teaching yoga - how I started
I first realised I didn't know much about anything when I was twenty three. I'd ticked the high school box, the university box, and now what? Up until this point I had blindly believed there was the shiny promise of a job I loved, of financial stability, of ripe adulthood at the end of the University tunnel, but of course, there was not. So I did what I knew how. I avoided the situation entirely and went to Japan and South Korea for an extended holiday. I moved out of my apartment in Sydney (the eighth sharehouse in five years) and for most of the time I was away I lived in my friend Kasumi’s apartment in a suburb called Hattori Tenjin, about 10 minutes outside of the Umeda area in Osaka, Japan.
Kasumi’s apartment was miniscule. She’s a miniscule person and even she looked normal sized in that space. It was one of the best places I’d ever lived. I loved those 3 square metres so damn much. The kettle that held a single cup of water. Bathing with my knees up around my chin. The futon that folded into a couch and back into a futon. My friend moved in with her boyfriend (now husband) and I lived in this tiny apartment having tiny baths and practicing yoga and writing and eating onigiri and mikan and tofu donuts and freezing my ass off the entire time.
If I felt lonely at night I’d put on the Japanese TV and found the laughter and the constant EHHHHH?!? and the soft sound of instant curry advertisements soothing. In the morning, my neighbour would chant just loud enough to wake me up. Most evenings I’d go to Kasumi’s place and she’d make me dinner because you are guest ne! even though I was living in her house and taking up all her space and time. Occasionally I’d meet her when she finished work. We’d go to a 2.80 yen (AUD $3) bar in Ishibashi. Sometimes we’d have a beer, but often we’d just have hot tea and picked chili cucumbers, potato fry (hot chips) and big bowls of raw cabbage covered in ponzu sauce.
At the time I’d graduated from a writing degree about a year earlier. I don’t regret going to Uni, but if I had my chance again, I wouldn’t go back. I had been working in a department store selling dresses I would never wear. I had no plans to study further. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do other than write. During my time away I wrote and published a lot, but I couldn’t think of a way to make it work. I hadn’t seen anyone in my peer group become even remotely financially stable as a writer, outside of being an academic (which as you can probably tell from my poor grammar, is my absolute worst nightmare). The solitude and sitting of writing as a full time thing didn’t appeal to me either.
Toward the end of my time in Japan I felt a very deep sadness at the idea of leaving. My life there was simple, cheap and way too much fun, but I needed to go back to work. I remember driving past a preschool and Kasumi saying “you could get a job there.” I seriously considered it. I thought about going to Seoul for a week and applying for a working visa in Japan. Maybe a year of pushing Japanese pre schoolers around in a cart (seriously) and going home to write afterwards would be nice. I had even started a blog about travelling like a local in Japan. But something about staying seemed off. Something about staying felt like putting something bigger off. Although I loved Japan, I felt as though I needed to be around a yoga community or at least a studio I could practice at, and to stick with the healthier habits I’d been developing. That definitely wasn’t going to happen in downtown Osaka, so I went home.
At home, I went back to retail, I wrote a lot of poetry, I practiced a lot of yoga, I stopped drinking alcohol for two years and less than a year later, I started a yoga teacher training in Sydney. I had decided I could supplement my writing life by teaching yoga classes. I’m kind of glad I was so audacious, so mind-blowingly clueless about teaching yoga, that I thought I could make it work. I couldn’t shake the idea. Nothing about it seemed as crazy as it actually was.
I remember the first day of our teacher training having a vague idea of what I might be getting myself into. There were people there who had been practicing yoga longer than I’d been walking and they were saying yeah I’m just doing this for my personal practice and we’ll see what happens. I was there, 24 and clueless, tightest hamstrings in town all like yeah no I want to be a yoga teacher. That’s why I’m here. Why else? Clueless.
In my yoga teacher training I finally found the passion and determination for learning I had expected to feel in University but never did. I was obsessed. I walked around the house calling sun salutes and full sequences out loud over and over again. I wrote down every book recommendation a teacher gave in the training and read as many of them as possible. I studied for the exam like my life depended on it. I took classes all over the place and wrote out the sequences in as much detail as I could remember.
About half way through teacher training I received what I believed to be my dream job offer. A writing job. In health and wellness. I was ecstatic. It was in a Surry Hills office, a huge kitchen, lots of natural light, casual dress code. I had my own desk and computer and after years of working in fashion retail being treated like a disobedient teenager and having my phone (rightly) confiscated I felt like I had Made. It.
When my wage was quite literally lower than what I was making in retail, when my job title didn’t match the work I was doing, when my boss (whose voice I was supposed to emulate on social media) rescheduled our meetings over and over again, so I almost never met her, I didn’t say anything. I considered myself SO LUCKY just to have the job, I looked the other way. Finally, when people asked, what do you do? I had an answer. I thought I would be taken seriously for the first time. Or at the very least, not have people look at me the way my high school Italian teacher did when I asked her how many items she had today as she walked into a David Jones fitting room.
I’m sure you already know one of the most terrible reasons for wanting or having a job is what it looks like on the outside. What other people think or assume you should be doing. A short time after starting I genuinely started to miss working in retail. I missed being on my feet. I hated working 9-5. I hated sitting at a computer all day. It was an identity crisis. I was a writer. I loved blogging and social media. I loved food and wellness, but I hated this. If this wasn’t it, what was it?
Being made redundant hit me like a ton of bricks but it was one of those moments that causes me to believe the universe or some higher power has our backs at least some of the time. I don't know how I could have made the choice to leave that job. I’m so grateful someone else did it for me. After that I was in a difficult place. Even though I’d missed some aspects of retail I was determined not to go back. I knew as well as my regional manager arranging handbags and wearing lipstick were not my actual strong points.
But I didn’t have enough experience to do anything other than sling dresses and handbags to rich women and I was about to finish my teacher training. I had no money and no ideas other than yoga. I asked the owner of the studio I trained at if she needed anyone to write blog posts or look after the website. Turned out she did. She needed more than that. She needed a studio manager. Two weeks later I started managing a yoga studio and learnt how to do everything on the job. It was really, really hard work, but in the two years I worked there I learnt a huge amount about running a studio and small yoga business. Two months after I started managing, I got my first permanent class, 7:45pm Yin, Thursday nights. I think I made about $24 a class for the first few weeks, at best. Some weeks I taught the class and still made $0. But I thought I’d won the lottery.
From there, I started teaching more. I picked up extra classes at the studio I was managing. Another studio asked me to teach restorative and hatha for a set rate of $50 per class, which at the time felt like pure gold. Alongside teaching and managing I ran a Bondi Cafés social media accounts 1.5 days a week to make up for all the money I wasn’t making teaching yoga. I saved anything that was left to enrol in Sarah Powers yin teacher training and take as many workshops as possible. I started teaching more classes and in more studios. It grew quickly from there.
I’m not going to say it was all fun and super easy because it wasn’t (and sometimes still isn’t). There were a lot of very early mornings and late nights. A lot of small class numbers and realising even the bus fare wasn’t covered by what I made teaching. A lot of worrying about the face that person was making second from the back. I spent on average about 4 hours preparing a class at first. Days in advance. But while working for little pay at the office job made me feel sick and depleted and very small, working for very little teaching yoga inspired me to learn more, step it up, to serve better, to go deeper.
What I’ve been thinking of recently based on my own experience of moving into a job I truly, deeply love is three main points or ideas:
1. No back up plan is not necessarily a bad thing. When you have nothing to fall back on, you need to give everything to plan A to make it work.
2. Always listen to that small voice. Not by giving everything else up, but make a point of following through on it to see what happens. Even if it feels terrifying. Even if it feels like it will never work.
3. Work hard for the right reasons. If you are working hard for someone who doesn’t treat you well, pay you well or where there is no longer room to learn and grow, ask yourself why you are doing it, and what would happen if you started to explore other options.
I can’t really finish this blog post because I am still in the process of becoming a yoga teacher and I hope that never changes. It continues to push me way out of my comfort zone and simultaneously feels like the most comfortable thing in the world. Clueless twenty three year old me would be happy to see I haven’t completely given up on writing, but perhaps shocked it ended up taking the far back seat.
I share this because I really love reading and hearing about other peoples stories, all too often on instagram or even in conversation it can seem it's easy for everyone else. And hey, maybe sometimes it is. But I think generally, the careers and passions and experiences worth fighting for, are not, don't you agree?