Breathe Freely and Feel Fully: the surrender of a brokenhearted yoga studio owner.
I love being a yoga teacher, and studio owner. I get to do yoga every day, go barefoot and am surrounded by people who want to change their lives for the better. I get to be part of that process and witness some of the changes. Yet, it ain’t all its cracked up to be…
One of my longtime yoga teachers recently left to open a yoga studio right down the street from mine. My broken heart is an egg yoke dribbling down my chin. This yoga teacher was my good friend and my studio manager. I am not in a solid place emotionally to make the best decision to hire anyone new to replace her. I am devastated by the deception.
I need the yoga of anonymity.
I want to fall fully and utterly apart on my yoga mat and be put back together again in a new and different way. It is not easy to hold it all together and no matter how hard I try, things are not always pretty. I am not always pretty.
Ugly things can and do happen behind the yoga curtain. No matter what, a yoga studio owner can’t let her ‘stuff’ hang out in the place she created for others. At times like this, solace must be sought in other places. I need a teacher to guide me who is not connected to my studio, my success, or my bank account.
I decide to take a day off and seek yoga with a teacher who doesn’t know me. I find a studio in Rhode Island an hour away from my Connecticut home. Upon arrival, I take in a yoga studio built above a six-car garage attached to a million dollar home with a two million dollar view. The view out of the studio’s main window is a salt pond that stretches out wide and free.
The smell of the ocean breeze and an exuberant hundred pound dog rush up to greet me as I open up the door to my car. A green, blue-gray salt-water swimming pool cut into granite stands in front of the pond. The tall marsh grasses populate the horizon and wave back and forth to a rhythm that is timeless. The salt pond looks like people have never touched it.
I take my state-of-the-art, recycled, rubber yoga mat and my yoga sweat towel. The studio’s radiant heat rises through the floor. I place my shoes in the designated spot, and my bare feet soak up the sensual warmth of the floor. The room is heated to over a hundred degrees and the humidity is stunning.
The charge of doing yoga in a strange place in an unknown sea of people has begun. A spark shoots up my spine.
I look around for a space to put down my yoga mat and decide to fit myself between two attractive women. Both look away, determined not to make eye contact. I sit myself down and comfort rushes in amidst these local and wealthy summer folk: shirtless guys and slim women with tans and blond highlighted hair. I may not be slim, tan, or blond but for the next hour and a half I surrender to being here and being me.
Sweat drips from my forehead before we even stand up. The owner and teacher, Peter, is charismatic, gifted with words, and adheres to a Baron Baptiste power yoga sequence. I suspect he doesn’t need the 50 or so ten-dollar bills that have been put in a basket at the back of this room on the honor system for class payment. He is in his late 40s, fit, rich, handsome, tall with blue eyes and has sandy brown hair, which he has a habit of sweeping back with his hand.
His obvious wealth and success trigger me and my familiar tale of self-loathing begins.
I do not have his money, his way with words, or his looks. He is a man. Men have it easier. They get more respect. I am passionate about yoga and practice every day but is this enough? No wonder all those students chose to leave me and go with that other teacher. That wicked, bad bitch of a teacher.
In my critical mind, I believe that students want yoga teachers who shine above them in every aspect of their life: body, mind and spirit. My body is too big, my mind is too small, and my spirit is busted.
Peter observes, speaks and pauses patient and alert like a spider as we move from Chattaranga (push up pose) to Bhujangasana (cobra pose). He weaves the energy in the room, commanding the space and occasionally assists a student, guiding them into a deeper expression of the pose or correcting misalignment.
At one point, I longed for his attention. I felt abandoned and unseen, but at the same time I witnessed my need for external validation. Once I was able to see this need within myself, this desire to be seen by others, I took a deep breath and let my insecurities go. I have no idea where they went and are sure they will be back, but for the time being my neediness evaporated into the heat and a sense of compassion toward myself and others emerged.
My hands fan out on the yoga mat in down dog and my weight is pressed into my knuckles while my spine is long. Down Dog is a vulnerable pose that requires both strength and flexibility. I press the soles of my feet into the ground and I am content home in a body that I am rarely happy in. Downward Dog becomes my home: familiar and rooted. A place where I can be safe and the outside world cannot touch me.
Some 50 yogis hold Downward Dog in unison. Our individual sweat collectively dripped onto our colorful and expensive sweat towels. We breathe, surrender and let go of all the things we hold onto tightly. Peter spoke and filled the space in between poses with his voice like an Evangelical preacher or a street rapper.
Peter tells us, “We are all in our own prisons and each one of us chooses our own prison cell. You don’t think you create your own unhappiness, but you do. You cannot blame anyone else. We can choose to change in an instant. Choose love and not fear.”
The yoga is fast, strong and sweaty. Through the fogged front window, the salt pond is no longer visible. We have all gone inside into our own bodies and identities, coming out in slices of time to validate that we are still following directions or to focus our gaze for balance in long intense holdings of Dancer, Tree and Crow. When the class is over I feel clean inside and out.
The familiar pangs of self-hatred and doubt no longer cling to me.
In this moment, being the owner of a yoga studio doesn’t matter. The fact that a teacher betrayed me and poached students is not important. Everyone does not have to like me. Only I have to like me. And I do.
What matters is my ability to navigate through life, both its ups and downs, the best I can. I remember that I am so much more than the roles that define me. The ability to forgive and accept myself matters, as does my willingness to give and receive the love of family and friends.
The ocean begs me to jump in. I drive a mile down the road to the nearest beach. Seagulls call out and the sun is blinding. Barefoot I walk the sandy 50-yard path to the water’s edge and dive into the first wave that presents itself head first. I am grateful for it’s cold and salty embrace. As I submerge my body under the chilly water my jealousy, insecurity and self-loathing rise to the surface. Salt water enters in through my nose and I taste it. I feel clean.
Yoga is one of the most honest things I have ever done. It is holding a child on your lap and kissing their skinned knee, or digging in the dirt to plant seeds.
My Grandma Irene was a whiner. No matter what was happening to anyone else her situation was worse, and she let you know. Her body ached more than any other from her life as a hard-working Irish Catholic woman. My memories are mostly of her backside. I remember her yellow rubber dish gloves, and her tall body on all fours, scrubbing the dingy linoleum floor clean. Frank Sinatra crooned in the background from the stereo she saved up to buy. The wooden bowl on the kitchen table always had red grapes with seeds inside. I ate them every time.
According to Grandma Irene, her goddamn lazy kids didn’t help out much. She had a pack of them. They all went to college even though she did not and her no-good husband died young without life insurance or a pension plan because barbers work until they drop. Grandma Irene died old and got the proper mass and burial from the Catholic Church. She claimed the Church owed her for all the money she had put in the weekly collection box, mostly when she had no money to spare. She claimed her donations forced her to go without nice things like new furniture or getting her hair set each week in curlers. In the end, Grandma Irene must have smiled because she died worthy. The Catholic Church buried her in their sacred ground.
I don’t want to die like Grandma Irene. Sometimes I think I am living like her, walking through life in her beige, fake leather sandals and touching the texture of this world with her rubber gloves. As you live your life you can be like Grandma Irene: coming up with infinite stories about why your life sucks, is unfair, sad and how the people that shouldn’t let you down always do. I can come up with countless examples of how I should be doing things differently or better. But in the end none of this matters because it comes down to breath and sensation.
The ability to breathe freely and feel fully. That is what living is and that is what love is. Everything else is fear.
Anne has been teaching yoga for fifteen years. She has taught yoga to over thousands of students from all walks of life. In addition to teaching yoga, yoga teacher training and running a yoga studio Anne has published many articles on yoga and it’s ability to help us navigate through our current times. She is currently working on a book that she hopes to release in the near future. She is also passionate about teaching yoga as a vehicle to heal body image and eating disorders. When Anne is not teaching, practicing or writing about yoga she can be found at home hanging out with Matthew while homeschooling her two teenagers and snuggling with her four year old. Find her at www.annefalkowski.com.
Editor: Carrie Stiles
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