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Living Yoga v.s. Yoga Studio Life

I was living in a tent in Port-Au-Prince Haiti, working at a pediatric Hospital with the Urban Zen Foundation and I caught wind that YogaHome back in Cincinnati, Ohio was going through a huge transition.

Fast forward after several months and after very drama filled transfer of ownership. There I was owner of YogaHome with 3 studio locations. When I became owner, I knew the studios needed tender loving care! They had been losing money for over 3 years. Huge shifts needed to happen to keep YogaHome alive. I began with immediate changes and on average people either hate or love change. I defiantly got push back from the community at large and the teachers of YogaHome. Some teachers quit on the spot, they didn’t share my vision. Others had a hard time having a 26-year-old boss and left for egoic reasons. Some teachers were very upset to see all the “hot yoga” leaving the schedule. Others were very excited to see new life enter the community. I took all of that in stride, let it roll of my back. I was fearless, always have been.

This quote became the mantra of YogaHome as I stepped in as owner.

“Bringing about radical change in the human being, brings about radical change in the social structure and the world.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

The dream was of building a community based on contemplation that sought truth through action, speech and intention.

Turns out truth is actually very uncomfortable for most people and often ignored. I too had to come to terms with the ever evolving truth of yoga studio life.

I began teaching and organizing many Teacher Trainings at YogaHome. I love the process of immersions, truly enjoy teaching them and it was practical. I needed to stretch my skills as one of the most educated teachers in the city to compensate for the monthly losses considering the huge pay roll. When I became owner YogaHome had anywhere from 50-60 independent contractor teachers, depending on the depth of the sub list. That’s 50+ pay checks going out monthly. Commercial property overhead in expensive Cincinnati suburbs for 3 locations to drastically simplify expenses. Less than a third of the classes were actually making money for the studio. Everyone that graduates Teacher Training wants to teach, but the reality is not all CAN or SHOULD be teaching yoga. This statement isn't meant to be hurtful its meant to a realism. In the long run could protect the quality and sacredness of this practice. We all have to accept truths at times that are not pretty, but in the long run that embrace creates harmony.

I had some very difficult conversations with teachers and reorganizing the structure of YogaHome commenced. Again, I did what was required of me and pushed ahead. Months and months have gone by and YogaHome’s class schedule is still losing money, even with several radical changes. I begin to sacrifice my own personal pay check and the surplus teacher training budget to cover expenses month after month so the community could stay afloat.

In the height of YogaHome’s teacher training program I had 26 students in the yearlong 500HR Teacher Training and 18 in the 200 HR Teacher Training 8-month long program. I ran 4 trainings in less than 3 years 200HR and 500HR studies. As well as continued to teach continuing education workshops on top of that. I am teaching multiple classes a day, and 3 out of 4 weekends a month I spend teaching in the studios full days Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I am an E-RYT 500, educator of advanced teachers and my Yoga Alliance cert is now certifying and teaching many soon to become teachers.

My personal life is slowly detreating during this time. I can’t seem to keep a relationship, I barely have ME time and my love of nature and wanderlust is echoing in the back of my brain. 26 comes and goes, 27 comes and goes and then 28 comes and goes. I am not even 30 yet at this point and I have hundreds of students seeking me out almost every hour of the day or guidance, teaching and space holding. Deep down I truly love this role and over the years it has truly found me again and again. My astrological make-up, trust in the transformative core of yoga and my commitment to social change allows me to be very comfortable in role of “teacher” or “facilitator”. A business owner with the aggressive attitude to protect her product, I just didn’t play that role very well. It’s not me; I am not saying it’s an unworthy role, but it took me some time to forgive myself. If we force ourselves to play roles against our true nature unhappiness sets in.

But here I am constantly accessing the unsustainable nature of YogaHome’s cash flow, making difficult business decisions that I just don’t have the gut for. I am watching most of my burnt-out teachers in conflict because they have spread themselves to thin. Teaching in multiple studios, making decisions that lack integrity and that disrespect creative/intellectual property. I also begin to notice the truth of the changing yoga climate. It is becoming more like POP music. Flow classes, yoga pants ads everywhere, teachers spending more time on their class playlists than studying anatomy. I begin to feel like a salmon swimming upstream, my teaching focuses on meditative practice that refines the mind. I rarely play music and I ask A LOT of my students. I begin to become subconsciously fearful watching the bottom line of YogaHome and the changing yoga world.

After about 2 and half years of this cycle, I realized I am not living MY YOGA staying in this situation. I need to clarify my boundaries, I need to value myself and my teaching, I need to learn how to say NO. I need to make some difficult decisions and not care if people talk shit about me. I needed to come to terms with, I stepped into someone else’s karma and not all of these studio problems where created by me. I needed to realize my inner KALI and trust her willingness to act. Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva the Trimutri of deities in Hinduism demonstrate that creation, sustainability and destruction must co-exist in our realm. YogaHome had a beautiful community, it was sanctuary to so many, I loved it dearly. Teaching quality yoga and watching it change student’s lives is my favorite thing in the world. I poured all my energy, knowledge and karma into that community. My time with is had run its course and it was time for an exit plan.

I had interest from a “chain yoga studio” to purchase a location of YogaHome. My goal as an existing owner was to disrupt the student population as little as possible in my exit. In my heart of heart’s, I couldn’t morally sell to a cooperate yoga chain. I denied the offer and began seeking other alternatives. I had two other potential Yogi’s that truly contemplated becoming owner and with time that eventually fell through. One last divine soul decided to walk away because they valued their freedom more than keeping the business alive.

I finally shared my internal struggle as owner with 6 of my closest students. After many meetings and dialogues, I offered to teach another Teacher Training to keep studios alive, if someone stepped in as owner. At this point I was extremely transparent and put it all on the line. In the end, not one of them was willing to accept the responsibility for the large network of YogaHome. Knowing the effort, I put forth to keep the community functioning, I knew I had done my absolute very best at that time.

These are a few of the energies my renegade, social reform, yogic spirit could no longer support in the contemporary yoga wheel…

  1. A student of mine went behind my back and created conflict with a seamless hand over of a location to another owner. All in all I decided to close the location and walk away considering the dirty actions that human’s excuse as “just doing business as usual”

  2. I was certifying students, that I truly didn’t think deserved the Teacher Training certificate. The quality of yoga training in this country has severely decreased. A less educated teacher results in less educated yogis and in the end, we see Yoga becoming another workout class all over the country.

  3. Students of mine bringing notebooks into my weekly drop-in classes and then teaching what I taught within the same week at other studios. “Teaching Yoga” isn’t just about reciting what you heard another teacher say, it is about PRACTICING. Allowing your practice to sink so deep into your bones and second nature that what you share comes from your experience of the state of YOGA.

  4. Loosing relationships and feeling as though the yoga mat and waking life were different worlds. Witnessing a lot of yoga teachers talk the talk and not walk the walk.

  5. Witnessing too many yoga teachers, teach more than they practice; and teach for egoic reasons.

  6. Trusting people when I should have had my eyes wide open

  7. Teaching for little to no compensation day in and day out

  8. Feeling that fear creep up in my consciousness, when I define myself by fearlessness

  9. Walking away was already breaking my heart, I still tear up about it over three years later and knowing healing meant fully accepting my decision.

  10. Watching the birth of yoga celebrities that have gobs of social media followers but very little time invested in the study of yoga.

  11. Feeling burnt-out myself and not wanting to perpetuate that energy in the community.

  12. Observing the hundreds of student’s responses to me, some didn’t understand, some hurt, some angry, some felt cheated. Other’s felt like I failed, or gave-up. Some called me flakey or a hurricane of destruction. Some disowned me as a creditable teacher, and those that really knew me and were actually practicing yoga in their own life understood my struggle and knew it was my decision in the end.

My physical, emotional, mental and spiritual life are one in the same. I made the most level-headed decision of my life to date, I needed to close the existing 2 locations or go into debt. When you are sitting at the bottom you have nothing to lose. You aren’t worried about your reputation because you know you are living your truth it is easy to make the right decision. You are the wisdom of the place you stand and you stay grounded. Even if the community at large does not understand.

I have been practicing yoga since I was 14, teaching for over a decade and now I am 31. I took 2 full years off from teaching to solely practice, assimilate, and manifest a life more in line with my long-term yogic values. Cincinnati wasn’t a place that could hold the totality of my energy and that is a beautiful thing. I needed to open doors that were expansive and allowed for growth. Yoga and meditation shape my perspective and they dissolve my self-image daily. I know that change and renewal is possible. If we truly live our yoga we learn and grow from these cycles and with each passing we get closer to our true nature.

I am teaching again and it's manifesting beautifully. Weekend immersions and retreats with a focus on meditative practice, developing mental skills of contemplation and living your yoga. I seek to form loving and sustainable relationships with all studios I collaborate with and students I share the practice with.

-Susan Ashley Hunt

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