Yoga Teachers Don’t Get Sick Days by NGY Teacher & Trainer, Amy Nucera

Early in 2019 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. If you’re thinking “whoa, that’s a heavy opener for a Kids Yoga blog”, stay with me – I promise (or at least I hope) that this won’t be a total downer post. Among other things, this experience has taught me valuable lessons about how to handle and prepare for times when I can’t teach. In hindsight I know I should have had plans firmly in place BEFORE this happened so I’m here to share a few tips.

Oh hey, there’s me, shortly before my diagnosis. With hair!

For Kids Yoga Teachers, and independent contractors in general, it’s a little more complicated than calling out sick (and by “a little more” I really mean “a whole heck of a lot more”). We don’t have Brenda in the next cubicle to cover for us, we don’t get sick days, and we don’t get paid if we don’t teach. So, what do you do as an independent contractor and you’re sick, injured or otherwise can’t work/teach? You may not be able to control all of the “life happens” reasons you may feel less than 100% or have to miss a class, but there are things you can do in advance to help prepare for some of these eventualities.

I had a doctor’s appointment one Friday afternoon, from which I was leaving to go straight to teach a class of 12 exuberant 3-5 yr. olds at a local preschool. What should have been a routine appointment took a sharp turn after my doctor expressed concern and ordered diagnostic testing like yesterday. Yikes, right? Leaving that appointment, I was mentally rattled, but physically able to teach the lesson plan I’d prepared. So teach I did!

When You Don’t Feel 100%
Fast forward to the following week. I knew I would be having biopsies that would leave me feeling sore the day of class and I was able to plan accordingly. I regularly tell my students to listen to their bodies and not force any pose or position that doesn’t feel right or serve them and now it was time for me to heed my own advice!

Pre-class setup. We place our mats in a circle so we can all share equally in the experience.

This week I chose one of the more subdued lesson plans, Breathe if You Please, and modified any sections or poses that I knew I would need to avoid. (PS – Yoga Nidra, Sleepytime Yoga and Restorative Yoga are also great choices for lower-energy classes.)

I wasn’t able to put pressure on my arms/shoulders or lay on my stomach. No Downward Dog? No Plank? No Cobra? These are staples in my Kids Yoga classes (and my personal practice for that matter). At first, I couldn’t imagine working around them, but once I got past that mental block I was able to dig deeper and get more creative. I focused on standing, balancing and supine floor poses which allowed me to do the poses along with my students rather than “teach” to them. It had the added benefit of expanding my usual go-to pose repertoire.

When you don’t feel 100% but are still well enough to teach, you can take some pressure off yourself by letting the kids take the lead or changing up the type of activities you do. Some of my favorite ways to do this are:

  1. Play “Yogi Says”
    Let students take turns being the Yogi.
  1. Animal Yoga Poses
    Have students pick a card or picture and make up a breath, movement or pose to go along with it. I make my own that the kids get to keep! Bonus, they double as a business card.
  1. Plan a theme-related art project or craft.
    A few of my favorites are:
    Coloring mandalas
    Making glitter jars
    Decorating and starting a gratitude journal
  1. Read a Yoga themed book.
    A few of my favorites are:
    I am Yoga by Susan Verde
    Listening to my Body by Gabi Garcia
    Yoga Dogs by Melissa Hawkins
    Moody Cow Meditates by Kerry Lee MacLean
  1. Breathing Ball (aka Hoberman Sphere)
    Pass around the circle doing guided breathwork or let the students practice their own.

These are my Animal Pose Yoga cards. If you can’t (or don’t want to)
make your own, pictures/cutouts from magazines work great too!

When You Have to Cancel
Sharing personal information about your health with clients and co-workers may be awkward but I recommend being as forthright with them as you’re comfortable, and is warranted.

I was lucky in this case to be working with a super supportive studio (shout out to the amazing folks at Yoga Home in Conshohocken, PA!) who worked quickly to find a replacement teacher for my class series. If you’re contracting your classes independently specify up front how cancellations will be handled. Will you refund students or reschedule? Provide a substitute?

Always give as much advanced notice as possible when you can’t make a class or need to cancel a workshop or event. The Yoga world can be a very small one and repeated cancellations with little or no notice can quickly affect your professional relationships and reputation with clients.

Outsourcing & Substitutes
If you’re working with or through a studio, make sure you know their cancellation/substitution policy and a current contact list of their approved substitutes.

If you’re working independently consider partnering with another local teacher (s) that you can tap for coverage, and vice-versa. Make sure to vet any potential subs (you’ll be vouching for them to your clients, after all) and clear them with any studios or schools you may be working with beforehand. It’s important to communicate as much information about your class set up, themes, teaching style, etc. to minimize disruption to the class.

Props and books are great supplemental resources for when you’re not feeling your best.

Constructive Downtime
Teaching Kids Yoga obviously involves a lot of physicality, but it’s not the ONLY part of the job. You can use non-teaching time to work on other areas of your business such as planning new classes and workshops, updating marketing materials, reaching out to established contacts and making new ones. If you know you’ll be down for a while, think about ways to use your skills to diversify your business offerings, creating new collaborations and partnerships or developing passive income streams.

Use Your Best Judgement
Chemo is rough on the body and there are a ton of icky side effects, one of the biggies being a compromised immune system. Anyone who has ever worked closely with young kids in a class environment will tell you that’s not the place for an immunocompromised person!

Conversely, if you’re sick and there’s a chance that you’re contagious, remove yourself from the situation. If you’re not sure if you’re contagious, err on the side of caution and remove yourself from the situation. Sometimes soldiering on is not in your best interest or the best interest of your students.

Oh hey, there’s me shortly after my treatments started. With no hair!

In my case, the decision whether I needed to take time off was a no-brainer, but for run-of-the-mill illnesses, it may not always be so clear. A good rule of thumb is to follow the illness guidelines for your local school district. You can also ask schools where you teach regularly to copy you on any communicable illness notices that they send out.

How do you prepare for and handle sick days or extended illnesses? Comment below or email us to let us know!


Amy Nucera
Next Generation Yoga Teacher for 2-13 yr. olds
Next Generation Yoga Trainer for School-Based Educators
Philadelphia, PA

In addition to being an NGY Teacher and Trainer, Amy is the NGY’s Super-Flexible Support Specialist, in-house graphic designer, and champion of all things NGY! When not working with NGY she can be found hanging out with her family, cruising flea markets and yard sales and volunteering in her community. Geeky to the core, she loves the library, superhero movies and collecting action figures. She first picked up a Yoga class in college to fulfill a Phys Ed requirement and hasn’t stopped namaste-ing since. She lives in Ambler, PA (a supremely cool little town in the suburbs of Philadelphia) with her husband, two daughters, and their turtle. On the side, she is also the owner of A&Z Graphic Design.

3 Comments
  1. April Cantor 2 weeks ago

    Thank you Amy for sharing these very important ideas. It’s always nice to be reminded how to think out of the box and to shift our teaching practices to accommodate our energy/health levels. All good lessons to be learned for students AND teachers. I will definitely be using these tips when I’m needing some downtime. Bravo to you for your indomitable spirit and that contagious smile. Blessings on your journey to radiant health.

  2. Diane yuen 2 weeks ago

    Thank you Amy for sharing your precious time and advice with me. You have shown me the importance of passion and love of teaching to its core. I feel it all the way here in Sydney, Australia

    • Amy Nucera 6 days ago

      Thank you so much for the kind words Diane. You are an inspiration to me as well! <3, Amy

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