The Good News
I Love my yoga studio. And trust me, I do not take the word Love lightly. The only other things I would say I love are my family, a few friends and my pets. The love I have for my studio was almost instantaneous. I walked in a new yogi with much trepidation, but the owners, the teachers and the space itself led me into a rapid and all consuming love affair. The space is beautiful, the incense smells fabulous and burns constantly along with tea lights, and there is a mood of tranquility everywhere you go. There is also a retail space, with all things yoga related – incense, candles, clothes, meditation pillows and mandala’s, and more.
I joined the studio because I loved it, and because there are tons of classes, of all different types, with all different teachers, at a wide variety of times. Classes begin at 6AM most weekday mornings and continue until 8:30 most nights. Weekends start around 9 and include afternoon and evening classes. They are even starting an adaptive yoga program, which will bring yoga to those with physical disabilities. There are also a variety of workshops, including Yoga Nidra, Winter Solstice Practice, a New Year’s eve Soiree, practices focusing on back bends or inversions, and many, many more. There seems no end to the variety of classes available to those willing to partake. Whatever you need, you will find it at my yoga studio.
The studio members are lovely. They bring joy and energy to each day. They are mindful to not overstep, and as such wait until you make advances to get to know them. They honor those who want to remain solitary on their mat as well as those who view yoga as a social event. Together, the power and energy in each class is soulful, with each yogi seeming to inherently understand your needs at any given time, speaking if you require company, remaining silent when you need to be in your own space.
So it was, with all of this love, that I decided to do work exchange. My children are with their dad every Monday night and the studio needed someone to work Monday nights, so it seemed a pre-determined match. I admit, I was hesitant about my physical ability to maintain this commitment. For most people this would seem ludicrous; how could I be concerned about fulfilling 4 hours a week of work? But for me it is an accomplishment. In fact, the week I trained for the job I had to work 3 four hour shifts and by the end of the week I was done. I was physically unable to function for days after. This is the state of my health. Forays into the “real” world have proven devastating to my health, so I agreed to the shift with reticence. The last thing I wanted was to disappoint the owners, to get sick and become unable to work. This remains a concern, but after the first few weeks I have felt confident that I can pull off each shift, and so far I have.
Work exchange at yoga studios is regularly used to fulfill the needs of the studio while building a sense of community. Most of the people who do work exchange also have full time jobs, so they can usually only take one or two classes a week. If you ask them why they do it they all say the same thing: “I want to be a part of this community.” I, on the other hand, take class almost every day. While I originally took on work exchange to be part of the community, it has worked out extremely well for me financially also.
The bad news.
Once you are working at your beloved yoga studio you see the cracks in the facade. It is these cracks that have me pondering my role there.
My ex and I owned a few businesses, so I understand the stress of being self employed, of starting a business from the ground up, of making payroll and paying taxes, of maintenance, insurance, training and keeping employees. I often hear people say “I could do that” in reference to a small business and, after having done it for 17 years, I keep my mouth shut, but my mind is a flurry of activity, thinking of all that owning a business entails, and how few people truly understand it. My ex and I own/owned restaurants, which are one of the businesses people seem to think are easy (and lucrative!) to own. If someone can cook they think “I could open a restaurant”. If someone likes to eat and has money they think “I could open a restaurant”. Many of these people then open a restaurant, only to find out how difficult it is. It isn’t like cooking for your family! This is why so many restaurants fail.
Likewise, yoga studios are opened by yoga teachers. I would imagine the thought process is “I’m a good teacher, I love yoga, I should get paid more for teaching classes, I’d like to be my own boss, I’ll open a studio”. The average studio owner though – have they really thought it through? For example, when my ex told me he was going to leave his job, with steady pay, benefits, vacation and a pension, to open his own place, I was horrified. Had he thought it through? Did he fully understand what it takes to run a successful restaurant? Did he really think it a good idea to take every penny of our savings, and a loan, and put it into such a risky endeavor? I asked him to write a business plan for my father (a banker) to read and, with much chagrin, he did so. In writing that business plan he was forced to think about issues like payroll, taxes, insurance, maintenance, etc. A business plan, though, does not make one think about the relentless nature of owning a business. It does not make you think about the fact that you will have to be there every day, that if you take a vacation you will lose not just your income but you’ll be paying someone to cover your shifts; that if you lose an employee it will be up to you to cover their shift; that if an employee isn’t working out you will be the one to fire them. Owning a business is hard business!
As I work my work exchange shifts at my studio I see the same issues weighing on the studio owners. I see the stress on their faces, and in their body language, and in the way they sometimes speak to their employees, all of which is because they own a business. They are dependent on this to pay their mortgage, their children’s college tuition, their car payment, their electric bill. It is up to them to make sure shifts are covered, to make sure they have a manager on duty, to make sure questions are being properly answered, sales rung up correctly, students made to feel welcome. It is no longer about yoga; it’s about survival. And I see it on their faces. I feel it each time I’ve done something wrong and they have to correct me. I feel it each time I’ve done something well yet receive no recognition. And I get it. I get how hard it is to manage it all, and I can’t imagine how hard it is to manage it all and maintain the serenity and joy of a yoga teacher. Oy Vey! My heart goes out to them.
As always, though, there is a rub. For me, the rub is this: can I empathize with the owners and give them what they need, while getting what I need as a student? I ignored this in the beginning. I was sure the stress I was feeling when I worked was stress of my own making. I thought that when I gained confidence in my skills my stress would decrease. Yet as I became more competent, my stress only increased. I ignored it at first, until I started hearing from other work exchange people that they felt it too. They felt over-looked, under appreciated, undervalued and stressed. And they had no idea why. We all loved working with each other, we loved the studio, we loved the community, so what was the problem? What was this feeling we were having, and where was it coming from? More importantly, what would we do about it?
I try really hard not to gossip, but I find myself doing it at times. I don’t think I enter into it with malice. Most often I enter into it soliciting opinions about a situation – did I misunderstand what had been said, was I over reacting, was I being too “sensitive” or was I messing things up? These are the questions I ruminate over each time I work. And, often after I’ve left work. Can I share them with loved ones? Of course I can. But can they give me the perspective I so desperately need? I don’t think so. I think that perspective can only come from those in the same situation, much in the way that speaking with someone with stage 1 breast cancer will not help me deal with my stage 3 ovarian cancer. I hope I’m not justifying bad behavior, but I have talked with some of my co-work exchange employees, and they feel the same as I do. They feel the stress. They feel the lack of gratitude for what we do, the harsh “corrections” when we have dropped the ball, the sense of being over-looked and not cared for. They feel the same disconnect, between the community they so long to be a part of but seems to disappear the minute we step behind the desk.
What are we to do with this? I hope that I have found my solution, because I don’t want to lose the place I love. As with other circumstances in my life I will adopt the phrase my therapist tells me every week:
“Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys”.
I have a tendency to accept internal blame for all stress that goes on around me, so I’ve been working on remembering this phrase. More often then not, the negative emotion, or attitude, I’m being given by another has Nothing to do With Me. More often then not, the unhappy person is projecting their unhappiness, or their stress, on to me. And, even if I have done something wrong, I have to stop internalizing corrections and letting them bring me shame, which is my fall-back emotion. The owners need to correct mistakes, or else they could lose their business. They might not always do it as nicely, or as “correctly” as they could, but I have to remember that they are not only yoga teachers – they are humans, under stress, stress that I can’t comprehend and don’t really want to comprehend. There stress can not become my shame.
So, turns out I’m getting two lessons for the price of one! I’m learning to be part of this magical community called a Yoga Studio. At the same time, I’m learning that not all circuses revolve around me; I’m not in charge of the monkeys and it’s not my problem if they go awry. All I need to do is sweep up after them and keep my head held high.
It’s Not My Circus, It’s not My Monkeys. I’m not the ring-leader, I’m only the janitor. While my heart goes out to the ring leader, I have to remember that I can’t step into the ring; I belong behind the scenes. And for now, that’s all I can handle. And honestly, I like it there.
Perhaps this is exactly the microcosm of learning that I need to let go of my shame, to understand and internalize that the world is Not My Circus, and Not My Monkeys, to live as others, able to learn from mistakes, not ruminate over them, not let them define me.
I guess time will tell.