Mental Health for Self-Employed Yoga Teachers

We live in a dangerous world! It’s called self-employment. And it is dangerous: up to 30% of new ventures fail within the first year, and 60% or more have folded within three years[1]. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure to do well as a teacher – in part, to be recognised by our peers, but also to pay the bills every month. Being a teacher is a great lifestyle, and we’re all grateful to have this wonderful opportunity to help and share with people. And at the same time, it really isn’t easy for Yoga and Hot Yoga teachers – especially in Bristol, because Bristol is so well-served with studios and teachers (and that’s a good thing for Bristol).

Clifton suspension Bridge with hot air balloons - Bristol

We all know how important it is to take time out for health and well-being. But often, we don’t, because there are pressing matters to attend to all day long. Let’s reflect on that for a moment. As Yoga and Hot Yoga teachers in Bristol, we often help people who have injuries. It’s not uncommon to be told: “My neck|shoulder|wrist|back|hip|etc was fine… I wasn’t even doing anything. One day, it just went, and I’ve been in pain since.” And we’re probably thinking to ourselves that the injured part wasn’t fine, and it may have been trying to say that it wasn’t fine for a long time. But for whatever reason, it didn’t catch the students’ attention until lasting damage actually occurred.

In the same way – our work as teachers, our self-employed careers, require our attention – and rightly so. But you can see where I’m going – it’s best to spare some attention for ourselves and our health before anything happens, if possible.

Female yoga student doing cobra backbend

I’m preaching to the converted, I know: but I know people who are suffering, so it feels like it’s worth saying all this. Especially that attention and thought are not the same thing. Thoughts are always bubbling up – I’d say that we evolved minds that are always scanning for threats and opportunities. So, when thoughts arise, they have emotional content, like urgency. Attention is appropriated, and for a long time we can see no option but to think and serve the unhelpful thoughts that negate our self-worth, or drive us to shoulder unrealistic workloads.

Separating attention and thought is, perhaps, at the heart of our practice anyway. But in the melee of modern life, that can be forgotten. Those insta pictures won’t take themselves! Better perfect that impossible posture! What can we do?

There are simple, quite passive ways to give the brain a break. Gardening, singing, amateur dramatics are all tremendously effective. Some people derive great benefit from apps like Headspace. If you find something that works, then it will probably work every time, and it will usually work quickly each time. The only potential issue is that we have given agency to something outside ourselves… we may never learn to bring about peace without this external agent. But maybe that doesn’t matter – maybe it’s more important to just have a repeatable and reliable way to chill. (BTW, I deliberately left physical Yoga practice out of the list above. We all have a practice, we all treasure our practice, and nothing will stand in its way. I’m talking about other means that might be available.)

Sinead teaching at yogafurie in a hot yoga class

As Yoga and Hot Yoga teachers, we are all aware of the more active methods to untie attention and thought. We all work on breath focus, and we teach it to our students. Many of us have a favourite mantra. These methods require more work, because thoughts are oh-so-good at jumping in and grabbing attention. So, we don’t always get downtime for the brain if we work actively. There are good days and bad days in any meditation practice. However, the benefit of perseverance is that we will eventually gain conscious control for ourselves. We won’t need the breath focus or the mantra in the future: we can choose to focus on what’s important in the moment, without the help of an external agent… eventually.

students practicing hot yoga with determination

To close this article, I’d like to share something that, for me, was tremendously empowering. One day, it dawned on me that the world isn’t going to wait for me to feel good. My life doesn’t have to wait for me to feel good. I want to explain this with reference to the story of a Paralympic triathlete champion – Steve Judge. Steve was an ordinary guy, he quite liked running but there was nothing out of the ordinary in how he lived. A terrible car accident left him crippled, and he was told he would never walk again. His book, Don’t lean on your excuses, talks of the long and painful journey he went on, learning to stand, walk and eventually run again, through to his gold medal achievements. The title sounds harsh, but it’s not meant like that. The point is that we can always work with what we’ve got. What I’ve got today is what I’ve got today, no matter how much I might wish there was more meaning or clarity. I guess that the end result of working with attention really is choice: in this moment, to choose to make the most of what’s here, now.

Male yoga student and professional cricketer practicing a hot yoga hip and glute stretch

I feel that any Yoga or Hot Yoga practice mirrors this choice in the most fundamental way. The posture is what it is, the situation is what it is. My goal posture – my desired life situation – may be something very different, but I’ll only move forward by engaging with the process. It’s important to have goals, but in this moment and right now, it’s more important to engage in the process.

This blog was supplied by Ed. Ed helps out teaching and running the business at Yogafurie in Bristol. You can read more about Ed on the Yogafurie team bio page.

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