March 27, 2011

Broke Teacher.

Bad business is bad yoga.

My first memory of money is through the eyes of my grandfather.  I was young, maybe four or five, and I was sitting in the passenger seat of my grandfather’s Cadillac.  We were returning from the grocery store where we had picked up a needed and forgotten item for grandmother’s dinner.  As we pulled up to my grandparent’s southern California valley ranch house, I turned to my grandfather and asked, “GP (that’s what the cohort of grandchildren called him), how much money do you have in the bank?”  I was just discovering the fascinating world of value and commerce – something the adults around seemed to constantly obsess over.

My grandfather turned to me and said, “Son, don’t ask people about money.”

And that was it.  My first conscious lesson about money was that we’re not suppose to talk about money.  I later learned that we’re also not suppose to talk about sex, politics or religion.  The things that are often most valuable, most essential, and most defining of our humanity are off limits.  It’s interesting that these constraints have carried over into the world of practice and development where we’re not suppose to talk about development or enlightenment – that is, unless we’re gossiping about someone or conversely idolizing someone.

I’ve often wondered why so many things are off limits:  Why not talk about our money?  Why not talk about our sex?  Why not talk about our development?

At the core of it, and there are perhaps a lot of cores, these are the standards we use to value ourselves and others.  Money, development, religion are the measures we use to substantiate ourselves and if we discuss such things and others disapprove we risk devaluing ourselves.  We risk being worthless.  And because we risk being worthless, we don’t go there with others, and we don’t go there with ourselves.

Enter yoga, stage left, where ultimately internals are valued over externals (sweet relief).  No matter what the culture of the specific tradition – renunciation or world embracing tantra – there is a preference towards internal development and world-abandon.  And here, because we value internals, we don’t talk about development, awakening, and enlightenment – we would risk being worthless.  And, because internals are more valuable, we lose a sense of the importance and necessity of externals – we find it okay to disregard money and business because we believe that we have evolved beyond it.

Sadly, that’s an illusion.

In a recent dialogue I had with Certified Anusara Yoga Teacher Cate Stillman for her Mentor’s Course, Cate and I discussed the yoga of business and the business of yoga.  [If you’re interested, you can listen to the dialogue here.]  During this conversation, I settled into a few things I’ve been milling over for many years having left full time teaching for two reasons:  1) I wanted greater impact in the world and teaching was limited to the people that showed up to class, a workshop or a talk, and 2) I needed to make more money.

I had done a survey of the financial state of the wellness industry and though it is a billion dollar industry the majority of profit is in products and real estate.  The very, very few top paid teachers are making around $200,000 a year.  This wasn’t enough for me.  I went back to school, I started consulting, and now more than five years later, I an executive at a corporation about to go public.  Business is my yoga.

A question remains: why can’t yoga teachers make money?  Why do so many of my friends struggle? And why did I struggle?

And, thanks to the skills I’ve developed over the last ten years, and specifically the last five years, I’m beginning to arrive at some conclusions.  When a yoga teacher exits teacher training and embarks on a teaching career they are starting their own business – and most of the time they have no business, management and leadership training or skills.  And, while I’m at it, very little relationship skills too.  The way that most yoga teachers I know engage in their personal and professional relationships would never fly in the business world.  And the way most yoga teachers engage in business clearly doesn’t fly either – enough to get by, travel a bit to see their favorite teacher, and buy organic kale and dark chocolate isn’t mastery.

If yoga expects to the lead the world in a conscious evolution, we need to get a whole lot more conscious and a whole lot more skillful.  The Bhagavad Gita says that, “Yoga is skill in action.” And this goes well beyond the mat, buying organic local food, and recycling.  This is about business, leadership and relationships.  In my experience, most individuals and leaders in business and corporations, systems that are lambasted by the yoga community as evil and unconscious, are well developed beyond those in the yoga world. Most corporations treat their employees much better than the average studio or yoga business.

Typically I find several things contributing to unskillful business action: 1) a misunderstanding of what business is and its important role in all of our lives, 2) dislike and mistrust of business, 3) allergy to appearing conventional, 4) limited (internal) ideas about success and development, 5) spiritually limited ideas about commerce and exchange, and lastly 6) magical and mythical ideas about abundance.

If we’re going to change the world, we have to be better.  We have to change ourselves in order to change business – and business affects every person on this planet.  Yoga business should be the most successful business ever, and business is the vehicle that will change the world.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this series: How Business Will Change the World.

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