When a Yoga Studio Collapses Under the Weight of Bullshit

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When a Yoga Studio Collapses Under the Weight of Bullshit 

Or: Waking up to the reality that your friendship was a mirage and you've been exploited and tossed aside like inconvenient baggage. 

I've been doing a lot of soul-searching these past few weeks, realizing a few things about myself and getting really clear on why I am dedicated to leading yoga.

For the last four years, I have been with a studio in Seminole Heights. I was there from its inception, and I was personally committed to the studio's financial success because I believe in the power of yoga to heal. I wanted to contribute to a space where people could experience the power of themselves in a supportive environment [1].

My sole focus was on creating an environment to support the human beings who entered this studio to practice yoga. My singular goal was to do whatever I could to keep the studio doors open to serve the community. But who am I to artificially prop up a business that could not live under its own merit? If I had not done this, the studio would not have survived the Pandemic. I would not have experienced the pain of realizing my generosity had been intentionally exploited. I would not have $6500 in back pay owed to me. I would not have spent nearly $7000 of my money on studio furnishings and supplies. I would not have spent countless hours designing and creating bespoke studio merchandise, sewing eye pillows, and yin yoga sandbags. I would not be experiencing the heartache of betrayal. I would not have had to file a Civil Court case against the owner as my only option was to demand repayment of the debts she is abundantly aware of.

Red Flags I Shouldn't Have Ignored

The studio opened mere weeks before the entire country shut down operations due to Covid-19. All of the classes were held online and the studio interior was largely unimportant. It was my understanding that the studio revenue was not large enough to fund the payroll of all the teachers on staff. My desire to keep the studio financially afloat led to me begin accruing "wages owed" instead of wages paid. Another less diplomatic way of phrasing this is that the other teachers at the studio needed their paychecks to pay rent or car payments whereas I have another full-time job. By not taking a paycheck, I allowed the other teachers to receive their paychecks for several years.

At first, my accrual of wage debt was slow as I was not teaching a large number of hours a month. This changed when the owner had a medical leave, and I covered all of her classes without pay to keep the studio servicing the students' needs. This changed again when the owners took a long vacation to Europe in 2022, and again, I covered all of her classes without pay to keep the studio servicing the students' needs and paying the paychecks of the other yoga teachers.

As the studio reopened to in-person classes in 2020, the studio environment became important. I purchased yoga straps and wall heaters to replace the ones she'd purchased that had broken after only 8 months of light use. I purchased and installed Sonos speakers, a disco ball and spotlights, and LED flame candles. I sewed for hours to make eye pillows for Nidra classes and for days to make three dozen yin sandbags.

The Truth Is In The Taxes

Each year, I'd meet with my accountant to file taxes, and we'd go over the 1099 from the studio and discuss my purchases for the studio. It was hard for me to discuss these purchases with him because I was uncomfortable acknowledging that I was spending my money to support someone else's business entity and that didn't make any sense. As the receipts were given to the studio’s owner for her tax filing purposes, it can’t be argued that they were gifts. I'd wave off my discomfort by explaining that I was more interested in the students being able to practice there than what it was costing me.

An Inequitable Split

The owner of the studio wanted to lead a yoga teacher training (YTT), which is always a yoga studio's biggest money maker. I agreed to take part in this with her and another teacher at the studio. To prepare for leading this YTT, I bought a YTT manual template for $500 and spent six months of my time tearing apart the template to make it unique to this studio, writing content that matched the ethos of this studio, organizing the planning the YTT daily schedule and creating all of the Yoga Alliance templates and content. When it came to this studio becoming a Yoga Alliance-certified studio, the owner had all of the content she needed to simply copy/paste the data into the Yoga Alliance website. She paid herself one-third of the YTT monies and I witnessed her level of effort and presence during the YTT program was far less than one-third. I was also not paid for the $650 I paid to have the YTT manuals printed and shipped to the studio, but I digress.

The Desire to Believe That What You're Seeing Isn't True

Why would I keep allowing myself to be preyed upon? I hoped she would make good on what she owed me. I wanted to believe that she wasn't intentionally exploiting me. I wanted to believe that she cared about the human beings who came to the studio as much as I did. I wanted to believe that the unnecessary new golf cart she bought wasn't paid for by the debts she had with me. I wanted to believe what I was told; that they moved out of state because of harsh new Florida Laws about gender and driver’s licenses that targeted transgender people like her wife. I wanted to believe they were still paying the studio bills. I wanted to believe that they really had a plan for selling the yoga studio. I wanted to believe that they weren't already planning to bankrupt the studio in an attempt to walk away from their debts. I wanted to believe that the studio would stay open. I wanted to believe that there was any other way out than what we have at hand. I have been avoiding opening my eyes for the last four years.

Boundaries: Basically the Hardest Things In Life

I signed up for a consultation with an attorney and as part of their intake form, I had to write up a description of the reason I was inquiring with the law firm, gather the relevant factual events, and articulate the current and suspected damages likely to be alleged by either party. The attorney's advice was simple. Do not wait to file a wage theft report and do not wait to file a Civil lawsuit. I followed her advice, filed a lawsuit, and hired a process server to have the papers served.

Things I Could Have Done But Did Not Do
  • Lock the owners out of any and all accounts I had access to. [2]
  • Remove every tangible asset I had purchased for use at the studio.
  • Spiteful acts borne of anger.

Things I Did That I Didn't Want To Do, But Saw No Other Option.
  • Create and enforce a boundary of what I was and was not willing to accept around the debts owed to me.
  • Make a video of all the things at the studio I purchased which the owner had invoices and receipts for.
  • File a Civil Court Case [3]
  • I left the assets I'd bought and invoiced the owner for at the studio and only removed things I was not listing as debts owed.
  • Told my regular practitioners that our last class together was going to be a lot sooner than we'd thought.

Red Flags I Now Recognize
Or: Listen to the little voice in your head warning that you're careening off a cliff.
  • If a person sucks the wind out of the room in a group conversation and then asks if you have any questions once you're exhausted, this is a red flag.
  • If a person has individual conversations with people who should be addressed as a group, each person is likely being manipulated one-on-one, this is a red flag.
  • If you are engaged in business dealings with someone and they rarely put things in writing with you, this is a red flag.
  • If you are uncomfortable discussing a troublesome situation you are in, this is a red flag.
  • If a person says they're trying to sell their business but they never provide their bookkeeping, this is a red flag.
  • If a person moves out of state saying they can't wait for you to visit but doesn't give you their new address, this is a red flag.
  • If someone you've considered a friend suddenly "doesn't want to be involved", this is a red flag.
Where Do We Go From Here?

Someone recently told me that if they successfully file for bankruptcy, they will walk away from their debts, and that's what they wanted all along. They win.

(She's said what she really wanted was to be free of the debts from the studio.)

I can see what they mean about them winning, but I think that is a petty, shitty "win". I am striving for wins with far-reaching positive impacts. Winning spirits, winning ideas, winning relationships, winning principles. The studio owner’s “win” is a loss for the yoga community and the students who valued their camaraderie and meaningful relationships established there. Perhaps the studio could’ve been sold for what was owed to me and then flourished under new and thoughtful ownership, but instead, we have a lose-lose situation with no true winners.

The Future Is Indeed Bright

I am now free to create a new future. I am choosing to mentally walk away from my desire to see the items I've made be put to their best use. I will plead my case with the court system, and whatever happens will happen. Many former practitioners of the studio have told me that the space I held for them was beneficial, and I have been told that the work I did was good. This is enough.

I will continue to lead yoga classes and other yoga teacher training cohorts, compile manuals, organize retreats, and strive to create a space free from drama and exploitation where people can come to experience themselves on their mat.



[1] My purchases were endorsed and encouraged by the owners and I have the text message threads and emails to back up this statement. I purchased wall-mounted heaters, surround sound speakers, spotlights and a disco ball, LED candles, merchandise, eye pillows, yoga straps, and yin sandbags to list just a few things. Each year the owner would ask me for receipts for her accountant for the purchases I'd made for the studio. I was reluctant to list every single thing I'd purchased because I was apprehensive that I might never be paid back for the things I'd bought so why should I bother to document every single item? I turned in receipts that included the larger dollar items, ignoring the smaller purchases I'd made that were less than $50 each.

[2] I had full access to Mindbodyonline, Canva, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Zoom, Gmail, GDocs, GSheets, Square, Spotify, Hue, Tapo and Sonos. I did not abuse or misuse my access at any time.

[3] Case number 24-CC-032732