31 August 2008

dana, gratitude, and love offerings accepted

As a practicing Buddhist, I'm all about dana (pronounced "donna") -- "unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go." that is how I make payment at Spirit Rock Meditation Center for my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation training.

in my last post, bindifry made some very pithy comments about students showing gratitude to their teachers, and I agree 150% with her:

"part of the yoga path is gratitude. it is very important to express that to your teacher.

something most yoga students do not understand. often we are left quite empty. many students never even say "thank you" after a class. it's sad, really.

I study with an amazing Aussie teacher. part of her teaching is a gratitude circle at the end of the cycle. everyone sits in a circle and must show gratitude to the teacher.

and when you receive shakti from your guru, the respectable thing to do is kneel before him and touch his feet. it's dharma."

"I just find it quite alarming how many students, rather than saying "thank you" instead say things like "why didn't i get more adjustments? i paid my money just like everyone else"

sorry, but yoga teachers are also human beings...people need to be educated about etiquette. other cultures do not have this issue at all, as teachers are considered the highest form of professions."

"yoga teachers are people like the students and that for students to say "thanks" goes a long way, even though i have learned to live without the gratitude. students don't tell their teachers thanks or even acknowledge them as their teachers far too often. they do not know that gratitude, like santosha, is part of yoga."

"everyone sits in a circle and must show gratitude to the teacher" -- how many of you can honestly say you would feel comfortable doing that? I know that many Americans have a hard time wrapping their mind around the idea of their yoga teacher being their "guru", but that's Ego, pure and simple. and fear. "guru" is Sanskrit for teacher, someone who has "great knowledge, wisdom and authority in a certain area, and uses it to guide others." nothing more, nothing less.

I believe that lack of gratitude or lack of acknowledgment is definitely an American/Western thing. it's not that way in India. this American yoga teacher has no problem whatsoever touching the feet of my teacher, an Indian from Chennai who was an original trustee of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, when he comes to teach in Chicago. I wrote about my own feelings about being a good student here.

so it gets my thong in a knot when I write about pay for yoga teachers and I'm told to "be content" or have "santosha", just accept what is given or not given to you. I DO have santosha, in fact, I feel I am blessed to be able to teach yoga. but like bindifry says, yoga teachers are also human. think about that.

I am blessed to be teaching now at a studio where if two students show up, they thank me for being there, for driving 45 minutes and spending my time with them. this is in stark contrast to the studio where I used to teach where the upper middle-class women had a huge sense of entitlement.

support your local yoga teacher and show her or him some love. that's all I'm saying.

26 August 2008

why do you want to teach yoga?

I'm just throwing the question out there. I know why I teach, but why do YOU want to teach yoga?

I suppose this goes back to the "how much is a yoga teacher worth?" question, and for those of us who don't want to return to the corporate life (shoot me now), yoga teaching is my vocation, my avocation, and my personal dharma. I know more than a few teachers who also do massage or another holistic practice or their yoga teaching is a "sideline" and they rely on another's income (and health insurance.)

I know very few yoga teachers who totally support themselves by only teaching yoga. because of a life-changing decision I have made, I may have to get a part-time job. but I know I will never stop teaching yoga and Buddha/Kali/Shiva willing, I will do this the rest of my life, either in the US or in India. I still need to finish my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation training at Spirit Rock, and in October I start Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training. in late 2009 I plan on living two months in an ashram in South India studying yoga therapy with a swami. this will require me to give up two steady yoga gigs, or at least get subs for them. as I mentioned in another post, for those of us who do these lengthy trainings, there is no guarantee we will have yoga jobs when we get back. this is the reality of the yoga biz. but this is my commitment to myself, to immerse myself as much as I can -- at my age I have a lot less time on this earth than if I would have started this path 30 or even 20 years ago.

everything I earn gets plowed right back into my yoga biz (I'm incorporated.) I am over 50 and this is my life plan and nothing will keep me from it. I know this is my path and I have given it up to the Universe to follow this path for the rest of my life.

what will you give up to be a yoga teacher?

I live in the Chicago area where there is a plethora of yoga teacher training programs all costing beaucoup bucks. this is where the yoga money is made, in teacher trainings and offering workshops. a well-known American yoga teacher who was on the same retreat that I was told me that she rarely teaches group classes anymore, that she makes her money on her branded teacher trainings and traveling the world doing workshops.

when I was certified in 2002 there were only three training programs in Chicago that I knew of. now almost every major studio both in the city and suburbs, and some not-so-major, have teacher training programs that train you in "their" brand of yoga. and of course there are the weekend programs (become a yoga teacher in 16 hours!) and the online yoga teacher training courses where voila!...anyone with a computer can become a yoga teacher. of course, not everyone who does a training wants to be a teacher, some do it to deepen their yoga knowledge.

for a while I thought of starting my own teacher training program, which would actually be unique in my area because I would incorporate yoga therapy and Buddhism, no other local training offers that. but I decided I don't want to be tied down with that right next two years are going to be for my own yoga sadhana culminating in the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, India in 2010.

so where are y'all going to teach? after spending thousands of dollars on your training will you be happy making $4 or $5 or $6 when one student shows up to the studio? I made $12 again last night. I used to teach at a studio where students paid $5 for their first class and the owner did not pay the teachers for those students because she would "lose money." some months I had so many first-timers in my classes I lost over $100 in monthly income. I'm not crying about this, this is the reality of the yoga biz.

people want yoga for the same fees that they are paying with their gym memberships. and everybody -- every spa, chiropractic center, gym, and physical therapy office -- wants in on what they view as big bucks to be made in yoga. the yoga biz in America -- a gazillion dollar business according to Yoga Journal.

but who's making the dough and where's the dharma?

I have a friend who's convinced that everyone doing teacher trainings nowadays are delusional, that they've all drunk the Yoga Journal kool-aid about becoming a yoga teacher.

have you?

22 August 2008

the price we pay, part 2: how much is a yoga teacher worth?

This is another topic that Yoga Journal won't touch: how much is a yoga teacher worth in this American consumerist society? forget for a minute what our emotional or spiritual value is to our students (actually priceless), but what is our monetary value? in a culture where fitness instructors never have to step foot inside a yoga studio and can get "certified" online as yoga teachers, are yoga teachers now a dime a dozen?

My post "the price we pay" gave rise to some interesting comments:

"have had several conversations with other yoga teachers recently about how they want to earn x amount per class or they won't teach. Got me to thinking: if I can pay my bills on less than that, and I am maybe helping some people, sharing my knowledge of yoga a bit, isn't that enough? We aren't supermodels, we are social workers..."


"i thought going to india for 11 months, teaching in japan and thailand, australia, bali...i thought all of that would make a difference. it actually hurt me. i make less money than ever. no one is impressed with my resume. it means nothing to anyone.

except for me and the handful of students that i am actually reaching. that's all we can hope for. that's just how the world is. anyone can teach yoga. we're indespensable. you are fooling yourself if you actually think you are anything more.

still, i would do it all the same. for me at least."


"I think yoga teachers are a "dime a dozen" now.

Point - Teacher Training programs. This has become a cyclical conundrum perhaps? An organization decided yoga teachers should be 'certified'. Studio's/gyms/fitness centers decided this was a good idea. So, in order to teach you have to be certified and there are a whole slew of students needing those inital hours to become certified because the studios require it...see where it goes?..."


bindifry said this about yoga teaching in her blog: "...and i reached another person. i turned them on to yoga. they turned me on to them. and for that moment i had a purpose." to which I responded: "yup....that's what it all comes down to, isn't it? it's not about the money, it's not about some sick inversion to impress or intimidate people, it's not about lululemon's just about the yoga." and bindi said: "well is for everyone to enjoy. yoga teachers should spread it around to who wants and needs it regardless of their economic situation. it's our duty. if we all did that, we could alleviate much suffering in the world. teaching yoga is the ultimate "green" action. how many yoga teachers teach without the thought of dollar signs? i do not know many."

Nadine believes that yoga teachers are social workers. bindifry said that teaching yoga is the ultimate green action. I say that teaching yoga is a pure expression of the bodhisattva path. and with my private students, I'm also a psychologist. like bindifry, I'm still going to India to study even though it does not make me one dime extra as a yoga teacher.

I truly believe all of the above. however, I still need to pay the bills and buy food and gas. and I pay the same for food and gas as the person does who makes $200,000 a year. last year I made about $10,000 teaching yoga. I'm not crying about it, it's merely a statement of fact. it was my choice 10 years ago to stop working for lawyers after 20 years (and making damn good money) and become a yoga teacher. our lives are determined by our choices, not by our circumstances.

I've been struggling a lot with this money question as I am in the midst of a life-changing decision that will literally affect how and where I can afford to live. as Nadine said, I know more than a few teachers who won't teach if they make below X dollar amount -- and I am one of them. over the years I've invested over $10,000 (probably closer to $15,000) in my training -- this does not include travel to India to study. I also know some yoga teachers who've been teaching 20+ years who won't teach a workshop for under $500 even if only three students sign up -- they have their minimum show-up price. I believe that to teach a class under a certain dollar amount devalues yoga and puts it on the same level as an aerobics class.

one of the places I teach is a yoga studio where I get paid by the one day I make $12, another day I make $60 per class. I also teach privately, one-on-one, and my prices in my area may range from $75 to $100 per session. what a teacher charges for private yoga in the United States is dependent upon the geographic area, what the market will bear. I feel that prices for private yoga are comparable to getting a massage or a physical therapy or chiropractic or acupuncture session -- it's all about holistic health modalities. unfortunately, most people don't understand this. I've found that people (at least in my area) don't "get" what private yoga/yoga therapy is all about, not when they only know health club yoga (and I'm not dissing teachers who teach at gyms or health clubs, so don't get your yoga shorts in a knot.) there IS a difference between yoga one-on-one and yoga in a group class. yoga one-on-one is the the traditional way -- Krishnamacharya did not teach Iyengar or Jois or his son Desikachar in a group class.

however, my favorite class to teach is one where I don't get paid at all -- I teach yoga and meditation at a domestic violence shelter. I've been teaching there for five years and it's my hope to start a yoga therapy program there funded by grant money. some day.

I know of yoga studios where the owners have yet to pay themselves, the studios literally don't make money, they just break even. from a sound business standpoint -- and let's get real, yoga is definitely big business in America-- that situation can't continue forever. my yogini friend in Oakland, California tells me I should move to northern California, that I'd be turning people away, that people can't get enough yoga out there. in the suburbs of Chicago, yoga studios struggle to survive.

The Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram where I study in India has no qualms whatsoever about charging westerners much more money than it does its Indian students. teachers such as Gary Kraftsow and David Life and Sharon Gannon charge at least $8,000 for their teacher trainings here. so why, as not-famous-no-Yoga Journal-cover everyday yoga teachers, are we not supposed to make a livable wage?

what's a yoga teacher to do? this is not India where I can go live in a cave and spend my days meditating, living off the kindness of my devotees. while I'm Kali's girl, I'm still waiting for that Goddess-in-Residence yoga gig somewhere that my gal pal in Nepal told me I need to find. this is America where it currently costs $35-$40 to fill my gas tank to get to the studio to make $12 for a 90 minute class.

so it is a fine balance between the bhakti and the bucks, between the dharma and the dough. I don't want to make what a supermodel makes -- I just want to be able to afford to live and do what I love to do.

support your local yoga teacher.

18 August 2008

I used to write poetry....

...and one of my favorite poets of all time is Leonard Cohen....Avalanche is one of his songs from his Songs of Love and Hate album released in 1971.

Cohen's recurring themes in his poetry were love and sex, religion, and psychological depression...all totally interrelated as far as I'm concerned....funny how I was so attracted to those themes as a young, hippie chick in high school...I wanted to run away and live with Cohen on those Greek isles he wrote about.

...even yoga teachers get the blues....

"Well I stepped into an avalanche,
it covered up my soul;
when I am not this hunchback that you see,
I sleep beneath the golden hill.
You who wish to conquer pain,
you must learn, learn to serve me well.
You strike my side by accident
as you go down for your gold.
The cripple here that you clothe and feed
is neither starved nor cold;
he does not ask for your company,
not at the centre, the centre of the world.

When I am on a pedestal,
you did not raise me there.
Your laws do not compel me
to kneel grotesque and bare.
I myself am the pedestal
for this ugly hump at which you stare.

You who wish to conquer pain,
you must learn what makes me kind;
the crumbs of love that you offer me,
they're the crumbs I've left behind.
Your pain is no credential here,
it's just the shadow, shadow of my wound.

I have begun to long for you,
I who have no greed;
I have begun to ask for you,
I who have no need.
You say you've gone away from me,
but I can feel you when you breathe.

Do not dress in those rags for me,
I know you are not poor;
you don't love me quite so fiercely now
when you know that you are not sure,
it is your turn, beloved,
it is your flesh that I wear."

01 August 2008

the price we pay

(KYM, 2005)

Yoga teachers need to continuously fill their cups with yoga knowledge in order to teach, at least I believe so. in this way we feed our students, and you can not feed others unless you feed yourself. you can not nourish others unless you nourish yourself.

So yoga teachers go to workshops, other teachers' classes, more teacher trainings, or to India. there is so much out there to support our practice and our teaching is fed by our personal practice. how can we teach effectively if we are not continually learning and going deeper into the ancient teachings? again, just my opinion. I'm not saying we all have to go to India, some yoga teachers never do, but at least do one training or workshop a year to feed yourself. I can not imagine teaching without taking classes or workshops to rejuvenate me, my teaching would get as stale as day old bread. my teacher Srivatsa Ramaswami studied with Krishnamacharya for over 30 years, so there ya go.

As for me, I need to go to India, that's my nourishment, that's what informs my practice. I've studied three times at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram and I am currently investigating an ashram in south India where I can get personalized training in yoga therapy. I would be gone at least two months, which means my private students won't have me and I'll have to find subs for my classes or cancel them entirely. the next time I go to India for two or three months, I have no idea whether I will have any teaching job anywhere when I return -- I teach at a studio and at two community colleges. teaching yoga is all I do to pay my bills.

My private students always feel sad when I am gone so long (I stay in India at least for one month), but I tell them that I am also doing this for them because I will become a better teacher (at least I hope so!) however, studio owners and operators of other venues sometimes don't see it this way.

a case in point is Cara Jepsen, a yoga teacher who I know slightly from the Chicago Yoga Center. she is an astangi and is in India right now studying in Mysore. I've read her blog a lot and used it to prep for my first trip to India in 2005.

Cara writes: "This time, one of the venues where I teach cannot guarantee I will have classes when I return from India. I don't blame them, but this could affect up to 1/2 of my income. Ouch!"

That's a sad thing. a yoga studio is a business just like any other business but there's a way to conduct business that is more mindful and holistic, shall we say. and frankly, some yoga studio owners shouldn't be in the yoga business.

If I had a teacher who studies as much as Cara or I do, or is so committed and passionate about yoga, it would never cross my mind to not welcome them back home to teach. why would I not want such a knowledgeable teacher to return to my studio to teach? why would I not want her students to benefit from that knowledge?

Are yoga teachers just a dime a dozen? does a studio owner think one teacher is as good as another so if one leaves, another can't be too far behind? that one teacher of a certain skill set is easily replaceable by another?

If a yoga teacher is on "sabbatical" to further their path which makes them a better teacher, get a substitute teacher just like in a school system. there are so many yoga teacher training programs in the Chicagoland area I have no idea where all these newbie teachers are going to teach -- that's your sub market right there. I have a friend who is a substitute school teacher and she works every day -- public school teachers take LOTS of time off and no one tells them they won't have a job if they take too much time off. yoga teachers should be given the same respect.

So for a studio owner or the operator of any other venue to tell a yoga teacher that they might not have a job when the get back...that attitude boggles my mind. talk about putting some bad energy out into the universe.

On the other hand, if a studio owner tells me that they don't want me to come back after I've studied not only to improve myself but also for THEIR business, that tells me that I need to move on, that this is not the place for me and my talents, and that I am destined for bigger and better things. all things happen for a reason.

"If your teacher does not have the correct foundation, how is he able to teach students?...You pratice yoga as a spiritual practice, not in order to become a teacher. Yoga should be like eating very day; it should be like, without yoga you cannot survive."

A "correct foundation." that's the training that we do to continue doing what we do. and without my training I could not survive as a yoga teacher. but that's me.

If any of you reading this are thinking of becoming a yoga teacher for the money, think again -- that shouldn't even be your motivation in the first place -- "many yoga teachers say they don't make enough money teaching yoga. 'Then do something else.' It is your karma to do. Don't expect anything from it."

We don't do this for the money, but I pay the same amount for gas and food as y'all do. and it would be nice to know that I will have a job to come back to.

We all pay a price for our dharma, isn't it?