For Jane Hansen, the proverbial final straw in her burnout experience came from a well-intentioned student. “I had someone actually say to me, ‘You seem better,’” she says, “and I thought, Wow, it’s not just in my head.” In this case, “it” was the feeling that she no longer had the ability or energy to hold space for her students or to provide the experience she wanted them to have.
Hansen, who had recently moved from Berkeley, California, to Manhattan, Kansas, had other symptoms as well. “I definitely had fatigue,” she says. “I had hair loss, I had a lot of tension in my jaw.” When she got a college teaching position on top of her university counseling job, she knew she had to let her yoga class go.
She says it’s not a permanent break, and next time she’ll make sure she has the time and space in her life to eat and sleep and rest. “I expect to go back and teach again, and when I do, I’ll have more balance in my life.”
“I was this crazy perfectionist Iyengar teacher,” she recalls, “so I couldn’t listen deeply to myself because there were all these postures I had to do and how I had to do them."
Northampton, Massachusetts, yoga teacher Donna Brooks looks back on her brush with burnout with hard-earned, been-there-done-that perspective. “I was this crazy perfectionist Iyengar teacher,” she recalls, “so I couldn’t listen deeply to myself because there were all these postures I had to do and how I had to do them—and that in itself is the mechanism for stress.” In trying to meet everyone’s expectations—including her own—she left “no room for really knowing who I was or really feeling deeply at home in myself.” She caught colds easily, one of the first signs of adrenal burnout, and often felt so exhausted after class that she just wanted to lie down on the floor and go to sleep. “But I couldn’t, and I pushed through it.”
Brooks traded for acupuncture, network chiropractic, and massages, which kept her from completely tumbling down the rabbit hole. Now she sees them as crutches that allowed her to “keep the insanity going,” without ever really addressing the underlying stress. “That had to come from me and my relationship to my own nervous system.”
Brooks stopped teaching when her son needed extra care, and she credits that seven-year break with saving her from serious burnout. She says she no longer feels “a lot of have-tos,” and has learned to pace herself as a teacher. “If you’re focused outward, you’re pumping out a lot and you’re not really paying attention to the moment-to-moment changes that are going on in your own body and your own breath,” she says. But if you notice those changes and accept and attend to them, “you actually find yourself being contained more in yourself and using a lot less energy to teach.”
“We are quick to remind each other that as yoga teachers, we are providing a service to the people and to the community; it is not for us or about us—and just like that we pretty much snap right back.”
Charlotte and Mike Matsumura, owners of Pranava Yoga Center in Colorado Springs, admit to experiencing “moments” of burnout. And small wonder: They each teach 10 yoga classes a week on average, in addition to running the yoga center, which is open 364 days a year. They function as the management team, the bookkeeping team, the cleaning team, the marketing team, technical support, and directors of their teacher training programs.
Having each other as business partners, life partners, and keeping-each-other-in-check partners has made it easy for them to call one another out whenever they see burnout trying to slip in, they say. “We are quick to remind each other that as yoga teachers, we are providing a service to the people and to the community; it is not for us or about us—and just like that we pretty much snap right back.”