Written by Ana Davis
Previously published on Australian Yoga Life magazine July 2007 Issue no.18. Visit Australian Yoga Life at www.ayl.com.au. This article is best viewed in PDF format as the original contains images – PDF Article: The Yoga of Motherhood.
Most people know the importance of yoga during pregnancy, but there is less awareness of how yoga can enhance the mother’s physical and mental wellbeing once the baby is born. In this brief guide for new and experienced yogis, Ana Davis explores how yoga can help provide a fresh perspective on the challenges of new motherhood.
In the sleep deprived haze of new motherhood, I felt that I had lost my former life. The endless tasks involved in caring for my newborn saw me say goodbye to my precious daily yoga practice. As a yoga teacher and long time practitioner, this was a big adjustment.
It was only when I came to see the journey of motherhood as the ultimate act of devotional yoga, that I was able to surrender and release any feelings of resentment about the irreversible changes to the landscape of my daily routines.
Instead of looking at the clock and wishing I could be on my yoga mat while I patted my baby to sleep for sometimes up to an hour, I found I needed to make a conscious decision to soften into the moment and make this my yoga. “This is my yoga”, I said, as a silent mantra to myself, “He is my yoga.” This moment by moment experience of holding my baby close afforded me the opportunity to breathe deeply and feel the warmth from my heart and solar plexus centres permeating into his soft little body.
Centring and connection
With this shift in my thinking about the ‘yoga of motherhood’, I was also able to accept that my asana (posture) practice needed to be shaped around my baby centred chores. Flexibility was the key. Instead of fighting against my limited time, I utilised every spare moment to get back on the yoga mat while my baby slept or was being minded by someone else. The beauty of yoga as a way of promoting mind-body wellness for busy new mums is that we can do it at home, in our living room. It’s an ideal postnatal form of exercise as it is gentle and broad enough in its repertoire so that it can be sensitively adapted to the changing needs of each woman. It is also safe and beneficial even for an absolute beginner.
I discovered that a lot could be achieved in a mere 20 or 30 minutes home practice: a complete and rounded practice that left me feeling refreshed, nourished and ready to return to the demands of mothering and running a yoga studio.
Conversely, Sydney yoga teacher Alexis Stewart didn’t practice any yoga at all for the first six months after the birth of her son. She found that, as a consequence, she crashed mentally, physically and emotionally. “The worst of it was that I didn’t feel like ‘myself’ and yet I couldn’t remember how it was that I used to feel,” reflects Alexis. “I just knew that I didn’t feel like ‘me’.”
In the years since, Alexis has observed the many benefits that new mothers in her classes, experienced and novices alike, have received. She believes that new mums often lose their connection with the present moment because they are so busy and exhausted and get lost amidst their chores. “So yoga is a time to slow the whole show down,” Alexis says. “By being in their bodies and watching their breath, they are brought into the present moment of ‘being’. It is ‘being’ that the soul craves, and the more we are able to be, the more balanced we feel.”
Many women are introduced to yoga for the first time when they attend pregnancy classes or, for an increasing number, their entrée into the joys and rewards of yoga may be through attending a Mums ‘n’ Bubs yoga class. Perhaps this is because these unique classes are baby friendly, allowing the mum to bring her baby to class.
Jayne Hughes, one of the mothers in the Mums ‘n’ Bubs yoga classes at Bondi Bliss Yoga Studio, found postnatal yoga a godsend. She enjoyed the sense of community offered by yoga classes designed especially for new mums and their babies.
“I loved the special time and space these postnatal classes created for us in the early days and also the wonderful mums and bubs I’ve met through the classes,” Jayne recalls.
A valuable skill that many of the mothers in these classes learn is how to relax – even amidst the cacophony of noises of a room full of babies. As Jayne found, this was a practical skill she was able to then apply within the context of her busy home life.
“I was able to give myself short relaxation sessions despite everything going on around me – dirty nappies, housework etc. – to relax and turn off and find my own quiet space”, says Jayne.
What Byron Bay mum, Renee Adams-Cook enjoys about attending postnatal yoga classes is that she feels like she is doing something for herself. “The classes are not too strenuous for a new mum, but at the same time, I still feel like I’m doing exercise and getting the benefits,” Renee says.
An overwrought new mother may be resistant to doing anything that might take her away from her many baby related obligations. However, in my experience, as well as that of many of my students and colleagues, yoga can actually help her care for her baby better.
If the mother practices yoga techniques that nurture her, then it only increases her energy and vitality to keep on giving back to her child. As Jayne Hughes says, “The classes helped me to keep my own mental health in sight as an important element of mothering, particularly in those early days.”
Nurturing and restoration
In the first six weeks or so after childbirth, a woman’s yoga practice needs to be gentle and nurturing. Pranayama (breathing techniques), relaxation and supported restorative postures will form the basis of her practice. These practices will help her rest and rejuvenate on a deep level. This very gentle approach to postnatal yoga makes it ideal for the first time practitioner to experience how yoga can help in the healing process.
There is no need for the mother to rush onto the gym treadmill or back to her favourite Ashtanga class in an attempt to lose the baby weight. In fact, strong exercise, if performed too early or rigorously, can be counter productive and can contribute towards injury and even burn-out.
Instead, she can take this opportunity to practice the yogic concept of ahimsa. Ahimsa or nonviolence means not only cultivating gentleness towards others but also compassion towards oneself. This is where restorative yoga poses come to the fore: deeply restful postures with plenty of support, from bolsters, cushions, blankets or blocks. Judith Lasater’s classic book Relax & Renew is a great way to acquaint you with these poses.
Perth based yoga teacher and mum, Kiah Hamersley found she experienced gentle back bending and shoulder opening effects from the pose Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining bound angle pose) over a bolster. “I loved it for the the calm, measured breathing it seemed to induce and the opportunity it gave me to put the eye bag on and rest,” says Kiah. “I think I even went to sleep in the pose (legs supported on pillows) when I did it in bed! Which may sound bizarre but it really helped me get into a deep sleep quickly.”
One of my own favourites after the birth of my son, Marley, two years ago, was Supta Virasana (Reclining hero pose) supported on a bolster, to passively stretch my quadriceps and psoas. As is common, these had become tight from the lower back being moved into exaggerated lumbar lordosis (swayed lower back) in the latter months of pregnancy. I also found this pose beneficial for its gentle stretching and opening of the abdominal area that had been so cramped from sharing the space with the baby in utero.
After bleeding stops, the restorative pose, Viparita Karani (Legs up the wall pose) with the bottom supported on a folded blanket or bolster, is a wonderful pose that can be practiced on its own at any time to receive the benefits of an inversion as well as facilitating deep breathing. It is extremely rejuvenating and therapeutic for the lower back. See ‘The First 6 Weeks’ for other safe and effective poses.
While in a supported pose or sitting or lying in relaxation, the emphasis is on lengthening and deepening the inhalation during the early postnatal weeks. I found the viloma pranayama (interval breathing) with emphasis on the three part inhalation especially helpful. (See pull out box for instructions). Focusing on the inhalations can help energise and build optimism which can be beneficial for counteracting the lethargy and negativity that can accompany sleep deprivation. As time goes on, women can shift their focus to longer exhalations which engender relaxation and the letting go of mental and physical tension.
Strength and stability From six weeks onwards, the body has had some time for restoration of the uterus and energy levels begin to return. The mother can now focus on some stronger poses that will enhance her energy and continue the work of knitting back the birthing muscles pelvic floor and deep abdominals.
Strengthening the core muscles will also be beneficial in supporting a weakened back, which is essential to help combat the relentless forward bending postural strains caused by carrying and caring for her baby. I found a blend of yoga and pilates very effective in returning strength and stability to my core. (see ‘6 Weeks Onwards’ page xx for some beneficial poses).
After a Caesarean Section, a woman should wait till the wound has completely healed, usually about two months, before embarking on abdominal toning or any of the stronger yoga poses.
Many women enjoy poses that help release tight upper back and shoulders caused by the endless hours of breastfeeding. See ‘Breast Feeding Counter-poses’ above for poses that help release tension and in build stability in this area, and counterbalance a tendency towards postural kyphosis (rounding of the upper back.
Enjoy your baby and your yoga
Originating from the ancient Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the concept of Isvara pranidhana, which can be interpreted as ‘surrender to the divine or a higher power’. To flow more harmoniously with the demands of new motherhood, there needs to be an ongoing melting of the ego. As BKS Iyengar points out: “In bhakti or true love there is no place for ‘I’ and ‘mine’. When the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ disappears, the individual soul has reached full growth.”
Now, as a busy, single mother to a rambunctious toddler, this wonderful tool called ‘yoga’ continues to help boost my joy levels on a daily basis. I relish the opportunities that motherhood has presented so far to embody the rich philosophy of yoga, both on and off the mat.
Linda Sparrows and Patricia Walden. The Woman’s Book of Yoga & Health, 2002
Laura Staton and Sarah Perron. Baby Om-Yoga for Mothers & Babies, 2003
BKS Iyengar. Light on Yoga, 1991 Bernard Bouanchaud. The Essence of Yoga-Reflections on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1997
Francoise Barbira Freedman. Yoga for Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, 2004
Judith Lasater. Relax & Renew-Restful Yoga for Stressful Times, 1995
For Pregnancy: Check out Ana Davis’ Prenatal Yoga Program Complete Set (Classes 1 to 7).
Ana is a highly experienced yoga teacher who specialises in pre and postnatal yoga, including training yoga teachers in this area. This is a complete program designed to support you in preparing for the birth of your child
For Post-Pregnancy Recovery: Check out Ana’s Postnatal Yoga Program Complete Set (Classes 1 to 8). This set of classes will support you recover quickly and regain your strength. This period can be challenging, and these resources are designed to provide you with valuable emotional and mental stability
Written by James Bryan
The dietary practices of the most stable population groups (transcultural) in the world have evolved certain recurrent patterns. Whole grains constitute the bulk of most of these diets and are consumed in the largest quantities. The ever-present legume, which is taken in approximately half that quantity, complements the grains, and together they provide the proper proportions of the essential amino acids. This grain/legume combination is the core of the meal, but the vegetables give it flavour and vitality. The amount of fresh vegetables which are consumed varies according to availability, included in sizable quantities. Generally, this means that they are taken in larger portions than the legume but in smaller portions than the grains.
In addition to this basic trio of grain, legume and vegetable, most traditional diets contain varying quantities of a fourth group of foods which includes dairy products, meat, eggs, fish, fowl and certain fermented bean preparations. This group might be referred to as the B12 group since all the foods included in it contain this vitamin whereas foods in the other three groups do not.
A small daily serving of raw foods constitutes the fifth group found in traditional diets. This may be fruits, though they are often regarded as a luxury. When in season they are generally taken separately, serving as a light breakfast or supper rather than a routine part of the meal. If they are absent, small amounts of some other raw food which can be easily digested is added to the daily menu.
List of the traditional five foods groups in order of quantity:
Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga follows this five group diet.
For yoga practice to be balanced it must contain all the eight limbs of yoga as handed down to us by the sage Patanjali in his classic the Yoga Sutras:
List of the eight limbs of yoga:
We can reorganize these into five groups following Patanjali’s recommend sequencing:
(Please note Samadhi is a state of mind and is a result of the consistent practice of the preceding seven limbs).
List of traditional five yoga groups in order of quantity from Knoff Yoga:
If we then compare the traditional food groups to the yoga groups in order of quantity in the diet / practice we have:
Food Groups and Yoga Groups:
The modern trend in yoga is to focus almost exclusively upon asana. This is like eliminating four of the five traditional food groups and eating only grains, which will not allow for the development of a healthy and long-lived individual or population. We need to listen to the wisdom gained over millennia, from both the collective insights of the most stable population groups in the world, and our yoga sages.
With Knoff Yoga, we have developed a sensible and stable practice that honours the traditional teachings of yoga. This comparison of a balanced and healthy diet with a balanced and healthy yoga practice can give us insights to better our practice and well-being.
For All Levels – Check out James Bryan’s Chair Yoga. Suitable for everyone irrespective of your level of fitness. All that is needed is a chair! Perfect for travelling, offices, or where you prefer to sit.
Written by Katie Spiers
Previously published on Australian Yoga Life magazine March-July 2008 Issue no.20. Visit Australian Yoga Life at www.ayl.com.au.
Each of us will come to yoga for different reasons, many having hears about the benefits of increased flexibility, strength and muscle tone to name a few. Yoga practice helps to nourish, cleanse and invigorate the body – improving posture and muscular structure, revitalising the circulatory system and internal organs, improving digestion, stimulating the endocrine system and strengthening the immune system. The therapeutic application of yoga can ease ailments such as arthritis, back pain and digestive problems as well as strengthening the reproductive system and alleviating stress and related symptoms.
Developing flexibility and strength in the body is a wonderful benefit from practising yoga, but in time you will also notice benefits far beyond your physical body, leading to an inner sense of wholeness, a feeling of greater balance. Yoga means union – a joining or integrating of all aspects of the individual – body with mind and mind with spirit. As a non-religious practice, yoga is ultimately a tool for working towards a better understanding of the self, working through blockages and tightness in the body and learning to appreciate aspects of ourselves we have not previously been aware of. Yoga is about cultivating acceptance of ourselves in a balanced way. It is a powerful tool for mind, body and spirit.
Yoga teaches patience in a world where we expect instant results. Regular practice on whatever level, even for short periods can provide stability and consistency in a world of constant change. In times of upheaval, our yoga practice can be the grounding constant that helps keep us focused.
Your practice will ebb and flow with your moods, affected by such things as energy levels and hormonal balance. Over time you will learn how yoga can help you get in touch with what is going on in your body. With regular practice you will wake up in the morning having a sense of what your body needs that day to maintain balance. On low energy days a gentle restorative practice with lots of resting postures and relaxation is appropriate. On days when you need a pick-me-up instead of a cup of coffee, an energising practice including inversions and dynamic pranayama (breathing exercises) is helpful. This is where yoga can help with issues such as depression, insomnia or chronic fatigue.
Many of us in modern society are over- achievers by nature and we don’t like to go back to the beginning with something and not be so ‘good’ at it. Yoga is an opportunity to opt out of competition and relax about what we are able and unable to do on any particular day. The beauty of yoga is that we always move deeper just by doing the practice. Each day becomes a creative process in itself.
Yoga is a practice for everyone, but different styles of yoga vary enormously, so in the beginning we have to work towards developing a method that suits us. Beginning to practice yoga takes a little perseverance and researching until you find a style and a teacher that you connect with. This means working with and openly embracing a few different schools, styles and teachers until you find something that works for you. A 65 year old with a hip replacement will need a very different practice from that of a 22 year old athlete, but both will find great challenges and benefits in yoga. As the old saying goes “when the student is ready the teacher will come”. Ask yourself what draws you to yoga, then choose a school which offers those kinds of teachings. Often the right teacher will come along at the right time, but here are a few of the more common schools or styles of yoga which you may want to investigate:
DIFFERENT FORMS OF YOGA
In Australia, as in other Western countries, the most familiar and commonly taught form of yoga is hatha yoga. Although ‘hatha yoga’ traditionally referred to a whole range of physical practices these days the term is the popular label for the postures, movements and breathing practices which are the most familiar face of yoga in our society. Each of the styles listed below comes under the umbrella of hatha yoga.
Hatha yoga is only one part of the Sivananda tradition, which also includes chanting, meditation and study of the Vedic scriptures. The Sivananda organization has many ashrams (yogic retreat centres) all over the world which offer excellent programmes for beginners.
Swami Satyananda, the founder of the style that bears his name, was a disciple of Swami Sivananda, so the two styles have many similarities. Satyananda classes are gentle, with a careful progression, and are good for those wanting to start with a softer practice or people working with injury or physical limitations. Other special features of Satyananda yoga are the long guided relaxations at the end of every beginners class and the inclusion of regular sitting meditations as students progress to higher levels.
Ashtanga is a very dynamic practice based on the teachings of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Students follow a set series of poses at each level. There are six series, but only relatively advanced practitioners get beyond even the primary series. All poses are linked by flowing movements and the whole practice flows on the breath.
This style focuses on postural alignment and precision, usually involving holding poses for longer periods of time, and often using a number of props such as bolsters, straps and blocks, to facilitate better alignment and support in the postures. It is based on the teachings of BKS Iyengar.
Bikram yoga was designed by Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury. The practice is done in a room heated to 37 degrees Celsius, which is designed to increase flexibility, minimise muscle strain and assist detoxification.
You will find many benefits in attending just one yoga class if you listen to your body. Don’t worry if in the beginning it is difficult to practise regularly; build slowly on your practice so it becomes sustainable. There’s no point burning out and having to stop altogether. When you are ready to start practising regularly try to attend a class regularly once a week.
For long term benefits and real changes to the energetic and physical form of the body, it is ideal if you can practice every day, or at least three times a week. Little and often is a useful framework in the beginning. An hour’s practice at home may seem daunting, so 15 minutes is fine; set yourself something manageable. You’ll be surprised how time goes as you begin to practise for longer periods. Start to ask questions of your body and see how you respond to different postures, timings and approaches to practising. Practising yoga is not just a physical work out. You are working with your body’s energy and gradually the practice will draw you in.
Over time as your asana practice deepens you may notice more of a desire to explore the roots of yoga, the spiritual and philosophical background. This usually happens as a progressive part of deepening one’s practice; as we practise the postures questions come up about the remarkable effects of yoga. One text that helps us deepen our understanding of yoga as a whole is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras an ancient text in which yoga practices and guidelines were first written down. The yoga sutras outline three principal aspects of the yoga tradition:
Bhakti is the practice of devotion. Bhakti yoga is really practised in any tradition where there is a longing for knowing God (in whatever form you perceive God to be), or a sense of devotion in your practice. Bhakti yoga practices include any form of devotional ritual, such as a Hindu or Buddhist puja (devotional practice) or even a Christian mass. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hari Krishna) is one example of a Bhakti movement with ancient origins.
Jnana Yoga, the yoga of wisdom and knowledge, is the aspect of yoga which perhaps relates most directly to the Western mind set, dealing with the aspect of inquiry into the true nature of reality. This is accomplished through contemplative meditation. Jnana Yoga is the development of wisdom through opening the heart – true wisdom does not come from knowledge alone.
Karma yoga is the yoga of positive action. This means working for the greater good, and could be demonstrated by volunteering spare time to a charity organization or working in some way for the community you live in. Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa are well known karma yogis.
Patanjali also wrote of the eight-limbed path, the ‘steps’ toward enlightenment for a yogi. The ancient sages were very fond of creating steps and methods to explain the practices of yoga.
The eight-limbs of yoga are:
Yama: ethical disciplines, guidelines for living
Niyama: personal observances of self-purification
Asana: the physical postures, a combination of physical alignment and mental awareness
Pranayama: breath control
Pratyahara: internalised awareness by sense withdrawal
Dharana: single pointed focus (for example by focus on the breath)
Dhyana: meditation, arising as a consequence of the practice of dharana
Samadhi: bliss consciousness, the path to enlightenment, an experience of unity with universal spirit.
In the beginning letting go in your own practice is most important – not over intellectualising or trying to understand everything instantly. Just doing the practice is the first step. Once you have found a school you like, start to work with your practice. Find sequences that serve your needs and try them at home.
The beginning is always a time of experimentation, so try to cultivate an open mind. Value your beginner’s mind; it is a precious tool for enquiry! When you have a regular practice there are many books you can read to further your knowledge. The lineage of past teachers is great; their teachings can help you immeasurably in your quest to understand yoga.
Written by Mark O’Brien
Previously published on Australian Yoga Life magazine March-July 2003 Issue no.8. Visit Australian Yoga Life at www.ayl.com.au.
It was a hot Sydney afternoon as I slunk into another weekend of my yoga teacher-training course, but I was hot with shame that day. I felt toxic and undeserving to be with my yoga peers after a frantic week in my ‘other life’ in advertising.
I felt toxic because I’d been researching how to turn people into avid gamblers in preparation for the opening of Sydney’s first casino. Intellectually it was fascinating, but I hate gambling and knew I had crossed an ethical line and was no longer prepared to do this to earn a living.
That cathartic moment was the catalyst to actually open my own yoga school (rather than dreaming about it for several more years.) I now find myself running two vibrant yoga schools on Sydney’s northern beaches. People often ask what it’s like or how I started, and with yoga booming around the country, I thought I’d try and offer a few pointers and some perspective on what is really involved in opening and running your own yoga centre.
The ?rst question is how do you start? Dive in the deep end and ditch your previous job completely, or do you ease your way gradually into teaching more and more? Although it’s more than a question of economics, it’s no secret that yoga is not a lucrative profession (unless your name is Bikram, Yee or one of a handful of yoga stars.) So making enough to live on is a real issue if you want to make yoga your livelihood.
Despite this, I was surprised how many teachers I spoke to who abandon well-paid jobs and busy lives to go full-time into yoga, most opening a permanent school soon afterwards. It will always depend on your personal situation and responsibilities to family or children, so take your pick!
I dived in the deep end and quit advertising for good and never regretted it once.
Starting your own school means you are ‘self- employed’. For some this is normal, but for others who have only known a regular job and steady wages, it’s a scary psychological wrench. Being self-employed is a state-of-mind and the government does not make it easy for you! With the excitement and freedom of running your own show comes responsibility for all sorts of things I’d only delegated to others in my old professional life. Suddenly I was the bookkeeping expert, the IT support-person, maintenance engineer, cleaner, graphic artist, insurance broker and GST expert – oh and I taught a bit of yoga sometimes!
In my idealism, I thought running my own school would give me more time with my young family and less stress in my work life. In reality, the exact opposite was true, at least the ?rst year although a better balance is finally becoming the norm. Don’t under-estimate how much time it takes simply to be in business.
One of my yoga students is an incredibly talented yacht designer, and one day I mentioned to him that he had a dream job, doing what he wanted, creating beautiful boats. He laughed and said, “I run a small business with everything that comes with it and occasionally get to design a boat, probably like you…you run a business and get to teach yoga when time permits!”
So what skills or qualities do you need to run your own school? First a passion for yoga, plus a solid personal practice seem to be the first things every one that I spoke to suggested. It may seem obvious, but you’d be a kidding yourself if you did it for the money!
It is a privilege to teach what you love and to change people’s lives through compassion and shared experience. You cannot do this if greed or selfish ambition motivates you.
Probably the greatest issue facing other school founders and myself is balancing the ‘doing’ with the ‘being’. How much do you trust to the ‘universe to provide’ and, how much do you develop a business plan and make practical efforts to achieve set goals? Anita Roddick of the BodyShop talks of balancing ‘principle with pro?t.’
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutraselegantly teach about Sthira and Sukha (II. 46) combining alertness (in a pose or in your life) with a sense of ease or comfort and not straining. As a former ’type A’ personality, letting go of details and working more with Sukha has been the hardest lesson of running my own yoga school. Similarly, I am constantly reminded of the Baghavad Gita’s teaching about Karma Yoga, of ‘action, not fruit.’ Acting from selflessness and for the love of helping others without personal reward or regard for the outcome – one day, I hope to get it right. I still find it hard to trust to in the universe regarding the practicalities of business. To simply go with the flow in a complex operation involving a lot of people, teachers and money is often difficult.
Most teachers I spoke to found they had a wide range of skills that helped their transition into running a school. The important thing is to recognise the skills and qualities you possess, rather than be defined by your old job description. It may well help to know a little book-keeping or computer skills, but Jodie Robertson of Bikram’s Yoga College in Brookvale does not hesitate to say that her amazing memory for names was her most valuable asset in opening a school and still is. For me, a background in marketing and advertising was invaluable in launching the centre to a small local market (even if it the budget was rather smaller than those I was previously used to working with!)
Apart from an unshakeable faith in your own destiny and ability, the other indispensable asset is supportive family and friends. There is simply no way I could have worked my old job and managed the start-up of my school, (whilst suffering from glandular fever at the same time) without the unstinting support of my wife. She believed in me no matter what the obstacles with council, tradesmen and with all the other problems that further stretched my meagre budget beyond breaking point. So unless you are Superman or Superwoman, don’t set out on your own without a safety net of loved ones, friends or a partner who’ll pick you up when these problems seem insurmountable. I can laugh about it now, but it was hell at the time, because I wanted it all to be perfect from the start and could not just let it flow
As a naïve entrepreneur, I can honestly say that opening a studio was the most stressful thing I have ever done, juggling new details and regulations with little or no money.
The other significant hurdle for many is maintaining their own yoga practice when life becomes a long round of commitments to yoga and your students. Some teachers were unequivocal: their own practice always taking priority, time was then allocated for teaching, even if it meant giving away some classes. For many others, the pragmatic reality is that either you have to get up at 3am for your own practice, or you compromise it in favour or your work. I confess to the latter, and for the first year, my own practice was patchy and uneven, only now returning to a solid routine around which I plan my work commitments. Before I reveal some of the best things about running a yoga school, perhaps I can share a few practicalities that may determine how or if you set up your own studio.
First: why do you want to do it? Is it pure ego, or perhaps a commercial decision to cash in on yoga? These are probably the worst reasons. If instead it is because you want to teach your passion, create your own lifestyle and set your own timetable, then why would you do anything else?
As you move from the dream or vague desire to create a new reality, these are some of the practical issues you will need to resolve.
What can you afford for premises? If you are lucky enough to have the space, you might start from home if you are prepared to have students walk through your private space.
More often in the early days you can rent or hire a hall or community centre, which may offer the advantages of flexibility and “pay as you go,” which can be of help as you build your classes. The space will probably be used by others and may not be left in the condition you would like. Unfortunately these spaces are becoming harder to find in most capital cities. The other alternative is to lease or rent space in a suitable location that you can configure to you own requirements. Each of these options (home, casual hire or lease) will have dramatically different financial considerations for you and effects on your future income.
My own experience was to lease premises from the beginning. Stay true to your vision, pester the estate agents every week, network like crazy and something will turn up eventually.
Once you have identified premises, you may need to trade off “space verses location”: Yoga requires a fair amount of space that cannot easily be used for other purposes outside of classes. The more space you need the more it usually costs. To get cheaper rents, you invariably have to move to poorer locations, which may effect the number of students. So there is a trade-off between a decent size space in a remote location and a smaller size in a better location. Regardless of where you go, there is the constant issue that it takes years to build classes through out the week. The result is a lot of “down time” in your costly space and you need to budget accordingly to cover your rent. You also need to recognise that you cannot teach every class yourself and will need to pay other teachers or share the load in some way. Starting up requires money: no matter how spiritual your own quest may be. Landlords rarely take the promise of a better after-life as collateral on a lease! You will need a bond (usually equivalent to three months’ rent) and enough to pay for the first month in advance plus insurance before you can sign a lease. Most commercial leases are anywhere between two and 10 years, remember you will need to do any fitting out, decorating, and signage on top of this. Local council approval is usually required for a change of business-use for commercial premises and council regulates most exterior signs. (open the cheque book and be prepared to wait…a long time.) Get some estimates from workmen if you need them, and plan well in advance whether you will borrow money or have enough saved to plough your own money into the start up. Remember you can save money by doing things yourself or using friendly tradesmen.
Before you leave paid employment it’s also worth applying for the maximum credit limits on credit cards or your mortgage, as it is very hard to obtain credit ratings once you have a fluctuating income –or no income at all. You are now self-employed with no track record.
Unfortunately, although “the Universe will provide” is a helpful affirmation, nothing beats a sound business plan just in case! Work out your possible student numbers, also when your classes will be held. There is no point assuming you will have a 10am class if that is unlikely. With this information consider the amount you are going to charge and make sure this is comparable to any other yoga studios in the area. People are going to make cost comparisons especially in the early years when you are an unknown teacher or studio. Remember it may well take up to 12 months to stabilise classes with reasonable numbers on any given week.
Next, ask some basic marketing questions: what other yoga choices are available nearby? Before you spend your hard-earned savings, you must have a clear idea of what your school will stand for and why people will want to come there. If you are “just another yoga school,” it will be harder and slower to build your classes. If possible be different and
memorable: everyone has heard of Bikram’s “Hot Yoga” because it’s unique or Ashtanga Yoga because Sting, Geri and Madonna do it. TKV Desikachar says that even his father Sri Krishnamacharya knew he needed to attract a well-known patron to cement his reputation and be able to continue his teaching.
So stand for something, be it a style of yoga, or a lineage, or a specific age group (seniors, pre-natal etc) and create your own identity. Often this will be built around your own teaching skills. Don’t be ashamed of your own expertise and pulling power. You probably already know that a good yoga teacher is like a hairdresser: once people ?nd a good one they will follow them anywhere!
So, let’s assume you have cleared the financial and practical hurdles and opened successfully. Your classes are starting to run smoothly, your own practice is thriving and you are looking to add more classes and you are making enough to pay the rent. Don’t forget to work out some form of marketing, be it flyers delivered to the local area, business cards left in coffee shops and notices with tear off contact numbers placed on local community boards. How often have you seen something you are interested in but don’t have pen and paper? These are just a few things that may help get you started.
What are the best things about running your own school? For one teacher I know, it is the freedom to choose her own timetable and the privilege of changing people’s lives. For me it’s a chance to practice compassion and weave together so many strands of my own learning in an authentic way, hopefully demonstrating that yoga is genuinely a way of life, not just a few party tricks on the yoga mat. I simply love what I do and the people with whom I come into contact. Life is rich in many ways – though usually not financially – and I love learning something new in every class I teach. Plus, I now spend more time with my children and my wife than before when I was locked in an office job.
Above all, I hope that I can continue the tradition of my own teachers by upholding the highest values and integrity in my schools and unselfishly inspire new students to a yogic path of health, self-awareness and spiritual unfoldment that they may not have been aware of before. Ask me if all the heartache of changing career was worth it and I will reply, “Yes, a million times YES!”.
Mark O’Brien opened Qi Natural Therapies & Yoga in Manly NSW in 2001, and a second centre in nearby Harbord a year later.
For Beginners – Check out Mark’s Vinyasa Hatha Beginners Yoga Program (Classes 1 to 6). A gentle introduction to yoga designed for complete beginners and anyone wanting to get back into yoga after a long break
Written by Sarah Trestrail
“Atha Yoga Nushasanam” YS I.I
Now here is yoga as I have observed it in the natural world.
In Patanjali’s very first Yoga Sutra, we are told exactly where we can find yoga – very simply, it is all around us. It is everywhere. It is the sheer wonder of creation itself, which of course includes each and every one of us.
Often we all get so caught up in the doing of yoga or the trying to achieve yoga – we expend so much effort reaching for things we consider to be outside of ourselves. But Patanjali tells us right here in the very first piece of wisdom he extols that, as part of the natural world, we are the yoga.
The sanskrit word “yoga” comes from the root word “yuj” which means to yoke – to join something to something else. Sharon and Davids teacher, Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati, says “yoga is the state where you want for nothing”. It is the complete state of wholeness where we realise we are intimately connected to everything – we are already plugged in. We are already perfect.
The reason it is difficult for us to truly know this and embody it, is because we have fallen out of tune with nature. We embrace lifestyles, often unconsciously, that draw us further away from our natural state – and this takes a lot of energy, to be something you’re not. It creates a great disturbance in our state of mind.
When we are used to doing something one way – when a habit has been created – it is difficult to break the mould and create a new behaviour. However, this is essential if we want to be truly happy and absolutely free. Author Henry Miller says “our destination is not a place, but a new way of seeing things”.
Initially, attempting to see the yoga in everything is going to take some effort, as habit has blinded us from it. But that habit can be broken if we start with a little faith. Have faith that the yoga is there. And have that faith because Patanjali tells us that it is there. His methods have been practiced by yogis for thousands of years – yogis like us who seek to be liberated, which means our faith is not blind, it is validated by all those who have practiced before us. And thousands of years is a pretty good track record.
So start by believing and then start looking. Next time something you judge to be negative happens, try not to let your initial reaction of frustration, anger, sadness etc take root. Catch yourself and look for the divinity there. Meditate on it, ask the universe “what does this mean?”, “why has this happened?” and then be prepared to listen to the answer.
The universe is divine order – it is all part of a perfectly orchestrated plan – that is the yoga of it. Mother Nature never fails to set the sun in motion in the sky or herald the change of the seasons. She wants us to be in the loop and enjoy a harmonious relationship with our world, and so the answer will arise.
Remember if we are connected to all things, we are infinite potential – this means that we can embody any aspect of the creation we choose. So when things don’t work out exactly the way you planned, trust that the universe knows your true potential and likely has bigger plans for you.