How I made the leap to teaching yoga full-time

Cabana view in Mexico
In October 2009, I was at my first teacher training with Baron Baptiste at Maya Tulum in Mexico. The week was a re-birth for me, the time when my perspective on my world radically changed thanks to Baron and the awesome community I found there. I was inspired, full of fire and terrified of what was to come. We were asked to set an intention for life a year from that point, and I tentatively said I would be teaching yoga full-time, even though I didn't know if I meant it. I no longer loved my job, but was I ready to give it up for yoga? Um, maybe? Did I have any clue how I was going to do it? Hell no.

One year and four months later, I did it. I left my full-time job in January to teach yoga. A lot of people have asked me how I did it. Before I get into the practical side of things, you should know I'm a calculated risk-taker. I've moved to both China and Alaska knowing no one, but I had job offers both times. I would never charge off a cliff with my eyes closed. One friend compared my latest decision to jumping into the deep end of the pool with arm floaties. Guilty as charged.
Thinking things through.

But I can tell you it is possible. My way is by no means the right way, but so far — fingers crossed — it's working out. Here are some things I figured out and learned along the way to teaching yoga full-time.
  • Create an emergency fund: Yoga teachers scrape by. Some teachers I know have 18 to 20 classes a week to make everything work. I knew teaching might be dicey financially, especially during the transition, so first and foremost, I started saving. For the past year, I put all my extra yoga pay away on top of committing to saving from my regular paycheck. Most financial books advise having three to six months worth of living expenses in your emergency fund. I went for the high end. Once I hit my number, I felt a lot easier about diving into Yoga World.
  • Teach yoga: Most teachers recommended teaching for at least a year while holding down another job to build a following. It also helps you figure out if you genuinely love teaching. I started off with two classes, subbed a lot and then ramped up to four at three different studios. This approach, by the way, is utterly exhausting. But you'll also figure out fast how much you love something if you're doing it on top of a 40-hour-a-week gig. Me, I needed that year. I definitely liked teaching at first, but I didn't know it was a calling until my second teacher training in September 2010. Then, truly, there was no turning back.
  • Build a full-time class schedule: I was given varying advice on how many classes is "enough." Ten is a good number to aim for, but one mentor suggested I not think of it in such a goal-oriented, Western way. She said if I set the intention, I would know when the time was right. My tipping point came when one studio offered me two more classes on top of the four I already had. I knew adding more classes would send me to the ER with a nervous breakdown unless something else gave — like my job! Another studio also lost a teacher around that time and offered me two to four more. All of a sudden I had 8-10 classes ready to go for January. Hello, New World Order.
  • Find side gigs: Yoga can pay the bills, but just barely. As an independent contractor, you don't have benefits from the studios. You rack up miles driving all over the place. Training is costly. The list goes on. It's helpful to have a side gig that uses a skill you already have and pays. Some teachers are massage therapists; others do consulting work. I am a writer, and I benefit from some stable freelance work. If all else fails, open a studio! (Kidding. Sort of.) 
  • Research health insurance: This is the first topic concerned, motherly types ask me about. I was worried, too. Some teachers go with high-deductible emergency insurance only. As healthy as I am, I wasn't willing to risk that. A few months ago, I heard about a start-up, member-based health care clinic in Seattle called Qliance. Members pay $50-$80 a month and get unlimited time with a primary care doctor. Top that off with some high-deductible emergency insurance, ranging from $100-$200, and you can cover most of your basics, including prescriptions and some specialty care. I am relying on COBRA from my old job for my dental and vision coverage. My monthly insurance bill will come in at a very reasonable $250. Look around; you may be surprised at what you find.
I know this all sounds oh-so-sensible. The truth is despite all the planning, I was freaked out to my very core. But every practical step helped ease my fears. More than that, I wanted to make yoga my everything. I'm now deep in the consequences, which is its own post. But I have no regrets. I don't miss my old job in the slightest. My teaching has grown by leaps and bounds in just a few weeks. I am running life on my terms doing something I LOVE, and it is incredibly empowering.

I'll leave you with the song that has become my theme song for 2011.


So very, very scared, but doing it anyway

I quit my job. Thursday is my last day at my nice, benefits-laden job that pays me to write. Yeah, I know, let's not even get into it. It's a career I've had for 10 years, and instead, I'm choosing to teach yoga. It's pretty dang terrifying. You'd think it would be the scariest thing I've done so far in 2011. Wrong-o! I'm frightened off my rocker that I just applied for a 10-day vipassana meditation retreat at the Northwest Vipassana Center. It's unsettling on the financial level (I'm leaving paid vacation behind), but it mostly freaked me out me because I'm afraid of everything on the daily schedule. I've heard from many that meditation retreats are the hardest thing they've ever done. To quote Omar, NO DOUBT. Although it's not like the center makes it sound easy. It states very clearly on the website: 10 days of noble silence; 10 days of 4 a.m. wake up calls; 10 days of me and my head. I'd be crazy not to be afraid. I mean, doesn't this place look threatening?

But it also has become clear that 10 days was the only way. Let's take my New Year's resolution -- made eight days ago -- to meditate daily. I've already skipped two days. I don't have that kind of resistance with yoga. Oops. I spend more time overthinking meditation than doing it. (Clearly.) Unlike with yoga, I haven't had a "eureka" moment with meditation. My yoga moment was a huge shift. I was on retreat with San Francisco teachers Rusty Wells and Janet Stone in 2007 on Isla Mujeres in Mexico; Janet was working our hips like, well, a mo-fo. It was brutal. All of a sudden I felt a curious twinge. By shoulder stand, tears were leaking onto my mat. I straight-up bawled during savasana. Since then, nobody has had to talk me into keeping up my yoga practice. But meditation brings up a whole boatload of crazy-ass resistance. My motto this year is "Scared But Doing It Anyway." I've mostly gotten over the fear of quitting my job, but have not come close to conquering scary, scary meditation. So tonight, I went to the Northwest Center website, filled out the application for a week in March, shuddered and clicked send. And maybe screamed a little bit.


How to survive 365 days of meditation

I have a sweet meditation set up. There's a cute little mirrored altar table, a pretty patterned cloth, a picture of my grandma, candles, Ribbit the frog and in the summer, fresh tulips or dahlias. I recently bought a cherry blossom-print meditation cushion filled with cushy buckwheat.

But do I sit? When guilt takes over, yes. That is to say, very, very rarely. Motivation comes in weird spurts. I went to a daylong retreat with teacher Howard Cohn of California's Spirit Rock in November. He explained so many things so well. I vowed to sit again. I sat once.

But on New Years Day, something lurks in the air deeper than ordinary guilt. Resolutions and I have a fraught history, but my meditation practice needed an intervention. At 11:40 p.m. on 1/01/11, I sat my butt down on that cushion. I told myself I would do this not just tonight, but every night. There's a movement among yogis on Twitter to practice yoga 365 days this year. Real life has a bad habit of getting in the way of even the most dedicated yoga practice, and a 365-day commitment to daily asana practice seemed like lunacy. But meditation? Sweet, sweet meditation can be done anywhere where you won't be interrupted for 15 minutes. I don't know what has come over me, but apparently 2011 will involve a lot of time sitting. It's Day 3 of 365, and I don't have anything to confess. Yet.

If you're new to the practice of meditation, here are a few tips to help get you through a 15-minute sit.

1. Find a comfortable seat on a block or a chair. Set an alarm.
2. Don't try to "meditate." Just sit, and breathe.
3. When your mind starts making up stories about how bad you are at meditation, politely tell it to shut its trap, and sit and breathe.
4. If your foot falls asleep, just sit and breathe.
5. If you are wondering if your 15 minutes are up yet, they aren't. Sit, and breathe.

Happy New Year!
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr