Be[a]ware: 7 Ways to Prevent Yoga Burnout

Thirteen years ago, burnout brought me to the mat.  

I had no idea then the immense impact that yoga would have upon my life – to the extent that I left my high profile, high intensity job of being an international peacekeeper traveling to dodgy locations – to becoming a yoga teacher.  

Many of us reading this article are likely already engaged in a regular practice of yoga.  And chances are that it was some calamity – mental, physical, emotional, or otherwise – that initially brought you to the mat. Or perhaps it was mere curiosity.  Whichever way, here we are NOW!

Since my commitment to share the invaluable gifts that yoga has bestowed upon me with others, my teaching has taken me from at-risk communities into orphanages and prisons, from spectacular international yoga festivals to the living rooms of the affluent.  

Earlier on in my yoga instruction career, there were days when in addition to at least one studio class daily, I was teaching up to five private clients. As fellow teachers will appreciate and agree, by the time we come to stand before our students inviting them to bring their toes and heels together, inhale, exhale and soften their shoulders, we’ve already put in several hours worth of prep time.

For me, the actual instruction is the ‘simplest’ part.  I hasten to add that in this context simple is not synonymous with easy.  It takes courage, faith, determination and above all else love to show up, be present and hold space for up to 90 minutes; irrespective of whether you’re teaching to one person or 1000 persons.  

 More than just being a ‘job,’ I regard teaching yoga as an immense blessing and a deep privilege.  And as such, it requires large doses of accountability and responsibility.  The science of yoga extends way beyond the limits of physical exercise. For the student choosing to enter a yoga studio and step upon a mat, this  carries an impressionable amount of vulnerability. One never knows how this may reveal itself.  Subsequently, teachers must exude discernment, humility, intuition, and wisdom and above all else, love.  

 In the United States where a yoga studio can be found on virtually every street corner in major cities as well as a smorgasbord of on-line classes, like it or not, the business of yoga is fiercely competitive.  While our egos may object to this, the harsh reality is that as yoga instructors and teachers, we’re highly dispensable.

 One of the other things I’ve noticed over the past few years of being a full-time yoga teacher is that when you’re passion is also your livelihood, like an Energizer Bunny, we just keep on keepin’ on. As messengers of yoga, guess what?  We too experience burnout! A loose definition describes it as: [a] physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.

 Because the offering of yoga demands that we tap into every facet of our being, we need to be especially mindful that we are taking exceptional care of our mind, body and spirit.  In other words, we need to practice what we teach. Given the nature of our business; i.e., self-awareness and self-regulation, we can be confident that we already equipped to prevent our burnout.    

Here are a few gems from my self-care toolkit:

  1. Time management: especially important if your teachings take you across town, across the country or traipsing the planet. Schedule in decompression time between major gigs to the extent that you can. This will give your body and soul the necessary time it needs to re-charge.

  2. If traveling by air, make yourself as comfortable as you possibly can. Drink copious quantities of water and travel with some of your favorite healthy snacks and essential oils. Amp up your vitamin intake; Bs, C and zinc in particular.

  3. Rest, lots of it. If time differences throw off your biorhythms, try yoga nidra. It works!

  4. Stay committed to your own practice. Carve out your ‘hour of power;’ at least 60 minutes where preferably in solitude, you get to delve into any aspect of your practice that calls to you.

  5. Make bodywork treatments a regular part of your maintenance; a massage, reiki, facials, steam baths, saunas, whatever helps you to unwind.

  6. Spend quality time with those who are important in your life – your partner, family, friends, pets, etc. And NON-yoga friends – they’ll stop you from taking your yogic self too damn seriously!

  7. Laugh out loud – A LOT!

And so it is.

Maeve Nelligan