yoga, art, mental health & the plight of the unconventional worker

Listen Kid by Adam Grossi (via healthyartists.org)

Listen Kid by Adam Grossi (via healthyartists.org)

While many yoga practitioners enjoy privileged comfort and a portion of teachers make loads of money, the reality is that many people trying to make it as a yoga teacher fall into the category of the “unconventional worker” – those who choose to not live the 9 to 5 lifestyle and try to forge something else on their own. This includes not only teaching yoga but managing other freelance and part-time jobs. Often, this unconventional livelihood means little access to basic health coverage.

Indie filmmaker Julie Sokolow delved into this in a conversation with artist and yoga teacher, Adam Grossi. Originally interviewed for Healthy Artists, an organization focused on artists and their health care stories, the conversation also turned up on documentary filmmaker and author Michael Moore’s blog.

Grossi is an acclaimed emerging artist based in Chicago who teaches yoga and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Sokolow illuminates his story:

… [Grossi] works a nontraditional six days a week, in which he juggles his independent art practice with freelance web design jobs and his other passion: teaching yoga.

“My day never looks anything remotely like a 9 to 5. Some days, I start teaching yoga between 6 and 7am, and other days, I teach an evening class that starts at 6 or 7pm.”

Balancing three independent jobs not only requires endurance and self-discipline, but a sacrifice: access to quality, affordable health insurance.

“The two groups of people I am most often around, artists and yoga teachers, are chronically uninsured,” says Grossi. “Uninsured populations miss out on preventative care solutions. They get in the habit of avoiding treatment until a condition is unavoidable, and at that point, treatment is more intensive and expensive for both the individual and the system at large.”

Although yoga teachers are required to have liability insurance and a “Yoga Alliance” exists to uphold standards in yoga teacher training, no alliance exists through which teachers can get quality health care coverage. The struggle is the same for most artists, freelancers, and creative entrepreneurs.

“Universal health care would provide such an important safety net for all individuals who are brave enough to stake out their own path and pursue their passions,” says Grossi. “The fact that we collectively pay for highways and other public services is a sign that we collectively believe in infrastructure, and health care is the fundamental infrastructure of human life.”

As a Canadian, I do have access to near universal health care. However, I relate to Grossi’s story and feel he points out something universal that yoga teachers experience, as well as artists, writers, designers and everyone who chooses a life beyond the 9 to 5.

Teaching yoga as a profession is cast in a pastel-tinted image of perfect health and wellness, but the working conditions are often less than ideal and the work can take a physical and mental toll.

If you’re a yoga teacher (or freelancer/creative entrepreneur), what kind of health coverage do you have? How do you take care of your physical and mental health? 

5 Comments

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  1. I try my best to barter my way to good health! a massage for a private class, trading treatments with other practitioners… what it really boils down to for me is prevention – like not picking up a load of extra classes (even though the coin would be nice) because I know I’ll burn out before I make bank!

  2. It’s tough. Because my husband is also self-employed (an artist, actually), we pay more than $500 per month for a high deductible health insurance plan that doesn’t cover prescriptions. Even with that, we still paying off $3500 in medical bills from this past summer when my daughter fell and broke her arm. That’s the kind of expense that could drive me out of the business.

  3. My story is the same as Jen’s. Except we are paying off two surgeries for our son. I can’t say it’s working.

  4. i have to start by acknowledging my own “near-universal health care” (i dig that, roseanne!) as a canadian. but i wanted to put out there, too, other freelancer dilemmas. specifically with yoga teachers, one thing that drives me wild is not being able to file for worker’s compensation when we’re injured on the job and therefore receive benefits for both treatment and for when you are no longer able to work. i KNOW this seems like a dream to someone in the states, but given our Canadian context, why shouldn’t we also have access to the same rights folks have in other professions, especially given the physically hazardous nature of our work? i have been struggling a lot with this for over a year since i have an injury that prevents me from doing a lot of things i need to do as a yoga teacher. and the injury came from yoga, from my own practice, most likely, but was certainly impacted by the mass amounts of demonstrating i have to do to do my work. but the cost of Physiotherapy had to come out of my own pocket, and my inability to teach as much as i’d like to, too, had to just be my own missed income, and i have had to find other work that doesn’t require as much physicality to compensate.

    another bone to pick–again, Canadian “near-universal healthcare” bone, i’ll admit it! and i don’t want to sound too spoiled to our dear southern friends, and i truly empathize with how difficult your situation is down there!–is access to non-allopathic healthcare. like EastEndYogi, i try to barter the best i can, and am blessed to be living in the heart of a healing community. but i also have a health condition that has me experience bouts of intermittent chronic pain, which i have chosen not to address with allopathic methods. this is my choice, yes, but also, many other healing therapies are covered (here in British Columbia, huge strides have been made in this department, and it is different in every province) for folks who have such coverage through their work, such as Registered Massage Therapy, Acupuncture, Osteopathy etc. etc. but if you’re a yoga teacher, these therapies are not accessible to you unless you can pay for them, or, as our friend mentioned above, can barter for them. with folks such as myself who require reoccurring care, this can be extremely prohibitive in our profession. and i reckon i am not alone in the fact that what brought me to pursue a healing profession in the first place is the experience of unwellness. whether that unwellness be physical or mental–and how can one separate these two, really, anyways, we’re yogis, after all–for many yoga teachers, it seems absurd to me that we’re healers who lack access to healers… this make sense to anyone??

    thanks for listening to my rant. in love and solidarity, folks!

  5. i teach in Berlin (Germany) and the situation here is also tricky to navigate, bc you are legally required to have health insurance–and it ain’t cheap! (it does, however, cover physio, massage with a prescription and some other cool stuff…i should say so, for 250euro a month!) if you make under a certain amount, you qualify for the state to pay for your healthcare, so for me that is (currently) the solution. but yes–in general, there is a problem with workers’ rights and yoga teaching. freelancing is really precarious and the money that is made often goes to studios–and to studio rents, more specifically!

    our solution here has been to build a collective of teachers and run a non-commercial community-based yoga space ourselves. it requires a lot of collaboration, relationship, working together, sharing, etc, but it is a much, much more sustainable model than classic freelancing (financially, personally, in every way). it also has the rad added benefit of building a real sense of sangha–our students really feel it and great stuff happens as a result.

    i hope more teachers in the west are able to develop alternative/healthier working models as yoga grows in popularity. it’s absolutely necessary. we need to model the kind of interdependence, gentleness and care that we teach.