What is it like to create a yoga career alongside your existing choice of work? Should you quit your day job to chase your dreams, or try and find a balance between both? We are given some sage advice from yogis who have combined their love of yoga and their desire to teach with the practicalities of life.
Yoga teacher Amy Arnell is living the dream. She’s living her dream.
Amy is a walking, talking positive affirmation for living the life you want. She is authentic and embodies the serenity she so clearly feels. A former vet, Amy is now a full-time yogini.
She runs two yoga studios in northern NSW, teaches popular weekly classes, and lives a blissed out existence with her husband, young son, dog and cat on a semi-rural property in a picture-perfect beachside town.
Yoga makes Amy feel “alive” and humbly “blessed” to be able to help students raise their own levels of consciousness. “People walk in to the studio and you can tell life’s throwing challenges at them; they walk out and they’re smiling and you know their interactions from when they leave are more likely to be positive.”
She is fascinated by the science of yoga, anatomy, and the effects of asana and pranayama on the nervous system. “Yoga feeds my scientific mind.
My creative side is also nourished by formulating classes and workshops.” Before teaching yoga, Amy says she felt like she was in a rehearsal for the life
she was meant to lead. “Now, I’m not waiting for some future achievement or event to make me happy; I am living my Dharma and I’m so grateful for that.”
As a vet in her 20s, Amy worked and travelled, eventually finding yoga at a London gym. She went to Mysore and practiced intensely, loving the feeling yoga gave her and rolling her mat out in airports around the world. On moving back to Australia, she threw herself into teacher training courses, gradually reducing her hours at the veterinary clinic, and increasing her hours practicing and then teaching yoga. As much as she loved animals, she declares, “Yoga was calling me!”
She was driven to build her life around yoga, and opened Heatwave Hot Yoga studio in Kingscliff. As she unravels the details of her yogic success story, it would seem that while any decisions Amy has made have been motivated by a deep love of yoga, they’ve also been measured and practical, not whimsical. She cherishes her life as a teacher and her upbeat approach and calm nature are inspiring; her tranquil aura fills the space around us … even her dog is chilled out, lying by my feet, his rhythmic snoring contributing to the peaceful vibe.
What advice does Amy have for others furthering their yogic career? “Write down how you want your life to look as a yoga teacher. Think about how many days you need to work in your current career to pay the bills then give up the rest and dedicate the time to yoga teaching, practice and learning.”
As a teacher, what is most important? “I think our job is to encourage and remind students that yoga is a discipline. Every time they get on their mats they should feel super proud. They don’t have to be perfect; it’s a step in the right direction. The more you practice, the more awareness you have over what you put in your body, how you treat people, and how you treat yourself. I think the time with self is neglected and that’s what yoga is, time with yourself.”
Amy says a strong practice is essential for facilitating a transition from current career to yoga teacher. “Every decision and action is best taken when you’re at your centre. Yoga and meditation will ensure you come from that place.”
Dr Jean Byrne, co-founder of The Yoga Space in Perth and member of the council of advisors with Yoga Australia, agrees, suggesting people teach no more than what they practice. She recommends not quitting your day job
as then “your yoga teaching is much freer and more transformative if you don’t worry about making money from it”. Jean has practiced yoga for 21 years (Hatha, Iyengar, Vinyasa and Ashtanga). She has completed a double-major degree in religion and philosophy, a PhD in Eastern philosophy and qualified as a primary school teacher. She says that with her husband, Rob Schütze, also a senior yoga teacher, journalist and clinical psychologist, they have been conscious of not relying on yoga as a main source of income.
As far as yoga is concerned, however, they are clear about their goals.“We wanted a space in which yoga was accessible to everybody. We believe yoga is powerful and transformative at every stage of life and that everybody deserves to experience the freedom and peace yoga can bring.”
Through their not-for-profit vinyasa training program, The Yoga Space offers 500 classes a year to the community, reaching out to people in domestic violence shelters, homes for the elderly, pregnant mothers in prison, inmates with newborns, and people suffering an illness. Jean says, “I feel like when you truly connect with what the heart of yoga is — which is selfless giving and sharing — and it allows you to bear witness to other people’s journeys, their sorrows, their joys, then being part of that is a privilege. And that is why I teach and train teachers. It’s completely humbling. At its most fundamental, it’s beautiful.”
One of the many yogis inspired by Jean is her co-founder of Mindful Birth and co-owner of Yoga Space Maylands, Michelle Papa. Michelle understands the dilemma teachers-to-be face when blending their love of an established career outside yoga, their love of yoga, and the practicalities of a regular income. Based in Los Angeles in her early 20s, Michelle was highly career-oriented, working for big banks and technology companies. “But,” she says, “my heart wasn’t 100% in it.” While working, Michelle was doing yoga to manage her stress, however, when she moved to Perth in 2007 she deepened her practice and has since juggled yoga, her career, and becoming a mother. This year Michelle decided to cut ties completely with her former career and gave herself over to yoga. “It was time to consolidate,” she says. She believes it’s important to keep your day job while figuring out how yoga teaching will
work in your life.“I never force anything in my life. It happened organically. But it was a long process.”
Highly respected Cairns-based yoga teacher Nicky Knoff says the journey of teacher training – regardless of whether the student becomes a teacher or not – can have a huge impact. “Many people change their lives completely after teacher training. It’s not just about the teaching, it’s about the yogic lifestyle and philosophy and how it makes you physically and mentally stronger and able to make good decisions for yourself. It’s very empowering.”
Nicky, co-founder of Knoff Yoga (with James Bryan), is a master of the meaning of life, hard work, and dedication. Born in 1938 to an English mother and Dutch father, Nicky lived in Indonesia when the Japanese invaded
at the start of WWII. She was in a concentration camp from when she was four to eight years old. “It makes one realise that you can’t give up,” she says. “A lot of people in the camp did and died. The guards were very cruel and you had to be strong to survive, and I think that has held me in good stead.”
Moved by the advice of her war-time friend, Netty – whom her family became very close to while in the concentration camp and whom later lived in Melbourne where she was a passionate yoga advocate – Nicky attended her first yoga class in October 1970. “I was hooked.
I’ve done it ever since.”
Since then, Nicky has practiced and trained with Bikram Choudhury, BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. She has set up yoga schools in America, Australia and New Zealand and now runs yoga teacher training courses, teaches yoga workshops, intensives, private classes, and specialises in yoga therapy. Nicky is still teaching students who started with her more than 20 years ago and says, “It’s really pleasing when people take yoga on as a lifestyle and they are not going to drop out.” With the fast modern growth of yoga and huge range of teacher training courses, Nicky advises students to choose their teachers carefully, researching them and talking to them and, most importantly, asking other students who have done the same courses about their experiences. She also advises that prospective students should not be swayed by glossy websites and flattering testimonials.
Despite her impressive background, Nicky remains humble and her advice is to remember that you are always a student, you are always learning, and practice is essential to keep you physically and mentally fresh and alive. It is easy to get over-busy, and Nicky advises teachers who have become side-tracked from their practice: “If you have not got time to practice, don’t teach.”
Yoga Australia President Leanne Davis, who also runs a studio in Brisbane and has taught for 28 years, says the modern, creative approach to yoga has helped boost its popularity around the world. She says people have taken the concept
of yoga and are expressing it in diverse ways, making it more accessible. She says some yoga classes have become more exercise-based, furthering its appeal, while the public and health awareness of meditation has also boosted
yoga’s popularity. She says that part of Yoga Australia’s role is to maintain standards and integrity while also encouraging diversity.
“I think we can confidently say yoga has never been practiced by so many humans in the history of time. Never before have so many people globally practiced yoga. How extraordinary!” Her sage advice to those yogis chasing their dreams, and wanting to leave their well-paid jobs for yoga, is to be honest
about your future, think carefully, and manage any changes wisely. A yoga income, especially from purely teaching group asana classes, might not match that of your former income.
Encouragingly, she says the change obviously can be made, and the support for national and international research into yoga and the benefits of yoga therapy is increasing.
As Nicky Knoff says, “I think if anyone really wants to teach and has compassion and understanding for the students, combined with a daily practice of authentic yoga, then they will be successful.”
yogaspace.com.au; www.heatwavehotyoga.com; www.mindfulbirth.com.au; www.knoffyoga.com; www.viniyogaaustralia.com; www.yogaaustralia.org.au