Thursday, May 22, 2014

Our New Project

Note: This was written in November, 2012. Clean & Green by Design closed in September 2013 due to lack of business. As of the present time, May 2014, Hawk and I have yet to find a way to make a decent living. He continues with his low-paying, part-time subcontract at the beach, spending a fortune on gas for the commute. I have retired from medical transcription due to severe deterioration of my typing skills, and continue to work as a "psychic," in lieu of having the appropriate State license to practice psychology in the U.S., although I am doing so at a counseling service (online) based in India. Meanwhile, our plan to turn Lothlorien House into a nonprofit yoga studio/retreat center was derailed when the County revoked our homestead exemption and raised our property taxes by 48%, requiring us to move back into the House in order to reclaim the homestead. We have had a couple of students here, but Hawk and I have decided we do not feel totally comfortable teaching in our home, so at least for now, I will be teaching only via Skype.

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In a previous blog post back in August I had described the economic circumstances affecting our yoga studio. I refer the interested reader to that post, Body Soul Bliss May Be Closing – but in short, due to our living in an impoverished hick town known as “The Redneck Riviera” and specifically, our location 45 minutes away from the “happening” area on the beach, we have been unable to make a living teaching yoga. Hence our new project: Clean & Green by Design.

Coincidentally, as I was in the midst of working on this blog post, one of my fellow HOY teachers, Jason Brown (no relation), posted in his excellent blog On The Merits of Not-For-Profit Yoga: “There is no greater obstacle to becoming a highly skilled yoga teacher then having to work at an unrelated job to pay rent and eat.” He raises some very good points about the economics of teaching yoga. As I would put it: “There is no greater obstacle to working as a highly skilled yoga teacher, than trying to make a living.” I have had the privilege of learning from some great masters in my 36 years of yoga study and practice, and I have taught (often for free) since the early 1980s. But gainful employment using the skills acquired over that lifetime eludes me.

The going rate for yoga classes in Panama City has dropped by about half since we opened in 2009. Several new studios now offer classes for $5-7 and some for free. What I have gradually come to realize is that the only people in town who can afford to pay $10 for my classes (or $20 for private instruction), plus the cost of a couple of gallons of gas, are those who have more than one job, put in lots of overtime or work on-call, and therefore often miss their class due to work. And those who have time for yoga and the 1.5-hour commute, do not have the money. Some of my students have argued, “You are a great teacher and if people are serious about learning Real Yoga, they will make the drive!” If I were Mark Whitwell or Steve Ross, students might find the trip worthwhile. Being only myself, teaching in our humble home studio, a [full disclosure] rat-infested double-wide trailer a 45-minute drive out into the boondocks where you pass signs that say "Jesus Saves" and "Deer/Hog Slaughtering" and might imagine you can hear the theme song from "Deliverance," it is understandable that people will take advantage of the inexpensive classes offered in nice fancy buildings on the more civilized beach, where we had hoped to relocate.

When we were unable to sell the farm and/or find a good home for our beloved horses, Hawk and I decided to offer “Equine Assisted Learning,” or “Yoga with Horses,” a trendy new activity in more affluent areas. I had wanted to call it, “Equine Therapy” but learned that it is illegal to use the word “Therapy” since I am not a licensed Therapist (Psychologist) in Florida. I don’t know how people offering “Yoga Therapy” can get away with it, but I am fairly sure Florida will soon regulate the hell out of that profession as well. Unfortunately, my [very expensive] equine liability insurance specifically prohibits allowing handicapped persons near the horses, thereby ruling out my plan to work with "special needs" kids.

Still, I thought somebody would be interested, but despite extensive advertising, only one person has inquired about our program, a lady who told me that her daughter "needs horse therapy.” I explained that while we can’t call it “therapy,” there is no doubt that horses are, indeed, therapeutic! You can bury your face in a horse’s sweet-smelling mane and have a good cry, and the horse will nuzzle you with its velvety nose as if to say, “There, there, dear, everything will be ok.” I assured her that riding the horses would be good for her daughter and she was eager to make an appointment. However, when told it would cost $25, she quickly hung up and I never heard from her again, which is odd because ordinary non-therapeutic riding lessons around here cost $25 and any form of "therapy" costs upwards of $125. Now some of my hard-core PETA friends might object, “But isn’t that cruelty/ exploitation of the horses?!” No, it is not, but that is a subject for another blog post. In any case it is a moot point because we have no customers, but at least I can write off the horses’ living expenses on my taxes, a neat trick which I learned from the Romneys.

So the horses continue their life of leisure, while Hawk continues to work on his dangerous and low-paying construction contract. I have had 2 other jobs, both of which are night shift: medical transcription and Psychic. The former has been petering out for years and extremely fickle; I would go days or weeks with hardly any work, and then suddenly be flooded with hours and hours of transcription, typically on nights when the Psychic line was ringing off the hook and I had a yoga class scheduled for early the next day, and I would be typing until dawn, mostly oncology, which is extremely depressing. As for the Psychic job, it is very enjoyable but pays only about $5-10/hour, versus $100/hour I would be making if I could legally work as a Psychologist doing essentially the same thing, except in psychology we normally use Rorschach rather than Tarot cards.

So on the days when I had a yoga student scheduled, I would drag my tired ass out of bed, do my own abbreviated yoga practice (usually around 15 minutes, rather than the hour I would prefer) and frantically attempt to get my home clean enough to welcome the student, who may or may not show up, depending on their work schedule and/or any other considerations which might arise. This process takes me about an hour, plus half an hour to make myself presentable. Now some of my students have kindly said, “Oh, you don’t have to clean house on my account!” Well, yes, I do. Really. I live here in this trailer with my 2 feral cats and my feral man. His word, not mine; in fact, when we were with Mark Whitwell at Omega last year, Hawk said to him, “You and I are not like other men. We are feral.” Mark did not dispute that observation.

I won’t go into all the gory details, but e.g., the bathroom which my students use belongs to my beautiful feral [and straight] man, whose beautiful hair which reaches nearly to his waist tends to get washed down the sink no matter how often I nag him not to do that, resulting in a perpetually clogged drain. And my feral cats love to roll around in the sand outside and then come into the house and clean themselves vigorously, licking and scratching and depositing large amounts of fur, sand, pine needles, and various other debris on the floor. Naturally their favorite place to do this is in the yoga studio, where they enjoy soaking up the good vibes left behind by my students. Sometimes they also bring prey into the studio, play with it and eat it there, leaving entrails. So yes, it really is necessary for me to clean the studio before you arrive. And let’s hope you are not a vegan, because we may have had eggs for breakfast which our chickens kindly gave us and the smell of which would gag you. We do live here, after all.

As time goes on I am less comfortable with having students in my trailer home. I really feel that I need a studio separate from our living quarters. But, Krishnamacharya taught in his home – am I better than him, that I need another studio?! I don’t know what the conditions or the social expectations were in India at that time, however, he did have a wife and presumably she kept the home in order. Maybe that’s what I need – a wife! Meanwhile here I am charging $10 for a “semi-private” class (3 students or less), which people say is too much, and which becomes around $8 after taxes, for spending an hour in preparation and an hour in class time if the student shows up. I had offered semi-private classes thinking that I could do a group class for the students who could not afford private lessons; however, I discovered that it is quite difficult to reliably schedule even one student, much less get 2 or 3 of them together at the same time. As a result, the more casual students were getting private lessons for $10 while the serious students were paying $20 for that privilege, which is not fair and obviously also not sustainable.

I was mulling over this situation, sobbing while I scrubbed my bathroom. When I am depressed and my life feels out of control, I find cleaning quite therapeutic, as it visibly makes the world a better place and obtains at least a temporary victory over entropy. Earlier I shoveled a couple hundred pounds of manure and the horses had comforted me as best they could. I had found my true vocation as a yoga teacher but could not make a living. The late-night medical transcription was literally killing me and didn’t pay nearly enough to be worth the torment. The Psychic work was wonderful but didn’t pay the bills. One of my fellow yoga teachers in town makes her living as a waitress. I am too much of a klutz to be a waitress. Another teacher works at Publix, and I did consider getting a job there but learned that the only openings were at a store a 2-hour drive away. And if I were able to find any kind of a regular 8-5 job I would not be able to teach anymore, nor do my Psychic work, and no jobs around here pay enough on their own. What on earth could I do?! As my tears fell into the sink I thought of my first job at age 17, when I worked as a maid.

A maid! I can do this. It was only a summer job for a girl on her way to college, and I never dreamed it would become my career at 50; I was going to be an astronaut, a writer, a psychologist or medical transcriptionist, but God knows, I would far rather scrub toilets than transcribe one more report of a cancer patient being burned and tortured. Having just recently lost my step-mom to the ravages of chemo, I wanted nothing more to do with it. The next day I discussed it with my former yoga student Amy, whose horses also live here and who no longer has time or $ for yoga due to having 2 children and 2 horses. Amy informed me that she had been thinking of starting a cleaning service using natural nontoxic products. It turns out we are both good at painting, too, and share an interest in design. Hawk and I designed and built our beautiful house (which is currently rented) and would enjoy doing more of that. So Amy, Hawk and I have created a new company, Clean & Green by Design, which hopefully will allow us to pay our respective bills. Unlike yoga, there is apparently a big demand for house cleaning in this town.

I had said I would give the yoga studio until summer but, the mortgage needs to be paid now. Therefore, I have put a temporary hold on classes here at Body Soul Bliss in Lothlorien. My serious students can continue to come here, and if anyone else shows up I will not turn them away, but I have stopped actively advertising and only offer private lessons. When my tenant moves out the end of May, we will convert that house into our new yoga studio. We can fit 10 students in the great room, and the house also has 2 lovely guest suites. Among other things, Hawk and I plan to offer tantric retreats for couples where we will share, with due reverence, our knowledge of philosophy and technique, and then leave the students to their private “homework.” The house would be a great retreat for anyone wanting to get away for a few days of peace and quiet out here in the country, walking in the woods or communing with the horses. It is a beautiful, tranquil building and hopefully students might find it worth the long drive. If the cleaning & design business generates enough income, we might even go non-profit and teach yoga for free, not because we want to, but because it may be the only way that we will be able to get students and thereby fulfill our vocation of teaching Real Yoga.

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