5 lessons I learned from teaching 38 classes a week

A mentor of mine recently gave me a piece of advice that resonated deeply with me. She said, “Sarah, you have to do what you love to the extreme in order to know if you should open your own business.”  At that time, I was teaching between 4-7 classes a day, 7 days a week for two years. No days off, including some holidays and my birthday.  I was teaching 10 yoga classes, 4 aerial yoga classes, 12 Pilates classes, 8 strength and conditioning/circuit/trx classes, and 2 body rolling/myofascial release classes a week at 10 different gyms and studios.  And here’s the real kicker, I was doing all the movement in all the classes, even most of the movement in the yoga classes. I will share my reason for this in another post! 

For those who don’t work in the fitness industry, 38 classes per week is not the norm, in fact, it’s very rare to hear of someone who teaches more than 20 classes per week.  I’ve never known anyone to attempt almost 40 and frankly, I didn’t intend to do it myself.  I didn’t even realize it until one day my friend, Mimi, asked me how many classes I had taught that week, and when I finished counting I was just as astounded as she was.

I have always loved a good challenge and I set expectations for myself beyond where I think I can achieve. This proves to be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the moment.  During this 2-year stint (2013-2015) I was so focused on becoming the best teacher I could be that it was only natural for me to do the most I possibly could.  I've always been a believer in practice and initially your practice can't be perfect because you need to figure out what perfect practice looks like. 

I knew I needed to put in some serious time and effort to reach a high level in this craft called teaching.  I wanted to my classes to be transformational. I wanted to help my students achieve things they thought they never could.  I wanted to make people feel confident and empowered in their bodies.  During this journey, I learned many things about myself that I otherwise may have never have tapped into.

1)   Teaching 7 classes a day required me to reach the depths of my creativity.  I knew I couldn’t inspire others if I wasn’t inspired by the movement and the message I was delivering so it required me to constantly create new sequences of movement, change my phrasing, explore new themes, and become a master playlist maker. 

2)   When I made a mistake in a class (e.g. forgot a pose on one side or felt rushed at the end) or more broadly, didn’t feel a class went as well as I wanted it to, there wasn’t much time before my next one (often just 5 minutes) so I had to constantly regroup and let go of any feelings of disappointment almost immediately.  It drew my mind into the present moment and the reality that each time I taught, it was a new opportunity to teach my best class ever.  Staying in the present moment for my classes, not just my yoga classes, but all the modalities I teach, allowed me to connect more deeply with my students by giving individual and appropriate progressions and allowed me to feel and respond to the energy in the room.

3)   I learned the importance of self care. Teaching yoga every damn day meant I needed to take care of myself, physically, mentally, and emotionally, so I had the energy, concentration, and empathy to teach and inspire others.  My wellness regimen was and continues to be fourfold: it meant my diet had to be on point (for me, that means lots of vegetables, cooking my own food, little to no booze, and tons of water), rest was essential (6 hours a night plus naps when needed), daily energetic refueling (whether it was treating myself to a short bout of meditation, reading, bodyrolling or receiving bodywork), and surrounding myself with positive, inspiring people.

4)   I learned that balanced movement and proper recovery between certain types of movement is a recipe for longevity.  This lesson is most critical and one in which I plan to devote much study to for the rest of my life.  I believe that variety in movement modalities is essential not only for physical reasons but for physiological and energetic reasons as well.  Physically, yoga offers so much in terms of strength, balance, and mobility but it is not a complete physical practice. Pulling movements, moving more than just your body weight, and cardiovascular fitness are just some examples of physical stresses (in a biomechanical sense) that yoga cannot offer to the fullest extent.  One physiological example is that tight muscles cause damage to non-force generating tissues like bone, ligament and fascia, and therefore, incorporating the deep traction stretches of aerial yoga and the compression of body rolling were absolute necessities for my body’s recovery.  Energetically, there are times when your body needs different kinds of releases that only different kinds of movement can afford.

5)   I learned that it’s time for me to start my own business because I did what I love to the extreme and I still love it.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend teaching this many classes per week to anyone.  It is a personal choice and different people possess different amounts of energy and endurance. But it was the right decision for me.  I became confident in my ability to lead safe, challenging, and effective classes that were sometimes transformative.

I will always have more to learn - even when I reach my 10,000th hour milestone.  It’s about practice.  You can read everything there is on a given topic and live a yogic lifestyle but if you don’t practice the skill itself (in this case, teaching), mastery will remain elusive.  Confucius sums it up well by saying, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.”  Teaching to greatest extent possible and still loving it is a testament to my dharma, my personal legend, my purpose in this life, and that is sharing my passion for movement, yogic philosophy, and the tools that make wellness available to all who seek it.