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Sure, the life of yoga teacher seems glamorous. We all spend the day wearing stretchy pants, covered in essential oils, and floating on calm clouds of compassion, right?
The reality is that most of us are running around between classes, working simultaneously as our own managers, booking agents, and marketing strategists—often without benefits or paid sick leave. There is more grit than glamour, and if anyone would know, it’s Tiffany Russo. She has a decade of teaching under her belt in Los Angeles, one of the most saturated and competitive yoga cities in the world.
As a former manager of many of Hollywood’s hottest nightclubs, she was “drawn to the thrill of competition,” but it often left her depleted. Like many of us, she fell in love with yoga because it was the only time her mind would quiet, and it offered her a chance to slow down and restore. She knew she was faced with a choice.
“In order to move away from the toxic nightlife, I literally made a night-to-day change and chose a more therapeutic route,” she tells us.
And it paid off.
In 2017, having established herself as an trusted source of anatomy and alignment wisdom, she made the cover of Yoga Journal. So, when we got a chance to sit down with Tiffany outside of YogaWorks in Santa Monica, where we also attended her class, we were eager to soak up her advice for new yoga teachers on how to stay on the path and cut through competition—yogically, of course. Here, her five top tips.
1) Always Have a Teacher
After receiving a teaching certification, it might seem sufficient to self-study from the plethora of available resources these days, but there is no substitute for carrying on the tradition of an in-person, guru-disciple relationship. Teachings are transmitted in a more powerful way in person.
“Having a teacher is so necessary to stay inspired,” Tiffany says. She recalls how she was fortunate to build a relationship with her teacher, Annie Carpenter, early on and is now one of three teachers in the world qualified to teach Annie’s signature SmartFLOW Yoga trainings.
Plus, since teaching tends to be an independent path, these relationships help keep us all connected to each other, which is quintessentially yogic.
2) Stay Grounded in the Texts
Your teachers may change as your career and interests evolve, so it’s important to remain grounded in the original yogic texts and have a firm sense of the philosophical foundation of the practice. Read the ancient texts—like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Upanishads, or the Bhagavad Gita—over and over again. Tiffany believes that, as we grow and change, the same teachings affect us in different ways.
“The more I study the Sutras and the more life experience I have, the more it all just weaves together,” she says. “The more you experience life, the more the sutras make sense.”
3) Be Authentic
With the rise of social media, many of us are pulled into judging ourselves against a backdrop of other people’s carefully curated highlight reels.
“It’s hard for a lot of us to really trust who we are and know our voice,” says Tiffany.
To keep that in check, she strongly believes in the wise adage from Benjamin Franklin, who cautions that “comparison is the thief of joy.”
Find a studio that allows you to speak your voice, and if you’re being asked to teach in a way that does not resonate with you, find another studio. The more you own your authenticity, the more people will gravitate toward you, which begins to create your sangha (community). Ultimately, those bonds will be stronger because they’re authentic.
“That sense of connection breeds success,” Tiffany says.
4) Be Clear About Your Vision—Then Be Patient
As we become increasingly conditioned to lighting-fast instant gratification, it may help to humble ourselves and remember that ancient yogis spent decades in isolated practice and rarely considered themselves a qualified guru otherwise. So be patient.
Tiffany recalled how it took her six years to quit part-time bartending and transition to a full-time yoga teacher. “One of the things I did was I wrote out my ideal schedule on a post it and put it on a wall,” she remembers. “And I got that schedule. It didn’t happen overnight, but I told the universe what I wanted.”
So, honor your circumstances, keep a clear vision of the future you’re trying to create, and balance it all with a sense of aparigraha (non-grasping).
5) Remember Why You Fell in Love with Yoga in the First Place
Perhaps the most important piece of advice every guru agrees on is to practice, practice, practice.
“I think during the hustle of trying to be successful, we forget why we fell in love,” says Tiffany.
The more you practice, the more you’ll remember why you teach, and those qualities will come through more powerfully to your students.
Always set aside time in your schedule for your own consistent self-practice, and honor this time as equally important as any other time spent studying or generating revenue. The more you practice, the more you’ll remember why you teach, and those qualities will come through more powerfully to your students. Ultimately, you and the practice will live on with passion and purpose.
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