Friday, January 27, 2012

(A Little More About) How to "Make It" in Bikram Yoga

Wow - I expected to get some reaction, but I am surprised and encouraged by how many people responded to my last post about "How to "Make It" as a Bikram Yoga Teacher." I got so many positive and thoughtful responses - on the blog, on Facebook, and in my inbox. I think people responded because this topic is so often swept under the rug. (There are hundreds of blogs about the teacher training experience, but not so many about the practical teaching experience.) I'm thrilled that my post was helpful to so many people, especially the new teachers!

I think I covered the most significant points in my first post, but other teachers have pointed out some more excellent points that are worth a mention. So without further ado, here is Part II.

Continuing Education

Yes, yes, yes, yes. I know you just shelled out $11k for teacher training, but did you really learn everything there? Don't answer that, it's not even a question. The best content at TT is in Bikram's posture lectures towards the end, and by that point you are totally sleep deprived and overloaded. So keep learning!

Keep your eye out for seminars and master classes in your area. (Or even seminars not in your area - road trip!) Most of those events cost $50 or less for teachers, and they are incredibly valuable. So far I've been to two seminars with Diane Ducharme, a master class with Lynn Whitlow, one advanced seminar (in 2009), advanced classes with Emmy (which are free), and master classes with every international champion since maybe 2008. These have all been immensely helpful for my teaching. And did I mention that they are also great networking opportunities? You can often get on the schedule at a studio for a week or two when a teacher goes out of town for vacation. (I taught for a week at the studio in Richmond after I met the owner at one of Diane's seminars.)

Read books about yoga that inspire you. I have a list of some of my favorite over on the right-hand side of this blog. Just don't go crazy and start overanalyzing everything - keep it simple!

Keep studying your dialogue. I said it before but I'll say it again. Most studios want dialogue. Don't think, "oh, I'll study it more once I have work." That's backwards. Learn the material, get your shit together, and the work will come to you! This is especially true for the newbies. You don't have to be perfect (because perfection doesn't exist), but don't get complacent, either. I know teachers who have been teaching for 5+ years and still look at the dialogue every day. Just keep trying the right way.

And yes, go back and visit teacher training if you have the ability. It can be illuminating. I've been back twice now. The first visit was overwhelming, but the second one was incredible.

Teaching Overseas

I haven't done this yet, but there are definitely opportunities overseas. (I guess I should specify that I am American and writing this from the USA perspective.) Australia seems to be going crazy for Bikram, and there are lots of opportunities down under for teachers under age 30 (due to a quirk of their immigration rules). Sounds like fun!

Studio Ownership

I left this out on purpose because you really have to get some experience as a teacher before you can be a good studio owner - you can't put the cart before the horse! I think HQ requires a minimum 6 months or 100 classes experience before opening a studio (or something like that - maybe somebody can correct me here). In my opinion, that's still an awfully short amount of time. I wouldn't have felt prepared to be responsible for a whole studio after only 6 months! But of course a lot of people go to training from areas where Bikram yoga doesn't exist yet, with the specific purpose of opening a studio in their home town/country, and that's fabulous.

Opening a studio will cost about $150,000 on average, so you have to spend a lot of money to make money. But a lot of studio owners do quite well for themselves after a couple years in business. 

I might open a studio one day, but at the moment I'm not even remotely interested. Owning a studio will almost definitely cut into your teaching and practice time, plus it gives you a whole pile of extra responsibilities. I am very happy to operate as a full-time teacher with no extra worries - it lets me have more fun.

And Finally...

My friend Nikhil suggested that I should revisit the original question. 

I wrote about the question that people are most inclined to ask: "Can you make a living by teaching Bikram yoga?" 

But here's a better question, the one that is always in the air at the beginning of teacher training: "Do you want to change your life?"

It's a personal question. The answer is up to you. But if you are somebody who wants the life of a teacher, then I sincerely hope that this discussion will help you!

Comments are always welcome. I try to read and answer all of them. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to "Make It" as a Bikram Yoga Teacher

I've thought about this topic so many times that I was half convinced that I'd already blogged about it. But I checked my archives and I have not written this post yet. It is time!

I've gotten lots of emails and questions from aspiring Bikram yoga teachers, and everybody wants to know the same thing: "Can you make a living teaching Bikram yoga?"

My answer is YES, but with a few qualifications.

First - The Numbers

Here are the numbers. On average, at least in my experience, new teachers will make about $50/class. (In some cases you'll have to teach a class or two for free as an audition of sorts, but as a rule you should be paid for all public classes!)  As a full time teacher, you would teach maybe 9-12 classes per week. Personally, I teach 10/week whenever possible. (If I teach less, I get bored. If I teach much more, I get burned out.) So do the math - you're gonna start at about $2,000/month.

If you're the sole breadwinner for a family of 4, that's probably not going to cut it.

If you're single and not carrying too much debt, this is totally feasible. You won't have enough money to drink expensive vodka at clubs every night and vacation in Croatia, but you'll have enough cash to go out for beer with friends and go hiking and stuff like that. It's comparable to the money I made as a grad student, less than the money I made as a waitress, and more than the money I made as a starving artist.

Also bear in mind that you will work lots of morning, evenings, and weekends, but you will still have some free time. I used to do some SAT tutoring in the afternoons during my "dead time," which was actually pretty profitable. You could also work from home, if you do any sort of freelance.  Just count on 3 classes/day on average, because you'll be teaching 2 and taking 1. (Gotta keep practicing!) It is tiring at first, but you can adapt to it. My first week of teaching "full time," I spent 90% of my free time napping. But now in a normal week I can teach 10x and practice beginner class 6x, plus 1 or 2 advanced classes, and I have energy to spare.

After a year or two, you may start to earn more. I don't want to tell you guys how much I make now because that's kind of tacky - you can email me if you really need to know - but I'm making significantly more than $50/class and I get some great benefits, too.

Second - How to Get Classes

This seems to be the big topic on the new teacher's discussion boards - getting classes to teach!!

There are plenty of people who chose to return to their normal jobs after training and just teach a couple times a week, and that's totally cool. Especially if you have a great salary that you're not ready or able to sacrifice, this is a really logical thing to do. Your learning curve will be a bit slower if you can only teach a couple times a week, but be patient with yourself.

If you're trying to get classes at a local studio, the etiquette is pretty standard. Call or email, introduce yourself, take class with the owner, and make yourself available. Definitely take class - it's the best way to show the owner your work ethic and your personality. Studio owners aren't looking for you to touch the floor in your backbend or lock out standing bow, but they do want to see if you're a hard worker, if you have a good attitude, and if you understand the yoga - and that stuff will all be obvious in your personal practice. Smile. Owners want to hire people who are nice to be around and won't scare off the newbies. Keep saying your dialogue out loud. Teach class to the birds and the fishes if you have to, but keep it flowing.

Now here's the big topic: what if you want to teach full time and there just aren't classes available in your area?

No choice - you have to move!!

You guys, there are so many jobs out there! And no, they're not in New York City or southern California or Vancouver or Paris. They're in Ohio and Michigan and Albama and Montana. And there are so. Many. Jobs. There are studios that are virtually begging for teachers. One of my friends - a girl who is temporarily teaching with me in Rhode Island - posted to the traveling teacher's group last week: "I need somewhere to teach in the states. What studios are looking for a good dialogue driven teacher? Graduated Fall 2009." She found a job within a couple of days, and she's gotten calls and messages from like half a dozen other studios. She's been like, "Omigod, this is great, but I'm good now, everybody can stop messaging me!!" There are so many jobs.

What you've gotta realize, especially as a new teacher, is that it doesn't really matter where you teach as long as you teach as much as possible. Sure, it's tempting to go for the exotic location or just stick with the familiar location at home, but that's not gonna make you a better teacher. If you want to make a career of this - (and if you don't, that's fine, just do it part-time) - if you really wanna go for it, you just have to get up and go where the work is. The more you teach, the better you get. The better you get, the more opportunities you will have. The more experiences you have, the more locations will be available to you. But to get yourself started? Man, it does not matter where you go. Just go to an established dialogue studio in the middle of Bumf*ck, Nowhere and teach 10/week for a couple of months. Your teaching will grow by leaps and bounds.

Specific Example - What I Did

When I graduated from TT in June 2010, I was still living in southern California.  My "home studio" could only give me maybe 4 classes a week, but I picked up tons of classes when other teachers got sick or went on summer vacation. I drove to the next-closest studio, an hour away, to pick up classes, and I taught a couple times in LA for free.  I went up to Fresno for one week and taught 10 classes there, and that helped immensely. And then I got out of there - like a bat out of hell! - and went to Baltimore because there was a studio there that could give me full time work. I had never been to Baltimore. I only knew one person there: the studio owner.

I planned to stay there for about 3 months. It ended up working out so well that I stayed there for almost a year and a half. Good fit.

While I was living in Baltimore - as my blog readers know - I also did a fair bit of traveling and teaching. In total, I've taught at 16 different studios since I graduated. (And I haven't even taught overseas yet - this is all domestic, in the U.S.) This is helpful in several ways. First, teaching in new places challenges you to grow as a teacher. It's easy to get in a rut if you just stand in the same spot and teach the same group of people every day. Second, it lets you experience more contrast. It opens up your world! You get to see all the different ways that studios operate - the styles, the policies, the communities, the attitudes, everything. This does more than just improve your teaching - it also help you figure out what you're looking for. Then you can really make an educated decision about what you want - and when that perfect opportunity finally presents itself, you will recognize it!!

I'm in such a great place right now - really, blissfully great - and I'm sure that I would not have gotten here if I hadn't done all that exploration first.

Third - Money Can't Buy Me Love!

If I hadn't gone to teacher training, I would still be a Ph.D. student and my income would actually be less that what it is now.

If I hadn't got to teacher training and had stuck with engineering, I could probably have made a six figure salary sometime within the next 10 years.

If I had become an engineer, I would be rich and miserable - because my heart was not there. Sitting in a lab for hours on end never made me happy.

There is no substitute for doing work that you love.

I have enough cash to live comfortably and have fun. I cook, I spend time with my friends, I go on adventures, I laugh often, and I teach almost every day. No substitute.

I have never regretted my choice to become a full time yoga teacher. I have no regrets and no doubts. I don't really know what I'll want in 5 years or 10 years, but I know what I want now, and this is it. It's good stuff.


I'm not even proofreading this post. I want to publish it before I head out to take class, teach class, get dinner at PF Chang's, and see Beauty and the Beast in 3D with the other yoga teachers. :) If there's anything that you think I have left out or got wrong, let me know in the comments and I will post an addendum.


Two days later, after many lovely comments and suggestions, here is Part Two!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Try, Try Again!

As the old saying goes: If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.

This weekend, I once again pulled on my leotard, put on some mascara, and got up on stage to do my 3-minute routine for the local yoga championship.  And what do you know, I once again fell out of my favorite posture, the wonderful standing bow pulling pose.

And I really don't mind!

Last year, when this happened, it took me a couple of days to get over it, but this year I started laughing right away.  Well, not right away - first I did the rest of my postures (without any problem) and got off the stage.  Apparently this one posture just has stage fright.  I can do it on a dime pretty much any time, any place.  I can do it without warm-up, I can do it outside, I can do it for friends, I can even do it in a workshop with the international champions when everybody is watching me.  But it pulls a vanishing act in competition - something about that big empty, quiet room just makes me loose my shit at precisely the wrong moment!

I got much closer this year, though.  Last year I couldn't even get my leg up!  This year I got my leg almost all the way up - I saw a video and it looked much better than it felt - but then I panicked and stopped kicking, so I fell out.  If you lose the balance, you're not kicking hard enough!  I am still pleased with my progress.  By next year, I feel confident that I will be able to keep my nerve and do the posture in public!

I had a lot of fun preparing for the championships this year.  I think I said in my last post, I took a very "come as you are" approach.  My philosophy is that you have the whole year to work on your postures, so all you really need to do at the end is put together a routine and refine it a little bit.

I whined and moaned about competing up until about a week ago.  Then I started running my routine and realized that it was in decent shape.  I don't want to brag, but I did the routine flawlessly (meaning: my personal best) every time I showed it to somebody before the big day.  So I decided to quit worrying about the postures and focus on the mental aspect instead.  The whole thing is 100% mind over matter.  It's actually very interesting to watch one of these events (although I didn't get to watch very much this year).  Almost everybody who gets up to compete has amazing postures.  So it really is a battle of nerves more than anything else.  Who can keep their calm and do their practice under those stressful and intimidating conditions?  That is the true yoga!  It takes tremendous courage (or as Bikram would say, balls) to get up on stage at all.

Anyway, I prepared for this year's competition by meditating on my routine every day.  I would just lay down for a while and visualize the whole thing.  I included in this exercise: how do I want to breathe, what do I want to do with my body, and how do I want to feel while I do it.  It was really fun!  I've never really been "into" meditation before - I would usually either get distracted or fall asleep - but this week I just couldn't get enough of it.  And even though I wasn't entirely successful on stage, I don't blame that on the technique.  Next year I will prepare the same way, but I will start doing it sooner!

It's been nice to reconnect with all my friends in Baltimore this week.  We're all going out one more time tonight for guacamole and margaritas, and then I'm heading back up to Providence tomorrow morning.

Also, my student Lauren competed for the first time this year and she won 3rd place!  I am so proud.  I had a feeling she was going to place - she nailed her routine and she totally deserved to win.  Here is her frigging bow:


I know right??  I can't say I'm surprised that she did so well, since I am well aware of her talents, but I am very happy for her!

As always, even though I had to drag myself into it kicking and screaming, I'm thrilled that I went through this process.  It's a different learning experience every time.  You never get it wrong and you never get it done.*

Now I am relieved to return home, put all that crazy competition stuff behind me for a while, and focus on other things.  These things will include: going out to dances and meet-ups, trying out the flying trapeze, more cooking and baking, less driving, more local exploring, and continuing to develop a super kick-ass yoga practice.  Boo-yah.

Please no sympathy comments.  I feel pretty good.  :)

*For those who recognize that sentence from somewhere: you bet I have drank that Kool-Aid!!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pride and Prejudice, or How I Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Right Side

In the spirit of progress and renewal - abandoning tired old habits and thought patterns, replacing them with better ones, moving forward into the new year - I am going to make a confession.

I have been guilty of one of the seven deadly sins. Fortunately I am not religious in any way, so I don't expect that this is going to result in an eternity of torment. But your body does respond to your thoughts and emotions - this is a fact - so I think I'd better come clean anyway.

Pride. Pride is my mistake.

I have always been proud of my standing bow posture. (See for example my icon.) Okay, you can see why I'm proud of it - it is, objectively, quite a good posture! (SEE - there it is again, pride.) But you know what? I'm only proud of the left side. I've got pictures of the left side up all over the place - from vacations, from championships, from classes, from teacher training. The earliest one was taken in 2007. The left side is the one I use for my blog picture and for my new profile on the Ocean State Bikram Yoga website. (Which: check it out! I'm official!) But not the right side. Never the right side. Not a single picture exists of that posture on the right side.

Why do I have this prejudice against the right side?  You know what? I can't remember. I mean, the left side has always been easier. But in the beginning, it wasn't that big of a difference. Just a small preference, really. Both sides are pretty good. I can lock out on both sides. But sometime in 2007 I started favoring the left side, and I've kept it up ever since.

I've treated left-side-standing-bow like a favorite only child and I've treated right-side-standing-bow like an embarrassing second cousin. Left-side-standing-bow gets showered with gifts - really good ones like iPads - while right-side-standing-bow gets a brick for Christmas. It's like, if I were Petunia Dursley, the left side would be Dudley and the right side would be Harry Potter in the cupboard under the stairs. Poor thing.

So really, my mistakes are pride and prejudice. Aha! Now I have a title for this post!!

I have held this prejudice for going on 5 years now. I mean, why not? I'm just neglecting one half of my body - what could possibly go wrong??


I pulled my hamstring last week. In standing bow. On the good side. I was holding the posture (for once), kicking and stretching, equal and simultaneous, 50-50, feeling like everything was good in the world. And then one spot on the bottom of my standing leg thigh went snap. It didn't hurt - it just felt like snapping a rubber band. I didn't even move. All that moved was my brain. My brain said, "ooooooh, shit."

This is not really a big problem - it's just a small pull, I'm being very gentle and taking good care of it (hand on the floor for standing separate leg stretching, no pulling, check), and it should be all healed up in a couple more weeks.  Except - except! - I'm signed up for the Maryland regional championships next weekend. I'm competing next Saturday.

You see what this means, right??  I have to do the other side - the "bad side" - on stage in a leotard in front of everybody.

Everything is in divine order! 

(It's so irritating when that happens. I get it, I get it, I get the fricking message.)

Incidentally or maybe not, I got some amazing body work done just before Christmas by this guy named Bruce, who is a legend in these parts. He does energy healing (which sounds crazy but I don't know what else to call it) and chiropractic adjustment. This was my first Bruce session and it blew my mind. He's amazing. He looked at my body for a few minutes, barely touched me, and then knew 1) exactly what my problem was and 2) what specific emotion had caused it. The root of the problem was 100% emotional (and no it wasn't pride, it was a different one, I'm not going to say what) and it was fucking up the whole right half of my body. When Bruce named the emotion, I was just like - yup, absolutely. He was spot on. And this was no fuzzy science, this was a very precise emotion. And then the crazier part was that he made it go away. Not 100% cleared, but like 90% better. And then he did lots of fun snapping and popping to put stuff back into place, and at the end my body felt incredible.

And then I pulled my hamstring. Too bad for me! It is all part of the process!!

I'm taking a very "come as you are" approach to this upcoming championship. I've been practicing for it in a sort of half-assed way after class, and I'm sort of hoping that things will magically come together. I'm so not in it to win it, and for me, that's probably better! I'm just gonna go down to Baltimore, see my friends, teach some classes, drag my butt up on stage for 3 minutes, do my seven postures including that beautiful long-neglected right-side standing bow, cheer on my fellow yogis, and then go out for a drink. At least two drinks. I hope I can convince Lauren to drive.

Out with the old, in with the new!


On a related topic, the New York Times magazine published a somber article last week titled How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. I read the whole thing. It's long and moderately interesting, but by the time I finished, I still wanted those 10 minutes of my life back.

There have been lots of good comments among the yogis on Facebook, all along the lines of: "Yes, you can get injured in any activity if you follow your ego and don't respect your own limits." Also: "Boy am I glad that we do Bikram!" (Surprisingly, for once, Bikram yoga is not mentioned once in the article, and all the postures that the article complains about are ones that are omitted from our series. Score.)

But the best response, by far, is this blog post by an Astanga yogi titled Reading Blogs Can Wreck Your Body. It is so damn good. You can skip reading the original article and just read this response - it will leave a better taste in your mouth. Check it out!