I met Michelle Linane at the Yoga Expo in Santa Clara last summer. Her passion for yoga, business, and life is contagious. We connected right away as we both are devoted to creating more resources for the growing yoga teacher community. Michelle is the Founder of Love Teaching Yoga, a website with an intention to empower yoga teachers – to help them spread the light of yoga in an insightful and informed manner. Here we catch up with Michelle as she shares her story, thoughts, and inspirations. Thanks for shining bright Michelle!!!
Tell us briefly about your yoga background…
My journey with yoga began in 2004, when I took my first yoga class, and I’ll admit, I didn’t care for it much at first. However, over the years yoga continued to call my name and I practiced intermittently until I feel in love with it almost 8 years later. Yoga became my saving grace during a time of chaos in my life and it’s forever changed me. One day in early 2013, I woke up to voice that said I had to open a donation-based yoga studio, and I had no choice but to follow it. A few short months later, I opened the doors to Be The Change Yoga & Wellness in San Jose, California.
Being that I was not a yoga teacher at the time, my path of being a studio owner was very different than most. I didn’t have a following or a community of teacher friends, so I had to build the studio completely from scratch. I also funded the studio on my own dime, so there wasn’t money for fancy marketing, and I had to boot-strap it with guerilla marketing strategies. I immediately began to flyer at a nearby university, which then lead to private classes for sororities, free classes on the student union lawn, and weekly classes for the baseball team. I regularly had a booth at our local farmers’ market where I raffled off free yoga and collected email signups. I developed a corporate yoga program and hustled my booty off to acquire contracts with local businesses. I even partnered with the city of San Jose to bring community classes to a nearby park in the summers, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. My point, however, is that through this process I learned a great deal about marketing, building community partnerships, and what it takes to thrive in the yoga business. I also learned that you don’t need a studio to bring yoga to your community. In fact, getting outside the studio often has a greater impact as we are more adept to meet people where they are in life (i.e. at home, work, parks, schools, public events, groups and clubs, health fairs, hospitals, online, etc.) and make yoga more accessible.
What sparked the idea to create the Love Teaching Yoga website?
Well, I didn’t mention this in my background story, but I eventually took a 200 hour yoga teacher training with Mark Stephens at Santa Cruz Yoga. Upon completion of the training, my life pulled me in another direction in both my yoga career and personal life. I moved out of the San Francisco Bay Area and transferred ownership of the studio to one of our amazing instructors. Again, I heard a voice of inspiration that I couldn’t deny. Over the years, I had witnessed too many teachers struggle to: pay the bills doing what they love, discover their authentic voice, figure out how to teach more than asana classes, and find accessible/affordable continuing education. I also really missed the schooling and comradery of yoga teacher training, as many teachers do after they finish.
Because I had already found myself in positions of mentorship based on my business experience, I began to realize I had something unique to offer teachers that was very much needed. The voice in my heart guided me to create something that would essentially pick up where teacher trainings leave off, providing continued support and education in all aspects of teaching yoga (the art, science AND business of teaching yoga).
Reflecting on what I had learned about teaching yoga outside the studio, I knew Love Teaching Yoga didn’t need a brick and mortar space, and it would take the shape of digital guides, books, a podcast, online courses, workshops, coaching and more. It had to be accessible and affordable, which enables me to meet teachers where they are in life and their careers. So, I set to work and have been pouring my heart and soul into this for almost two years now.
Why do you think so many people are becoming yoga teachers?
There’s a variety of factors contributing to the influx of teachers. The first being that simply more people are practicing yoga, which leads to more people who fall in love with it and want share the practice with others by teaching. The growing popularity of yoga also brings and increased need for teachers. Yoga teacher trainings are also great sources of revenue for both studios and teachers, so naturally, there’s a push there to get more yogis enrolled. Additionally, many people have been looking for supplemental income over the years, and have turned to yoga as means of helping others while helping their monthly bills. I should also add, I think there’s an element of trendiness too, sometimes the media paints it as a very glamorous and blissful profession, so many teachers are blindsided by reality of the challenges that exist within it.
What are some of the challenges you feel new yoga teachers face today?
My answer to this question relates directly to that of the previous question. Many people enter a teacher training without knowing the realities of the profession- blissfully unaware of the low pay, inconsistent and demanding hours (mornings, nights and weekends), growing competition for prime-time classes in studios, and the challenge of finding the time and energy for one’s personal practice. Not to mention the physical and emotional tolls, such as popping in and out of poses to demo and compassion fatigue. And, it’s not only facing this reality that new teachers struggle with, but once they realize it, then it’s even more of a challenge to figure out how to carry on teaching, despite these challenges.
Of course there are other challenges too, like understanding their employment status (independent contractor vs. employee), paying their income taxes as a self-employed yoga teacher, finding an insurance policy, and how to gain experience when studios won’t hire you without experience. Without support and advice from experienced teachers and other professionals, these challenges can easily defeat any teacher- which is why I’m here to help through my work with Love Teaching Yoga. I believe in the power of yoga to help heal this world, and I don’t want anyone to veer from the path of teacher because they needed help navigating the terrain.
How do you feel about the concept of mixing business and yoga?
I think business and yoga are like yin and yang- seemingly opposing forces that are interconnected and complimentary. Like I said, I deeply believe in the power of yoga to help heal this world, which means the wisdom has to be brought to the masses, and that takes some business know-how. An unfortunate side-effect of bringing anything to the masses is that some will take advantage of it for their own greedy, capital gain. Sadly, this is happening in yoga and part of the reason mixing business and yoga gets a bad rap. However, doing business doesn’t have to be aggressive and greedy, and we can operate our yoga businesses according to the yogic principals of honesty and ahimsa.
The thing is, we’re experiencing a shift in modern yoga. Where the ancient practice was once a school of thought or tradition handed down through scriptures and spiritual teachings, the form of yoga today takes a much different shape today. While it remains true, that at the heart of we are teaching is transformation from within, we live in societies that reflect a different way of life than the ancient teachers of the past. We have to earn an income through our work, whether that’s teaching yoga or working an office job.
Think of it like putting on your oxygen mask before assisting others. If you don’t put your mask on first (i.e. earn a viable living to support yourself), you won’t be as apt to help all those people who need you, because you’ll have to spend 40 hours a week at another job that pays your bills. Being business-savvy is what helps keep modern yoga teachers in the game, you can’t survive these days off simply being a great teacher. We have TONS of great teachers. Developing some business skills will help any teacher maximize their time and talent to make a bigger impact on the world.
“Business skills are the missing ingredients to on-going success for many teachers. Passion without a plan, without action, and without hard work won’t produce your dream career. Lucky for you, passion isn’t something you can learn, but business is.”
Do you know many full time yoga teachers who are sustaining themselves just by teaching, or do most teachers have other jobs or businesses that supplement?
I actually know quite a few teachers who earn a full-time income from teaching yoga. However, they currently are not the majority, as the average teacher has at least one other job. BUT, I’m happy to say the scales are shifting as more teachers develop the skills it takes to thrive.
Was “The Thriving Yoga Teacher: How To Create A Sustainable Career Doing What You Love” your first book? Can you tell us a little bit about the process of writing it?
I’d say yes, it’s my first book in the traditional meaning, but I also wrote a guidebook to incomes taxes for yoga teachers in 2015 (more info here). The guidebook is only available in digital form and is much shorter, so it took a lot less time and energy. To my surprise, writing The Thriving Yoga Teacher turned out to be an arduous process.
It began like most creative endeavors, full of ideas and motivation. Like writing out a sequence, I first started with my intention. Why was I writing this book and what did I want teachers to gain from it? This came naturally and was very inspiring. I knew I wanted to incorporate real life stories from a variety of teachers, so the second phase was about conducting interviews, which was also super fun. The challenges started to arise once I had to unravel my spaghetti bowl full of ideas and research, and map out an outline that would make sense to a teacher at any stage of their career. Once I got that mess sorted out, the process got easier again and I eagerly began writing the actual content. Naturally, I spent the most time in this phase, regularly clocking 12 hours a day on my laptop. By the end, my body was a wreck and I was so happy to wrap up the writing. I guess what I’m getting at is, like most things in life, the energy ebbed and flowed. There were times I loved it, and times I hated it. There were moments I second guessed myself mixed with moments of certainty. Nevertheless, I ventured on and today I can say it’s helping hundreds of teachers around the globe.
What are your definitions of ‘THRIVING’ and ‘SUSTAINABLE’?
The common definition of thrive is to grow vigorously, but when referencing a teacher’s career, I use the word thrive to mean flourish. It would be a disservice to teachers, if I simply focused on rapid growth. My intention is for teachers to flourish and experience luscious growth- growth that is continuous, steady and rich with intention, purpose and dharma. A thriving yoga teacher doesn’t merely scrape by, but experiences wealth of abundance in all aspects of their career. In a similar sense, I use the word sustainable to represent that continuous and steady growth that is manageable, yet prosperous for a lifetime.
If you could inspire all new yoga teachers with one sentence, what would it be?
In the wise words of a courageous little fish Dori, “just keep swimming”.
Anything else you would like to share?
Ask for help, and know that you don’t have to do this alone. Build a support system of teachers around you in-person and online. Start a teacher meetup and join teacher Facebook groups. Explore the wide range of resources at your fingertips to support your growth and development, such as Love Teaching Yoga. Find a mentor or coach who can help keep you on track and share insight beyond your knowledge.
And have courage- which doesn’t mean be fearless. Being courageous means choosing to act even in the presence of fear. While the advice of myself and others is a tremendous resource, it still comes down to you. No one has a magic formula that will create your ultimate dream career teaching yoga. You have to find the courage within to put yourself out there and do the work. This world needs healing, and this world needs you.
Michelle Linane is a yoga lover, student and teacher. Over the years, her love for yoga has transformed into a deep passion for helping fellow teachers. She’s the author of The Thriving Yoga Teacher: How To Create A Sustainable Career Doing What You Love, the host of the Love Teaching Yoga Podcast and the creator of the Love Teaching Yoga website, a growing library of online resources to help yoga teachers refine their skills and build their careers. She’s also the founder of Be The Change Yoga & Wellness, a donation-based studio in California. With a strong community focus, Michelle took yoga outside the studio walls and brought yoga programs to local parks, schools and businesses. Michelle wholeheartedly believes in these words from Robert John Meehan, “The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration, our growth would be limited to our own perspective.”