The Yoga Teacher’s Dilemma


by Stefanie Marlis

You’ve decided to make your passion your career. Not for the money, no doubt, but because yoga changed your life, and you want to share it with everyone. The thing is that if you practice yoga on the mat (hatha yoga) with any consistency, you naturally assimilate some of the spiritual underpinnings of all yoga’s branches. And, spirituality and money don’t mix, right? Therein lies the yoga teacher’s dilemma: how can you dedicate yourself to a discipline whose fundamental precepts put spirituality first and discourage material yearnings.

Angie Bentonput it this way ina contribution to Elephant Journal in 2012: “To use Yoga as a means of gaining financial freedom or success is in all ways a complete contradiction of what Yoga is.An important Yogic teaching, is that during this path of coming to one’s Self; we release all attachment to having any particular outcome from our efforts.”Really?

I’ve been a spiritual seeker most of my life and I’ve also sought the particular outcome of being able to pay my bills. I don’t see a conflict here. The Buddhist concept of right livelihood played a large role in my career choice, and it was after reading a quote by Zen philosopher Alan Watts, at a pivotal moment in my own life, that I decided to try to write for a living. Watts warned, “If you put money first, you’ll be doing things you don’t like in order to go on living, that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing.” So I followed my heart and turned my passion for language into a decent living. Watts echoes what every mindful book I’ve ever read on money says—it’s not money but your relationship to it that matters. Aiming for a balanced, non-ego-driven relationship with the stuff is the way to go.Rich was never my goal, living a fulfilling life where I have enough was and is.

Especially when compared to the monkey-mind that comes with scarcity thinking, theinner freedom of having enough is spacious. And freedom from maya, the suffering delusion that so often equals life, sits at the core of yogic practice. It’s a funny thing about money, but for most of us, when we have enough, our relationship with it—and most everything else—automatically gets healthier. We’re less “grasping,” and “not grasping” is key to a yogi’s spiritual development. Even if you’re lucky enough not to depend on an income from yoga, you deserve to be rewarded for your efforts. When we’re paid fairly our hearts open up, and we’re more tuned into the divine, which of course is the ultimate goal of yoga: union with the divine.

Recently, I gained a better understanding of karma from the late yogic scholar Georg Feuerstein. Karma-Yoga is the yoga of action that emphasizes one’s attitude toward action. Karma-Yoga is about freedom in action—about being beyond ego and tuned in to the universe so that right action arises spontaneously. In other words, one doesn’t feel torn at all. This karmic action determines one’s destiny: you know what to do. Karma is action that shapes one’s destiny.

Don’t let a limited idea of what’s spiritual and what’s not, leave you feeling divided about your decisionto teach yoga. You opened your heart and tuned in so deeply that it must have felt like destiny. Going through all that sacrifice and training to become a teachermeantcaring about outcomes and a lot of dedication to transform your life and the lives of others. When yoga teachers from India first came to the West, it was commonplace for their wealthier students to support them. As good citizens, supporting ourselves financially is necessary for most of us in the West.

So, especially today, as the new economy is dawning, and businesses no longer have to make a choice between doing good and doing well, tap into the business guru within, set some financial goals, create your own brand of teaching, make a healthy living and wake up the planet with yoga.

Dedicated yogi and longtime Bay Area copywriter, Stefanie Marlis is Creative Director at Yoga Business Revolution.