When It’s Legit to Quit


By Dan Charnas  |  

Am I a quitter? I ask because, after contemplating my teaching career, I realized that I’ve left every class I ever taught.

Some classes I quit because they no longer fit my schedule. Others I quit because they were poorly attended. Some I quit because the commute was too long, or because I had moved. Still others I quit because of personal conflicts with studio owners or managers.

However valid my reasons, I still quit. At this moment, I don’t teach at all. I couldn’t keep my Saturday class because I kept leaving town for work on weekends.

Meanwhile, there are teachers who have remained in place, teaching the same class for years. I can’t lie: I’m envious of their stability. I revere the teachers who can maintain that kind of devotion.

Given how we in yoga emphasize the value of commitment, when is it legit to quit?

It seems that teachers have three main motivations for quitting their classes, and sometimes their entire teaching careers: time, money, and disillusionment. Each of these motivations can be valid if the reasoning is sound.

Time and Teaching

After 30 years of conducting regular classes both in Los Angeles and New York, it wasn’t hard for Ravi Singh to quit.

“I felt it was time for the teaching to take new forms,” he explains.

Ravi had already made a best-selling DVD called Fat-Free Yoga. Now, with his wife and teaching partner Ana Brett, Ravi has plans for more DVDs and web-streaming yoga videos.

“The best way to do teaching,” Ravi says, “is to get to the most people. The DVD business is such a great way to teach exponentially, as is the Internet. Teaching regular classes takes away from the time available to expand in other ways.”

Ravi and Ana still teach in the real world on occasion, leading seminars around the country. But now they’re focused on teaching virtually.

Despite yogic platitudes about infinity, time for humans is finite. Teachers often have to make hard choices about how and when to channel their energies.

Time Is Money

I’ve always viewed teaching as my sadhana (daily practice) and seva (selfless service). I never taught classes to make money.

But at one point, I couldn’t help but do an accounting of the time and money it took to teach my regular Tuesday class: One hour of prep. Another hour of travel from my home to the yoga center. Two hours of class and post-class discussion. Another hour’s drive back home. To teach just one class a week, I was spending five hours of time, plus about $20 for expenses. On those nights that only three students came, I couldn’t help but think that I wouldn’t even make enough to cover the gasoline—not to mention the opportunity cost of five hours, in which I could have been doing my paying day job.

Teachers who lay out this kind of time and money week in and week out—especially those who are struggling financially—can become discouraged easily.

Santokh Singh Khalsa, who used to run the Awareness Center, a Kundalini Yoga studio in Altadena, California, spoke of a wonderful teacher who quit because she felt she couldn’t have a career there. “‘You can’t make any money teaching Kundalini,’” Khalsa recalls her saying. She adjourned to another center to teach hatha.

The concept of teaching to make money still gets a bad rep in yogic circles. But true yogis know that money is just another form of energy, and they pay particular attention to how they collect and spend theirs. Khalsa’s wife, who also taught at the Awareness Center, made a conscious decision to stop her class for a while to raise a child. And Khalsa himself, a renowned chiropractor, gave the yoga center to a former student when he wanted devote more of his energies to building a stronger healing practice.

Losing Your Illusion

Back in the 1970s, Stephen Josephs ran an ashram in Massachusetts, where he taught yoga every day. After ten years, Josephs became disillusioned with his own teacher.

It started when Josephs began to practice qi gong and found that it resonated with him much more than the yoga he had been practicing and teaching. Josephs’s teacher flew into a rage when told of this. Suddenly, Josephs was reconsidering everything about his teacher, whom he came to see as a “primitive, self-important narcissist.”

Joseph describes his teacher’s message as, “‘I am great and you are not.’” He adds, “I wanted to follow somebody who was a humble, realized practitioner.”

Josephs’s experience and subsequent departure from the ashram caused him not only to reject his teacher but the teachings as well.

“For many years,” Josephs recalls, “I didn’t teach anything.”

Eventually, Josephs’s questions about the nature of mentorship led him to find inspiration in Lao-tzu. Josephs now uses those teachings as the foundation for his book Leadership Agility. He also has a new practice called Changewise—a leadership and organization development firm—where he does one-on-one executive coaching.

“I like that medium,” Josephs explains, “because I can teach the person only the things they need.”

Taking a Break

For more than five years, psychotherapist and Kripalu teacher Christopher Love had maintained a manic schedule, teaching six days a week at a popular yoga chain in San Francisco. Even his vacations were bound up in teaching yoga at exotic retreats. He not only found himself growing weary from the physical and mental effort but he also began questioning the premise of his group classes. Love felt his focus on teaching stillness at odds with the frenetic, driven atmosphere of a studio that catered to its frentic, driven students. “Are we teaching the students?” Love asked himself. “Or are the students teaching us?”

Love just needed time to sort it all out.

When he announced his decision to take a yearlong sabbatical, the managers of the yoga chain were obliging and understanding. He prepped his students over the course of the next few weeks for his departure and followed it up with a mass email.

After a year of quiet practice and living off of his savings, Love realized that if he returned to teaching classes, it would have to be on his terms. Now, Love teaches two classes a week, for donation only.

He balances his asana teaching with a healthy dose yoga’s seven other limbs. His students may be driven, but in his classes, Love has vowed that they will learn to slow down.

Love mirrors his teaching philosophy in the new yoga brand that he recently trademarked: Power Slow.

In the end, it was Love’s break from teaching that saved his teaching career.

Before You Quit

“Teaching,” says Santokh Singh Khalsa, “is a powerful spiritual event.” It’s a simple fact that most students and nonpractitioners don’t understand. The decision to teach, or not to teach, therefore has great spiritual import.

Before you make a decision to leave your class or close your yoga center, here are some things to consider:

The right resonance. When teachers become disillusioned with teaching, sometimes it’s about what we are teaching.

At other times, our disillusionment has to do with whom we are teaching. Ravi Singh recalls, “I was teaching at Crunch [a gym in Los Angeles]. Men were there to meet women. Women were there to meet men. And I thought, ‘What am I empowering?’”

The wrong reasons. Money alone is not a reason to teach, because your teaching must be infused with spirit to be effective. But spirit alone is likewise insufficient, because there must be a true exchange of energy for any spiritual event to take place. Money and time are valid concerns when making a decision to keep a class. Just make sure they’re balanced with spiritual considerations.

The virtue of holding on. Yoga is not supposed to be easy for our students. Likewise, teaching is not always supposed to be easy for us. The challenges of teaching—time pressures, money woes, disillusionment—may be part of your spiritual path, a test of sorts. Don’t be so quick to leave a teaching situation because of its difficulty. Rather, ask yourself if the difficulty is something that you must endure to reach a higher, more valuable goal. “Yoga is like music or any other art,” Ravi Singh says. It takes time to find your voice and your niche.

The knowledge that image isn’t everything. If teaching makes you miserable, if it no longer inspires you, don’t keep teaching just to keep up appearances or because you’re afraid to disappoint your students and colleagues. It will show up in your teaching anyway. If you’re going through a spiritual crisis, be honest with your students. “Don’t try to hold up some party line,” says Josephs. “Putting up a false image kills a lot of teachers.”

One day I may return to teaching. But when I think of going back, I most often envision teaching at an inner-city school or at a halfway house, places that don’t know yoga but need its power. Yoga studios, on the other hand, are outlets for people who already have many resources at their disposal. Come to think of it, that’s probably one of the reasons I’ve found the strength to leave those places—a deep knowledge that my teaching, in whatever form it takes, is probably needed elsewhere.

Dan Charnas has been teaching Kundalini Yoga for more than a decade and has led classes at Golden Bridge in New York and Los Angeles. He is the managing editor of NewsOne.com and the author of the upcoming New American Library/Penguin book, The Big Payback: How Hip-Hop Became Global Pop.