Dear Fellow Fitness Business Owners,
I see you. This is hard.
You worked so hard to build something, maybe even from nothing, maybe not. Maybe you saw a need and had a skill that could fill it. Maybe you decided people agreed that you, specifically you, should fill this need. Or maybe you just wanted to, so you did. Maybe you were so inspired by someone else’s business you created your own. Maybe you fought your way to where you are now, or maybe the opportunity fell into your lap.
But you made it. You are here. Or, you were?
By now you have likely spent tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars getting training and certifications, developing business skills and strategy, and creating a space from which to operate. You worked long thankless days and poured your time, energy, and resources into creating a community, and a brand.
I get it. Your business is your baby.
And your baby is loved by people. Your customers share their transformation stories with you regularly. You make a real difference in lives, and you feel needed by your community. That feeling is real, that difference is real, and that need feels real.
But also, I think you forgot something. A lot of somethings, actually.
First, since I’m speaking from a yoga perspective specifically, let’s talk Yamas and Niyamas here in part one, and then we’ll get to public health in part two, and letting go in part three. Yamas (restraints) and Niyamas (observances) compose the moral codes outlined by the sage Patanjali in the yoga sutras. These aren’t new, by the way, they roll back about 5,000 years deep in yogic history, so let’s be clear that the practice of yoga has been, from the beginning, about social justice. No amount of lycra can cover that up, though it’s certainly trying.
Okay, so the yamas have five disciplines or restraints- Ahimsa (non-harming), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Aparigraha (non-hoarding), Brahmacharya (moderation of senses/sensual restraint) and the niyamas have five observances or practices- Tapas (discipline), Santosha (contentment), Saucha (purity), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion to a higher power). I’m not going to do a whole bit about all ten, but you can probably gather the essence just from the short translations, ya?
So, let’s focus on Ahimsa- non-harming/non-violence- for a moment. This feels very present for me and I find myself wondering how it is showing up in the places and spaces of my life, my community, my society, right now in the middle of a global crisis.
Honestly though, it’s something I’ve been struggling with for some time, actually. As a white yoga studio owner and teacher, I’ve been asking myself repeatedly- is it right for me to do this work? Is this my place? Am I stealing, harming, or hoarding by being here in this capacity?
Do I have any business whatsoever in this business? Also, why is this a business at all?
I mean, to keep it real, I’m a white woman with about 1,800 hours of training under her belt completed by and with mostly white women who just briefly explained the spiritual practice of brown people to you. And you know what I am wearing while I write this? Yeah, so, yoga pants. I am beaming hypocrisy here. Beaming. Like a lighthouse of irony. What the fuck am I even doing talking about this?
Perspective, y’all. Perspective. Just because I can, does that mean I should?
I didn’t have the answer before this crisis, and I still don’t have it now, entirely. I read and listen and do my absolute due diligence to decolonize the practice. But still, I can’t help but question if it’s right, despite me doing the work.
One could argue that the practice has evolved, and that I am simply offering something that helps people on deep, even profound levels, even though its teachings and form has dramatically shifted in the last 100 or so years.
One could also argue that this is the way that colonizers talk.
White people have this way of finding something we like, that looks, tastes, or feels good, and stamping it with a giant MINE sticker. Capitalism has enabled us to not only make it ours, but to make money off of it when we do.
And that brings me to here, right now. This particular moment in time when a global pandemic is making the choice for me.
Our business, the one my husband and I run and own in between parenting our three children and doing our full time jobs, is on the brink of collapse due to the Coronavirus. This damn business, this fourth kid, the one that has tried to take nearly everything from us- our mental and physical health, our money, our time, our friends, our family time, our marriage- was finally, after overcoming obstacle after obstacle, in a really solid place.
And now it is not.
And honestly, I’m kind of relieved.
It’s hard to see what you’re doing while you’re doing it. I think I need this pause to figure out if this is really something I should keep doing.
There are so many wise and wonderful people we can and should listen to to educate ourselves more broadly with regard to social and racial justice, the ethics of capitalism, and the monetization of the yoga and fitness industry. I am not an expert in any single one of those areas but I do continue to be a student, and right now in addition to pointing you firmly in their direction, what I can also offer is this– if you’re willing to do some work, here’s some questions you might consider asking yourself:
- Is what I do actually that important?
- Who do I serve?
- Do they really need me?
- Is this the best way to serve them?
- Am I actually qualified to serve them?
- Am I getting in the way of someone more qualified or deserving of doing this work?
- And perhaps most importantly- is it right for me to profit from helping people?
I’ll be back with two more parts on my thoughts about ethical business practice in the fitness industry during a pandemic later. For now, I invite you into the pause with me.