July 23, 2013

Teaching Yoga: On Service & Sustainable Sources of Income. ~ Elena Brower {Partner}

elephant has worked with and played with Elena Brower for many years. We’ve also covered, videoed and reviewed Pangea, a fellow Boulder-based eco business, for many, many years. This here is a partner blog: mindful, grassroots businesses can feature native advertising on our home page under “Bulletin Board.” We label partner blogs transparently, and only accept partners we feel good about. See our media kit for more.  ~ ed.

In 2012, an extensive study was conducted on Yoga in America. Of the 800 plus teachers surveyed, 22.3 percent said yes, teaching is their only profession. 77.7 percent said no.

For my part, introducing people to aspects of themselves with which they’ve never been acquainted has been a huge privilege. To witness students encountering a full breath for the first time, and to hear them entraining to one another in a healing setting is profound and rewarding.

Each time we teach, in creating that nourishing context, we’re tapping into a collective listening that dissolves latent tensions and softens our own thinking as much as our students. For most teachers I’ve met in my travels worldwide, this is what drew them to the practice as a student, and it’s one of the main reasons why they’ve chosen to practice teaching. It’s the service of the work that feels so right.

Because we aren’t teaching for the money.

In the Yoga in America Study, 83.5 percent said they are teaching part-time. We (myself included) cannot afford to teach full-time—the money simply isn’t a truly sustainable source of income. As a studio owner for almost 12 years in the heart of New York City’s SoHo, I can attest to the fact that owning a studio is a challenging yoga practice in itself. A week in the life of a small- to medium-sized studio owner requires staying connected to the community while authentically guiding our own classes, writing newsletters and invitations to visiting teachers, and planning the coming months’ workshops, trainings and classes. Most studio owners are constantly refining the schedule, ensuring each teacher is offering their best at an optimal time, as well as handling the day-to-day with students, staff, cleaning, receipts, organization of props, and financial reconciling. These are too many hats to be wearing.

At my studio, we are fortunate to have a stellar staff to handle most of those duties, and I’m grateful to each for their contribution to the resonance there. And still, even though we are considered a “successful” studio and known the world over as one of the places at which to practice in New York City, we don’t have enough space for retail (which would help considerably with our bottom line), and we are still struggling to fill classes and really be profitable (like most of my friends out there who own and run studios, no matter where we are in the world).

Consider now an independent yoga teacher, perhaps teaching a few classes at a few studios, teaching a few privates per week and the ever-pressing concern: medical insurance. The cost of insurance alone wipes out a year’s income as a teacher. Perhaps they can make a few hundred dollars per week—which isn’t nearly enough to cover rent, food and some excursions. Add the cost of medical insurance to that, and you have a slew of well-intentioned humans striving to make a difference, making barely enough money to make ends meet.

Enter Pangea Organics. Over 10 years ago when founder Joshua Onysko started the company, his mission was to create skin and body care that would help keep our water clean, and be as nourishing to our bodies as the food we so carefully choose. He began his business in his garage, making soap, selling it bar by bar at festivals. He grew the business organically: I remember welcoming him to New York as a friend of a friend with a good idea, and introducing his products to a few colleagues and friends. As I learned about ingredients and what was really in the products we’d formerly been using, I fell in love with Pangea. Since then, it’s been all we use in our household.

So when Joshua came to visit a couple of years ago and explained his next venture—to make the company a retail-based direct sales company—I was hesitant. Why fix something that isn’t broken? How could we the customers of Pangea actually “sell” the products ourselves? And personally, why would I even want to “sell” anything? Truth is, while I listened to Joshua explain how it would work, I had several doubts about the efficacy of this model, and I was downright uncomfortable when he told me he wanted me to spearhead the effort to involve the yoga community.

Then this year, it happened. April 22, 2013 came around, and it was time for me to wrap my mind around this new direction, and take on the role of a leader. I met with the team that Joshua had created, comprised of some of the best minds in the direct sales industry, and asked so many questions, to arrive at a most surprising conclusion: this is the best idea for the yoga community.

Now we can create businesses of our own, and really learn about how to earn money doing what we love. We can continue teaching, supplement our income and educate our students that what we’re putting onto our skin is as important as the food we eat. We can serve our communities by guiding them toward the products that would be just as nourishing and much safer for our environment than what we’ve previously been rinsing off and sending down the drain and into our water supply.

Pangea is slow food for our skin. I’ve watched as our team of “Beauty Ecologists” (independent distributors) has grown in these past few months to over 650 people in 46 states around the country, many of them yoga teachers, all of whom want to make a difference in both our external and our internal environment. Many of the inquiries I’ve received about this include the same doubts I’d had initially; how can I be comfortable “selling” these products? To this my response is always the same.

We aren’t really selling—we’re sharing. Sharing what we love, in informal settings of our own homes or the homes of our friends, trying the products and seeing which scents and formulations feel right for us. And in the sharing, we are earning the money that would’ve gone to the retailers, creating opportunities for hundreds of moms, dads, nurses, doctors, office workers, yoga teachers and so many more people and professionals nationwide to begin working more from home, with products they love, making great money doing it.

Soon, Pangea will be offering high-quality health insurance to the Beauty Ecologists. That might be the most comforting and brilliant aspect of all. Thank you Pangea.

Please join me for a free outdoor yoga class, with free picnic care of Pangea, in North Boulder Park on July 26th. Here’s a link to the event page for details. Onward!

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