After 27 Years Teaching Yoga, I Got A Job At The Mall
I started practicing yoga in 1987, when yoga was an aardvark. I turned it into my full-time job in 1993 and much of my adult life has revolved around both the art and business of this internal endeavor.
After 22 years, my career includes, among other things, conducting 18 teacher trainings, teaching God only knows how many workshops, logging 25,000 teaching hours (a conservative estimate), practicing a million hours on my mat (maybe I’m exaggerating), modeling for Hugger Mugger Yoga products, chalking up three book covers with yoga Guru Judith Lasater, including the role of sole model for “30 Essential Poses” (which required a five-day photo shoot).
I've also played a major role in three studios before launching, directing and teaching at my own, Taj Yoga, inventing new workshops and producing the marketing materials to sell them, creating three websites and managing their upkeep, generating constant content for social media portals, hosting dozens of yoga events where I both emceed and performed original choreographed works, generating 15 yoga/dance videos (the last of which went viral), and oh yeah, now I’m blogging about it all.
I feel like I have a repetitive stress injury in my brain from constantly thinking about yoga.
At age 54, I am showing clear signs of a burnout. There are topics I can no longer bear. Please, do not bring up vegetarianism, “opening” the heart, fasting to get rid of toxins, or casually bandy about the word “spiritual” within earshot unless you have at least three possible working definitions of the word, one of which you actually believe.
However, the good news for me is the passion for the art of yoga has not been sacrificed by earning an income, which was my greatest fear.
In fact, I now have a broader definition of yoga than I had when I started in 1987, and I have never been more creative or a better teacher.
Yet there is a logjam in my head – voices asking questions I have answered a thousand times but the judges in my noggin are still not satisfied, going over opportunities seized or missed that I don’t want to think about any more and a yoga “scene” I do not relate to.
What to do?
Sensing my cranky, inner senior Iyengar yoga teacher coming out more and more to the fore, I began considering a career change a few years ago. Maybe I should go back to school. Anthropology? Psychology? How about a lawyer specializing in intellectual property rights?
Recently, I ran these ideas by my longtime friend Carola, a fourth series Ashtanga initiate and mental health professional who conducts involuntary commitments that “contain” people who should not be allowed to roam free.
“I can totally see you selling Clinique lipstick,” she said. “How about a job in cosmetics or clothing?”
The clouds parted, the sun shone through, and I knew I had been shown the way. It was a radical departure from what I was originally thinking: do something light and different for a while. Don’t quit your yoga day job, but start out part time in retail and get some perspective. A few weeks later I walked through a large department store and a sign appeared, confirming Carola’s insight.
“Big-Box Department Store is hiring for the Holidays.”
I went online, applied and within seven days my Department Store Vision Quest was underway. My purpose was clear: to stop thinking about yoga long enough so I could change my mind. An odd arrangement when you consider many people seek yoga and meditation as a way to change habitual thought patterns. But what if yoga and meditation are part of the habitual thought patterns you seek to break?
I needed big medicine, something so consuming there wasn’t a chance I could think about anything yoga, and Big-Box “Therapeutic Ranch” delivered when I started as a sales associate on Black Friday.
My plan was to start on a day when things couldn’t possibly get any worse. I figured I might as well get my hardest day over with. Although I wanted to work in women’s clothing, there were no available shifts so I chose “Textiles,” which turned out to be the bedding department.
I found myself attempting to answer questions like “what’s the difference between the goose down comforter and the synthetic fiber one?” Clothing is a joyous aspect of my life and my closet started clapping when Big-Box hired me. You could drop me into any women’s department and I could converse with a customer on the fly about her options and choices. But feathers and thread count?
The most daunting part of that day was making friends with “Hal,” the sales register/computer I’ve nicknamed after the anthropomorphic electronic machine in 2001: A Space Odyssey – complex, calculating, unemotional and wantonly in control.
Unlike the simple cash register I had last used when I was 16 working at Dairy Queen, I’m pretty sure you could launch an IPO on Hal. With multiple entry points and decisions that splinter into different conclusions, going into, or (God forbid) trying to back out of Hal’s labyrinth if you chose incorrectly, is a test of memory and stamina for the newly initiated Holiday Help.
With a line of people waiting, I broke out into a cold sweat as the customer before me wanted to know the dollar difference between the 20 percent off coupon and the Wow Pass discount, if using a Big-Box credit card sweetens the deal, how many feathers per square inch are in the 200 thread count versus the 300 thread count comforter, and Hal giving me the finger the whole time.
Things Can Always Get Worse
It turns out I was wrong in my planning and there was a day worse than Black Friday: the day I became the target of a fellow associate’s ire, who was much less patient and harder to deal with than the average demanding customer.
I suffered through the day with the associate watching and critiquing my every move. Later that evening, I met my partner Sandy for dinner, and when the usual pleasantries were exchanged, including “how was your day, dear,” I burst into tears.
I had been a self-employed, one woman band for a long time and I was used to handling it all, including the completely unreasonable students who have come my way. There was the priest from Louisiana who, after watching the Yoga Vinyasa video I put out in 1994 called “Stillness In Motion: Yoga Vinyasa,” wanted to hire me to conduct private asana sessions over the phone. He found my address and sent a $500 retainer via Fed-Ex Next Day Air, with a check drawn on the parishioner-funded church bank account.
Or the student who I had to get an anti-harassment order against. I took her to court and was granted an order of protection, so she retaliated and set up a web site defaming me. Last I checked it was still up, and I’ve used the site for years in my teacher trainings as an example of how yoga teachers are not exempt from unwanted attention and can become targets of harassment like anyone else.
If someone asks what else I do, I refer to my day job as “secondary education.”
However, at the Big-Box, I found that there is a broad range of support, including the human relations department and sympathetic managers who deal with challenging internal situations and unique individuals instead of me. Outstanding! It’s awesome not being in charge.
Who knew I’d enjoy helping people spend their money almost as much as I like spending it myself, and conversely, delight in saving customers money by coaxing the best deal possible out of Hal. I’ve also learned that for some people, even the best deal isn’t deal enough, and nothing short of free will satisfy or convince them they are not somehow being ripped off.
I’ve made it a point to not disclose my profession to my fellow Big-Box associates. It’s very helpful when not thinking about yoga to not talk about it, and I’m concerned knowledge of what I do will bring questions, questions, questions and therefore more thinking, thinking, thinking.
If someone asks what else I do, I refer to my day job as “secondary education.” As for my students, I’ve told them about my need for new neural pathways via retail, and recently told a group of colleagues I was “at Camp Big-Box in a four-day therapeutic intensive selling Seahawks apparel.”
I cannot let my mind wander to anything except the task at hand while at Big-Box Therapeutic Ranch. I do not think about yoga, period. In fact, I like the job and feel oddly exhilarated when I’m there.
Although I am clearly fatigued when I get home from work, after about three weeks, my 18-year-old daughter made an observation: “You know mom, you sure have been happy lately.”
The Moral of the Story
I am now five months into this plan and have made it through the post-season culling of holiday hires to flex time status. I get called when a slot opens, and can sign up online for open shifts, which is ideal while juggling my teaching schedule.
However, I have a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, I cannot afford to simply work at Big-Box for beginning associate’s wages. Although it’s arguable that my new work friends (of whom blessedly none talk in veiled, mystic tongues about yoga or cleansing diets) are part of the compensation package.
But on the other hand, I can’t afford not to stay as Big-Box has indeed lived up to its therapeutic nickname. The question still remains regarding my day job teaching yoga: is there a way to continue with my passion as a job, or am I past the point of no return?
It’s too early to tell. I need more time to weigh the variables and more time not thinking about yoga, which I do very well while organizing clothing and ringing up deals.
In the meantime, dear reader, if you have found sources of resolution for your own career quagmire, please feel free to share them with me in the comments section.
This article first appeared at Seattle Yoga News. Reprinted with permission.
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