Recently, a woman came to me asking for free Yoga for a group of at-risk, home-schooled and emotionally distressed thirteen-year old girls. She was hired by the school district as the girls’ home hospital instructor. “I basically help them get through their assignments, tests etc. I also have a private practice as an educational therapist, but this is separate from my job with these students.” Like me, this woman is in private practice, earning a living as I do, one client, one relationship at a time.
Unlike her, I do not have a second profession.
After a wonderful, productive, relaxing and effective hour-long class with the girls and this woman – their teacher – they definitely wanted to continue free Yoga, which was personalized, trauma-sensitive, meditation-based, and included Restorative Yoga, Yoga nidra, meditation and adapted Yoga therapy.
I have volunteered in county jail, in a mental health support center, at conferences, at home and in studios. Last week, I actually offered to pay to teach a class at a public event. I spend time in consultation with people before they choose to hire me for services. I write, research, present, post on social media, offer discounts and sliding scale payments. I have people over to my home and I meet them in the community. I am generous. Last month I taught thirty therapists for two hours, no charge. It was a pleasure. I am generous by nature, and I love what I do and I feel that Yoga is a birthright. I have given away a lot of Yoga in my day, and still do, often.
I must earn a living to continue offering this craft in a sustainable way. I remember the five years I spent teaching classes to retired people in Morro Bay through the community center for five dollars a student. At the time, I did not value my worth, because I was a trauma survivor, teaching to heal myself. Those years, like today, I survived on faith, grace and divine providence – teaching and surviving and having a healthy place to go everyday was its own reward. When I began offering classes on a donation-basis, I realized that people were really benefiting from the Yoga I offer, and it was reflected in my income.
Last week, I spent more time composing emails to the teacher of these highly sensitive girls, educating her on the value of Yoga, than I did guiding her and the girls through the actual class.
This aspect of teaching – teaching the value of Yoga, meditation and stress reduction – is as important as learning how to teach standing mountain pose. I encourage you to value your work in the world if you are a Yoga teacher. Especially if you are a new Yoga teacher, please uphold the integrity of this profession by kindly explaining to those who would have you give your services freely why services cost what they do. New teachers should receive a fair exchange, too.
A few key points:
- Yoga is a valuable practice, a powerful, scientific and evidence-based therapeutic intervention and a profession with real expenses.
For me personally, teaching is my livelihood. Teaching is not my hobby. If you are a teacher who can afford to regularly offer classes for free, you might explain this to students, to differentiate between paid and unpaid opportunities. If my financial situation were different, I would be more than happy to offer even more free classes on a regular basis.
- Yoga is a mutual exchange between teacher and student that provides inner peace, world peace and uplifts everyone.
- Perhaps funds could be raised or could be donated to pay Yoga and meditation teachers…
…by kids, businesses or parents. Funding may be available through federal funding (NIH, NSF, DOD, CDC, DOE, NASA, http://www.grants.gov) or state funding, municipal funding,the Board of Education, foundations, associations and community service agencies such as The Elks or Rotary or OddFellows. Yoga is valuable enough to warrant the effort it takes to procure funding.
I also exchange services from time to time for classes. I got my custom bicycle by trading for Yoga! I trade classes with other teachers all the time!
- Donations often work very nicely and are a gesture of exchange.
Donation-based giving is a powerful concept for people of all ages to put into practice: a donation can express respect and appreciation for self and for the recipient or service and show support of self-worth and empowerment. A realistic donation – even a simple thank you note or a handmade craft offered in gratitude, reflecting perceived benefit from the service, can help a person to express their own value in the world.
When I first began my practice, I. had. no. money. But I dug up ten bucks for the intro ten day special, and, thereafter, I created inspired floral arrangements for the studio lobby. I did this for two studios when the business expanded. I did this for six years. My exchange became a fixture and a part of the culture at the studios. I bloomed with self-esteem, being recognized for my contribution. Bringing flowers every week and keeping them fresh was bhakti: an act of devotion, an expression that I could afford, reflective of my internal spiritual experience. I revered the opportunity to practice because Yoga made my life better in so many ways. My flowers showed my gratitude when I had no cash to spare.
- An un-informed yoga teacher might re-traumatize this population.
Great discernment and discrimination should be used when hiring or choosing teachers for groups as sensitive and delicate as this one: a very impressionable group of young women with profound and specific needs, individually and as a group, who clearly had special capacity for learning if in a trauma-free environment. Their home hospital teacher was referred to me by another local Yoga therapist, who earns her living not as a Yoga therapist but as a marriage and family therapist. Because my colleague knows the sensitivity and effectiveness with which I approach vulnerable and underserved populations, and because she does not offer Yoga therapy professionally, I was contacted.
My services are unique.
- Does the Yoga you offer have a special flavor, a uniqueness to it? Speak up! We need your unique life experience and expression of this science in our world! Someone out there wants your mentorship to guide them back to their sense of self.
The benefits of yoga are innumerable. (You might list some here.)
I ended the email with “Hooray that you all left class yesterday with joy, ease and a transformed awareness!”, reminding her of the value that she expressed to me for all those involved, and that I had delivered what I had promised and that the experience was even better than she had hoped.
The teacher’s reply: “I want to thank you again for the time you gifted the girls last Friday. I know they are appreciative. They, along with their moms, have decided to forgo any future classes. We wish you the best in your efforts to promote health through yoga.”
You win some, you lose some. I feel really good about standing up for myself, restating my value with integrity, and without bullshit. I also feel great supporting the profession and my peers – all Yoga teachers everywhere who work from the heart, whether as volunteers or for their sole source of income. You shouldn’t have to be a Yoga superstar to survive as a Yoga teacher. What we do is powerful, therapeutic, precise and profoundly transformative and healing, if done well.
I know that those girls will return to Yoga one day having had a wonderful, safe, expansive experience in my class. When they pursue Yoga with sincerity, it will be made available to them.