Rantings from a Brokenhearted Yoga Studio Owner. ~ Anne Falkowski

Via on May 29, 2012

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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26 Responses to “Rantings from a Brokenhearted Yoga Studio Owner. ~ Anne Falkowski”

  1. Marion says:

    We all have our journeys, our challenges and our stumblings. After all we are only human and it is ok to have feelings.
    Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevya is a mantra I have been repeating a lot lately as I deal with my own challenges and feelings of betrayal. -Marion

  2. Katy Poole says:

    Anne,

    Thank you for this post. I feel really moved and even quite emotional after reading it. And I felt moved to respond with these words: You are not alone. I hate that it's true that this happens ALL the time in yoga, but it does. And it usually happens that the person you love the most and are closest to who betrays you the deepest.

    With all the talk of "ethics" and the centrality the yamas/niyamas should play in all aspects of yoga—including the business side—it's amazing how very few "yogis" actually walk the talk. And there is rarely any work toward building authentic partnerships in the yoga "business." The policy, instead, seems to be "slash and burn." How much more appropriate would it have been for your "friend" to have approached you with a partnership plan—a win-win that would have allowed you to expand your business, give her a more solid foundation to build on that business, and at the same time give her the satisfaction of having her "own" thing. But this kind of thinking almost never appears in yoga. Instead, she somehow feels like she's going to be successful by stealing your marketing list and opening up a shop down the street. What kind of "yogic" values does that kind of strategy portray? It's American capitalism. It works for McDonalds, Starbucks and Apple computers. And apparently for yoga as well. And obviously I'm naive—as are many other yogis who've attempted to "do business" with other yogis—in thinking that somehow yoga is different. That it should stand for something more than that. But unfortunately, it really doesn't.

    Ahimsa, is a lot more than simply not-killing. It's not harming. And it would be really evolutionary if we saw people running businesses in yoga that formed genuine alliances that not only didn't steal from each other, but didn't harm anyone or anything like you (and countless others I'm personally aware of, including myself) have painfully experienced. I'm holding out for that. Not holding my breath, mind you. But holding out nevertheless.

  3. Anne says:

    Thank you so much for your empathy here. This experience has reinforced the yamas and niyamas for me so much and made me really look at my own satya practice and where there are holes in it. I think talking about betrayal in the yoga community is important. People don't want to think it happens but it does and it hurts. Thank God for the yoga mat.

  4. MamasteNJ says:

    Hey Anne
    Just intro'd on FB in: Yoga and Spirituality.

    ~Mamaste

  5. Sonyata says:

    Wow. What a great post. Your descriptions of the yoga studio and the salt pond lead me to believe that you may have a future writing about yoga. Maybe a woman's yoga romance novel? Novel idea. Lol. You are a good writer, and I felt like I was right there in the class (and jumping into the cold ocean afterwards).

    I don't know what you are planning to do with your studio, but take your time and make a good decision. Perhaps it is time for an evolution in your life. I find that every betrayal in life is a test of my character. I can crumble, and vow revenge. But that is what the test is about, anyway. Let it go. Return to your source, and seek the inner voice. Examine yourself for mistakes you may have made, but don't respond with hatred. Karma will take care of the rest. If you came out on the short end of the stick, then you have a huge karmic blessing coming in the future. That is enough. You don't loose a friend until you stop loving them. Peace.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks for saying I might have a book in me. That made my day. I love that you suggested in might be time for an evolution. Thanks.

  6. Kyla says:

    Thank you for sharing. This really helped me tonight, in remembering what love is and living in it.

  7. patte oreilly says:

    beautiful beautiful beautiful

  8. Jenn says:

    What a great post Anne… thank you for sharing. As yoga teachers, and many times – as folks who facilitate healing in others – it's easy to get caught in the belief that we too CAN fall apart… that it's not just ok to do that sometimes – but that it's also necessary. I know I get caught in that trap myself – thanks for reminding me that it's ok – and necessary – to be human.

  9. Hayley says:

    You frickin rock Anne, Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am running through a similar struggle myself at the moment and Amen girlfriend, you are right, no-one else needs to like me, but me and I do I really do. Being a Yoga teacher (let alone a studio owner)is the toughest gig of my life and I have been toying with the idea of throwing in the towel, because of all those insecurities you mention above. I'm not this enough, I'm not that enough, i don't have this or that… Blah blah blah. But I love what I do, I love it. Gonna keep your sign off mantra in my heart this week as I face down my demons and root my bare feet in to the floor of London's yoga studios, singing your praises and of course breathing x

    • Anne says:

      Hayley,
      Thanks for the awesome words. Even though I have been practicing yoga and teaching for more than a decade, I still struggle with not feeling good enough. We gotta cut that shit out! You frickin roc and I am thinking about you in London and go kill whatever demons decide to show up this week and that will help me to kill a few of mine.

  10. Lou says:

    Thanks for the well-written post. It moved me and touched my own times of 'love hurts.' When we are open and loving, we become vulnerable to the possibility of being hurt. We can develop our discrimination to a degree, to lessen the chances of being hurt. Yet, so long as we choose love and openness, the possibility of hurt remains. I admire how you have taken up the challenge to feel fully and move on with continued love for self and (some) others.

  11. Jacci says:

    Your post brought tears to my eyes…and many memories. Thank you for sharing and being open and honest about the "smallness" that grips you and your ability to witness, breathe and surrender into letting go.

    You are a light – thank you for shining.

  12. Nice honest post and well written. I have my own heartbreak by yoga story, my f#*k yoga story, my WTF yoga story: Shock and horror that people teaching and taking yoga had no yoga in them and unfortunately it made me bitter so it's good to see that you are not going there, or seeming not to. What people don't seem to realize is that people are people and doing yoga does not always have the effect of making them "yoga people". In fact, that is a rare case. Once you understand that you can go on without dissapointment and do the job you love without attachment to the outcome. It sounds a bit cynical but it's true.

    • anne says:

      I no longer expect yoga teachers to be perfect. I gave that up a long time ago. One of my favorite yoga rockstar teachers has definite issues but I love her yoga and the way it makes me fee so I accept that about her and move on when I need to and come back when I need more. Now doing a job and not attaching to the outcome-that is something I could defintley use some work on.

    • Anne says:

      I hope you don't mind but I checked out your website/blog because your name sounded familiar and you are amazing. I started reading your blog and am so inspired. You are a phenomenal writer and know your yoga. Wow!

  13. Hi Anne, Thank you for your kind response and I came back here to say something but my comment and both of yours are gone! In any case, I want to say that non-attachment is hard for me too and that I appreciate you looking me up and sending a sweet message. You will be surprised at how this post of yours resonates with the story I mean to tell sooner than later here. It's called Yoga Source and it's the story of love and loss in yoga in Nashville. Hope this finds its way to you. All the best, Hilary

  14. Vision_Quest2 says:

    I feel for you. Yoga in America today has become elitist and winner-take-all. Someone younger or better connected or richer is ready to set up shop while pretending that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    I hope to hear more from you.

    A lot of what you talk about goes on in the big city, and none of it is pretty. I avoid studios. Maybe to my detriment, but that's for me to judge.

  15. marlysa says:

    This is a beautiful heartfelt piece. You are such an amazing writer. thank you for sharing so deeply from within!

  16. yogabeast says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience and your courage. I believe in you. With your obvious spirit and pluck, you're going to be just fine.

  17. [...] sat where the guru used to sit and she talked about topics that hit home. I learned about how to be good to myself. What I needed as a yogi was to make myself happy and that my life, no matter, what is perfect. [...]

  18. Robin says:

    What an honest, open, and beautifully written piece this is. Thank you, Anne – your words were like balm for the scars of my own emotional wreckage. I look forward to your book!

  19. [...] Rantings from a Brokenhearted Yoga Studio Owner. ~ Anne Falkowski [...]

  20. [...] Disasters happen at my yoga studio moment-to-moment. Nothing is ever right; I feel as if I am getting zapped with lightening at every turn. [...]

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