Self Care for Yoga Teachers
How self-knowledge leads to self-care
with Heather Agnew, ERYT-500, lead trainer
As yoga teachers we commit a lot of time and energy to guiding and supporting others in their practice, so it’s important for us to prioritize our own self care to maintain our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
In today’s discussion we’ll explore the foundations for self-care, and talk about some self care strategies for yoga teachers.
Watch the video below, or read the article below for foundations for self-care for yoga teachers.
Self-Care for Yoga Teachers
Firstly, I want to point out that self-care isn’t all about indulgence or luxury – it’s not about having a weekly massage or taking a long bubble bath every night, although if those are important to you, they could be part of your self-care routine.
Self-care is not something that happens in the incidental spaces in our lives, fitting it in wherever we find some time. It’s something we have to take an active role in and plan for.
Your self-care practice is critical for your own health and wellbeing, and, in terms of your teaching career, it is important to prevent burnout and to maintain your passion for teaching.
Self-care has layers, and is unique to you and your needs, circumstances, and lifestyle.
In our discussion we’ll talk about some of those layers, including:
• Meet your basic needs.
• Know your barriers.
• Energy balance.
• Personal practice.
• Have community.
• Express yourself.
• Set boundaries.
• Remember your why.
• Ground yourself.
• Follow the fluctuations.
To begin, I wanted to talk about some broader ideas, beginning with the first layer of self-care.
Are your basic needs being met?
The first layer of self-care is meeting your basic physiological needs – sleep, food, water. That might seem simple, but are you getting the meals you need when you need them, or are you skipping or de-prioritizing meals in order to meet your schedule? Are you getting the sleep you need, or are you rising earlier than your body likes to teach a morning class, or working later in the day than your body likes in order to teach an evening class? Self care includes getting to know your rhythms, and working with those rhythms as best you can.
I know, especially in the early years of a career we make personal sacrifices to get our business off the ground, but at what point will you set your schedule so that your needs for fuel and rest are met?
In my own career, when I was starting out, I took every opportunity that presented itself – I said yes to everything. I was young and energetic, and I loved what I did. But, driving from client to client, class to class, grabbing meals in the car, teaching from early morning through to the evening, where I had to then sit down and manage my admin duties, it all got too much pretty quickly, and I suffered a few burnouts before I learned how to manage my time, for my needs.
Know your barriers
So, that’s my second point, consider your unique circumstances and needs for self-care. You have unique needs for your body, energy, family, lifestyle, finances, and mental health. You may have barriers that other teachers don’t have, or don’t seem to have. You might have financial barriers that don’t allow for you to pick and choose classes or take time away. You might have time constraints due to caring for children or parents or other important commitments. You may have special circumstances like a disability or health condition that is impacted by irregular or excessive teaching, or that creates fluctuations in your schedule that need to be navigated. You may have to consider not just your goals but the reality of what you can reasonably do in a day or week to maintain your physical, emotional, and mental health.
Yoga might not be your self-care
Many of your students will talk about how yoga is part of their self-care practice. It might be what brought you to yoga in the first place. Unfortunately, sometimes when you professionalize yoga, it is no longer your place for self-care, and you need to find other self-care practices.
When yoga is your job, it can become hard to switch off of ‘teacher’ or ‘giver’ mode and just experience and receive. If this has been your experience, consider finding other practices that can give you what you need – perhaps another form of yoga, or another mind-body-movement practice, or meditation, or something completely different. There’s no right or wrong. Take time to consider if your yoga practice is providing you with the same level of self-care, if it’s giving you the time and space you need, and if not, that’s okay, it’s time to find something new.
A few self-care strategies to consider:
Below I’ve also shared a few general points, but again, consider how these will work with your unique needs, goals, circumstances, and think about how you can create the right recipe for your self-care. How you prioritize your self-care will be unique to you and will likely fluctuate. But I hope that the points below give you some ideas on how you might begin to create a pathway to regular and meaningful self care.
Have energy coming in.
We extend a lot of energy to others when we teach, we need to balance that by receiving energy in ways that nourish us. That might be attending classes as a student, receiving bodywork or therapy, taking courses that inspire you, attending retreats or festivals, spending time with loved ones, or taking space in nature to recharge your batteries.
Maintain your personal practice.
Often, your personal practice is the first thing to go when things get hectic, but your movement and meditation practice can be important for helping you to manage stress, stay connected to your own body/mind, and stay connected to the teachings of yoga. A few quick notes on practice:
• Yoga isn’t just asana, of course, so sometimes your practice might be meditation, or mantra, or breathwork, or a mindful walk in the woods. Let your practice be a place to get curious about what feels like self-care today.
• Consider your practice being a place to find balance – what does your body need? Strengthening? Cardio? Restorative practices? Move in ways that will keep your body in balance.
• If your body is tired from teaching, or it’s a challenge to fit in a full practice, have shorter yoga ‘snacks’ in your day to energize, or relax and restore.
Don’t be an island! As teachers, we can experience loneliness even when we are surrounded by students. Foster connections with other yoga teachers, peers, or join a supportive community of people in helping professions. We are not designed to go it alone. Connection with others is self-care. Find people with whom you can share your experiences and insights, support and be supported, and share the challenges and the joys of yoga together.
Whether it be journaling, painting, music, dance, therapy, having a place to express yourself openly and freely as a whole person outside of your role as a teacher can be important to get in touch with yourself and give you an outlet for processing stress and embracing your emotions openly.
Setting boundaries is self care. This includes things like clearly defining your work hours and avoiding overcommitting and over-giving. Setting boundaries ensures that you have time for self-care without feeling overwhelmed. Learn to say no when you need to, to ensure you have time for rest, recreation, and recharging your batteries.
A few ways you can do this include:
• Schedule time for emails, admin, and management tasks.
• Plan for rest – daily, weekly, yearly.
• Keep a ‘battery diary’. Track where energy is going out, and where energy is coming in.
• Put a limit on your time spent on social media.
• Set a time to log off at the end of the day.
For some, the energy we share when we teach can leave us feeling drained or unbalanced. I have found it useful to take some time to ground before each class, whether that’s teaching face-to-face or virtually. For me, grounding means taking a moment to feel the earth under my feet, to be fully in my body and breath for a few moments before a class, and this allows me to better manage my energy, and begin my class with balance and focus.
Remember Your Why.
I find this particularly useful in times of greater stress – why did I choose to be a yoga teacher? Taking some time to sit with your ‘why’. What gives you meaning, how does teaching yoga contribute to that meaning. You might even journal those aspects of your teaching practice that you are grateful for to help to clear out the ‘clutter’ of challenges and annoyances that can sometimes build up and to remember the many joys and rewards of teaching.
Enjoy the little moments.
Sometimes self-care happens in the little moments. A quiet cup of tea in the morning while you listen to the birdsong, an energizing catch-up call with friends, a short rest in Savasana between classes, or a mindful stroll in a garden. Make the most of these little magic moments to breath, to recharge, and to remember the joy in the little things.
Follow the Fluctuations.
Self-care is a personal journey, and it’s essential to find what works best for you. But what worked last week or last year might not work for you now. Regularly reassess your self-care needs and practices and be willing to adapt. Life is always in flux, and your self-care practice has to respond to those fluctuations in order to keep providing you with the outlets, energy, and care that you need.
Self Care for Yoga Teachers
I hope these ideas have been useful to you. I know that some of the things we talked about today weren’t easy, practical strategies, but more about getting to know yourself, your needs, your barriers, your rhythms, and what self-care will look like for you. I hope that this has given you a foundation to build a self-care practice on. And, as always, if you need support, have questions, or have ideas to share, we’d love to hear from you and continue the conversation!
Read more on self-care strategies, teaching strategies, and useful practices for yoga teachers here