British Columbia

Burnout in the workplace: even yoga teachers can stretch themselves too far

Work-life balance not a priority for many despite physical and mental health risks

September 19, 2017

Saskatoon yoga instructor Kevin Naidoo says he didn't realize how worn down he was until a health scare forced him to take stock of his well-being. (Don Somers/CBC)

As a yoga instructor, Kevin Naidoo tried to be flexible by working long hours and teaching up to 20 classes a week. But eventually, he says he stretched himself too far and put his own health at risk.

Naidoo, 41, didn't realize how little space he'd set aside for his own well-being until he was sidelined with glaucoma and faced losing his vision entirely.


"I couldn't find a balance there, it was me giving, giving, giving," he said.

Like many yoga instructors, Naidoo is self-employed. He doesn't receive sick pay, or benefits and the more classes he teaches, the more money he can potentially make.

But he says a decade of taking on more classes each week to keep up with the cost of living caught up with him — something veteran Vancouver yoga instructor Sjanie McInnis said she's seen enough of.

"I am very allergic to being told that because I like what I do, I should be paid less for it," she told Melanie Green, producer of Normalizing Burnout, a CBC Radio series.

McInnis said she's concerned the pressure put on yoga instructors and other contract workers diminishes the pool of skilled workers to pull from. She sees teachers with experience burn out and leave the careers they love for work that pays better or offers more stability.

'I hate everything that is going on in my life right now'

From the mats to the grill, professionals are struggling to find a balance. Chef Anthony Weaver loves almost everything about being a chef but has no trouble recalling darker days. 

Chefs, like yogis, are often expected to market themselves, their food and their employer to maintain a sort of celebrity status.

Weaver said the high pressure and long hours shouldn't be romanticized.

"Two in the morning is your evening dinner time. But instead of eating dinner and having a healthy chance about your day you're doing [cocaine] and getting another shot of 'Shamesons,'" he said.

Fellow chef Jimmy Stewart didn't turn to drugs or alcohol when he felt the weight of his industry. Instead he sought constant validation from his celebrity chef boss Gordon Ramsay.

Working under Ramsay was more pressure than it was worth, said Stewart. He felt like he was doing everything he could to stand out in the competitive kitchen by learning and moving up, but for some reason he says his life just sucked.

"One day I woke up and I was like 'I hate my life, I hate me and I hate everything that is going on in my life right now,'" he said.

Of course, it's not just cooks and yoga instructors who experience burnout. Finding work-life balance is a broader social issue, argues Richard Carpiano, a professor of public policy and sociology at the University of British Columbia.

Burnout and exhaustion have become so normalized that it will take a shift in public policy and corporate culture to prevent more people from neglecting their personal health in favour of their career or a paycheque, according to Carpiano.

"You're going to ultimately have a happier workforce and ultimately a more productive one, so in this case it has an economic payoff too and not just a health and wellness angle," said Carpiano.

Tune into CBC Radio One's The Early Edition, weekdays from 5 a.m. PT to 8:30 a.m. PT, to hear the series.


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