Many full time yoga and wellness professionals support themselves by combining their teaching and healing trades with good business. This can be tricky as the philosophies of yoga and business can sometimes seem to contradict each other. I know a lot of new yoga teachers who teach part time and have other jobs they want to leave but are not ready to commit to jumping into making teaching yoga their only source of income. Also, I have a lot of creative and entrepreneurial minded friends who want to branch out and start their own business and could really benefit from accessible educational groups. It is all about perspective: Starting a yoga business can be a great life teacher and adventure. Like most things, it’s about balance and how we approach it. The number of yoga and wellness professionals continues to rise and we are beginning to see more creative resources pop up for those in the industry. At times, it can seem overwhelming having a yoga business, but we must remember we don’t need to take on all the responsibility ourselves. Seeking community support, partnering up with people with complimentary skills, and having a passion to continue to learn new thing is key. I recently met Melissa Leger at a yoga training at Yandara in Baja, Mexico. We spent a lot of intimate time together as most people do at yoga intensives and was able to get to know her on a meaningful level as well as learn about exciting projects going on in her life. We share many commonalities in the journey of finding the balance with yoga and business. Melissa recently launched The Smart Yoga Teacher, a business resource for yoga professionals. Here we learn her story and dive into the benefits of this community resource.
What is your yoga story?
I started yoga in college in about 16 years ago to cross train. However, it was very much a work out mentality. I did it off and on but it wasn’t until I had a bout of depression where I really understood it was more than just asana. During the depression, I was very aware of it, I tried everything: self help books, astrology, staying busy, meeting new people, hobbies, exercise….but every day I would have the uncontrollable urge to cry and felt incredibly lonely. On another self help kick, I felt like I needed more exercise and bought a Groupon and practiced consistently at a studio for 30 days. I liked the exercise so I kept going and about 3 months in, I noticed a lot of those negative feelings went away. They were and are still there on occasion but without realizing it I learned the tools to witness emotion instead of overcoming them. I then pursued my 200 hour training which had a heavy focus on mindfulness and yoga therapy and in changed both myself and my practice. I completed my 300 hour yoga teacher recently which is a good reminder who we are is always evolving in our practice as we move through life.
Tell us about your passion for business…
Ah, my passion for business. I am a creative person but not in terms of being an artist. I like to think creatively and I love a challenge which works great in business. I love creating something out of nothing and enriching people’s lives. To be honest, I like making money too. Not in a greedy sort of way but I find a lot of ease in not having to think about bills and struggling. For me, it’s a lot more fun and useful to work hard in a way I want to share good things with the world than to have the stress of not knowing if I can pay my bills.
What is the vision at The Smart Yoga Teacher?
Some people are natural mothers, artists, athletes…I’m naturally inclined for business with a background in it and I also enjoy it. However, that’s not the case for a lot of people, in particular, natural healers that tend to come into teaching yoga. I’d like to create an educational resource that has a lot of free ways to learn from people who have “made it” in the yoga industry using the language and values that make sense to us. This doesn’t mean they are millionaires, though that would be nice, but they can support themselves and their families with their yoga career whether it be the main source of income or added to other desirable streams of income. Right now we have the blog which features a lot of tips, templates, and some how to videos from my experience. On the podcast, I interview other yoga pros doing different things in the industry and are supporting themselves. We also have a Facebook group where people can learn from each other. Long term, I’d like to see some offline and online courses but ideally we’re all earning from each other in our language while living yoga.
As a yoga teacher yourself, what resources for yoga teachers do you feel are lacking?
Business for sure. Yoga Alliance only requires 2 hours with a maximum of 5 in yoga teacher teacher trainings. That’s not enough. I have an M.B.A., was in the military, and worked in finance for 8 years and it’s still tough for me. People expect to be able to teach and start a career after yoga teacher training yet they’re very ill prepared for business side. Unless they are an employee, there’s very few full time yoga positions out there. Not only do we have to know about business but entrepreneurship specifically. There’s a technical and a very scary and challenging emotional side that isn’t talked about enough. Adding on to that, I think there’s a lack of community when it comes to business and yoga. Sometime it’s by nature from the individual teacher but also from a fear of competition. There’s competition out there but competition doesn’t have to create fear or a sense of lack. I’d like to see more resources to create community for yoga professionals where everyone’s connecting, sharing, and helping out communities together not separately.
How do you think ‘living yoga’ can improve businesses, organizations, and communities?
This is huge. As yogis, the 8 limbs can really help us with running our businesses ethically yet abundantly. The yamas and niyamas in particular are amazing when it comes to business. They can be our compass when we go through the peaks and valleys of running a business: being happy with wherever we’re at, how to communicate with people, what’s appropriate behavior in the workplace, setting boundaries with ourselves, clients, and employees, creating positive work environments, maintaining balance…I can go on forever.
Any tips on how we can maintain balance between utilizing the internet as a resource and finding presence offline?
Turn off all notifications! Seriously. There’s nothing so important that happens on your phone that can’t wait until you make time for it to be present. I think the internet is a great place to connect but it can also be a place to escape from our communities and relationships around us. Set time aside specifically for business and do the work then enjoy your life. I’ve started turning off my phone or leaving it behind when I’m not working because it’s such a distraction from life.
What do you believe is in store for the yoga industry over the next 10 years?
Business wise, there’s going to be more opportunity and also more competition. Some people fear competition but the people who are successful understand it’s a natural part of business. We’ll see yoga in a lot more places outside of the yoga studio and more teachers. The ones that will do well are the ones that don’t undervalue themselves because they can sustain themselves and continue to become a better teacher. There will be a lot more online learning, just like other industries, but physical classes will be just as in demand for the energy, personal attention, and community.
What is your definition of success?
In business, I would say being able to support ourselves financially and love what we do. In life, understanding ourselves and really owning it.
Anything else you would like to share?
Most people who succeed in business are the ones that failed more often than others. The reason people become successful is because they believe so much in their path that they don’t quit. Take action, keep trying, fail more often, and keep going!
Melissa Leger is the founder of The Smart Yoga Teacher, Ignite Your Bliss, and a yoga instructor. After a career in the Army and finance, she began to feel the pressures of mindlessly achieving more but having a constant feeling of emptiness. Through her yoga practice and eventually her teacher training, she began to feel alive, empowered, and aware. She completed her Yoga Teacher Training in 2012 at Mindful Yoga Academy in Spain, Level I of Blooma’s Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training, and Level I of Yoga Gangsters training working with At Risk Youth, and is completing her 500 hour training at Yandara Institute in Mexico. She also owns Green Locus Yoga in Tampa, Florida which aims to make yoga accessible to the community regardless of age, body type, or ability. She loves cooking meals, traveling, and spending time with her dogs and husband.