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Getting Creative with the Competition

How to work with, not against, your fellow yoga instructors.

By Sara Avant Stover

Many of us turned to yoga for its promise of happiness. The four walls of a studio and its community of like-minded Sun Saluters offered solace from the rat race outside. When we stepped onto our yoga mats, we stepped into a world where joy and harmony reigned.

Later, we became yoga teachers. Sometimes this entailed leaving behind careers that brought big paychecks (for some) and even bigger burnout (for most). Ready to serve students by offering them the scrumptious fruits of yoga, we were bright-eyed, enthusiastic, and, in hindsight, naÔve.

Now we know that our egos follow us to the yoga mat, especially because yoga today means big business. The competition for students, prime-time slots, fame, and simply earning a living can be fierce.

So can we bid the rat race farewell once and for all? Despite the frenzy of yoga's big boom, can we be humble and harmonious within ourselves and with each other? Anyone who practices yoga knows that ultimately this is what it's all about. Yet it's easier said than done.

Accepting Human Nature

"Competition is inherent in our genes," explains Eileen Muir, director of Karuna Center for Yoga and Healing Arts in Northampton, Massachusetts. "It is highly reinforced by our culture.

"The nature of the mind is to divide, compare, and judge, and the nature of the ego is to identify with this process. However, yoga is the antithesis of separateness and competition."

We can use yoga first to become aware of those parts of ourselves that are competing with others, and then we can investigate, accept, and work with them skillfully.

"The unpleasant reactions, the pangs of threat, and the potential for feeling inadequate that surround competition are all great excuses to look more deeply at our true selves," says Amy Ippoliti, a world-renowned Anusara Yoga teacher based in Boulder, Colorado.

Transform Negative Emotions

Zack Kurland, a yoga therapist at New York City's OM Yoga and author of Morning Yoga Workouts, recalls how he used his own feelings of inadequacy as catalysts for personal growth.

"A couple of years into teaching yoga, I used to get anxious when reading Yoga Journal. There were all of these teachers in the magazine, with articles and photos. They were teaching at conferences, producing books and DVDs, running successful studios."

"I was jealous and insecure. I became jaded. I would say that I really didn't experience joy in being a yoga teacher for a good long while."

To liberate himself from this unhappiness, Kurland took an honest look at his feelings, relationship to yoga, and finances.

"I realized that these feelings had nothing to do with the magic I had experienced through my practice," Kurland continues. "I needed to reassess my relationship with yoga."

As a result, Kurland stopped teaching full-time and resumed a former career of website production and freelance design. This, Kurland says, "took the financial pressure off the yoga and let it breathe."

"I could rediscover yoga as a gift that brings me light and levity and allows me to share that," he says.

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Reader Comments


Very good an important advise, useful for whatever business one is in.

I understand competition can be part of human nature but so it is cooperation, so it would be great if we used it at every level. Cooperation as a marketing tool could lead to the development of creative and refreshing tactics that can greatly benefit both businesses and consumers.

The documentary I am made me think about this on a personal and a professional level. If youíre interested in cooperation living you should watch it:

Lynn Felder

What a great article about responding yogically to our natural and cultural inclination to competition. My current studio co-director, Judi Maloy, and I were friendly competitors before we went into business together a year ago. Instead of going down the old road, "divide and conquer," we cleared a new path - "unite and thrive." We've had a wonderful year in our blended studio in the Downtown Arts District in Winston-Salem, NC, and we'll be celebrating with a party and free yoga all weekend Sept. 18-20. Om shanti! Lynn Felder



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