Sunday, April 23, 2017

Yoga Teachers and Entrepreneur Too!s

Entrepreneur Too!s
By Kathryn Boland

Do you notice how the shifting nature of yoga practice in the West is opening up opportunities for new health/wellness enterprises? Have you dreamt up such an enterprise that brings together yogic practice/other wellness practice and your unique passions and interests? Perhaps you’re unsure of how to get started? I’ll detail the building and operations of a unique health/wellness business that demonstrates a true actualization of passion, and through that true seva (selfless service).
Angela Gentile (Boston, MA) had had it. She’d been teaching high school for eleven years, and she needed a change. She decided to bring to life her graduate school thesis - TEACH Fitness, a fitness and wellness program specifically for teachers, offering classes right in different school locations. She describes the program as “community fitness and workout experience, allowing participants to take risks in a safe and supportive environment for their own growth and greatness!” She was (and is) a skilled Bootcamp teacher and Personal Trainer. She took the leap to leave the security of her educator position, and set off to build her enterprise.

She recounts this process as follows, which sheds light on the powerful effects of following one’s own passion and intuition. “I was feeling so overwhelmed”, she shares, “and could not look at anymore student data or my head was going to explode! So, I needed a way to get myself balanced, centered and outside, moving as much as I could, which lead to the idea of running a wellness program at my school. Once we were finished with the grad research, my colleagues wanted the program to continue, so I was like…I may be onto something!”

Yes, she was. But, at the same time, the challenges have been numerous. School higher-ups can be vague, unresponsive, and return necessary paperwork months after promised. At some locations, she’s not certain where to store equipment for her classes, or if the room typically used will be unlocked. Particularly in settings like an all-boys’ school with a majority male staff, she is not given the respect she deserves as a woman building her own business. Exceedingly mixed levels and lack of clarity on what students are truly looking for from classes are common.
Angela did, however, grow her enterprise to the point where she could hire a second teacher - yours truly. I’ve seen her passion for offering students not only a workout, but an experience of working towards greater wellness and time for themselves (as teachers and working parents, as Angela has articulated, for many of them this is the only time in their days that they’re not looking after a child!).

Something tells me she wouldn’t access that authentic passion if she had never left her high school position. And the teacher-students, judging by their smiles and gracious words, truly value the classes. That outcome most likely wouldn’t have come to be if Angela had never taken the risk she did. As they are guardians and growth agents of our next generation, teachers’ wellness truly matters for our communities and for our world at large.

Angela describes how “the health benefits of regular exercise are endless and can lower the amount of sick time and also increase alertness and productivity at work. But most importantly, teachers are modeling behavior for positive self care, practicing self worth and setting an example for a healthy lifestyle for their students.” She’s not the only one recognizing these benefits. Her enterprise is steadily growing, with further school contracts and hires in the works.

It’s similar, in different ways, for populations you might be passionate about serving. My first suggestion would be to start from a knowledgeable place. Angela knew about teachers’ lives, needs, and desires, as well as the workings of schools. If you might not be in such a position, do research and/or obtain consulting. It’s invaluable knowledge that will help you frame, launch, maintain, and grow your fitness/wellness business, as well as adjust to problems as they arise (and, per Murphy’s Law, they inevitably will).

Next, make your terms clear. The more you make known what you need - firmly, yet politely and diplomatically - the more professional credibility you will acquire. That’ll help propel your fledgling enterprise. It also helps ensure that you don’t get taken advantage of (and that often happens not out of ill will, but out of lacking awareness for what you do truly need). For instance, Angela has made clear that students need to be on time and ready for class at class start time, or they’ll get shorter classes.

She has always stopped at the designated end time, even if students were late or casually dilly-dallied around starting (such as in being chatty, et cetera). This choice has sent the clear message that she wouldn’t allow for her having to wait around before classes, time that she isn’t paid for and might be cutting into paid responsibilities she has after these classes. Remember also that actions speak louder than words. Policies are just words on paper (or, with even less sway, out of our mouths) if they’re not enforced. But, to maintain good will, do make sure a policy has been clearly expressed - and understood - before enforcing it.

That funnels into a last recommendation, to not only allow for open lines of communication, but to actively create them. Angela has always been very clear, helpful, and inspiring with her feedback for me. In several ways, this has helped me to better serve the students at each site - different from each other, and diverse within those separate groups. She also sent a survey to all registered teacher-students, which revealed clear trends about their ongoing desires and needs. We talked over how to best implement the survey feedback over a pleasant lunch.

Time will tell if our proposed adjustments will be effective, but we’ve made our best effort. We’ve set in place steps to best serve our clientele. Preparing with know-how, making terms clear, and transparency are a few of the many necessary ingredients for creating and growing a successful fitness/wellness enterprise. And some things one can only learn by trial and error, the hard way.

But few things - dare I say nothing - are more fulfilling, as well as wellness-inducing, as offering a unique and needed service while having control over your own workdays. In Angela’s words, “1. Assess your life: make a list of 5 things you want to do everyday. If you are NOT doing those 5 things then you have to make a change! 2. Just jump.” Shanti, shanti, shanti in your courageous endeavors, dear readers.

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