I distinctly remember the first class I took at 8 Limbs as an employee. It was 9am on an unseasonably sunny Saturday morning, just a couple of days after my initial orientation. It was by no means my first class at 8 Limbs, but as my first time attending as staff the moment felt auspicious. After class I introduced myself to the person working the front desk. Upon hearing I worked here she replied, “Oh good, there’s somewhere else I need to be. The desk is yours.” I tried explaining I wasn’t working that day and that I wasn’t even hired to work the front desk, but these words didn’t appear to land. She abruptly left and there I was with a big weekend class to be checked in, phone ringing, and no clue how to navigate our registration software system let alone open the till to accept a payment.

A few days later, on my first full day as an employee at 8 Limbs, I fielded a call from one of our teachers. He was at the bank. They weren’t letting him deposit his 8 Limbs payroll check due to insufficient funds on our part. I calmly hung up the phone and thought, Oh shit, what have I gotten myself into? That blow to my naïve belief that the world of yoga is a place of ease began my crash course in the world of small business.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my start as an employee as I recently celebrated my 10-year anniversary with 8 Limbs (that “auspicious” week was early 2006). The days leading to my anniversary found me contemplating what transpired between that week and now. We clearly sorted out the cash flow issue. We have a reliable and helpful crew of friendly folks working our front desks. And, if it isn’t obvious, I came to better terms with the reality that the world of yoga is filled with human moments just like the rest of the world, and me.

One evening this past December Anne Phyfe Palmer (Owner/Studio Director), Joanna Bond (8 Limbs Bookkeeper) and I went out for a celebratory toast. We were formally recognizing having just paid off our line of credit. Given how high our debt had peaked and how long it had hovered up there, this was no small feat. In the midst of toasting, though, we quickly recognized how much more there was to acknowledge. Beyond the credit line there was the now solid year-round cash flow within an industry laden with seasonal ebbs, the positive turnaround in staff retention in a field where wages aren’t always competitive, the reduction in complaints for how we handled (or didn’t handle) something, and the added benefits (paid time off, a retirement plan, increasing continuing education) for folks earning their living through 8 Limbs.

What got us from that rough week 10 years ago to that happy toast? What stands out to me is a willingness behind-the-scenes to have difficult conversations (and how our practice supports that). We’re always willing to go there. We’ve picked apart our financial blind spots and bad habits. We learned at times it’s best to look outside our comfort zones, sometimes even outside the yoga industry (still a relatively young field), to find the most constructive solutions. And we’ve eaten enough crow to more readily embrace the strengths of personal and collective humility.

From this willingness, we grew. Yes, we are literally a bigger business than we were ten years ago, but we also grew in ways I consider more important. We’re more consistently conscious. We’re more reliable. We take better care of the people who support our existence (students, teachers, staff, and community partners alike). As a result, we’re better able to integrate aspects of all eight limbs of yoga into our studios.

Why I’m talking about this is because the night we toasted growing we also made a commitment. We committed 2016 (our 20th year in business!) as the year we would bring our willingness to have difficult conversations into the public spheres of 8 Limbs. Like my first class as an employee, the moment felt auspicious. Unlike that week 10 years ago, I have no illusions this endeavor will be free of discomfort or missteps. I am excited nonetheless! One area we’re growing our difficult conversations relates to social and racial justice. We’re looking directly at our own biases and cultural competency. We’re also committing to supporting greater diversity in the yoga community and actively working to create safe places for all to practice. You will hear more from us throughout the year, and beyond, in this area.

Another difficult conversation we’re taking public is around money, a loaded topic for many, and a highly loaded topic in particular for countless yogis. We’re publicly kicking off the money conversation through our Many Paths Book Club. I’m facilitating our April 8th installment featuring It’s Not About the Money, a book written by Brent Kessel –dedicated yoga practitioner, student of Buddhist philosophy and financial planner. I hope you can join me! (We first became aware of Brent Kessel from his Insights at the Edge podcast interview.)

Life behind-the-scenes in small businesses and yoga studios, like life anywhere, isn’t all auspicious moments or ease. A willingness to draw from one’s practice in order to have difficult conversations, however, can support growth from those inevitable moments of dis-ease. What difficult conversations are you having? Which ones are you interested in having? What supports your capacity to have difficult conversations?  I’d love for you to share your thoughts and ideas with me at ashley@8limbsyoga.com.

Posted by: Ashley Dahl, Executive Director

8 Limbs Yoga Centers
Join Ashley, along with 8 Limbs Teacher Tracy Hodgeman, this coming Saturday, 2/20 for their I [heart] Savasana workshop.

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