Making Space – Finding Balance in Self-Employment

And so it is that you find yourself, on a dreary Thursday afternoon, vacuuming the floor and singing “We Are the World.” You are wearing pajama pants and a tan sports bra and singing the backup parts too. You sound fantastic, but your dogs are cowering under the bed in terror. A knock on the door- oh, the mail person is here with a box, and how confused she is to see that from the waist up, you appear to be strangely, smoothly naked as a Skipper doll.

$T2eC16R,!ykE9s7t)cywBRm9enlSEw~~60_35If you are a self-employed yoga teacher, you understand. Sports bra? Of course, you own 436 of them, and vacuuming is hot work. Pajamas? Naturally, because after you taught two classes and took the second shower of the day, you needed a nap so that you could get up and teach two more that evening. And why are you vacuuming at 3:30 on a Thursday? Well, it’s a matter of space.

Since leaving my 9-5ish job last July, I’ve been struggling a bit to find balance. With a traditional sort of job, your space is automatically accounted for. Days are for working (and complaining about working). Evenings are for dinner, family stuff, chores, entertainment. Stuff that doesn’t make you money, mostly. There’s a pretty clear demarcation between work/not-work.

Once you become self-employed, everything sort of gets fuzzy. You love what you do, so none of it quite feels like work… but precisely because of that, it’s not so easy (at least, in my case it isn’t) to see where work ends and the rest of your life begins.

Right now my time is split between teaching and managing a yoga studio. Time when I’m at the studio- that’s definitely work, right? Buying studio supplies, planning classes- also work. But what about blogging? In theory, I’m building an audience, or something… or is it just fun? Social media? Gotta do it if you want to promote yourself and the business- but it’s hard to stay on-task and just do the business stuff without getting sucked into a conversation in my personal news feed. What about keeping up with other yoga blogs? Research, or fun? Taking other teachers’ classes? Leading the meditation group at the studio?

After a while, although none of it seemed really like “work,” I started to notice that it always felt like I was working.  Being self-employed, in my case, means working 7 days a week. At some point I’ll be able to take a day off, but for now, it’s just not possible.

“I wish I could take a vacation,” I said to a friend, several months ago. “Isn’t your whole life a vacation?” he responded. Of course this irritated me, but there was an element of truth to it. With all of the flexibility in my schedule, why was I feeling so over-worked?

This is when it occurred to me that I was not allowing myself the luxury of enjoying the space in my work life. New to this career, not yet financially stable, I felt that I needed to be constantly doing- planning, thinking, worrying actively. From the time I woke up in the morning until the time I went to bed, I felt that all of my actions needed to somehow lead to my success as a self-employed yoga teacher. A social life was pretty much out of the question, unless it could be tied in to the goal in some way.* Cleaning the house became a necessary evil. Don’t even talk to me about mowing the lawn.

In short, somewhere in my life, I had internalized two painful misperceptions:

  1. Because I was not making “enough” money, I must not be working hard enough
  2. Until I did make “enough” money, I didn’t deserve any time for myself

Tara Brach, in her book Radical Acceptance, quotes Thomas Merton as describing the rush and pressure of modern life as a form of contemporary violence. He says: “…to be surrendering to too many demands, too many concerns, is to succumb to the violence.”

Violence is not too extreme a term. This sort of self-punishing belief system, and the non-stop working behavior, can lead to some pretty serious stuff. The symptoms of “Stressed-Out Yogis,” according to a recent issue of Yoga International, range from mild (“You catch colds and other viral or bacterial infections more easily,”) to serious (“depression, hypoglycemia, GERD, colitis, chronic fatigue, and even alcohol or drug abuse”).

It’s not lost on me that there’s an irony, here. I’m a yoga teacher. Ahimsa begins at home, right? Here’s a fun quote from that same Yoga International article by James Keogh:

“Worn down by our stressed-out, on-the-go lives, many of us turn to yoga for relief and restoration. We look to our teachers, whose calm, collected poise makes stress seem like a foreign concept, to guide us into balance. But even as they do this- and despite the aura they project in class- our teachers often face similar stressors, and a surprising number succumb to burnout themselves. Some of them reach this point because they teach 10 or more classes a week for low pay, hustling from one part of town to another; others fit in multiple classes while holding down a full-time job; and others still struggle with the business side of owning and operating a studio. And none of them is immune from relationship challenges and family catastrophes. Theoretically, they’re better equipped than the average person to deal with that kind of stress, but ironically, that expectation may only contribute to the problem.”

Saints preserve us if I ever seem to project a ‘calm and collected poise’- I think I might be a little too honest for that to ever happen- but I think it’s important for teachers to realize that if we don’t take time- make space- for self-care, there’s going to be a problem. In other words, it’s time to practice what I preach.

After reading this article, I knew it was time to figure out a way to “stop the violence” and give myself the free time I need to care for myself.

The solution? I spent two excruciating hours with my fancy color-coded Google Calendar schedule, figuring out how many actual hours a week I need to spend on work. This includes classes to be taught, class and workshop planning, studio maintenance and customer service, work-related errands, social media time, studying, and long-term planning and marketing.  Then, I blocked in specific time each day for my own yoga practice, meditation, and meals. Around that, I blocked in hours of free time to be used only for rest or leisure. During certain hours, I allowed time for house chores, but other times were just for fun.

I’m putting in a lot of substitute teaching hours this month, and the schedule is tight. But I’ve been really dedicated to following it as best I can, with some allowance for random stuff happening. Hey, a yoga teacher’s gotta be flexible, right? 😉

So far, it’s been working beautifully. It takes dedication to stick to it, and sometimes it’s a little weird, but the structure is giving me the space I need to feel a little more relaxed and at ease. And, as of last Thursday at 4 PM, my floor was clean as a whistle. Apologies to the mail carrier, though.

Here’s a beautiful poem I used in class last week- thanks to Tara Brach and her blog for the inspiration.

FIRE ~ Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would.

So building fires

requires attention

to the spaces in between,

as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build

open spaces

in the same way

we have learned

to pile on the logs,

then we can come to see how

it is fuel, and absence of the fuel

together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log

lightly from time to time.

A fire


simply because the space is there,

with openings

in which the flame

that knows just how it wants to burn

can find its way.

*I am everlastingly grateful to those friends who are persistent in asking me to spend time with them, despite this insanity

3 thoughts on “Making Space – Finding Balance in Self-Employment

  1. Yikes…I don’t know how I’ve missed your last couple posts! (My reader doesn’t seem to be updating.) Anyhow, I enjoyed this…and, in many ways I can relate; although, I have to say I’ve not vacuumed while singing We are the World! 🙂 Love, K

  2. We just love you, and want you to be happy, aside from the fact that we enjoy your company immensely- SO, this is why we prey on you to spend time with us. Biggest compliment one could receive, aside from the fact that you are an awesome yoga teacher with wonderful values. ‘Nuff said.

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