Corporate no more: Ditching the nine to five for a career in yoga

Corporate no more: Ditching the nine to five for a career in yoga

Is it clichéd to say an impressive job title and income can’t necessarily buy happiness? Possibly – but truth remains in its sentiment. What good is a six-figure salary if your heart isn’t invested? A sedentary, screen-gazing cycle of endless targets and deadlines can make human beings feel like burned-out human ‘doings’. Many do flourish wholeheartedly in the corporate world; but it isn’t everyone’s source of fulfillment. Do you thrive in nine-to-five, or wistfully survive?

“I think there is growing disillusionment with life in the corporate sector. People are realising they need work-life balance and to reduce stress, so take up yoga or go on a wellness retreat. Once they experience the benefits, they commit to a regular practice; in some cases, this can develop into seeking a career as a teacher or at a wellness centre,” says founder of Byron Yoga Centre, John Ogilvie.

“I guess what motivates most people is desire to live a meaningful life, to find work they are passionate about and share benefits of yoga with others.”

Seeking balance

A significant portion of life is spent working, so we should ideally love what we do – right? Less than half of the 4,800 Australians recently questioned by SEEK Learning were reportedly content with how they earn their crust. Climbing corporate ladders may have merits, but can be challenging – particularly for women seeking flexibility to care for young children.

“Many women find the stress of juggling a career, family and lifestyle balance too much for their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Although the workplace is changing and saying they are becoming more flexible for women and mothers’ needs, the reality is very different. The result is that women just leave,” says president of International Yoga Teachers Association (IYTA), Mary-Louise Parkinson.

A recent survey revealed over 50 per cent of IYTA members teaching yoga professionally transitioned from corporate jobs. Parkinson jumped ship after two decades in the IT industry. Reducing to part-time in 1995 following the birth of her daughter, demands remained high; motivating Parkinson to take time off and complete IYTA’s esteemed training. Becoming president of the non-profit organisation in 2011 perfectly merged her skills and passion in a supportive environment.

Shyamala Benakovic can relate, as a qualified yoga teacher and CEO of yoga’s national peak body, Yoga Australia. Acutely aware that part-time in her corporate job essentially meant less time and income to complete her workload, Benakovic moved on in 2005 to nurture her young family.

“I loved my work as a management consultant, but felt the commitment required to be successful in the corporate environment did not allow time for anything else; to be a wife, mother, friend, sister,” says Benakovic, who taught yoga full-time for three years after completing teacher training in 2008.

“Becoming a teacher gave me flexibility to work and manage other roles in my life; allowed me to be successful in all things that mattered to me. I was able to define my working hours and financially contribute to the household.”

Transition plan

To the many Byron Yoga Centre teacher trainees coming from the corporate world, Ogilvie recommends a transition phase; initially teaching weekends or evenings, or private clients (stressed-out co-workers are a great start!). Dip a toe in before diving headfirst, consider requirements and realities before burning corporate bridges.

A former high-end property manager for multimillion dollar jobs, Mark Pheely is an encouraging advertisement for slow, steady transition. Initially discovering yoga to recover from a surfing injury, Pheely sensed a powerful pull to continue learning and sharing yoga. Before leaving his corporate job, Pheely spent over one year planning his Seddon-based Westside Yoga studio.

“I fortunately had an employer that I could negotiate with. I went from five days a week in my corporate job to four. I got momentum with teaching, then went three days corporate and four in the studio. I worked this seven-day week for six months to establish the studio, then jumped completely when it got the right cashflow and credibility,” recalls Pheely.

“Corporate experience helped with obvious things like marketing, but before that – understanding demographics. What do people want, have they got money for yoga? I researched different areas, and Seddon had a flashing red light. It had creative people who may have disposable incomes to spend on enriching themselves.”

Structuring a business plan also identifies niche areas for specialisation. Pheely, for example, merged his two main loves to offer surf-yoga retreats. Whilst yoga may have a business side; experts like Ogilvie – a former electrician – demonstrate that corporate experience isn’t essential for success. Organisations like Yoga Australia and IYTA fill gaps in business know-how with high-quality opportunities for professional development.

Financially fine-tune your move

It pays to acknowledge that transitioning to yoga teaching isn’t sealed with a million-dollar handshake. There may be significant pay decrease and loss of benefits like holiday pay and superannuation. Whilst teaching can be immensely rewarding, Parkinson cautions would-be teachers to have realistic expectations.

“Becoming a yoga teacher is a big leap from working in the corporate sector on a massive salary, big title, lots of travel and perks. Suddenly, you are working for yourself or a studio on a measly hourly rate, which includes preparation time, travel time and no added bonuses,” says Parkinson.

If you leave the corporate world entirely, another reliable source of part-time work is advisable – at least initially – to relieve financial pressure. As an example; many sensing a strong calling to the booming wellness industry combine teaching with another form of healthcare like massage therapy.

Of course, staying afloat financially also relies on reassessing living within your means. As we spiritually evolve, we often find material things matter less anyway; recognising how lavish our lifestyles were in more financially-abundant times.

“My overheads had been high, but had matched my income. During my last year in corporate work, I sold everything down. I downsized my house, cleared assets like three TV’s and two cars, got rid of my credit card and paid off debts,” shares Pheely.

“If I jumped with the overheads I had, the business would not have survived. Teaching is not high-profit – you do it because you love it. Mind you, it can make enough to pay a modest mortgage.”

Embracing new (true!) identity

We are often conditioned to define ourselves by profession. Leaving a career and image we worked hard for can trigger identity crisis. Yoga, however, reminds us of our true Self, that what we do is not who we are; a key realisation for founder of Yoga Sparks, Kaela Snibson, who transitioned from commercial lawyer to kids’ yoga teacher.

“After completing training with Rainbow Kids Yoga, I spent months contemplating the idea of starting my own venture. Up until then, my path was extremely clear; uncertainty around teaching was hard to stomach. My identity was challenged. I had studied for six years to become a lawyer, got a job at a great firm – that’s all I knew,” reflects Snibson.

“It took me a while to embrace my new identity and redefine success in my own mind. Fast-forward to now; I know it was the right decision. I feel in control of my life, happier and healthier,” adds Snibson, who supports her business as part-time lawyer for non-profit organisation, Justice Connect

Clarity and confidence can be clouded by what we – and others – think we ‘should’ be doing. Whilst Benakovic advises discussing career changes with family members, there may also be limits regarding how much outside influences should shape our future. If deep-down you can’t deny being bitten by the yoga bug, Pheely encourages remaining unwavering in your stance.

“Everyone is going to have an opinion. You are never going to get people completely on board. The critical step is understanding your dharma (purpose). Not what you want to do as a job, but your dharma. That takes effort and honesty,” he says.

“Once you are crystal clear about your life purpose, keep moving forward no matter what people think. Tell them: ‘I love you, I am grateful for your opinion and am listening to you … but this is my path and I am rock-solid in that’.”

Reaching corporate crisis point is a common catalyst for change – professionally and personally. Listening to your heart, taking that leap of faith can create an empowering sense of homecoming. As Parkinson inspires: “My life of yoga is seamless. I don’t ‘go to work’. I decided long ago not to ‘do’ yoga, but to ‘be’ yoga.”

Thrive in your workplace

Throughout corporate chaos and yoga teaching (particularly combined), it is important to maintain personal practice. “Often returning to the breath, gentle inversion or stimulating movements, or sometimes stillness is all we need to recharge and regain clarity,” says founder of Corporate Yoga Australia and former recruitment professional, Debby Lewis.

Lewis shares these restorative techniques:

Even breathing (sama vritti)

  • Sit comfortably, close eyes and notice your body – relax areas of tension
  • Become aware of natural breath flow moving through your body
  • Inhale through nostrils for a count of four – notice breath moving through the throat, lungs and abdomen
  • Notice natural pause at completion of inhale
  • Exhale for a count of four – notice breath moving through abdomen, lungs, throat and nostrils
  • Notice natural pause at completion of exhale
  • Continue for several minutes
  • Note: increase or decrease count to your comfort, keeping inhale and exhale even


  • Stand feet hip-width apart – lift through crown, careful not to over-arch lower-back
  • Interlace hands behind back and reach towards floor – feel upper spine and chest open (draw hands back to deepen)
  • Even breathing for three-to-five rounds
  • Repeat, hands clasped opposite way

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