July 30, 2011

Reading Lots of Yoga Books Doesn’t Make you a Guru. ~ Toni Grates

Photo: lululemon athletica

Now Hiring…

We went through a fair number of instructors in the first 4 months of our studio’s opening. Partly because we weren’t sure what we were looking for and there were so many varieties to choose from. Most of them did a month or two with us and then left — either because they lived too far from the studio, were headed abroad to study with a master teacher or couldn’t work for us unless they were guaranteed back-to-back classes for financial reasons.

A few left for more profound reasons: specifically, because they were not being honoured.

“Honour” is to a high-maintenance yogi as “exploring the craft” is to the high-maintenance actor. Honour in this context is not merely respect.  Rather, it is otherworldly admiration and awe that result from all the books the instructor has read about the yoga sutras and the workshops he or she has paid hundreds of dollars to take with the decedents of the yoga gods.

  • Newsflash #1: Reading lots of yoga books and doing a 200 hour teacher training program does not make you a yoga guru.

  • Newsflash #2: Talking about other people’s “energy” is still gossip.

One instructor informed me that she was known as an “edgy” instructor around the city. I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant, but she was keen and I liked her, so we gave it a whirl. When I realized that “edgy” meant that she had a trucker mouth in class, I had to talk to her. She explained to me that her language was an extension of her authentic self and that to change her energetic vibe would be inauthentic.

Photo: Simon Wick

I then had to be super authentic and let her go, which resulted in a palm to palm namaste and subsequent facebook defriending from her.

Let’s not forget about the instructor who approached us wanting to help when we first went independent. At that time, I erred more on the side of yoga than business and thought his offer stemmed from friendship. He said he’d be willing to put his name behind the studio, to endorse us as good people, so that some of his instructor friends would graciously allow us to pay them to teach at our studio.

He also said he’d be happy to let us pay him to teach five classes per week and spend one day per week at the studio fielding calls and brainstorming ideas.

The business woman in me didn’t understand why he would be willing to help us, considering we had no money to pay him, but the yogi in me was proud to be a part of something where community came forward in times of need.

It was only a matter of time before the instructor was asking for company shares in exchange for his energy.

I immediately stated that we couldn’t promise anything based on the fact that we were operating in the red and shares needed to be retained for actual money. Besides, considering Ernesto and I weren’t paying ourselves, our shares were all we had. The instructor and Ernie told me not to worry because we would figure something out and the instructor headed off to the Himalayas to study.

I knew well enough that you had to be clear in business because “figure something out” is synonymous with “this is going to end poorly.”

Photo: William A. Clark

I also knew that I had to take matters into my own hands.  I wrote a letter to the instructor saying that we could not give away shares in exchange for his energy — no matter how wise and magical it was. The instructor was not happy.

What resulted when he returned to the city was even more bizarre than anger though: his need for me to listen and “witness” him as he explained to me how betrayed he felt.

“You don’t see all that I am! You don’t honour me or my energy!”

he yelled, as if honour were going to pay the rent or the phone bill. “Thank you for your energy,” I responded, thinking that gratitude would calm him.

“I don’t give a f*ck about your thank you! I need to get paid!”

So much for goodwill and friendship.

That was one of the pivotal moments in my understanding of the fact that — yoga or not — this was still business. From there on in, I made it a policy to only hire instructors who were grounded and down to earth.

I realized that it doesn’t matter how long an instructor can hold a handstand if they’re a pain in the ass to work with.

Honour that.


Toni Grates is a domesticated nomad unconcerned with societal norms.  When she’s not running a yoga studio, she’s with her one year old baby boy.

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