I’m fast approaching my two year anniversary as a registered yoga teacher. And although I am young in my practice, both as teacher and as student, these past two years have taught me more than I could have imagined – probably more than I can actually recall. I’ve definitely learned a lot more about myself, more about my practice, and more about working with other people. At 25 I feel as if I’m beginning to find my place in the world, I’m creating a life I’m excited to live, figuring out who I really am, finding out what’s really important to me, and building a brand – all while trying to have as much fun as humanly possible.
Almost a year ago I made the leap from part-time to full-time yoga instructor, giving up my nights waiting tables so I could put all of my focus and all of my energy into this decision. Sunburnt & Salty Yoga Company had been a dream of mine for a while and I felt in my bones that this was the time. Taking this step was scary. Waiting tables was my comfort zone. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to do this on my own. I’ve always been one of those people who wait until conditions are perfect – and we all know how well that works out – when you hesitate, you usually never go. And that was my old way of being – to allow the fear to stop me from following my heart. My teacher training taught me to be fearless and to follow my inner compass, so I jumped in head first. Since then I’ve been slowly building my brand as a yoga teacher, learning from my own mistakes and experiences, as well as putting to use the helpful tips and information that I’ve absorbed from other teachers and professionals that I deeply admire. So here’s what has been working for me.
Stay true to who you are and what you do.
Like many other professions, yoga teachers are their own brand. Now we could go into a debate and quote the Sutras and explore the philosophy of yoga until we are blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is: if you make a living teaching yoga, you are, (1), incredibly fortunate, and (2), building a brand that is a direct reflection of YOU. Even if teaching is not your main income – even if you just have a couple of students, or even if you just have a Facebook page, or maybe an Instagram account, then you, my friend, have a brand. You are a brand. Welcome to 2015. So if you are a yoga teacher, think back to your 200-hour teacher training, if not hang in there for a moment, the primary goal of this foundational training is to remove the layers of false identity that we have built up and attached ourselves to throughout the course of our life. It wakes us up to who we actually are. We come full circle to our highest, authentic Self. And once we are honest and open and free, only then can we begin to guide others through this same transformation. So although you are teaching a sequence and instructing people to move through different poses, you are also actually sharing a part of your true Self with others, drawing inspiration from your unique experience, working to maintain your own integrity while guiding students through their own personal transformation. This integrity, this authenticity, is the foundation of a solid teacher as well as a solid brand. Know who you are (or what your brand represents) and stay true to that.
Keep your heart open and your intentions pure.
“…People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This quote by the late and great Maya Angelou was an influential quote during my teacher training and one that I still revisit to this day. When I think about all of my favorite teachers I don’t think I necessarily liked them because they would challenge me, I think I was drawn to them mostly because of the messages they shared and because of the passion and energy and dedication they put into teaching each class. The classes were, and still are, never about them. It is always about the students. Each time I take a class under one of my “gurus” I understand teaching (and branding) a little bit better – it is less about instructing and more about an offering of gratitude for the gift of life and connection and health. Great teachers aren’t great because they can do crazy poses or because they can make you work up a sweat, great teachers are great because they teach from the heart – they allow themselves to be open and vulnerable and raw with their students. Their passion for what they do is obvious. Their devotion to the practice is evident. And their genuine concern for the students and others around them is unmistakable. Just like we are drawn to the passionate teachers that remove their personal agenda from a class, people will naturally be drawn to you or your brand if you infuse it with that same passion and genuine concern for others.
How are people going to know about you/your brand/what you are doing if you don’t put yourself out there? It’s OK to promote yourself. Is anyone else going to do if for you? Most likely no. Get out and meet people. Go door to door and hand out flyers. Just start talking to strangers – always being respectful and courteous, of course. If you haven’t already, create a website or Facebook page or Instagram account, social media is FREE advertising people! Let your marketing be a direct reflection of YOU, because you are your brand. Again, this will attract the kind of people you want. I’ve definitely gained some clients and other work opportunities via social media, but one of the coolest things about this Facebook-Twitter-Instagram world is that I’ve able to connect with (and even meet face-to-face with) some really amazing, like-minded individuals from around the globe. For me, now, social media has become less about the likes and followers and reposts and more about the connection: the new friend I made on the other side of the world, the message I received telling me that I’ve inspired someone to start practicing yoga, or the realization that no matter how different we all appear to be, we still all share the same emotions and fears and worries. Branding, yoga, life… it all comes down to that connection. Things always work better when we all work together.
Get over the fact that there will be haters.
With all that being said, no matter how nice you are, no matter how pure your intentions there will always be those people that just don’t like you. And that’s cool. Well now I know it’s cool, but at first, this was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn. Because really the problem is their own, not yours, and you have way better things to do than to spend your time worrying about what others may think. Now I won’t lie, there are many times where I catch myself pausing before I post on Instagram or stressing over what I said in a yoga class because I’m so concerned that others might laugh or judge or hate. But then I remind myself of moving from authenticity, and as long as I maintain my passion and my integrity, I know that every choice I make and every word I speak is coming from my truth. And if people don’t like what I post or what I do or what I say, then I’m not going to take it personally. If it makes you happy and it’s not harming yourself or anyone else then by all means do what you want to do! And that goes the same for those who are different from you. No judgment, no anger. Accept all the different beliefs and then let yourself move right along. You can’t please everyone so don’t waste your energy trying to do so. Remember, stay true to you. The good people will stick around.
I always come back to something my boyfriend’s dad would tell him: “There is plenty of room in this world for hard-working people.” And it’s so true. If this is something you really want, then you have no choice but to put your head down, work hard, and go do it. For me as a yoga teacher, I at times struggle with charging people for my service. I feel bad, guilty even. It’s like I don’t deserve the money or something. But then I must remember that this is now my career. This was my decision. This is how I pay my bills and put food on my table. Your clients/customers/friends should respect this and honor the fact that this brand is how you are choosing to survive. And most people do. At the same time, you should respect yourself enough and honor the fact that you made this choice. If you don’t value your time and energy, others will not value your time and energy.
It always comes back to balance.
When you are building a brand, especially when you are your brand, it can be hard to take a step away from everything to focus on self-love. But this is one of the most important pieces of advice that anyone could have given me. Give yourself some tender, loving care. Shut down the computer. Turn off your cell phone. If you need to, take a break from your yoga mat and get your body outside and into nature. Get a massage or take a mini-vacation. Balance your career work with service work. Be of service to others and to your planet: offer a free or donation-based community yoga class or workshop to your town, maybe raise awareness or funds for a non-profit, volunteer at the local animal shelter, or go for a walk on the beach and pick up some trash along the way. Practice getting out of your head and getting connected with your intuition. What feeds your soul? What refuels your energy? What gets you really excited about life? Go do that. Own who you are, without judgment or guilt or shame. And remember that hard work combined with a positive and pure intention is one powerful formula. Sprinkle in a little gratitude and you are setting yourself up for success… in every area of life.