Quitting Yoga

According to the bigwigs who measure this kind of stuff it looks like wellness and fitness industry is still struggling to find its footing after the pandemic. Numbers have been lower for our recovery than other industries, and fitness and wellness has seen no relief come for our specific industry. Snag a IHRSA article on the GYMS act here, and a Yelp article on Q2, 2021 recovery here.

So, what better time to talk about quitting yoga?

Now you may think this is going to be an article that is designed to convince you to quit. It is not. I have pondered quitting yoga teaching almost every year since 2016. Some of my most poignant moments of recalibrating my thinking and shifting my professional goals have come from my own deconstruction around the idea of quitting, which allowed me to rethink how I want to show up going forward in my professional life.

I started my deconstruction (a term I am borrowing from my friend Dr. Katie Blake) of my participation in yoga and the yoga industry in 2016, and I would like to define a couple of words before I continue.

Yoga in this article means this spiritual discipline and practice of Yoga. This is not just asana (the postures), but the entire scope of a yoga practice. This includes pranayama, dhyana, living principles, and philosophical guidelines that make up the holistic practice of yoga.

Yoga Industry is the industrialized system that yoga teachers & yoga therapists run our businesses inside of. This industry also includes the vast array of trainings and yoga-related accessories like mats, pants, and other props used for a typical Western yoga practice.

So when I talk about ‘quitting yoga’ I am referring to the process that yoga professionals(teachers, therapists, etc.) go through to decide to continue teaching in the yoga industry. This does not imply that these folks will also divorce their practice, although perhaps they might. The burnout for our industry is quite high, and often people who quit teaching also quit practicing because they feel betrayed by the practice and too tired to focus on their own healing.

I have been trying to do this since 2016.

Why quitting matters.

It is important for anyone in any industry to take a step back from the forever turning wheel to take a serious look at their lives. Any industry worth having is worth having nourished and fulfilled employees — and that fulfillment comes from a life of feeling like you have meaning and purpose within it.

The yoga industry is an especially dogmatic one, and there is an unspoken (sometimes spoken) implication that one must be “here for the right reasons” or a person risks being accused of not being yogic enough to share their knowledge with others. There is a true fear of being told you are not worthy enough to be a sacred teacher of this practice.

Now if this sounds to you like an industry-wide episode of The Bachelor, I truly don’t think you are far off. We often cultivate the initial dedication of our students and new teachers with a fierce intensity that burns out once the relationship shifts into the phase of having to see each other without makeup on while in the bathroom with the door open.

This is why so many of us quit instead of choosing to stay.

Even the most esteemed teachers are not talking about what it is to be a practitioner for the truly long-term, and how our yoga practice shifts and changes over time…just like any relationship. I am here to argue that those of us making our livings in the industry also need to be aware that our relationship with our jobs and with the industry at large change over time too. We need to hold space for those changes in our professional lives.

Therefore, it is vitally important to consider quitting.

If you are reading this thinking “thank goodness someone told me its okay to think about quitting” you might also be suffering from burnout, disenchantment, or overwhelm of the Instagram culture that the yoga industry has courted with Bachelorette-like vigor. And if you are like me, when I started thinking about quitting, all three of those were true.

So what now?

Start with this.

Imagine a life without teaching yoga.

Imagine what your days will be like. Imagine what you’d like to do for money that isn’t teaching in an industry famous for underpaying its contractors, overworking its teachers, and blatantly ignoring business sense that if embraced would both stabilize and nurture us.

If at the end of your visualization you still can’t imagine doing a different job…me too.

For some reason I am still here.

If at the end of the visualization you are imagining a professional life you would rather be living, please go with the blessing of all of us. Please live a life that lights you up. The yoga industry will have been better for having you participate.

Here is why I think the process of trying to quit is important.

Burnout often leads to a disconnection with our “why”. A term made famous from Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why, your why is the underlying meaning and purpose for participating in the yoga industry. And if you are disconnected from your why, sustaining all of the battles and shifts we are currently facing in the yoga industry is going to be very hard.

So, reach for a pen and write down why you want to stay. Be honest.

Is it ego? Is it feeling like you’ve got no other professional options? Is it because you believe in the discipline and spiritual practice of yoga and you still love sharing it with others?

I am going to be honest, my why is sometimes a mix of all of those. We don’t have to be perfect people, we just have to be a masterpiece is both done and not quite finished yet. Embrace all of those answers and more. It’s okay to be honest with yourself. You owe it to you and to yoga-at-large.

The topic of cultural appropriation is also a very important reason to reevaluate why you are still choosing to participate in the yoga industry. Some folks think white Westerners should be bowing out of the industry due to appropriation. Others don’t. Where do you stand? Are you comfortable with that stance? More importantly, can you discuss your stance openly and honestly without getting defensive when faced with the opposing viewpoint? Even if you aren’t yet ready to tackle the topic of cultural appropriation it still exists, and your place in the conversation needs to be one of participation.

Considering quitting can clarify your stance and create a new sense of understanding for your professional life.

Finally, and in my mind possibly the most important aspect of this, is to do a deep wrestle with your relationship with money. If you are unable to really get your mind around the idea that money is a neutral topic, and a householder yoga practice (that’s your practice) is not asking you, the facilitator, to be impoverished to honor your tradition; a lot of this becomes a much less charged conversation.

When you can understand that the yoga industry needs good and dedicated teachers to stay in the industry to help us deconstruct the many facets of the industry that are no longer working (and likely never did), then you need first need to commit yourself to making a sustainable living. The yoga industry needs you to help create change from a place of contentment and commitment to the greater good.

So go ahead. Quit yoga.

Or at least think about it.

Your future will thank you.

Want to hear more about my quitting yoga story? Catch my podcast episode Working In Yoga: Quitting Yoga here.

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Rebecca Sebastian

Rebecca writes about all things yoga. Host of the podcast Working In Yoga, yoga studio owner, yoga therapist and yoga NPO co-founder. Rebel in stretchy pants.