Home' Australian Yoga Life : sample issue Contents Yoga Teachers and Burnout
When internationally known yoga
teacher, Rachel Zinman, collapsed into
bed with exhaustion, unable to move,
speak or sleep, she knew her body was
crying out to her that something was
very wrong with her lifestyle.
After almost a decade of pushing
herself to her physical edge, teaching
and travelling relentlessly around the
globe, Rachel was diagnosed with
diabetes. Slight framed Rachel does not
fit the profile of your usual diabetic, and
is herself convinced the late onset of the
disease is a symptom of stressing her
system out. "I was not eating regularly,
was overworking, not doing enough
aerobic exercise, and putting my
students and family first," she explains.
It seems contradictory that a yoga
teacher would let herself become so run
down, but Rachel's story is not so
unusual and serves as a warning to all of
us who work in this profession. How is it
that we can lose the very lessons of yoga,
of balance, and of self-compassion?
The term 'burnout' is generally defined
as emotional and physical exhaustion
caused by excessive work or study. More
specifically, according to Merriam-
Webster's dictionary, burnout can be the
result of ongoing, compounded stress
Even in a profession in which we
instruct our students in the art of
relaxation and stress management, if we
teach too much and rest too little, we
may be susceptible to burning ourselves
out. In fact, in yet another irony, it's the
very holistic nature of yoga that may
make us more vulnerable to burnout.
Yoga teaching is a profession that is
intrinsically tied to caring for others,
and, as yoga teachers, we may expend a
lot of energy in our classes due to our
feelings of responsibility for our
students' physical, mental, emotional,
and even spiritual wellbeing. This then
begs the question that is the
underpinning of this article: If we do not
look after ourselves, then how can we
have the energy to care for our students?
"I'm very aware of burnout. It's
very easy to get hooked into. It's a
slippery slope with a very long climb
back up the hill," warns Sydney yoga
teacher and traditional Chinese
medicine practitioner, Rebecca Tung. "I
think of it in terms of energy levels and
general health. If you're falling sick
constantly, then there's something
systemic going on."
Another clue that we might be
overdoing things is our behaviour
towards others. For Laya Fisher, director
of the Brisbane Yoga Studio, a good
reality check is staring her in the face
when she comes out of meditation, and
her dog is there begging for attention.
"I'm frustrated because I'm busy and I'm
yelling at my dog. But the dog is just pure
bhakti (devotion). Then I realise, and ask
myself, 'What is going on? Why am I
yelling at her!'" says Laya.
Yoga teacher and Ayurvedic
Practitioner, Jacinta McEwan, says she
knows she's trying to do too much when
she catches herself being short with her
children. "They are my priority, they
become my practice. So I realise I need to
reduce something in my day," she reflects.
The perfection trap
Yoga teachers shared that a contributing
factor to potential burnout may be a
feeling that they are bound by their
Laya Fisher explains that we can
struggle to want to be there for our
students. "Teachers may fall into the
trap of being perceived as perfect," she
says. "Students may put us up on a
pedestal and then that can influence it."
Yoga teacher and teacher trainer,
Michael Nazar, agrees that there is a
perception that yoga teachers are
supposed to never get angry or exhibit
negative emotions. "If you do go into a
class one day and you're not feeling all
those things a yoga teacher is supposed
to be feeling, you may end up
pretending, and that causes stress to the
soul, to the more internal subtle body,
because you're not being true to
yourself," says Michael.
A part of the picture may be the
sometimes unrealistic expectations
teachers also impose on themselves. "I
think what happens with yoga teachers is
that they're trying to transcend emotions,
trying to be beyond illusion," says Rachel.
However, in this very goal of freeing
ourselves from the attachment of our busy
minds and emotions, we may get caught
in the ill-conceived notion that a teacher is
somehow superior to her student. This
then sets the teacher up for failure,
because who, of course, is perfect?"
"People said to me, how could this
Ana Davis explores this apparent contradiction and talks to yoga teachers about
their personal solutions for preventing and managing burnout.
"Yoga is about harmonizing yourself with the greater cycle of the Universe.
Busy-ness is the cause of dis-ease." -- DHARMANIDHI SARASVATI
australian yoga life • december-february 2010 13
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