Do you sometimes feel burned out, exhausted, and in real need of a "re-set" button? Do you have a set of self-care practices that helps you to do that? Are you seeing the need for self-care practices, and wondering how to make and maintain them? As yoga instructors, we give much of our energy and loving-kindness to our students – so that they can reach closer to their best selves. Those things are like money in the bank – if withdrawn, they need to be replaced, or there’ll be a deficit. Low funds in the bank can result in fees and debt. Low energy and loving-kindness can result in lack of enthusiasm for our work, bitterness, depression and burn-out.
In graduate school for Mental Health Counseling: Dance/Movement Therapy (from which I graduated a little more than a year ago), the importance of self-care, and how to go about keeping it in our lives, was a consistent theme. Why? Apart from psychological science and concrete counseling techniques, much of the work comes from being one’s most empathic, present, and non-judgmental self. In the face of many people’s emotional and psychological pain – day-in and day-out – that’s not possible without self-care. With Dance/Movement Therapy, all of that also involves the body; Dance/Movement Therapists experience clients’ pain and trauma on a somatic level, and can take into our own bodies.
It’s similar with yoga instructors; though we don’t serve in a clinical role, we are also often tasked with helping people heal, and then reach closer to their full potentials, on a body level (and on a mental level, if our interactions with students concerning their hardships enter into conversations). Yoga instructors can also easily experience unstable employment, overwork, complicated schedules, financial concerns, and physical exhaustion. In the face of these troubles, the only that we can keep offering all that we do to our students is to reset and replenish through self-care. Read on for some concrete ways to build this into your life, and keep it there – if you might not presently have it. Namaste, dear readers and fellow teachers!
1) Care for your vessel - your body!
Of course yoga practice goes far beyond the physical, but our bodies are the vessels through which we transmit our knowledge and caring to our students. Even our voices deliver our knowledge through our speech, for instance. Have a trusted physician whom you see for an annual physical. Get plenty of sleep, nutritious food in moderation, water, and balanced physical activity (including moderate amounts of cardiovascular exercise - such as brisk walking, jogging, and cycling - to supplement the stretching and strengthening that yoga offers). Ayurvedic medicine can also provide ways to keep everything from your throat/vocal cords to your eyes to your bones in excellent condition, according to your unique Dosha. We only get one body, so it behooves us to care for it! That said, it's never too late to take strides towards taking better care of our physical bodies.
2) Maintain your practice.
It makes sense that we could lose enthusiasm for teaching if we don't nurture our own practices, while always selflessly guiding in theirs (as it should be when we teach - that's not the time for our own practices). Consistently practicing, whether in classes or independently at home (but ideally both), helps us to stay connected with why we love yoga. It can feel refreshing to have an instructor give you a physical cue that feels great (someone nurturing your practice, not the other way around!), or move and stretch in the ways that are best for you today - rather than focusing on what's best for your students.
Practicing can also give us fresh ideas for teaching, such as innovative transitions and prop uses. That can help us avoid creative "blocks", when we might feel completely dry of fresh new ideas. It can feel really difficult to have the time and money for studio or fitness center classes, I know from experience. But I also found that some intention-setting, prioritizing, and creative re-arranging made having (and making very good use of) a studio membership was actually do-able for me. On the other hand, it can feel nice to have self-care completely unrelated to yoga. Read on for ideas about that!
3) Find your non-yoga bliss.
Engaging in enjoyable, enriching activities outside of yoga practice can feel like a breath of fresh air. But rather than being wasted time, they can offer us creative material to enhance our teaching. They can also help us refresh and renew, so that we're at our bests when we come back to teaching. Such activities include fine arts (painting, potter, jewelry making, et cetera), music (as a listener, singing, playing a musical instrument, attending live music events), gardening, creative writing, and myriad other things. Just being out in nature (through outdoor sports, camping, hiking, and even time in a local park) can also be rejuvenating. It can offer new perspectives through mindful reflection (away from the noise of the 21rst century world), as well as a sense of gratitude for simply being alive!
4) Keep your social circles strong.
Practicing in a studio or fitness center community (see above) can also provide a sense of community, with like-minded individuals to celebrate achievements and offer support through the hard times. It can also be refreshing to stay connected with individuals who don't practice yoga, but with whom you can relate in other ways. Interacting with such people can help keep your world-view broad and offer creative inspiration for your teaching. And who knows, even without trying to convince them, you might be enough of a positive walking, talking example of what yoga can do that they decide to start practicing! Stay engaged with close friends and family as well, the people who've been with you through thick and thin. If things ever get rough, or you just need to re-ignite your passionate fire for what you do, they’ll be there in the ways that you need them to be. That’s indispensable!