban jungle, one thing I now know: I am truly grateful for Yoga and what it has brought to my life, but I am ready for a next big challenge in my life, non Yoga related. I've decided I am now searching for a more stable job. Ideally mixing my corporate and entrepreneurial experiences with a mindful lifestyle, so I can keep inspiring people further, in a more sustainable way. This goes without saying, Pause and Flow will keep going for the next few months. Maybe more quiet, maybe louder, maybe slower, maybe more active. Whatever makes sense to myself, at his moment. Only this way, life can unfold naturally.

I am super happy with this decision and I truly hope you keep supporting me further, like I've always supported you.

Thanks so much for reading.

All the good vibes,

Sara

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© 2020 words and design by Sara Vale

Photos by Vera Sepulveda and Sonia Davies