Thursday, June 11, 2015

Go Back and Look Again

Believe it or not, a flourishing yoga studio does not just spring into existence overnight. It takes time and care, some trial and error, and a bit of improvisation. Before I opened my studio, I heard lots of comments from other studio owners along the lines of, "you just have to get through the first three years" or "I've had my studio for five years and now I know what I'm doing."

These comments are both reassuring and alarming. I like it better when I know what I'm doing, but at least I'm in good company when I feel like I'm just winging it!

I did my best to plan ahead. I put together a 34-page official business plan, which the loan officer at the bank said was the best he'd ever seen and that I "should give other people lessons on how to do this!" I did the mission statement, the statement of purpose, the projected financials, and the market demographics. I did my homework.

Then I signed the lease, and everything went out the window. I signed my lease on June 16th of last year, we started demolition on the 17th, and we had our first class on August 17th. For a full-service Bikram studio, that has got to be the fastest build-out in history! The best-case scenario I'd ever heard was an 8-week buildout, the worst-case was 4-5 months. Our build-out was 95% complete after only 6 weeks, and then at that point I was begging friends for rides to Ikea, spending entire days assembling furniture, running to the hardware store 5 times a day, and crying in the laundry room. Everything came together beautifully in the end, but it happened much faster than I expected!

Once the studio is open, you enter a whole new phase, which is actually running the damn thing! Which initially, I did mostly on my own - there were a couple of weeks when I had to teach 12-14 classes a week AND do the laundry, clean the mirrors, and pick up every single piece of lint off the floor (because God forbid that someone should lie down on their mat in savasana and see a little piece of towel lint on the floor next to them).

Of course now I have staff, and life is easier, but it doesn't seem to have slowed down very much. I can write more later about the process of operating the studio, but to make a long story short, the past year has been maybe 50% according to plan and 50% just playing it by ear.

Then last month, right on schedule, the summer slow-down hit. And boy did it hit HARD. I mean, the place just cleaned out. So I started to get a little anxious about things like "cash flow" and "paying rent" and decided to seek help from a specialist - namely, from the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center, which very graciously provides free counseling to local small business owners.

I had my first meeting with my business advisor last week, and it went something like this:

Him: "I'm surprised to hear you say you need help with marketing, because I did research on you and looked at your website and everything looks very good!"

Me: "Thanks, but this is slow season for us and I want to get better at managing my cash flow for next year."

Him: "Well you are smart, you are educated, you are the perfect candidate for.... a business plan!" (pulls out stack of handouts on writing a business plan)

Me: "Oh yes! I did write a business plan! I did that already!"

Him: "You need to update it. You are also a perfect candidate for writing.... a mission statement!"

Me: "I definitely wrote a mission statement.... it's around here somewhere...." (mission statement is nowhere to be found)

Soooooo, I got some homework to do. Apparently you're NOT supposed to just write a business plan, give a copy to the bank, stuff it into a drawer, and say "thank god that's over." You have to KEEP updating that shit, like, all the time! Bad news for me, since business writing is not my favorite chore and mostly makes me want to stab myself with a fork.

I pulled out my old business plans and mission statements, and right away I found out that they were badly in need of updating. I found an old mission statement worksheet that said, "Our target market is the population of East Greenwich and southern Rhode Island." My actual studio is in a completely different part of the state. And it turns out that "averaging out" rent and utilities is fine for back-of-the-envelope calculations, but it is NOT a great way to predict your monthly expenses, since fees and utilities over the winter can fluctuate by over 100%.

Turns out that revisiting the business plan was an excellent suggestion, even though I was a little resistant and would rather do a third set of triangle pose. Now that I have the numbers and data from my first year of business, I can use that information to make more realistic predictions for the next few years. And now that I've been behind the wheel for a while, I have a much better idea of where the studio is headed. I did the best I could last year with the time and information that I have, but now I can do much better.

 So this is a post about revising and growing - about updating or getting rid of old ideas or attitudes that aren't working for you anymore. Just because you made a good plan, that doesn't mean it's going to work for you forever. You have to go back and look again. What's still working for you and what's not? Which ideas still serve you, and which ones don't? Which of your habits are helpful, and which ones do you want to change?

You're constantly evolving - mentally and physically - and so is the world around you. Something that worked perfectly for you a few years ago might be holding you back today. Something that you absolutely hated doing in the past might have the answer that you've been looking for. It doesn't mean that you were wrong or bad or you made a mistake - it just means that you're changing. Hooray! You're a human! Change is good!

I just keep learning that it's ok to go back to basics and start from scratch. Practice makes perfect, right? So you'll never do something perfectly on your first try, no matter how good you are! Nothing wrong with that. Practice, practice, practice. You can always do better the second time around, if you just give yourself the chance to try again.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a class to teach and a studio to run!

With love,

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Before and After

Hello world! Bet you weren't expecting to see any activity on this blog ever again, but here I am! Still alive. I have survived my first nine months of studio ownership and I definitely have a lot of stories to tell. I just haven't had the chance to tell them yet. But I've had a little encouragement - thanks dear - so I am sitting down at the keyboard again tonight, for the first time in a VERY long time!

Before I write about all the excitement of opening a studio, and adventures of being a studio owner, and the stress of running a business, and the crazy state of the Bikram yoga world in general, I want to talk about something completely different.

What up with all these "Before and After" pictures that have taken over my news feed lately?!

Look I get it, I really do. It's so awesome and exciting to see changes in your body, whether it's loosing some weight or nailing a new position or getting deeper into your yoga postures. But I worry that we, the yoga teachers and fitness instructors and industry leaders, are selling a big fat lie. Here is the story that we are telling, in the form of a graph:

Or as the incomparable Allie Brosh puts it:

The lie that we are telling ourselves (and each other), is that "before" and "after" are two completely separate stages of your life. The caterpillar becomes a butterfly and stays that way forever. You start yoga and you have no flexibility, but after you do yoga for 6 months, your postures become fantastic and they stay that way forever. You eat crappy food for a while, but then you become enlightened in your diet and never touch Ben and Jerry's again.

Wrong! Of course we know this is wrong, but we trick ourselves anyway! There is no "before" and there is no "after," there's only "during." Life is a constant practice. Some days you're on the top of the wave, some days you're not. Some days that butterfly is gonna wake up, look back at the chrysalis, and think, "Damn, that looks cozy, maybe I'll crawl back in there and take a little nap."

If we are being honest with ourselves, the chart should look a little more like this (for example):

There ain't no straight path! It's up, it's down, it's all around. One year you'll be totally killing it, the next year you might barely practice at all, and then you might come back stronger than ever. Or you might come back and struggle for a while. That's fine! Guess what? Everyone else has the same struggle, too! If I had a dollar for every time a student has told me, "Oh, but I used to be able to do XYZ," I could sell my studio and retire to Costa Rica and drink coconuts all day. 

The truth is that getting to a certain level is easy, but maintaining is very hard. I've seen beautiful, talented students literally in tears because they had an injury that forced them to back off for a couple of months, and they never saw it coming. 

Just for the record, and as an example, here's the general shape that my Bikram yoga practice has taken over the years:

2004: First Bikram yoga class, age 19. Loved it! Went a few times a week over the summer, for a couple of months, then forgot all about it.

2005: Maybe 6 months later, got dragged to class by a schoolmate. Loved it again! Was motivated enough to get up at 5am in the morning and take the subway to the 6am class, only to get locked out anyway because the train didn't get there early enough. Better luck next time.

2007? Skipping ahead a little bit... practiced off and on during college and in between ballet classes. Quit ballet in 2007 and figured I'd better give myself something else to do or else I would go stark raving nuts. Went to yoga approximately every day for the next 2 years. Got pretty good at it too! The picture below was taken in 2008. (I was 23. Is that really seven years ago?!)

2009: Grad school! Boy was that a rough time for my yoga practice, not to mention my mental health. I can't believe it but I actually found a photo from this time period and it's hilarious. I'm trying so hard and I just can't get it together.

2010: Dropped out of school and went to teacher training! Managed to pull my shit back together, just in time to get my butt kicked by teacher training. Two classes a day for 9 weeks with very inconsistent heating. Took my hamstrings months to recover! I actually didn't mind at all - I was sooooo happy to just be doing yoga all the time.

2010 - 2013 is a normal up and down period. Some championship training, some jogging, some yoga, some being lazy and eating cake. I DO want to share these two photos that were taken in almost the same spot, about 1 year apart from each other (I think it's spring 2012 and spring 2013).

What you'll notice, if you have a good eye for that kind of thing, is that I lost a BUNCH of weight in the second picture. This is not because I went on a new diet or a new exercise technique. It is because I was mega stressed out over some personal matters. You'll also notice that I look a lot happier in the first picture! Hilariously (to me), I got sooooooo many compliments on my body when I was super skinny, cause my abs looked killer. Everyone was like, "Wow, what are you doing?!" and I was like ".... meh." I WAS actually practicing a whole lot... because that is how I deal with stress. I really couldn't have cared less about the postures.

2014: I opened my yoga studio!! Here is my glorious standing bow photo, that was taken by my sister on my iPhone (my camera had died), on the bike path behind the Sip-n-Dip, while I was working on signing the lease for my new space. This is the picture that's been put on our marketing materials and plastered around town. It's not NEARLY my deepest posture - I mean, I'm not 23 anymore - but damn am I having fun and I can hold it forever!

2015: Er.... file not found? No photos exist, as I have not had such a "model" practice since opening the studio. I am surprisingly ok with this. If you had told me ten years ago that I wouldn't be able to do my perfect standing splits anymore, I would have been totally devastated. But guess what? I've got a yoga studio, a great boyfriend, a sweet dog, a cute apartment in a wonderful town, lovely friends.... I can't complain. Life is good. (Not always easy or simple or perfect - that's a different story.)

I feel like I've been writing all night and I'm still just scratching the surface. What I really want to say is this: It's okay if you're not constantly improving. It's okay if you run into setbacks and injuries and roadblocks. It's okay if you look at other people's lovely before-and-after pictures and it makes you feel like a crummy little caterpillar sometimes. A photo is just a carefully selected two-dimensional snapshot that tells you almost nothing about someone's life. Great abs alone don't make a happy person - that reflection in the mirror is not going to keep you warm at night. Don't worry about what other people are doing, and don't stress about the stuff that you can't change at the moment. Just keep taking little baby steps and putting one foot in front of the other. 

Change is constant. That's the bad news AND the good news. If you wish you could stay just like this forever... tough luck, you can't take it with you. You're gonna get older some day, and that's the best case scenario! If you're not happy now and you wish you could make a change.... well that's great! Like it or not, you're changing every day. Relax, go easy on yourself, enjoy what you have, stop chasing perfection. There are no perfect people - trust me - we're all faking it and screwing up and figuring it out just like you. 

This post has probably gone on long enough, so I will leave it here for now. All mistakes and typos are completely intentional. Thanks in advance for your support and encouragement. I have a million other things to talk about and will try to write again soon....