The first time I did a yoga photo shoot, I felt like a movie star. I spent hours deciding what to wear. I asked a friend to come to the set and be my spotter. I even hired a hair and makeup person. Everything, I thought, had to be perfect. Not a hair out of place, not a knee out of alignment. But when I saw the photos, I was shocked. They were far from perfect. In fact, they were downright bad. I didn’t look happy at all. I didn’t even look like myself.
I had tried so hard for everything to be “perfect” that I completely lost the essence of who I truly am. Not only that, but the intense getting-ready process that I had put myself through removed any glimmers of joy. It made the whole thing feel tedious and anxiety-inducing.
For my next photoshoot, I decided to do things differently. I did my own makeup. I let my hair down. I got out of the tidy studio and dirtied my feet in unpredictable nature. I actually had fun—and the results showed it. The photos were fantastic—or at least I thought so. While at first glance, the studio session may have appeared more polished, it was when I allowed my imperfections to show that my true self was strongest and most beautiful.
Since then, I’ve had the privilege of shooting with numerous photographers and videographers for different brands and websites, and also create short videos daily for TikTok and Instagram. Though I’ve invested in good lighting and mics, there are many times when I don’t even apply mascara anymore! In letting go of the need for everything to be perfect, I’ve been able to put myself out there in an authentic, honest, and fun way. But it took time to get there.
How perfectionism botches self-marketing
Marketing oneself does not come naturally to everyone. We each have our own hesitations and hangups. But between social media and online classes, many yoga teachers who once resisted putting themselves out there because they were waiting to make things “perfect” have found themselves needing to jump in before they feel ready.
A lot of yoga teachers have never taken a photograph, don’t consider themselves writers, and have never even considered how to create a workshop flyer or email newsletter. As such, many become “paralyzed by their perfection,” explains Ava Taylor, owner of YAMA Talent, an artistic management and strategic advising firm.
Erika Trice is one of those yoga teachers. Though she is a well-respected and experienced teacher in her Bay Area community and has been featured in her local studio’s social media posts, she finds marketing herself challenging. Trice jokes that part of her hesitation is due to her age, given that she is near the end of her fifth decade, although she also acknowledges that it’s largely her perfectionist tendencies that cause her to be so critical of herself and essentially freeze when it comes to self-marketing.
Some teachers say that it feels exploitative to sell themselves when teaching yoga is partly about “being of service.” Taylor, who recently penned the upcoming book Yoga Business, points out that it is precisely because teaching yoga creates positive change in the world that it’s something we should be willing to make some noise about and share with others.
How to promote yourself authentically
Understandably, there can be resistance to creating any sort of façade, which a lot of yoga teachers assume marketing entails. One could even argue that making everything we put out there appear “perfect” goes against satya (honesty), one of the seminal teachings of yoga from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. In retrospect, part of why my first shoot was so stressful and didn’t produce content that felt authentic to me is because I was being inauthentic. In fact, I’ve learned that if we simply shift our intention away from selling an image and toward making a connection with students, we’re automatically promoting an authentic version of ourselves. Here are 5 things to consider when marketing yourself (even if, like me, you’re a perfectionist):
Just do it
When we look past our perfectionism—and related hesitation—around promoting ourselves and start to explore why it’s there or what purpose it seems to serve, we sometimes find that it is less about a resistance to create content and more about an ingrained fear of failure. One approach to treating phobias in cognitive-behavioral therapy is exposure and response therapy, which has patients confront their fears in measured increments over time. The main belief behind this treatment and teaching is that if something scares us, the best way to overcome that fear is to face it. The more we put ourselves out there, the less terrifying it usually becomes. This has definitely been my experience. The more content I make, the less critical I become of it and myself. I don’t even watch half the things I film or shoot anymore, other than checking sound and lighting. It’s freeing to just show up and do it.
Shift your focus away from you
Sabrina (Bree) Zellis is a conscious social media guide and creator of the online course, Digitize Your Dharma. Her advice to teachers is to “let your influence be dharma-centered” versus trying to be a “brand.” Stay focused on why you wanted to offer yoga’s teachings. Zellis was working in the yoga teacher training department of YogaWorks, where she was studying to become a teacher. When she graduated, she not only put an immense amount of pressure on herself to know every cue perfectly, but she also felt the need to have a yoga brand right away, as she was suddenly alumni alongside some of the world’s most successful teachers.
Zellis hit the ground running, teaching at every opportunity and contorting herself into a pretzel trying to find her niche. This approach ended up being unsustainable over time. She found that shifting the focus off of trying to sell herself and onto her love of yoga allowed her to not only discover her brand and message more organically, but it also reignited her love of teaching.
“Done” is better than “perfect”
This tip comes from Taylor, who clarifies that she is not saying to “sacrifice integrity or quality” of teaching. Her point is if we keep waiting for conditions to be perfect, then we may miss valuable opportunities to learn as we go. We also may end up falling behind people who are much less qualified simply because we’re still “stuck at the starting gate.” Trice agreed, saying that even though she’s been teaching for 30 years, she sometimes feels as though she is playing catch up to many people that she trained but who more readily put themselves out there.
Our mistakes are our greatest teachers
Our mistakes bring us opportunities to learn. The late Maty Ezraty, who founded YogaWorks, used to joke that “perfect was boring.” Having had the honor to study with her for more than a decade, I always interpreted this to mean that if everything is perfect, then there is no room for growth. If we are at the end of the line, where is there left to go? Recently, I have stopped re-recording parts of my on-demand classes where I either fall out of a pose or fumble over words. I used to spend hours polishing my content, but I realized that in airing and embracing my mistakes, I am giving others permission to embrace theirs, as well.
Growth takes time
When we place pressure on ourselves to achieve perfection, we are implicitly telling ourselves that we need to be successful right away. But building a successful business takes time. Taylor reassures new teachers in her soon-to-be-published book, Yoga Business, “Everyone started at zero clients and followers. You have to trust that your audience will grow and give it time to develop.”
We have lots of sayings and allegories to remind us of this, from “slow and steady wins the race” to Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare. Having now taught in this business for 15 years, I have seen many people skyrocket to seemingly great heights, only to fizzle out a few years later. Just like in yoga, sustainable change happens incrementally over long periods, which means you don’t have to have it all figured out right away—or ever, really.
Want to learn more about making the jump from yoga student to yoga teacher? Check out our guide: So You Finished Your Yoga Teacher Training… Now What?