Teaching Yoga can be your Passport to the World

It’s a dream for a lot of yoga teachers. Roll up your mat, pack your backpack and let your yoga teaching certificate open up the door to adventure and travel. For most yoga teachers, it stays a dream.

It’s no surprise that the idea of traveling the world resonates so strongly with yoga teachers. Look at the similarities. When we travel, we often let go of our expectations, unleash our inner child (and curiosity), learn to explore outside our comfort zone and tap into our basic needs while letting go of those superficial things that are not necessary. We’re more humble and (depending on the availability of showers) less vain. Travel teaches us about acceptance of new cultures and fosters community. And, perhaps most significantly, travel helps us stay present and in the moment.

Sound familiar?

So, given it’s such a perfect marriage, how exactly do you go about becoming a traveling yoga teacher?

Erica Hartnick loved to travel and she loved to teach yoga. She knew she wanted to find a way to do both.

“I must have sent out 100 emails,” she says of her efforts circa 2009. It worked. She’d sent emails to retreat centers, hotels, and hostels asking if they would consider having her teach yoga to their guests in exchange for room and board. It was no way to get rich, but it filled up her soul and her passport pretty quickly. She was amazed by the doors that opened for her, the incredible people she connected with and the community that was growing around her.

Soon, people started asking her how she was pulling this all off and how they too could become traveling yoga teachers. She wanted to share these experiences and this community with as many people as she could so she launched Yoga Trade with a partner in 2013. It’s a website that puts yoga teachers (and other wellness practitioners) in touch with global opportunities. Some are paying jobs while others are volunteer or work exchanges.

Free members can see postings, share their resume, and connect with the community. But be warned, if you’re at all serious about becoming a nomadic yoga teacher – the temptations are many on the Yoga Trade board. Recent postings included a wide range in popular yoga haunts like Costa Rica, Mexico, Bali, and India to more adventurous locales like Bulgaria, Mongolia and Hong Kong. When you’re ready to take the leap, you’ll need to upgrade to their Passport membership ($24/yr) to actually apply for an opportunity. Gigs range from short-term to year-long contracts.

If Mary Tilson’s experience is an example, those short-term commitments have a way of turning in to an entirely new way of life.

Mary was a media buyer in Chicago. She’d done her yoga teacher training but after she did the math, she determined that yoga teaching wasn’t going to pay the bills. When she found herself between media jobs, she decided to do some traveling in South East Asia before settling into the next job. Her yoga teaching certificate wasn’t something she specifically packed but it turned out to be the most important thing on her journey.

Her travels took her to the Hariharalaya yoga retreat in Cambodia (recently named one of the Yoga Journal’s top 10). Even though she was a guest, she was invited to teach a class. Stepping well outside her comfort zone, she did it. That opened something up.

“I looked around and I saw that they (yoga teachers and retreat leaders) were living in that moment, they had what they needed. They were happy and fulfilled with a lot less,” she explained. They were living their yoga and she wanted that too.

She told the retreat center that she’d be interested in teaching in exchange for room and board. She carried on with her travels, and about a month later they offered her a month-long exchange. She stayed for a year.

“I felt this huge weight lifted off my shoulder from so much stress I had created in this bubble of a cubicle or in my head,” she recalls of her decision not to go back to her career in Chicago. Her experience in Cambodia helped her look inwardly, to experience the awe of nature and appreciate the beauty of community. It helped her shift her perspective about what was possible as a yoga teacher – which lead to even more opportunity.

Mary is now the Wellness Director at the Nihiwatu Resort (named the #1 hotel by Travel and Leisure, 2016). She’s still living her yoga and helping others tap into it as well. [warning – if you click the link to this resort prepare for at least 10 minutes of heart-swelling day-dreaming as you watch the slideshow!]

It certainly wasn’t what she expected to have happen when she’d packed her bags back in Chicago all those years ago but she found her purpose and she believed that the opportunities to share yoga and serve would provide for her.

Top Tips for Traveling Yoga Teachers

Mary and Erica both encourage yoga teachers to embrace their wanderlust. Here are some key tips to ensure you have the time of your life.

1) Know What You Want.

There are so many ways to teach and travel. You could be looking for a simple exchange at a rustic and remote retreat or you might be more comfortable in a luxury hotel setting. Spend some time searching your desires to determine what that perfect picture is for you – consider contract length, compensation, amenities, location, styles of yoga, and community. Once you have that picture, you’ll know the right opportunity when you see it.

2) Explore Options.

Despite tip #1, it’s also a good idea to be open to unexpected experience and opportunities. Mary suggests you “find something accessible that is going to meet you where you are,” but also extols the benefits of testing your comfort zone. “Like meditation, we need to learn to sit with our discomfort,” she reminds us. If we don’t explore our limits, we’ll never expand them.

3) Do Something!

If this is your dream, you have to step up a little bit. Apply for that dream job in that dream location then say yes. Once you open the door the opportunities will be waiting but you have to make a move. And, you have to be willing to make some sacrifices. For Erica, that meant selling everything and giving up her residence to make her nomadic teaching lifestyle a reality.

4) Take Advantage of Connections.

Whether that’s using social media or the internet to connect with potential opportunities or using services like Yoga Trade – you need to get connected. Erica also suggests communicating with potential employers or sponsors via Skype so that you can be sure the opportunity is right for you.  And, once you’ve made connections – cherish them and the community of traveling yoga teachers you’re now a part of.

5) Trust.

Believe in yourself and your dream. Trust that you will be provided for. Part of this, says Mary, is understanding that being outside your comfort zone may be a part of the process. She also says the trick is believing that nothing is permanent, so trust that it will pass.

6) Stay Present.

This is a tip for all travelers but it’s especially prescient for traveling yoga teachers. Remember to be where you are, stay calm and flexible in the situation. Appreciate what is around you. Take it all in. Live your yoga.

By the way, if you dream of hosting yoga retreats in the most exciting parts of the world, check out our blueprint for leading a profitable yoga retreat.


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