Enforcing Boundaries in Emotional Times

The past two weeks have been very emotional and anxious for so many of us around the world.  For just over two weeks now we have been staying home to try to stop the spread of Covid-19 in our local community.  

For me, staying at home is no big deal.  I have been working from home for about four years now so having to spend a little more time at home doesn’t affect my day much.

The biggest adjustment has been taking my yoga classes online. It’s a challenge to practice and teach at the same time, along with the technological challenge of making sure everything is connected and working right and that everyone can hear you.  I also miss seeing my students in person and getting that personal connection.

In terms of the rest of my work, I was already doing about half of my business online, and I just started teaching online workshops and courses this year, so it was already in my plan to continue.  Most of this is just happening faster than I was initially anticipating, but again, I am fortunate to be in a pretty good situation in terms of my understanding of technology, and already having a plan in place to start teaching a tarot course in the spring.  I am grateful that I planned my year out this year and for having so much support from my community.

I have seen a lot of my healer and yoga teacher friends struggling with how to support their community, process their own stress and grief, and reset boundaries for their work.  This is hard work.  

As a collective, we have a tendency to be very achievement oriented. We want to take action.  We want to help as many people as we can. We feel like we should say yes to everything and everyone who asks us for something. I’ve watched a lot of my peers put a ton of pressure to show up in the same way, or even more often, to try to help their communities process complex emotions.

For me that has looked like shifting my hours to accommodate clients who are home with their kids all day and making more evening hours available, adding a some more accessible reading options, and  popping on Instagram live for yoga classes and mini-tarot lessons. All of these are choices I have made to support my clients and community and I have been able to balance them with being kind to my own brain and body.

It’s times like these and that community can be a refuge for us in our isolation.  I am lucky to have so many wonderful supportive clients who have reached out and a lot of entrepreneur friends who offer advice and perspective.

Several of you have reached out to me because you saw that I dropped off the schedule at one of the yoga studios I have been with for almost four years.  I wanted to take a moment to talk about this and about setting boundaries.

First of all, I am very disappointed to say that I was fired this past week. I’m sad not to be a part of this community anymore, but I have every intention of staying present and showing up for my students at the same times for as long as I can.  So many of you have graciously made donations or sent kind words to encourage me to keep doing that and I can’t thank you enough.  

I have been struggling along with you, worried about friends and family, and my sister who is a nurse working in the Covid-19 unit in her hospital.  Things like this have a tremendous long term affect both physically and mentally on the front-line healthcare workers. I have been feeling that deep grief and anxiety that so many of you have been feeling right along with you.

Showing up to teach when you aren’t feeling yourself, is part of the territory for yoga teachers and I have been doing it for years with my students.  Even last week, teaching classes was a refuge for me.

Through my entire teaching career I have noticed a lot of studio owners feel entitled to free labor, idea sharing, and emotional labor from their employees.  Teachers are expected to act as front desk person, sales person, and all while being present available for students. This hasn’t been true at every studio I’ve taught for but it has been true for quite a few of them.

Let me be clear.  You are not required to give your work and energy away for free, no matter what field you are in..  If you want to and you feel called to, by all means, share your gift.  

But if someone is pressuring you into doing it, or implying that you’re ungrateful, selfish, or greedy if you don’t, that person is a bully and a manipulator. They don’t deserve your time or energy.

Being a yoga teacher is rich in rewards, though it’s hardly an easy way to make a living.  If you teach yoga, odds are you do it largely for the love of teaching yoga and this is absolutely true for me.  I love this work more than I can express.

So this week when I asked a question in the studio’s teachers forum about the new teaching format and was met with contempt by the studio owner I was confused.  For a week and half, I taught free classes on the studio Instagram page, for which the studio owner paid nothing, but the students who took the class made donations.  I’m extremely grateful for those donations and to have the privilege to still serve the community that I’ve grown with over the past four years.

That was not the end of it. 

I received a scathing email from the studio owner two days later, firing me for “stirring the pot” and “calling her out” in front of the staff. I was extremely frustrated.  I have compassion for people who are struggling and for all small business owners but this decision was emotional, aggressive, and entitled.

This studio owner felt entitled to labor that she wasn’t paying for.  She felt that I should be grateful for what she was providing and be quiet.  To be clear, I simply asked one question for clarification. I didn’t push the issue and I didn’t ask anything additional.  I wanted to have all the information before deciding if I could continue to teach in that format because unfortunately, I don’t have the privilege to afford to teach for free right now, even if I would like to.

I sent her a compassionate response because her cruelty suggested to me that she was feeling a lot of anxiety and was probably much harder on herself than she was being on me.  Then, I forwarded it onto the rest of the teachers at that studio so that they would have full transparency. I wanted to let them know if they had their own feelings about it, they wouldn’t be the first to share them with her.

It makes me sad that I won’t be a part of the community anymore, but this year I have been learning a lot about stepping into my worth and really valuing my time and effort.  I have been teaching for five years now, and it’s time. The hardest part of that journey for me has been all about setting boundaries and this was an important lesson. I am mourning the end of this phase of my teaching and the community that I have been a part of for so long.

I do know that these choices and boundaries are important for me and every other healer and teacher out there.  This is how we advocate for ourselves and when you take care of yourself, you have more energy to give to other people.

So, I am looking at all of you out there who are feeling exhausted and burned out right now.  Relieve yourself of the notion that you owe anyone more than your best in any given moment. Give yourself permission to feel however you do and to let go of anything that isn’t serving you, whether it’s a class, a client, or a schedule that you have been holding on to.

It is okay to allow things to shift and change right now.  Take this opportunity to take sweet care of yourself. If you are struggling right now and need support, I will still be teaching live on my Instagram.   I will also be adding some DIY tarot spreads and mini-lessons on how to read for yourself. Finally, you can download a free meditation for easing anxiety, clearing out your energy, and maintaining your own energetic boundaries to help you navigate this health crisis here.

© Sheila Masterson 2020 All Rights Reserved