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Putting up the Closed Sign

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image by Nick Papakyriazis on flickr.com

I just cancelled a class. The reason: I am struggling to speak.  I am suffering from the  long lasting  after –effects of a cold. I did an hour long chanting session with a fellow teacher yesterday and I think I might have breathing through my mouth last night when I was sleeping ( no NOT snoring!) And then I chatted and laughed my way through an  hour long mentoring session with a student this morning and my voice was really struggling.

All of this seems to have resulted in me losing my voice. (Funny expression that isn’t it? It’s still there, it’s just not very effective)

And so I had a choice.

  1. Show up to class, suck lozenges and sip water and croak my way through, or
  2. Take time off to rest and gargle before teaching class this evening?

My impulse was to turn up. To be there, as I always am, despite how few students show up. (This is a lunchtime class that isn’t very well attended) This is definitely part of what I consider to be my ethos: integrity, consistency and reliability.  But as I walked to the studio this morning, feeling that burning discomfort in my throat I reflected on just exactly who I was serving with this intention. Not myself – as with all teachers and performers – my voice is a precious instrument. And my students? Do they not deserve to have me fully present – voice and all?

I reflected on what I would advise my students and therapy clients if they asked for advice on this situation.

And my answer would  invariably be: rest.

As a teacher, is it  enough for me to give out advice that I do not feel able to also take for myself? When students come to class with an infection or an injury – following that  culturally conditioned impulse to push on and through – then, depending on the circumstances,  my advice is often to go home and rest. Listen to what your body is telling you it needs. You have permission. As a teacher, I realise that it is important for me also to reflect the value of not pushing. If I turn up to class unable to speak, what message am I reinforcing?

Take my advice –  I’m not using it?

We live in a culture of overwork. Despite what publications like our old favourite the Daily Mail might have us believe, we are far from work-shy, quite the opposite. Often justified as a healthy “work ethic” , we work longer hours, take fewer holidays and fewer sick days than many of our European colleagues. No wonder there are so many people experiencing the effects of chronic fatigue. Pushing oneself to the point of illness cannot in anyone’s book be considered healthy.  Those in employment may feel pushed to work long hours for fear of losing their jobs, and self-employed people like myself may feel that they simply don’t have a choice, because there is nobody else to do it. The truth is, despite how indispensible we imagine we are, things can and do survive and thrive perfectly well in our absence . They really do!

I’m side tracking. I suppose what I am getting at is that this work ethic, this drive to “push through” fatigue, illness, injury and pain also manifests outside of the working environment. Even on the yoga mat. I’ve seen it countless times when students show up at class thinking that somehow they are doing a good thing by making themselves go to Yoga. Because Yoga is good for you, right?

I have had students arrive at class with the flu, in the vomity early stages of pregnancy, with fractures (yup), with a migraine, even with a nose bleed and always, I think ( and often say it too) you should really GO HOME ( via  a doctor if appropriate)

(I should say – because it is my area of specialism –  that in the case of chronic conditions, then it’s a bit different.  Happy to discuss.)

In a recent workshop with my friend and mentor Lorna Penney, we were doing some really deep work and I realised maybe half way through the day that I might not have the necessary emotional resources to teach class that evening. I think I actually said something like “I feel like I never want to teach another yoga class!”  – It’s Okay I changed my mind 😉

What Lorna offered was massively empowering and – at risk of sounding over-dramatic – life changing in its simplicity. She offered to put a closed sign on the studio door and if necessary wait for the students to arrive and tell them that I wasn’t going to be teaching that evening. As it turns out I didn’t take her up on her offer because enough processing was done during the remainder of the workshop to bring me out of my funk, but at that moment, it gave me the sense of space that I needed.  If I  COULDN’T teach, then I didn’t have to – simple.

What came after that was an opportunity to reflect on when it is appropriate to put my own closed sign on the door.  It doesn’t happen very often, but I realise that if I am to be of service to my students and therapy clients, then it is better that I work when my physical, emotional and psychic resources are not depleted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Money Talk

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 I have decided to edit and repost this entry (originally published in March last year)  because it feels very relevant to discussions that I have been having lately with some yoga colleagues.

Perhaps a generalisation, but Yoga teachers really don’t like talking about money,  often finding it difficult to ask for the going rate for their work or to reconcile earning a living from what is – after all – supposed to be a spiritual practice (isn’t it?).  Because of my artsy background and from conversations with other professionals, I am aware that the same is also true of artists, musicians, actors, dancers, photographers, film makers and all those whose talent has driven them outside the mainstream world of work. Some of the most talented and brilliant people I know earn very little from their chosen profession, requiring to top up with income from a “proper” job. ( I do use this term ironically!)

So why is it so hard? Well, for yoga teachers, it is because we are, on the whole, motivated by the desire to teach, to help people and to share the wisdom that we have benefited from as practitioners. Many of us also adhere to a set of principles, one of which translates as “non-grasping” and there is., perhaps,  an underlying belief that spiritual teaching should be freely given.  Truth is, most of us paid for our yoga training, and it wasn’t cheap!

“aparigraha sthairye janma kathanta sambodhah – When one becomes selfless and ceases to take more than one needs, one obtains knowledge of why one was born”  – Patanjali 2:39

But it’s more complex than that. It is also often the case that people choosing to train and then work as yoga teachers are often holding down a full time job at the same time. Most teachers do another job as well as teach yoga, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to afford to eat. It is a rare opportunity to be able to teach yoga full time. So those who can afford to teach yoga, either have a job which guarantees their rent is paid, or ( dare I say it) they have a partner who can support them while they pursue their yoga career. So, I suppose, for some, there is no real imperative to earn an actual living from teaching. And this sets a precedent.

I wonder if it is easier to practice – or preach- Aparigraha, when you personally don’t need to worry about the electricity bill? Hmmm – There is a whole other essay in the demographics of this scenario – and the fact that only a select few can afford to take a yoga teacher training in the first place!

Nowadays, I am one of those rare creatures, I teach yoga full time. I worked full time in a job as well as teaching my yoga classes for a number of years before I made the leap, from which I have never looked back. OK, sometimes I miss the paid holidays, and the sick pay. Oh yes, and the salary! I have never worked so hard in my life, or earned so little. Flicking through magazines like Yoga Journal, one might be led to believe that Yoga teachers live like rock stars . Maybe some do, who knows? The marketing does a good job of maintaining a multi million dollar industry. In my world, the reality is a wee bit different. There is no doubt that yogis who devote themselves to teaching, are doing it for the love of it and not for the money, but we also have to eat, and pay the rent and the bills, the same as everyone else.

A  fellow teacher once pointed out to me that when she worked it out (taking into account number of students, how much they pay per class, studio rent, overheads, travel, preparation time, training costs etc.) she realised she was earning significantly less than the minimum wage. On quiet nights, when there are only 3 or 4 people in class, then it is very easy for it to actually cost the teacher to do the class. And yet, yoga teachers often find it hard to ask for the going rate for their classes. In Glasgow, this is about £8 for a 90 minute class. Private yoga lessons up the difficulty rating, asking for £30 or £40 for a private yoga lesson can be excruciating to those who only ever wanted to teach yoga from their hearts. But we will gladly hand £40 over to a chiropractor for 10 minutes of manipulation. When it comes to making a BUSINESS out of yoga, then this takes us into a whole other platform of inner and outer tensions!  You may like to read my piece about Heart Centred business on this the topic of keeping it real.

The other side of the issue is of course, how other people value the work we do. My experience as a yoga teacher and complementary therapist is that I have often been asked to offer my services “on a voluntary basis.” This is a topic about which I can become rather passionate. What this actually means is that they want me to work for nothing! Volunteering (voluntarily) for a cause close to your heart is one thing, but being asked – or indeed expected –  to do so, just because of the type of work you do… hmmm. Perhaps there is the underlying knowledge that therapists/yoga teachers etc. are doing what they do from the goodness of their hearts (which of course they are) but is it maybe also about how much people believe the work is worth?

In our culture,  goods and services have a price, everyone understands this, and whilst they might complain that a latte and a scone cost £5, or that plumbers ask for a £60 call out fee, or their dental crowns cost £700, or that their new bathroom cost £8000, most people understand that this is what stuff costs. And whilst I personally can argue about the sustainability of this system, I am in it and I need to sustain myself.  But how much should yoga cost? Nothing of course. Yoga is about self enquiry, and this has always been free. As yoga teachers, we are essentially charging for our time, our training, our knowledge. If yoga teachers don’t put a proper value on our work, then why on earth should anyone else?

Even if it doesn’t come naturally, or easily, I believe it is possible and necessary for yogis  to be able to have easy, civilised, non-grasping conversations about money. To ask for a fair price for the work that we do, and still be true to the principles of Yoga. It is all to do with how much we believe that our time and energy is  worth and how much other people value that belief.  Money is simply a form of exchange. It is how we manage the exchange of time, effort and energy in our culture. I have some other arrangements with people where I trade yoga lessons or massages for services and favours and this feels (energetically at least) wonderful. But the bottom line is that I also have to go to the supermarket to buy food, I have to travel, buy clothing, pay bills and also continue to keep myself up to date with new training and skills. I could go back to be that Vata- deranged worn out yogi that was struggling to hold down a full time job AND then I could teach yoga for nothing. OR I could offer heart and soul, and be full energetically present for my practice, my students and my clients and pay myself a living wage. If I was on of my students, I know which I would prefer.

 

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