What It's Like To Be... A Yoga Instructor
Lines "blur" with students, says Tricia Donegan
Video by Mariya Pylayev
Some workers would do anything to be able to escape their job. And then there are people like Tricia Donegan, who pursued her job because it is "something I could do all day long," even when she's technically not even working. As she told AOL Jobs, she wanted a career that "empowered me and balanced me and grounded me and excited me all at the same time."
The Yoga Epiphany
Donegan, 42, is a instructor of Bikram Yoga. She's also the founder and owner of the Bikram Yoga Lower East Side studio in downtown Manhattan, which she opened back in 2004. And during a recent class at her studio, Donegan's style was on full display; she leads her class as if she were a revivalist talk-show host, walking through the studio while providing insight on postures and life itself. "Keep your belly sucked in tight... stretch your chest up tall," she said. "Think about your words and definitions differently."
Donegan opened her studio just four years after she started practicing yoga herself as an adult. The embrace of yoga, she said, was a perfect way to combine two lifelong pursuits; Donegan played college soccer at the University of Dayton, where she pursued a dual degree in psychology and social work. "My purpose is to help others find their purpose," she said. And while she living in Atlanta and working in the restaurant industry, her hairdresser invited her to take a class of Bikram Yoga. That experience provided her with an epiphany from which she could never return.
"I had been an athlete my entire life, but I had never found anything else that allowed me to transfer my willingness and determination in such a way," she said. And so by her second day of doing Bikram yoga, "I knew what I needed to do," she said.
Becoming an Instructor
Yoga has experienced explosive growth in recent years in America; there were 20.4 million practitioners of yoga in 2012, up from 15.8 million in 2008, according to the Yoga Journal. Bikram Yoga is one of the countless forms of yoga that's set apart by being conducted in a studio with a temperature of 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity. Bikram classes last 90 minutes and run through the same 26 postures each time. For Donegan, she said she preferred Bikram over other forms of yoga because it features a "moving meditation," which felt more comfortable for her given her background as a collegiate soccer player.
After she decided she wanted to pursue yoga as a career, Donegan enrolled in the training program with the school's founder, Bikram Choudhury, in Marina del Rey, Calif. The program, which is run twice a year, costs $11,400 and spans nine weeks. Each round attracts some 500 participants, she said.
But every form of yoga requires a certification of some form, she added. And the diversity of yoga schools leads to a range of training. Bikram stands out for asking aspiring instructors to sign up for a nine-week training session. More common, said Donegan, is for aspiring yoga instructors to enroll part-time in a program near their home in a process that usually involves an internship at a local studio.
The Yoga Lifestyle
Any devotee of yoga experiences the process when yoga "becomes a lifestyle; you live yoga 24 hours a day and it's beyond the physical and postures," she said. What does that mean in practice? As an example, Donegan offered the experience of waiting on line at a restaurant, and how a yoga practitioner is "more aware of others' needs and is aware that it's everyone's turn and there's enough for all of us," she said.
But the all-inclusive aspect of yoga can often mean that Donegan's students expect her to be available at all times. Lines get "blurred," she said, and "students fall into a trap where they can't do anything without their instructors, and instructors can't be valued without having a student." For her part, Donegan said she's even been flown to a different country by one of her students simply so she could be at their side.
Donegan is no neighborhood yoga instructor. She's taught the likes of Lady Gaga, but she'd much rather talk about her work with the Lower Eastside Girls Club. Every month, Donegan hosts an event called Nite Sweats, which is an evening class of Bikram Yoga. The proceeds go to help the club, which serves girls and women between the ages of 8 and 23 learn the importance of healthy eating and equality, among other programming. What's the connection to Bikram Yoga? "I try to demystify Bikram yoga to my students, and this is about demystifying compassion."
What is the pay range?
According to Donegan, it's common for yoga instructors to be paid in the double digits for private classes, but the range can go as high as "priceless," she said. Or if a client is unable to pay, she's had no problem not getting paid.
Practically speaking, Donegan said she teaches for three hours a day, but the running of a studio is a full-time occupation above and beyond the permanent embrace of the yoga philosophy. But she wouldn't have it any other way. "There is no real agenda and there is no process in yoga," she said. "But there is a process; everyone is perfect where they are, we all do the best we can until we find a better way."
What is the best part of your job?:
"I get to go to work barefoot and make people feel better."
What is the worst part of your job?:
"The love of my job gets in the way of my family."
How much can you expect to make one year in?
$50-$90 per class
Five years in?
"It won't change much for the classes, but it can go up dramatically with private clients."
Looking for a job as a yoga instructor? Click here.
Bikram Yoga Lower East Side is located is located on 172 Allen Street in New York, NY.
Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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