Finding Value: Yoga Teacher Economics by Ross Dixon

This writing is a response to a facebook post & thread in the IYN group by Ellen Lee. It is a discussion about the value of yoga teaching, around the issue of a 'Yoga Instructor' Job listing. The post & discussion can be found here:

Regarding value and yoga, my context being a '6.5 years in' yoga teacher at the time of writing. I thought I'd consider the issue from a few angles and see if it brought any light personally before considering sharing anything. When I think about this value concept, I can think of, to begin with, at least 4 angles that must be under consideration for my work to happen properly.

1 I have to value my own experience and my ability to share it.

Although seeming simple, this can get slippery in a culture of add ons. By add ons, I mean the branding of health clubs or classes that are out there that people buy into and go with for a while, to see if they get the desired outcome. This could be a weight loss plan, a fitness craze or whatever TV or friends/family have said is good/funky/cool/effective at the moment. For myself as someone who partly works within that world, my classes often form add ons within the health programs of the public. In conversation with them between classes, if I get a sense of their 'health frame' my feeling can be 'oh my God' as in; it may dawn on me that 'this person is aggressively going after flexibility' for example. Also however, I think this is just how framing works. I speculate that I give my teachers a similar feeling when they listen to my ideas. So as part of my ability to share, I have to acknowledge that there will be paradigm clashes. An obvious example being someone looking for a nice, '#Yoga' add on, to a health program. Along to my class they come, to find me framing everything as a decades long inquiry & process, not a #Yoga idea at all. On the plus side, these meetings of paradigms can give perspective on both sides; I have to remember that people are busy managing their lives and aren't paying to hear me wax philosophical or psychological for the hour/90 mins. I can however, base my class content in sound Yoga principles, and verify them in my practice before sharing. While I might bristle at people's comments & expectations about Yoga; I can grasp that for person a) It might be their only peace and quiet in the week. Person b) It could be a bridge between physio and exercise after a 'health event'. Person c) It could be their 'mobility' add on as a strength trainer or something. Person d) It could be their stability add on as a person with ligament laxity (I've come to see it that there's as many types of people as there are people at this point). So another way to keep these paradigm clashes in context is to remember that every time I have an authentic conversation with an individual, I am having a paradigm clash with someone that has their own perspective. It may be easier if everyone 'just got me and understood' but then, what experience would I be offering? So my ability to value and share my own perspectives is my currency when negotiating these apparent rifts.

2 To be offering value, I have to value the cumulative/non linear/ongoing enquiry that is Yoga.

As a student (when I am doing it right) I am in sponge mode. Really feeling what my teachers are revealing about how I get into this Yoga thing and the value is in the many aha moments I have. Usually about how I am not refined enough in my attention to move or support my body (doing far too much, far too little or the wrong things), or just not patient enough with the process. Eventually, I became a practitioner. Here I have my own 'practice lab', where I can test ideas for myself (it's a more personal inquiry than the testing & verification that happens in class). Then after a few more years, the teacher thing happened. I can take the aha moments from my experience as a student, test & refine them in my practice and then try to communicate them in my teaching. After the mistakes, false assumptions, and fumblings of getting on my feet as a teacher; one of the main things I have learned is that you never stop being a student; good student-hood is essential to good practitioner-hood and these two form an ongoing foundation as a teacher. Assuming 'I don't need to learn now I can practice' is not as sketchy as 'I don't need to practice now I can teach' or 'I don't need to learn now I can teach' because of the implications of what I may pass on under that assumption. If there's no engagement & ongoing research of learning & practice processes, there can't be any relevant insights to share. The meeting of those things is what gives me my teacher perspective. A handy thing during tricky conversations. 'I may have to take that idea away and have a think about it or chat with more experienced teachers and get back to you' can often be a better answer than throwing a few big words together to sound clever (a thing I have done many times).

3 For me to have work, there has to be enough value in what I offer so that people will pay to engage it.

I've found that, thankfully, there are people from all backgrounds who are capable and willing to engage in sensible Yoga inquiry. After many of the conversations mentioned previously it can feel to me that #Yoga or 'Convenience Yoga' is risking in many ways reducing itself to fit in with the economic/political structure around it. It can be helpful to remember that while Yoga can be 'just another word' on a timetable of other words; (the power of seeing my class on a timetable with many other class names weirdly confuses me and can twist my thinking into this belief that Yoga is a smaller thing than it actually is- see the discussion on Ellen Lee's facebook post linked above for more on this). Rather than letting myself get spun out by how impressionable I am; Personally I decided to just be the guy who honestly translates that which he has found practical & valuable from his Yoga research journey, and provide content that allows for inquiry & discovery in others. Having this straight has helped me communicate with potential students/employers/clients/companies that I have a considered structure in place that I refine as I learn, which is focused on the value of providing principled yoga content and experiences for them or their customers. Welcoming those questions and being oriented in what I provide can really help not only get me and the people I want to work with together, but be an opportunity for people to sound me out and avoid me ending up in situations that I may not want to end up in. In times of being a vulnerable newbie, or where financial strain causes me to say yes to work that I assume may be 'less me', I think of these as opportunities to test my principles, or at least negotiate if people are very set in 'auto Yoga'. It's back to those paradigm clashes again. If I am drawing from my experience and Yoga principles, in theory I have what I need to negotiate tricky questions, even if it's the honesty principle I'm drawing from i.e. 'I don't know' again :-). Also, whether I like it or not I'm part of a community of teachers/instructors/trainers at the places I work. From my experience it all works more smoothly if we encourage students to 'try whatever interests them' and go with what feels right/fits their schedule and don't take it personally if that's not your stuff. I've noticed that once I see how I practically fit in an organisation and offer value- it takes all the competitiveness out of what I'm doing and once I don't feel like I'm fighting to prove myself, I can get on with what I do and hey presto it's much more likely to find a place there.

4 For my classes to be valuable, I need the ability to ask during a class 'Is value happening here?'.

Plenty of times the answer will be no. It's OK, we are talking about a random sample of adults. They may realise they are getting something from the class, but be excited and therefore chatty or bored while they adjust from the Yoga they expected to the Yoga that is. Friendships will form and people will be keen to converse etc. The human chaos factor must be respected. Even if my teacher craft was perfect (LOL), issues like variety of learning styles, people deciding to come to class when ill/tired/upset etc. will always be there to keep me humble. I've had to look at this as a trade off. The Yoga principles of ahimsa, satya and svadyaya. One of the IYN founders and current secretary Pete Yates once described them to us as questions; 'Is this based in practice?' 'Is enough time being allowed for exploration?' and 'Is this content safe here & now?' Can really help keep (or draw me back) to actual teaching if the learning buzz has crossed over into chaos or something. They are also their own value gauge. Also 'have these people been kneeling/sitting too long?'. Sometimes despite my eagerness to see a lesson plan through just as I'd planned it, people will probably be willing to suffer through things that aren't productive for them and I have to respond when I notice that happening. My sense of managing a productive Yoga experience for a group is under constant refinement in that I am looking for clues about how the group is handling an idea. If I honestly feel they've got it then OK, but there will be at least as many times that I don't (examples being communication issues if I see that I said something wrong or they didn't hear me right, people being really eager to please & perform or being scared or unsure). What makes the difference is how I handle those situations.

These are the ways I self regulate to stay engaged with my process as a professional yoga teacher. The existence of these is central to that happening. My workshop 'Engaging the Yoga Process' will be next February. Check our website and our facebook page feel now yoga for details of that, our Teacher Training and Foundation Courses and our other workshops. Thanks for reading. Also thanks to Ellen Lee for sharing the original post and the IYN group members who stimulated this thought clarification process for me.

Ross DixonComment