It seems contradictory to associate yoga alongside poor mental health, the practice being synonymous with reduced anxiety, enhanced wellbeing and mindfulness. But for all yoga’s popularity in the mental health debate, those working in the profession often find themselves exposed to the same emotional distress that the practice purports to minimise.
The very nature of the profession is one that engenders financial insecurity, empathy fatigue and isolation, and yet teachers are expected to radiate an impenetrable calm: the poster-image of modern wellness. It is a sense of responsibility to maintain this yogic facade, and thus not externalise these stressors, that contributes to a culture of burnout among yoga teachers.
Contrary to what the wellness industry would have us believe, such mental health concerns cannot be dealt with by plunging an overpriced bath bomb into a steaming bath. Protecting your mental health as a yoga teacher requires cultivating habits that protect your wellbeing and taking actionable steps to reduce work stressors. Not quite as luxurious, but infinitely more effective.
The yoga profession inevitably attracts individuals seeking to inspire and help others through the practice of yoga. While this in itself is not problematic, the issue arises when yoga teachers prioritise the wellbeing of your students at the expense of their own mental health. The result? Burnout and empathy-fatigue.
Redressing this balance requires yoga teachers to identify the limitations of their job role. When students then attempt to surpass this limit, you are in a better position to gently nudge them toward alternative resources, advice or professional support. Doing so creates much-needed boundaries between student and teacher, enabling the former to pursue qualified, therapeutic advice.
Creating this distinction between yoga teacher and therapist or counsellor will ultimately allow you to provide a better service, unburdened by the weight of concerns you are not trained to deal with.
It is common knowledge that the income of yoga teachers is, at best, irregular. Like many self-employed professionals, yoga teachers are often subject to a varying monthly wage and subsequent financial anxiety.
Having another source of income to support yourself can help manage such financial concerns, particularly for teachers beginning to build a client base. While this may seem counterintuitive for those pursuing a full-time career in teaching yoga, having a steady wage as you establish yourself will limit financial pressures.
Creating a strong network of fellow yoga teachers is necessary to avoid such feelings of isolation. Fortunately, there are many mentorship schemes, meetups, communities and online groups available for those looking to connect with other teachers. Where office colleagues are not available, such groups are the ideal place to ask advice or recommendations for further training, and to request cover for classes.
Your Own Practice
We exist in a perpetually “busy” society and yoga, despite its focus on slowing down and mindful action, is not immune to an overcrowded schedule. As such, when teaching demands a schedule of 6 am until 9 pm, the teacher’s personal practice is often sacrificed, thrown off-board to lighten an already sinking ship.
This tendency toward productivity at all costs is damaging both to your mental health and likely your quality of teaching. It is during personal meditations and physical expressions that inspiration for classes is most often found. Creating space to develop your own practice, attend retreats and undertake further training will thus motivate your teaching while allowing you to reconnect with the healing elements of yoga.
If you are experiencing difficulties with your mental health, we encourage you to seek out professional help and contact one of the following organisations: