Joëlle Sleebos is a Cape Town-based yogi who loves to travel, connect with people and knock up killer spreadsheets. She is a YOGICOMM instructor, a foremost yoga personality in South Africa, and has entered into an exciting phase in her career where she is expanding her repertoire of international yoga retreats. Nina of YOGICOMM (NB) and Joëlle (JS) recently met in Joëlle's former home city, Amsterdam, for a yoga session and tea. Joëlle explained over turmeric chai lattes in the weak autumn sun that for years, she maintained two careers; one as an economist and one as an instructor (yoga, group fitness & personal trainer). This balance of two lives eventually became unsustainable and in 2012 she decided to focus full time on what she is really passionate about: increasing people’s quality of life by helping them to improve their physical and mental vitality! This is Joëlle's story and here are a few snatches from her busy yoga life:
NB: Please tell us about that time of transition from corporate life and a career in economics to becoming a fitness instructor, and then a full-time yoga instructor?
JS: Since University I have combined two jobs. One ‘hobby-job’ as a group fitness instructor and one ‘corporate job’ as an economist/consultant. In 2012 I had established a career, a big car in front of my house and financial security as I was working for an international consultancy firm. I tried to combine this demanding job with my teaching, which I did in the evenings. I always told my boss that I was willing to work hard as long as I could teach my classes and that if they would take that away from me, it would be like ripping my heart and passion out of my body. It got to a point where my teaching started to become an issue as I was demanded to be available in the evenings for management meetings. This pressure helped me to take a drastic choice and to try to make a living out of my passion and change career. I gave myself one year to try it out and have never looked back.
NB: You describe yoga teaching as your heart and passion. Can you expand on this concept?
JS: I love yoga as it is so much more than physical exercise. Because of yoga I know myself so much better. I can use my time on my mat to explore my strengths and my weaknesses in a safe environment. This helps me to be a better person off my mat. The individual growth, self-reflection, connection with myself and the people around me have been a gift to me. That gift is called yoga and I enjoy sharing that joy. I also simply just love people and making them smile and feel good about their selves.
NB: You seem to have combined this passion for teaching with travel. Tell us about your yoga retreats?
JS: I love to travel and therefore want yoga retreats to be one of my main business focuses. As I am an economist and have experience in project management, I enjoy the administrative part of organising retreats. It is the perfect way to combine my skills and passion as a yoga instructor, economist and intrepid traveller.
I hosted retreat this year in Spain, Italy and South Africa. Next year I will repeat those and I have added a retreat in Bali!
NB: When the retreat is running, are your business skills still useful, or is this then the time for yoga enjoyment?
JS: I am grateful that I worked in a (sometimes hardcore) corporate environment and am aware that in order to achieve a dream or project, one has to work hard. It is quite a bit of administrative work, so one has to just be able to do that too. During the retreat it is NOT a holiday, even if lots of people might think it is! Apart from teaching, I am also a host, I need to make sure the food requirements are taken care off, that there are activities to be done and planned. There is always a lot going on...
NB: Yoga teaching is often conceptualised as an act of giving and sharing. It is often expected that this is somehow removed from being a business-minded person. The stereotype of an 'ideal yogi’ is not someone who deliberates over budget forecasts and prudent marketing campaigns. Do you experience a gulf - emotionally, mentally - in teaching yoga and being business savvy? Or are you able to mesh the two together amicably? If so, how?
JS: I would like to begin by saying that I do not believe in stereotypes. I think I defy stereotypes all the time - and they are simply there to be challenged. To answer you question, however, I gave up a perfectly secure life to be able to give and share my passion and love for a healthy lifestyle, exercise and yoga. Ever since I changed career, I do not feel I am working, because I do what I really love. I am even convinced I work more hours/day compared to when I was working in the office.
As an entrepreneur I have to do everything by myself and cannot delegate anything. Budget, marketing, preparing my classes, keeping up to date with training, and so on. If I could do this for free, I would, but I also have bills to pay. This is why I think it is fair to combine yoga giving and sharing with the business of yoga. There's a bottom line for us all.
NB: What are the essential ingredients to hosting/running a fulfilling and successful yoga retreat holiday?
JS: Let me make a list! This will be the essential ingredient list for retreats:
NB: You really are revealing your penchant for admin here, Joëlle.
JS: I guess I am! But this is the best way to answer you question:
Great Yoga classes
Good Nutritious Food
NB: What advice would you give yoga instructors who want to teach full-time and are starting out on their careers?
JS: Firstly, I’d say that you should start by not being a hundred percent financially dependent on your teaching. Have a second job that gives you some financial security. Slowly work your way to teaching more and less of the other activity. Secondly, I would advise that you book one full day and 1 half a day (morning or afternoon) in your diary where you do NOT teach classes or privates. You needs this to switch off, practice yourself and/or do some admin.
NB: What is your top yoga holiday destination and why?
JS: BALI!!!! I love the people, the food, the different yoga studios, the weather, the fact that I can travel safely by myself. This is why it is a dream come true to host a yoga retreat there myself in September 2018.
Having said that, during the retreats I ran this September in Spain and Sardinia, most guests came to the retreat feeling tired and unbalanced. I feel so grateful that it is my privilege and job to see people transform during that week of yoga. There were so many tears of happiness, people re-finding themselves and returning home with positive energy and a restored body and mind. This was a special experience and I have to say, therefore, that each and every retreat has its own unique appeal.