I chose to close my yoga studio during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I could have stayed in the struggle longer. I might have made it out the other side. I could have worked harder and stayed with the discomfort in hopes of making a success out of my studio once again.
But it would interfere with my newfound joy.
Owning a yoga studio and operating as its primary teacher was not what I thought it would be. I saw myself practicing long practices, studying yoga with great teachers and mentors, and educating my students with thrilling workshops and immersions.
The reality? I spent 90 percent of my time doing administration work, people managing, marketing, and fixing hundreds of daily little problems from tech concerns to client accounts to basic wear and tear on the building.
Yoga studios don’t make a lot of money, especially in a small town, and I couldn’t afford to pay a big staff. So I did it all, including teaching 15 or more classes each week. I’d also like to note that I have two young, wild daughters who require most of my time as well.
I practiced every day, but it was forced and furied. It was more of a checklist item than a spiritual practice. There was no time to relax, no time for long practices, and little time for myself or my family. I was practicing but never experiencing the grace of my efforts.
I didn’t particularly hate the daily tasks of the business. I enjoyed being a boss lady, an empowered female leader. I loved creating a place for others to practice yoga, and I felt proud of what I created. I was good at marketing and design, and I enjoyed that work. I assumed that any internal struggle I felt was just a natural consequence of being a human in the western world and that there wasn’t a way around this. Life is just busy, right? The little amounts of joy I got here and there would have to be sufficient.
The real problem was most of my time was spent in the business of yoga, and little of that time was spent on yoga. If you have operated a yoga studio before, you know the challenges of running this type of business. This is not a business model that gets you rich; this is a business model that makes you work because you believe in the work that you do.
I believe in what I do. I believe in the empowering and transformative powers of yoga. The issue was I no longer had the time to feel those benefits for myself. I was not practicing what I preached. I was disembodied. The daily business tasks were not what I had signed up for, and they took up all of my time.
I was constantly busy, stressed, anxious, and eventually depressed.
The constant hustle and bustle of business ownership drained me. I continued to practice yoga and meditate in small amounts daily, and this sustained me over the years, but it wasn’t enough. I thought it was just me. I thought I was broken and that I just needed to work a little harder. I never thought about changing my lifestyle in any significant way because I was doing the good work.
When the pandemic hit, there was a screaming halt to my current lifestyle. We were locked in our homes, and my kids at home with me.
I immediately understood the fate of my industry, and I took a big step back. I taught online and worked on my online business, but it was significantly less busy. My brick and mortar studio doors closed for almost six months. I took the time to practice long practices every day. I took advantage of this new virtual world and started studying with amazing teachers from New York, California, India, and the West coast of Canada.
Then, something amazing happened. Every single mental affliction I had been experiencing, magically (or maybe, understandably), disappeared. My stress was gone, insomnia—gone; anxiety—gone; depression—gone. I felt joy, ease, and bliss that would carry on for weeks at a time.
The original yogis never saw this business of yoga as the goal.
They never saw corporate brands, sponsored yogis in expensive spandex, and Facebook ads. They saw places to practice yoga, for sure, but I can guarantee that they never wanted the people who were sharing yoga to be burnt out, busy, shells of themselves. It’s contrary to the goals of yoga. The ancient texts urge us to not be so busy—and to live simply.
The yogis were trying to teach us to be happy and to unite our brains and spirits with our bodies. They taught non-coveting, and simplicity and they certainly didn’t want us to be this busy. The goal of bliss and internal joy simply can’t be obtained with the western hustle. We need less to be happy, not more, and we certainly don’t need branded yoga studios and expensive clothes to obtain this. They are actually in the way of the goal.
I’m still boggled by the experience. In a time when I lost so much, I gained so much more. Letting go of the studio was hard; it was sad. Letting go of the thing I worked so hard for, the thing that I thought was my dharma, turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
I feel like I’m finally practicing real yoga now. Letting go of my once firm grip on the business of yoga has opened a world of possibility for me. A world where I can finally think straight. Where I practice what I preach because I’m living it every day; I am spending more time in my role as a student, and teaching less but with more integrity, skill, and tact. I have less concern for money, zero concern for branding, and all my attention is on the practice. Doing the practice and offering it to others—life is much simpler now.
I teach from my home now. I teach virtually. I teach a small number of private clients. I create courses and content on topics that really matter to me, and I work with those that are genuinely interested in working with me and what I have to offer. I no longer have to please everyone. I teach what I know, I teach what I love, and I no longer have to be the brand of the studio—I just get to be myself.
Instead of paperwork, competition, stress, people management, and finances—I get to study, create, practice, teach, and serve. It’s what I always wanted my job to be.
So if you’re in my industry and you find yourself working on the business of yoga more than the practice itself, ask the question often, “Am I happy, and am I practicing what I preach?”
If you’re not, it might be time to shift some things around. Finding the space to practice what I preach and the ability to teach from integrity has been the greatest gift of all.
Is it possible to work in the business of yoga and be a real yogi? I think so.
I’m still teaching yoga, but I guard my new-found joy like it’s my new job. I’m setting boundaries on how busy I get, I’m protecting my practice time, and I’m prioritizing joy over work, each and every day. I worry less about money, and the funny thing is, when I shifted my attention away from the business and into the service of what I do, the money to support my continued role in this work came easier than ever.
You don’t have to throw away your business to be a yogi, but a real yogi will be conscious enough to know when it’s time to let go.
The studio came to me through synchronistic and harmonious events—and it’s exit came just as gracefully. I am okay with letting it go now, to leaving it up to God because history has shown me that as long as I do my best and let go of the rest, everything will work itself out.