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Taking a break—from teaching, from work, from life as you know it—seems like it should be easy, yet it can be one of the most difficult things to actually do. Here, three well-known yogis share the rewards and challenges of their sabbaticals. Plus, expert advice to help you decide if taking a break is right for you.
Why Seane Corn Found the Gift in Staying Put
For the last 18 years of my 22 years as a yoga teacher, my schedule has included traveling some 250 days a year. I’ve been to 48 out of 50 states and visited more than 35 countries, which means I’m on countless airplanes and in as many hotel rooms; I wake up jet-lagged most mornings, trying to recall which city I’m in. Then, I push the furniture against the walls to do yoga.
Don’t get me wrong: To say it’s an honor to be able to share my passion for yoga with so many is an understatement. I am in the unique position of being able to do exactly what I love, travel the world, meet new and wonderful people, and make a living while doing it. Yet about a year ago, I started using the word “exhausted” a lot when asked how I was doing, and I was getting sick more frequently. I was resistant to seeing friends when I was home, telling them I wanted to “conserve my energy.” It was clear to me that I could not sustain this nonstop schedule.
What’s more, I turn 50 this year, and I’m a big believer in honoring the milestone moments in life. This is an opportunity to look backward and forward at the same time. I wanted to take time to reflect on what I’ve learned spiritually and emotionally, and to see if there are some ideas or beliefs I need to tend to, understand better, or let go of. So I began to rearrange my schedule to include taking a four-month sabbatical at my home in Los Angeles. My intention is to step into this next level of maturity with a lot of awareness and proudly embrace my role as a mentor and leader in a way that I might not have had the confidence to do as a younger teacher. In order for me to approach this process consciously, it’s important to take time to “check in” by meeting with some of my old teachers, reflecting, processing, and fully opening myself to whatever is next on my path.
As I write this, I’m in the middle of my sabbatical, doing for myself what I teach others to do: practicing self-care and taking time for deep personal reflection. We must all do so in order to be balanced, grounded, open, and harmonious in our work and relationships. Whether you have four months or four hours is ultimately irrelevant. What is important is that you create a doable regimen that supports your health and wellness—emotionally, physically, and spiritually—and commit to it regularly.
With each passing day of my sabbatical, I feel healthier and more grounded and inspired. I know that this replenishment will have a huge and positive impact on my teaching. What that impact might be I am not investigating right now. In this moment, I’m enjoying the deep rest that comes when you take true time off and turn your attention inward, toward what is important: the relationship you have with yourself, with others, with the planet, and with God.
How Linda Sparrowe Rediscovered Her Voice
I took a break from teaching yoga a few years ago because I lost my voice. Not literally; rather, in that way Writing Down the Bonesauthor Natalie Goldberg describes: “Your voice lives within what you’re most passionate about.”
I’d been teaching vinyasa for years but had started looking forward less and less to my classes, and I found all sorts of excuses to sidestep my own practice. My heart wasn’t in it and neither was my body, which just wasn’t “performing” how I’d come to expect. How could I possibly teach anyone anything when my inflexible hips made Lotus Pose impossible? How could my 60-year-old body inspire my young students eager to get their Hanumanasana on or tuck their leg behind their head? But most important, how could I also convince these students that none of these feats mattered when suddenly they’d taken on such meaning for me?
Yoga is about creating a relationship with ourselves, diving deep into the very fabric of our being to discover our truth and to make friends with all that we are. I taught and spoke about that, but when I dove deep and listened closely, I wasn’t sure I could really get behind this philosophy anymore. I discovered the truth alright, but I didn’t like what I found. I forged a relationship with myself, but hardly a loving one. So I hung up my mat and stopped practicing; I also gave away my classes and stopped teaching.
About six months into my sabbatical from yoga, I remembered that I had a commitment to teach at a weeklong retreat for women battling cancer. So off I went to the Colorado Rockies to meet 65 women. To my surprise, I slipped easily back into teaching, but what really inspired a renewed sense of commitment to my own practice was a conversation I had with “Marty,” a rough-and-tumble older woman who was much more comfortable on a Harley than a yoga mat. Riddled with cancer, she could barely move, but she wanted to do yoga in hopes that it could heal the shame she felt for her once-strong body. During one session toward the end of the retreat, Marty and I were seated on mats next to each other, and we simply began to move slowly and gently. After a few minutes, I noticed several women putting their mats down near us, and they started to practice in rhythm with Marty. When we finished, Marty said, “You know, I think I like this yoga stuff.” I asked her why. She said, “Weirdly, I suddenly saw my body, but not its broken parts. I saw my body from the inside, and it was whole.”
In that moment, I realized that I had just spent the last hour deeply connected to our collective experience without once judging, or worrying about my own body. At the end of our week together, Marty placed both of my hands on her heart. She said, “OK, Sparrowe, this retreat might have touched my heart. But you? You touched my soul.” I knew then that despite my body not being able to do what it once could, my heart was my gift. That retreat, and my experience with Marty, brought me back to my mat—and, eventually, back to teaching—and reminded me that my wisdom, born of experience, was my offering.
These days, I’ve reclaimed my voice, and my teaching mirrors who I am in this body, in this moment: a combination of strength and receptivity, infused with the wisdom I’ve gained and the love I have for this ancient practice.
See alsoThroat Chakra Tune-Up Practice
Annie Carpenter’s Sacred Pause
The first time I took a sabbatical from teaching was in 1997, when I was about to turn 40. I went to India for just two months—which seemed like an eternity as I planned for it, yet was so very short in reality—when I had the opportunity to study with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore. Every morning a group of about 40 of us would gather for our beloved sweaty asana practice, and in the afternoons there was an informal session with Guruji. Sometimes it was storytelling, sometimes a truly moving dharma chat, and sometimes he’d simply read the newspaper and we’d hang around hoping for a bit of wisdom.
One of those afternoons, a young man who’d just arrived from California asked Guruji, “Who is god?” This is when I witnessed one of my favorite laughs ever—a whole-body, big-belly, throw-your-head-back laugh—which, frankly, was a bit startling considering it was coming from my teacher, a guru whom I’d expected to be ever serene.
Through his laughs, Guruji replied, “God is everywhere! So many gods!” Then he slapped the wall behind him and cried, “God is here!” He then touched his chair and said, “God is here!” Then he pointed to several of us sitting on the floor: “And here and here and here!” Finally, he sat back and sighed, saying, “So many gods: Vishnu, Ganesha, Lakshmi, Shiva—just choose one!”
Guruji’s command of English was limited, and I don’t mean to put words in his mouth. But what I gathered from that exchange was a profound faith in the truth that god—or Spirit, if you prefer—is indeed everywhere, and that one expression is not more or less than any other. In that moment, I learned that the knowing of the existence of Spirit is the reason we practice and is, at once, the practice itself. This insight, and the ongoing awareness that there is no outer goal to be reached, has been a doorway for me into acceptance and forgiveness. There is no asana to master, no meditation to complete. The practice, whatever form it takes, is simply a loving inquiry that continues to circle us back to the present moment in which Spirit can be known.
Now, nearly 20 years later, I’m taking another sabbatical. Essentially, I am taking a break from traveling for work—no weekend workshops, festivals, or trainings for about four months. While I will teach a couple of classes each week near my home, my schedule is pretty darn sparse. My wish for this time is to set aside to-do lists; to stay out of airports with their rushing, waiting, and inevitable delays; and to get out of planning mode and just be. I want to allow more time for my morning practices of pranayama and meditation, and have more energy for my afternoon asana. I want to stare at a blank calendar and invite the cat onto my lap. I want to stare at a blank page and write.
My deepest wish is this: that in allowing the pause in my work schedule, I’ll invite the pause in every breath I take. The yogis teach very clearly that it is in the pause between each inhale and exhale that transformation is possible. Consider the great teaching of the four phases of the breath: inhale, pause, exhale, pause. The pauses, or gaps, allow time for reflection. We might look at it this way: Inhale, I am conscious of the breath, Exhale, I am aware of no breath. In the first pause, we can experience, fully and viscerally, that we are alive; and in the second pause, we can experience—without anxiety—the truth that this might have been our last breath.
This pause at the end of every exhalation invites our awareness of the impermanence of all things—of life itself. In fact, this fourth phase of every breath has a name in Sanskrit: the turiya, meaning the “fourth.” This state is described as being one with the Self, with the infinite. As we are more comfortable with the pause—and with the truth that though the body is transient, the spirit is immutable—we sense the presence of god in all living things.
A sabbatical, however brief or extended, is simply a metaphor for creating spaciousness in our busy lives and in each moment. It’s a way of creating a ritual, a sacred pause to invite the remembrance that indeed god is here, and there, and everywhere. For me, this recent sabbatical has shifted my attention from being driven by all the myriad ways my work role fills my life to the act of being—of living simply each day. This time has served to deepen my faith in the sacred pause and has reminded me that it is always here, to be accessed in each breath I take.
Should You Take a Sabbatical?
Four important questions to ask yourself before you take a sabbatical
Yes, taking a break can be one of the biggest gifts you give yourself. But it can also mean a major change in your lifestyle—both for you and your loved ones. That’s why it pays to explore and identify your intentions for taking a break, says Megan Ford, MS, LMFT, a financial therapist at the University of Georgia and president of the Financial Therapy Association. “When your schedule is turned upside down and you’re perhaps less available in ways that you usually would be, it can be disorienting for those you love,” she says. “So, like any major transition or decision, deep reflection before you make the leap is important.” To help clue you in, Ford suggests asking yourself the following questions:
1. What’s the purpose of my sabbatical?
“Essentially, you need to be honest about what you’re hoping to get out of the experience,” says Ford. Do you just want to relax? Are you feeling overwhelmed? Are you trying to escape something? “Getting clear on what’s driving your desire for time off can help you see if, in fact, you truly need a sabbatical—or just a vacation,” she says.
2. Should I do a test-drive first?
Suddenly finding yourself with big chunks of unstructured time can be challenging, especially if you aren’t used to it. So it’s no surprise that facing days during which anything is possible can be daunting. “I recommend taking a two-week vacation before committing to a months-long break, to see how you operate with no structure,” says Ford.
3. Can I leave work in a good place?
Ford says that the last thing you want to do is leave your co-workers or manager hanging—especially if you want a job return to. The key is planning: Get ahead on assignments, ask co-workers to cover for you on major projects, and talk to your boss in-depth about what could come up while you’re away—and how you suggest it be handled. “If there’s a risk you may not have a position when you come back, that’s something to really consider,” she says.
4. What might I have to give up?
Taking a long-term break from your routine means you may have to make sacrifices, like adhering to a strict budget or using up all of your paid time off (read: no break later in the year when you’re fried). And while these concessions may be worth it, you’ll still want to list them beforehand, and then assess whether or not your sabbatical is still merited, says Ford. “The more realistic you are about all that your sabbatical will entail, the less likely you’ll be to get sidetracked by the unexpected—and the more you’ll get out of your time off,” she says
3 Smart Tips to Save for Your Sabbatical
Taking a sabbatical may sound like an incredible experience, but first you should make sure you can actually afford it. According to Brent Kessel, a dedicated yogi, author, and financial planner in Los Angeles who has taken two sabbaticals himself, it’s crucial to ensure that forgoing your paycheck won’t drive you into a financial hole. “The whole point of a sabbatical is to interrupt your go-to patterns for long enough to see what’s serving you and what’s not,” he says. “You can’t fully do this if you’re stressed about your money.” Here, Kessel shares advice on how to plan financially for your time off:
Tip 1: Open a “sabbatical” savings account.
You’ll need a certain sum of money that you can easily access in order to pay your bills when you’re not getting a paycheck. “I recommend setting up regular, automatic transfers into a separate savings account so you can watch this money grow, and then taking your leave when you reach your target number,” says Kessel. Consider an online savings account, such as one offered by Barclays or Discover Bank, which often have the best interest rates.
Tip 2: Beef up your emergency savings.
While the plan should be to pay your bills and withdraw spending money from your dedicated sabbatical savings account, it doesn’t hurt to build your emergency savings. That way an unexpected event—say, your car breaks down or your air conditioner causes water damage—won’t jeopardize your time off. Most experts recommend having 3 to 12 months’ worth of living expenses in emergency savings. Choose a number that’s realistic for your budget and gives you peace of mind.
Tip 3: Guesstimate how much you’ll spend during your time off.
For some, taking a sabbatical means spending more time at home and less money on things like gasoline and green smoothies. For others—especially those who decide to travel—a sabbatical could mean spending more money. Get a sense of this before you take your sabbatical, so you can be specific when it comes to your savings. “Once you’re clear on your intention, you’ll be better able to plan for the financial part,” says Kessel.