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Success and other dreadfully sticky topics

Right after I graduated from my teacher’s training, I sat myself down with a very large pad of lined paper, a bucketful of coffee and a template from Enterprise Fredericton called “How to write a business plan”. It took two weeks of skull sweat and about 18 draft versions before I had it “done”. Two weeks ago, I met with my Business Development Officer, Chris Guerette, for her review and critique.

Not having ever written a business plan in my entire freaking life, it was a bit of a stretch to say the least but the exercise in and of itself was incredibly useful. It made me really think about how I was going realize this nebulous idea of being a yoga teacher to actually getting real bodies on real mats in real rooms. It meant working out schedules and paying room deposits and just a whole pile of thinking. It’s thinking about big things – what are my long-term goals? It was thinking about little things – supply mats or not? And a hundred points in between.

Yesterday, I got Chris’ critique back. Wow!!! Seventeen points where I need to clarify. Some of them are housekeeping details and will be smoothed out by inserting a sentence or paragraph.

But here’s the one that’s knocked me off my feet:

Really define your 2-year goal. Securing Financing? Being Successful? What does that mean? …

Excellent bloody question, I say, excellent question. Exactly how does one define success as a yoga teacher? Is it how many students I teach? Is there a magic number of students for me? Is it my retention rate that I’m going to look at – the percentage of students who return to my classes? Is it a monetary figure – not likely, as I have no intention of earning a living at this for many years to come. Right now, I would rejoice at breaking even.

I certainly didn’t sign on to this with dreams of making buckets of money. Which is bringing me back to something I need to reaffirm in my own head. Why teach in the first place? Why do I want to teach yoga? Again, here we go with the excellent questions that you just know are going to cost you about 8 hours of serious thinking.

I took my teacher’s training mostly on a whim. Well, somewhere between a whim and a plan. I hadn’t taken a great deal of yoga classes when Kathryn announced she was offering the first yoga teacher’s training in this region. I really didn’t think I had enough experience on the mat and probably would have dismissed it but for the little voice from within that said… ‘Do it”. And upon investigation, all the little obstacles, like time and money, could be overcome or solved and voila, I became a yoga teacher. That’s when the fun began.

For many reasons, I’ve come to accept that teaching yoga is my dharma – my life’s mission and in order to complete that mission, I needed a plan.

I’ve talked or more precisely not talked, with a few people in this area and there seems to be a real reluctance on the part of some to frame the teaching of yoga into a business model. Yoga at its core is a spiritual pursuit and somehow all this talk of money sullies that.

Say what you want about it, money does have some very useful features. One of its more useful ones is that it’s a convenient medium of exchange, thereby making it much easier to secure rooms in which to teach. It also has the distinct advantage over bartering in that it provides a discrete and quantifiable measure we can use to compare one thing over another. It becomes the means by which I fulfill my mission. I need money to rent rooms, pay for my education, purchase supplies and advertise to students to who need yoga in their life. It’s not money for the sake of accumulating money – money becomes the means to the end.

In my mind, and perhaps no one else’s, I’ve made a promise to my students and my theoretical students of the future to be there as a guide and a presence on their journey through this thing called Yoga. The only way I can honour that commitment is by taking care of my responsibilities towards the business end of yoga. It’s time to get serious about that business plan.

And it suddenly dawns on me that really what I’m talking about is the overall big picture concept of Dharma. In Gary Kraftsow’s book Yoga for Transformation, he has great picture of what I’m trying to get at. He says it better than I can, so here are Gary’s words on Dharma.

We all have certain fundamental responsibilities and obligation to fulfill in life. As parents we have responsibility to our children. … As social beings, we have responsibilities to our employers, employees, society and government. As students, we have responsibilities to our teachers. And, as teachers, we have responsibilities to our students.
These responsibilities must be fulfilled – they constitute a personal dharma from which there is not honourable escape. …. All too often, we use our ideas of the spiritual realm as an escape from the real situations of our life that face us day to day. Thus [the ancients] taught “dharma raksati raksata” which loosely translated means “as we take care of our responsibilities, we will be taken care of.”

So that pretty much explains why I’m back revising my business plan. It’s about taking care of my responsibilities towards my students and to my teacher and to my tradition and to myself and ..and.. and . The list just keeps growing.

But what it doesn’t answer is the original question that started off this entire philosophical conflab. What constitutes success? What measures will I employ to know if my efforts have been fruitful and if I’m attending to fulfilling my dharma.

So, all you yoga teachers out there – how about a shout out here? How do you define success? What are your measures? What do you look at to make sure you’re still on track?

Thanks for reading and Namaste,



About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

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