Questionnaire Complete: How I came to teach Yoga in Europe
Recently I was contacted by a college student studying exercise and wellness. For a homework assignment she was required to write a report about individuals in the field of health and fitness. When I sat down to write a quick reply I found I had so much to say. Low and behold, a few hours later it felt like I wrote a short story about my life and experiences that have led me to where I am now. The person at the other end of my email said she found it intriguing so much that she could hardly put it down in want of knowing more. For this reason I thought I would share my responses to her questions to a larger audience. This excerpt is only a glimpse into my life, my journey. It doesn’t seem like anything overly exciting, I guess because I am living it day in and day out the triumphs and more importantly the tribulations that have propelled me to grow. In hindsight, I look at my accomplishments and say, “wow, I did that!” While I take each day as it comes, it is hard to see what others see. Enjoy and I hope you are inspired!
Background & Training:
I always joke, my background is in hospitality. I like to refer to it as my “big girl” managing restaurants, bars and resorts. For over a decade I have been in various managerial roles from assistant manager, to GM to a catering and sales. Wow, I feel I am getting old when I say it like that. I have managed a privately owned pizzeria, a AAA four star fine dining restaurant, Latitude 30, a wine bar, and was even acted as a General Manager of a Sports Bar and Steak House at a four star resort all before the age of 23. I resigned from the Arizona Grand Resort in order to finish my third degree, my bachelor’s in history at Arizona State University. My other two degrees are in hospitality management and culinary arts. I am a chef and manager by trade.
After I obtained my bachelor’s degree, I pondered what I wanted to do next. Restaurants were exciting and fun, but by this point had ceased to provide me any challenge.
I had been practicing yoga since late 2007, early 2008 by that time, and thought, why not get certified? I gave a lot of the credit to my fist yoga teacher Vivienne, whose style of teaching suited me and inspired me to give to others what she had done for me. She shared her passion and enthusiasm, and it was exhilarating.
I thought to myself that restaurants, the food service industry was great; you can make a dining experience memorable, but it would only be momentary. One dinner will not change your life or impact your future. The only events that really stick with us are weddings, special birthdays and holidays, other than that one night out is like the next. With yoga it is not any one event or special occasion but the practice and the daily act of living a yogic lifestyle that can change a person’s life. I believed and still do that with yoga I could actually make a difference in someone’s future and quality of life.
Now, I have had a unique opportunity to live in Brussels and teach yoga. This came about as a random change of events that I reflect upon as somewhat an “Eat, Pray, Love” scenario. I was freed from a bad five year relationship. I was the one that got dumped. Rather than sulk in my tears, and don’t get me wrong that did happen, I mustered the courage to board a plane to Europe for an indefinite amount of time last, let go to fate, and see where it would take me. And wow, what an amazing summer I had from Poland to Ireland, Hungary to Croatia, and many places in between; I found myself having spent nearly a month in Belgium traveling. I volunteered at an English Youth Camp ABCZaam, where I taught yoga to 11-17 year old boys, French speakers learning English. This took place in Genk, Belgium. I also traveled to Brugge, Antwerp, Gent for a festival, and spent time with friends in Brussels. Belgium had a fond place in my heart. I returned to the United States after five months abroad almost in tears. I was on the plane from NYC to Phoenix Sky Harbor and I sat in my seat with this feeling I was on a slave ship taking me back to captivity. Last fall, I returned reluctantly to see if only I were to change suburbs or jobs, maybe I would be happy. I interviewed with big name restaurants. I was flown out to LA to interview in Santa Monica, and decided restaurants no longer made sense. I was unfulfilled. I was teaching yoga at the YMCA and a few local gyms and had a couple private clients, but it was not something I could make a living on.
I had this notion if you set an intention and believe in it, why not do what you can to make it happen. This was what happened in October when I went home to Iowa for my brother’s going away party as he was deploying for Afghanistan. It was on this trip home that I told my family I had decided to up and move to Belgium. I think they thought I would change my mind that I would not go through with it, but low and behold January 2013 came around, I threw what little belongings I had left after numerous garage sales into storage and boarded a plane to the unknown. I came to Brussels without a job, a visa, or any reassurance that my gamble could or would pay off.
I had done a little research before I had left the states and had one interview lined up with the owners of the Serendip Spa in Ixelles, a suburb of Brussels. Long story short, after two months trying to apply for independent status and hitting brick wall after brick wall the owners decided I would be a good investment for the company and they would offer me full employment. This is not something to take lightly as it is a big financial obligation, one, to employ a Belgian, two, it is even more of a burden to employ a foreign national. The taxes and benefits are absurd compared to the United States.
To keep this simple, for four months I volunteered my time, unpaid, with the company while I sorted out my work permit and my visa. My work permit was approved in April, which was surprising because I only ever thought intellectuals, such as IT professionals or scholars were approved for such permits. I thought, “Why would Belgium ever approve a foreign yoga instructor?” But they did.
We launched the Serendip Yoga program back in June and the community has been growing ever since.
Am I certified in yoga? Yes. I have my 200 hour RYT certification from Yoga Alliance. I trained with two of the nation’s lead yogis, Jenn Chiarelli & John Salisbury, at At One Yoga in Scottsdale, AZ. It is owned by Life Power out of Minnesota. I have been teaching since August 2011. I finished my yoga teacher training in July 2011. In addition to my experience teaching in Phoenix, I also taught numerous classes at Serendip Spa and YYoga in Brussels.
Type of training: Because I worked in the hospitality industry I primarily worked nights and weekends. This meant I could take yoga classes during the day. I signed up for a semi-intensive course, Monday, Wednesday, & Friday from 9am-3pm for three months. I did my research and the yoga program was financially competitive, a little on the higher end at $3200 for the certification. The training was based on a Hatha style of yoga.
Recommendations for those aspiring to be teachers: Identify what style of yoga you want to teach first and foremost. Then look at your schedule. Look for accredited teachers. Finally ask about early bird specials or payment plans. Do not let financial burden weigh too much into your decision. Quality is key.
Continuing Education: Whenever I have free time. When I landed in London on my way to Belgium I spent 10 days exploring the yoga scene in London. I got into Brussels and did market research, trying out every studio I could find, looking at schedules, prices, styles, and teachers. I did the same again when I moved to Barcelona.
Now, I attend yoga festivals, workshops, and most recently I have been involved with acro and aerial yoga.
I also want to get pre/post natal certified, and eventually I think I will look into the aerial yoga certification and training.
Do I see myself continuing for 5-10 years? Absolutely. I am branding myself right now. I am making quite a name in the expat community over here. There are Americans who cannot find my style of teaching anywhere in Brussels or Barcelona and I know because I also did the leg work. There are great teachers all across Europe, but again each and every one has their own unique style, mine happens to be geared more for an American market.
I have had the privilege of working with two owners that valued my opinion and ideas and they gave me every opportunity to learn & grow. With my background in food and nutrition I am incorporating healthy living techniques to promote sustainable wellness, or a more coined term mindfulness.
Do I see myself doing this into my 50’s -60’s? Heck yes. I work, crazy hours, but it doesn’t seem like work. My overarching goal is to have a bed and breakfast, a yoga retreat, a beautiful restored country house with a large kitchen/dining room to cater nutritious, home cooked meals with local produce and also have the capacity to teach yoga.
Teaching overseas, differences? Having lived in Brussels and now Barcelona, you are surrounded by an international community. This is good and bad. Belgium has three national languages, French, Flemish (Dutch), and German. In addition to this the city, Brussels, home to the European Commission, Parliament, and NATO, there is every language under the sun being spoken. This is not so much the case in Barcelona where the yoga scene is primarily in Spanish.
The expat community is great. Yoga is only becoming more popular in Belgium, but you see a rise in this popularity spurred on by the city’s expat community. I have numerous, Germans, Scandinavians and Americans in my class. I teach a variety of classes, but I find that my vinyasa class is the one you cannot find anywhere else in the city; the energy in class is electrifying.
Yoga as I said before is only making its way in Belgium, coming from the American southwest where it was a very saturated market, I thought it was scarce in Brussels, but it is building and I love being in the grit from infancy. The Barcelona community has also been fun to sink into as well, but is different. The language is not a deal breaker, it means there is room for English teachers to prosper. I want to see both cities it grow and blossom in the field of wellness. I have been making friends with other like-minded yoga instructors that do not see one another as competition but as individuals that can share knowledge to promote a beautiful lifestyle.
Financial Compensation for Teaching Yoga Abroad: I would have to say my situation has been very unique, and I am very blessed. I was a salaried yoga instructor and project manager for the luxury spa in Brussels, Belgium. How cool was that? I had a nice salary, but living in a foreign country came at a price, and the taxes are significant. I was taxed 48%. That means from my salary I only took home half. I had great medical and dental benefits, but it is no joking matter about the taxes. I laugh thinking about US taxes in comparison.
There is room to live comfortably as a yoga instructor. The best compensation is the knowledge that you are helping others and creating a lasting impression in their lives.