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On Bankruptcy, Humiliation and Going For What You Want

in Business of Yoga, YD News, Yogitorials

Guest blogger Jay Fields, yoga teacher and founder of Grace&Grit.

I walked out of bankruptcy court yesterday afternoon feeling surprisingly wonderful.

I say ‘surprisingly’ because the idea of going bankrupt has been a personal nightmare of mine for a very long time. As a banker’s daughter, the very thought that I might go bankrupt would induce a tightening of every muscle in my body and an intense wave of shame and humiliation.

But at the end of last month when I sat down with a lawyer to declare bankruptcy, it felt like the smartest, most responsible and most liberating thing I could do. Time for a fresh start.

Inspired by this experience, for the last few weeks I’ve wanted to write about how hard it is to make a living as a yoga teacher. That despite how people complain that yoga is too expensive, and despite the fact that yoga clothing companies make a fortune off of $90 yoga pants, gifted teachers everywhere get paid laughably low wages and have no health insurance.

But I haven’t been able to write about the financial life of a yoga teacher. In part because I couldn’t find a way to do it that seemed useful instead of simply a bitch fest. And in part because I’ve been too overwhelmed by my own existential crisis around teaching yoga as a career to have any kind of creative energy to write.

You see it wasn’t going bankrupt that was humiliating and challenging. It’s everything else I’ve discovered in the last few weeks because of being forced to take a closer look at my approach to work now that I have no financial safety net.

I’m humiliated that I had to get a part time job. I had not done this in years because I stubbornly saw it as a way of exposing myself as not good enough at teaching yoga to be able to make a living doing it.

Along those lines, I’m humiliated by being introduced as “just another person trying to make it as a yoga teacher.” I shrank inside as a room full of people laughed dismissively at this quip a few weeks ago.

I’m humiliated by only six people showing up to a workshop that I’m teaching, or only three people showing up to a class I’m teaching—both of which happened this past weekend. I wanted to curl up and cry.

I’m humiliated by the conversation about how blog writing is just like a public journal that no one gives a shit about, and by continuing to publish pieces week after week that only a hundred or so people read. It puts a futile and foolish undertone to the fun of it.

So I can feel, along with the pulled muscle in my low back that has kept me laid up in bed all day, just how f*cking uncomfortable teaching yoga is for me in so many ways, not just financially. To be honest, part of me wants to call it quits on the whole business of teaching yoga.

Stewing in my own discomfort all day, I can’t deny what my counselor told me yesterday: The #1 difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is their willingness to fail over and over again. Which is to say (at least in my case), the willingness to be humiliated over and over again.

With that, I can see how it was my resistance to being humiliated over all these years that was a major contributing factor to me going bankrupt. Not allowing myself to be embarrassed kept me from putting myself out there in a big way over and over, and thus, from also making money.

So if I’m really honest with myself, my existential crisis over whether I should keep teaching yoga has nothing to do with whether it’s possible to make a living teaching yoga. People do it. It has to do with facing the reality that I haven’t. And coming to terms with the fact that if I want to continue forward I have to do things differently. I have to be bold and big and risk failing and being humiliated.

I’d like to say, “I know what I’ve got to do and I’m gonna’ do it!” And in some ways, I can. I’m realizing that one of the great side effects of going bankrupt—what I had deemed as the ultimate failure—and finding that it was in fact a smart and responsible (if a little scary) business decision, makes it easier for me to feel how other things I think are scary and potentially humiliating are also simply smart and responsible business decisions, too. Like having straight up conversations about money with my studio manager and with my students. Or showing up week after week to zero to few students as I put the necessary time in for a class to build.

But the thought of walking out on the tight rope of teaching again with no net, bolstered only by my belief in myself and my conviction to face my fears…well, it makes my low back spasm so much that I can’t get out of bed!

And yet, here I am writing this. Putting a toe on the wire. Because I love teaching and writing about yoga. I can’t imagine not doing it.

But I’m tender. A bit scared. There’s no equivalent judicial process to bankruptcy that wipes away insecurities and years of diminishing myself and devaluing my work.

I think I know what I need to do, but I’m daunted by it. And so I write the following words not from the place of a teacher who has lived and learned. Instead, I write these words to the teacher I know is in me and to the part of you who wants something and is scared of failing:

Your fear won’t just go away over night.

Move forward and track the ways you want to pull back just to try to avoid being embarrassed.

What do you say to yourself? To others? What actions do you take (or not take) so that you won’t have to feel humiliated?

Even as you notice all those things, stand up for yourself.

Ask for what you want anyway.

Put yourself out there without hedging.

Don’t let humiliation shrink or diminish you: acknowledge it, feel it, and then keep taking the risk to go for what you want.

It’s time for a fresh start.



46 comments… add one
  • Fantastic post Jay. You put so many of my thoughts on the page. You are definitely not alone in so many regards. From one non-superstar/highly paid/always sold out workshop yoga teacher to another, hang in and thanks!

  • Thank you for the eye opener blog mate!! I also went bankrupt 3 years ago, left the fashion industry and went to teach Yoga.. so I went on the opposite way! but every industries are the same . Surviving with Yoga’s is becoming harder and harder. Bankruptcy teaches to put your eggs different baskets.. I know and understand your feeling of relief.. however, it doesn’t help for the future being on a red list for years before being able to have any credits.. but who want them!! life becomes simplier and purer.. I wish the best of luck but don’t let go your love of Yoga..

    • jay

      Well said about being taught by bankruptcy to put your eggs in a different basket. Best of luck to you, too!

  • This seems to be a recurring theme that comes up again and again in the yoga teacher world: don’t mix business with pleasure. Get a job, teach yoga part-time, and you’ll probably find your yoga practices better attended as you become an authentic yoga teacher. What’s the point of diluting yourself to teach five classes attended by three people each compared to teaching one class of fifteen? Einstein has a nice quote on doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time.

    If you have to hustle to make a living teaching yoga, my opinion is you shouldn’t be teaching yoga _for a living_ but should rather just teach yoga. What’s the point of doing this if it causes you so much anxiety? To each their own.

  • Thanks. I really needed this post right now.
    I feel like I can related to almost everything you wrote. Except the bankruptcy part – for now.

    • jay

      Vamachara, may it stay that way! And if it doesn’t…know that you’re not alone!

  • jay

    I understand what you’re saying. I think there is much to be said for letting go of one’s attachment to the identity of yoga teacher and having a day job. (Charlotte Bell just wrote a brilliant post on this http://www.huggermugger.com/blog/2012/teaching-yoga-financial/#comment-82551).

    The experience that I wrote about comes from having just moved to a new town, and after 14 years of teaching, having to start from scratch building classes. During that time I’ve had other jobs, I’ve put myself through undergrad and graduate school, I’ve had medical emergencies without health insurance, had full classes and successful workshops and many private students, and also struggled to build classes…hence, all different kinds of financial experiences while teaching yoga.

    In my experience, my inability to make a solid living during this time had to do less with “mixing business with pleasure,” as you say, and more with not having enough business in my pleasure of teaching yoga. What I mean by that is that I was not good at coming at my teaching as if it were a business–talking more openly about money, making sacrifices and commitments, and taking bold steps. I played it small, and that doesn’t work no matter what you’re trying to do!

    So yes to the Einstein quote, but I would say that doesn’t necessarily giving up one’s dream, just waking up and being more practical about it!

    • jay

      oops…this above comment was supposed to be in reply to Mr. Nervous Toes from above. 🙂

  • I think this is the left out chapter of “life of a yoga teacher”, but you’re right about succeeding. You have to be unafraid to fail (more than once) in order to find YOUR way, which doesn’t have to be a jam packed workshop or a traveling yogini teaching every day, all day long.

    Thank you thank you thank you for sharing your story!

  • Mahangun Kaur

    I have a retail job… and I teach yoga. And, guess what… each job helps me with the other job… it’s all about serving and giving people an uplifting experience. I feel blessed to do both… : )

  • Been there done that…you aren’t alone. This is a unique chance and you have a do-over as an adult….take advantage of it!

  • Joining the club

    I don’t really get it.
    Maybe this wasn’t your intention, but why write about your experience as if you are the first/only person to face failure and humiliation? Is that indicative of the tunnel vision of personal pain, or the overwhelming insularity of the yoga world, or both?
    This country is full of people trying to find ways to make their greatest loves into their vocations. We face anxiety, fear, insecurity and disappointment every single DAY. We face let-downs and set-backs every day.
    Try being a college teacher, for example. The vast majority of us now are disposable workers. We have doctoratal degrees and major debt, not just a few hundred hours’ certifcations. The educational, medical and human services industries ALL now pick up and “shed” workers on a regular basis. You’re in good company.
    Beyond that, many, many people can’t get and keep a JOB, ANY job. They have no medical benefits. They file for bankruptcy and lose houses, cars, everything. They can’t feed and clothe their own children or beloved animals.
    More company there.
    Finally — actually, most blogs ARE shit. I haven’t read yours, so I don’t know. Most internet writers couldn’t write a good sentence if their lives depended on it. They’re not sophisticated enough readers to reconize a fresh angle or respect the need to offer one.n n They also CANNOT be brief and to the point. It’s a terrible case of the runs in virtual space. It STINKS.

    So yeah, buck up, but also, do better. Get better. Believe me, there’s so much bad yoga teaching and crap writing out there that if your stuff is good, even if only a few people show up or read, you’ll bring them infinite joy.

    • Joining the club

      ps — sigh. excuse the couple of typos. Yogadork, PLEASE get a review and edit option.

      • jay

        It wasn’t my intention to write a woe-is-me, navel-gazing post. I was simply speaking from my own experience (the only experience that really counts for me to speak from) about what I see is a major challenge in the yoga world–how to make a living.

        And though I think there are all sorts of issues within the world of yoga that make it a real struggle to make ends meet as a teacher, my intention here was to say that I recognized that it’s BS to blame it entirely on the system. For me, it was about not taking the emotional risks inherent in making a business succeed, no matter what the business.

        I know–who the hell am I to complain about not making a living when there are a huge amount of people in all different vocations (or lack thereof) who are in tougher situations than I?

        I did not mean to imply that I’m the first or only to experience humiliation or failure or bankruptcy. Quite the contrary–I wanted to put my voice out there to others who are quietly struggling (the way I was) and let them know they’re not alone.

        • Joining the club

          ok — I didn’t think you were being mawkish. But who/what gave you the messages you got? Did you come up with this “I’m a failure if it isn’t THIS WAY and THIS WAY ONLY” on your own? IS this all-or-nothing a problem in the yoga teacher/studio owner world? If it is, how? I know the preciousness and perfectionism in yoga really tie people up and impede learning and thinking.
          Good luck to you!

          • jay

            Oh yes, I will completely take ownership for coming up with that idea all on my own! My mind (that thinks it’s absolutely brilliant and can be brutally tough on me) came up with that idea of success and failure. In no way am I saying that my whole self feels that this is THE definition of success and failure–just that it was the one I was holding myself to.

            I don’t know if this is a wide-spread problem in the yoga world, but I think you hit the nail on the head when you said there is a lot of preciousness and perfectionism there, so I was going out on a limb assuming I wasn’t the only one who was holding myself to such asinine standards.

            Thanks for the banter and the well wishes!

      • Shamanic_Journeys

        On my blog site, which is a very commercial and heavily moderated site, I switched off into vlogging (and I’m no attractive Youtube star-type) until I could get it together enough, mentally to be writing again.

        But I don’t blog about yoga. I blog mostly about general life, with a little nutrition blogging thrown in.

        • Shamanic_Journeys

          “I think you hit the nail on the head when you said there is a lot of preciousness and perfectionism there”

          that is about 2/3rds of the problem of current yoga pedagogy RIGHT THERE … with or without the high price tag or the pressure to keep clients/students ….

  • I saw a link on the last post and found this website so glad it made the headline. The conversation of being a yoga-neur needs to happen. When what we do is our art and passion its hard to see it as a business. The ability to fail, learn, and remold is not only inspirational but signs of a great entrepenuer! Thanks for sharing.
    Be A Comfort Zone Crusher!


    • jay

      Love your blog on crushing your comfort zone! Thanks for being an inspiration in failing, learning and growing bigger as you infuse your passion and art with more business mojo.

  • I read this one yesterday, too, when it was linked in the “Yoga/Free?” posting. I thought it was brilliant.

    One of my current “missions in life” is to begin to teach creatives, holistic health people, and yoga folk *business skills* — or really how these skills will help them get where they want to go, if they discover and apply the right ones to their own interests, needs, and circumstances.

    I like to work with people — in a partnership way — to help them uncover what it is they are really seeking to do. Because we all get myopic — we all get these ideas that “this is the way it has to be” which actually inhibits our creativity and our capacity to really succeed. It happens to me, too, which is why I also go to supervision (one on one work supervision is another little crusade of mine).

    Yeah, I have crusades apparently. LOL

    Anyway, wrote to both Jay and Ryan. would love to open up some dialogues. 😀

    • jay

      So glad to have met you through this conversation, Jenifer. I think the work you’re up to is wonderful! Looking forward to exploring more with you.

      And I am totally with you on the crusade for one-on-one supervision! It’s one of my Twelve Principles for Transformational Teaching–Get Support! An absolute MUST.

  • In teaching we learn. In learning we teach.
    Nothing is wasted. It is all grist for the mill. It is all loam for the next seasons bounty.
    You have passed a test. Your test. Not the last, one of many… but one hell of a big one that Americans and Humans struggle with from Sea to Sky.
    Thank you for writing about your struggle. It helped me to hear others talking through their sociatally taught fear and shame over not “already” being successful.
    The game is rigged. Once we are enlightened to it’s mechanisms, we can let go… and do anything. Anything.
    Nothing is wasted.

    • jay

      Yes, there will be many more tests. And much more letting go to do!

    • How beautiful! This comment resonates with my heart 😀 Thank you for that!

  • Sarah

    I needed to read this. I’ve been contending with similar revelations about my own life. I have a good life and a good job, but it was never my dream. I let my fear of failure and rejection keep me from exploring different possibilities beyond my current line of work. Last week, I realized this, and I decided to take steps to change. And what do you know…..within one week, I went on a fortuitous interview that landed me my first freelance copywriting gig. I’ve always wanted to write for a living, and now that’s a real possibility. It will take a lot of hard work (it’s going to be a second job for a while, if not forever), and there will be a lot of rejection and criticism, but I know I have to woman up and confront it, because that is the only path to true fulfillment. Good luck on your journey.

    • jay

      Congratulations, Sarah! Thanks for sharing your inspiring story–amazing how quickly things can blossom when we make the space for it. Way to woman up!

  • This was excellent, Jay.

    I’ve spent years working on my stuff, getting out of my own way, so that I can make a decent living teaching yoga. WIthout overworking to the point of illness.

    I think you are speaking for a whole community of people here. It’s so brave! You can tell from all the comments, yes?

    • jay

      Thank you, Nadine. I might be speaking for a whole community, but you are a living example of someone who has done the necessary work and put the time in to make a living as a yoga teacher without giving yourself away. It’s so good to know you’re out there…deep bow to you!

  • Yoga Dork, I’d love to write a formal reply for this. How can I make a submission? Thanks.

  • Joe

    Thank you Jay for this post! I haven’t gone bankrupt, but boy howdy, you sure have encapsulated exactly the feelings I’m going through right now… as I miss rent payments and can’t afford to go grocery shopping.

    And yet… still teaching yoga!

    • jay

      Good for you for still teaching! And may the money start flowing in!

  • Thank you for this. It’s nice to know we are not alone. Now to figure out how to make it better for everyone.

  • jane

    I think you’re lucky to have been able to influence the lives of those three who showed up to a class, or six to a workshop. Those are lives you’ve touched. If I had a blog with 100 readers I’d consider myself very fortunate. I wish you the best.

    • jay

      Thank you for the perspective, Jane. You are right. And they touched my life, and for that I am deeply grateful. I wish you the best, too.

  • Jennifer Horwitz

    You know those people that always say ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘timing is everything’…well I am not one of those. And usually when I meet people like that, I (in the most nonviolent way) want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them. Don’t get me wrong, I am a very spiritual person, I believe in yoga as therapy, and breath as a way to move through life. But I also am rational, and know you need to be self directed when pursuing your passions/a career/etc. Wow, HUGE tangent there. But anyways, I’ve totally been working a job this past year that I very often felt vulnerable and or humiliated by. And I honest to goodness feel like reading this article, I was reading my thoughts. I’ve been interviewing for part time jobs as means to figure out what I want to do on this next journey in my life, and honest to goodness, I think there was a reason I stumbled upon this article. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for exposing yourself, and letting your story be open. When practicing yoga the other day, my teacher said ‘don’t be afraid to let your breath be heard’, and I think that’s exactly what you’re doing (and something I am just beginning to understand and practice). This article has made me realize I need to view my humilities not as failures, but as teaching moments. It’s me who has made myself humiliated, not anyone else…and in thus I am in total control over the way I view the world.

    Seriously, thank you so much for this article. I cannot tell you how much this has helped me. All the best, and do continue to teach and write!

    • Jay

      Gotta love the universe when it helps you to stumble upon just what you need at just the right time. I’m so glad this article resonated with you, Jennifer. You sharing your insight and vulnerability helped me to have another layer of healing around mine, too–so thank you. Writing this article was a turning point for me, and I am thriving with my teaching and writing now. It’s my prayer that reading this article is part of the turning point for you, too, and that–no matter what you’re doing–you find more joy and ease in it. All the best to you!

  • Wayne

    Of course you refunded all those who prepaid for clas cards , monthly unlimited , ect.ect.?

  • MaxM

    Great article. Very powerful. It takes guts to do what you have done and share it.

  • YawningYogi

    Thank you so much for your courage in writing this. I found myself in the same situation of bankruptcy several months ago, and mirror your reasons for initially avoiding it. It is truly a fresh start and wake-up call as a full-time teacher of over a decade; and your post has brought fresh inspiration to step up my game for the next chapter. Deep gratitude.

  • Wow, this article brought tears to my eyes. It resonates with me. I too have failed to show up. My friends from my YTT went on to become internationally renowned yogis and studio owners. I watched newer teachers come in and take-off professionally. But I have been too afraid of failure, of judgement, of really putting myself out there to, as I call it, ‘fall fearlessly on my yoga sword’. I am no longer jealous of others who have the bravery to get out of their own way.I am a good teacher. I love teaching. I have had an incredible education, I am a passionate student. Nothings been wasted.

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