What Saying No to Free Taught Me About Setting Yoga Teacher Boundaries

In the Beginning

There was an emotional tug of war that happened to me once I became a yoga teacher. In yoga school we learned all about the practice of seva, or selfless service. We learned how important it was to give back to the world through charity by donating our money, volunteering our time, and offering up our skills and services. I got out of YTT excited to offer up my new found learning and volun-taught (that’s like ‘volunteer taught’ but one word…) everywhere I could. I remember agreeing wholeheartedly; I loved service and some of my most rewarding experiences included volunteering my time for the Salvation Army or the local soup kitchen. It was also helpful because it helped me refine my skills as a new teacher.

Here’s the thing, I had serious goals to teach yoga full-time and was itching to quit my retail job. The only problem was I had no money. I was in debt from YTT, the hubs and I had just bought a house with a hefty mortgage, I was going through gasoline like crazy because I was driving all over town for free teaching gigs, and I was exhausted from working so much. I spent two years thinking ‘exposure’ as a yoga teacher was more important than actually making money. Perhaps it did build up my clientele but I can tell you that those two years stick out in my memory as being MISERABLE.

Something had to Give

I started saying no to volun-teaching. It felt awful, like I was being selfish or like I wasn’t an authentic yoga teacher because I was asking for money in return for me teaching. The guilt was real. But, it gave me the time I needed to develop a brand as a yoga teacher and to come up with creative ideas for services and the marketing of my services. And no one actually seemed to be offended that I was now charging for my classes. In fact, it felt like my teachings were suddenly more desirable; I poured my heart into them fully aware that people were paying and they expected quality. So that’s what I gave them and my classes started to really grow.

My Return to Seva

Once I started making enough to pay my bills, I quit the retail job and actually re-evaluated how I was going to get back to seva now that I finally felt balanced and abundant. I now volun-teach up to 4 times a year as favours for close friends or for causes that I admire like the SPCA or the cancer agency. For me, this gives me the chance to give back without feeling overwhelmed. I learned that it’s important to have boundaries. That in order to serve my clients as well as those who can’t afford to pay, I had to be in balance. 

Do you struggle with the guilt around offering free yoga classes? Have you ever had to say ‘no’ in order to regain your path?

Photo Credit: Mitchell Merritt Photography

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