Spiritual E-mail Closures – Evolved or Obnoxious?
When I worked as a corporate event planner, the closures of e-mails were always very straightforward and professional. Regards, Sincerely or a good old fashioned ThankYou, followed by a comma and a name. No casualness. No smiley faces. God help you, no exclamation points.
My time in the entertainment industry was less formal and more EXCITED!! Lots of exclamation points – usually one per project!!!!!!!! “LIFE IS GREAT AND I HAVE EVERYTHING TOGETHER!!!” surrounded by links to personal websites with an assortment of xoxoxo since everyone loves everyone in show biz. Regards was replaced with Best or Talk Soon. Less formal. More transparent and looking for work.
Owning a yoga studio has brought me e-mails with closures I never dreamed of. I’m not talking about your spiritual garden variety of Peace or Love and Light. Those I can handle. Love and Light actually makes me feel warm and fuzzy, since it reminds me of one of my favourite childhood toys, the Glo Worm. What I’m talking about here are spiritual e-mail closures that leave me baffled, curious or just plain giggling. And it seems to me that the more spiritually evolved a person claims to be, the more curious (insert ridiculous and often obnoxious) their closures become.
Example 1: “Infinite Blessings be upon you and yours”
This whimsical little number was at the end of an e-mail demanding that I pay a studio invoice that was past due. The e-mail warned me that if there was not payment within 30 days, there would be consequences. The e-mail was then signed “Infinite Blessings Be Upon You and Yours” with a name. This, my friends, is spiritual passive-aggressiveness at its finest. The classic pre-comma “consequence and threat” with a post-comma “self-righteous high road”. I did what I had to do to pay the invoice, since the whole thing was an infinite pain in my ass.
Example 2: “Namaste”
Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think you should sign something Namaste unless you are fluent in Sanskrit. Otherwise, it seems pretentious and awkward. Kinda like Shakespearian actors who insist in speaking in liquid ‘U’s, even after closing night of Henry V. How about peace? Same meaning. Simple. English.
Example 3: “Yours in Cosmic Consciousness”
This one is awesome. It’s Milky Way meets Freud. It came at the end of an e-mail asking me to pay lots of money for a workshop that was guaranteed to change the way I approach my yoga practice. I seriously considered it. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a part of the cosmic consciousness?
Example 4: “Yours in Body, Mind and Spirit”
This one throws me into a kilt and takes me right back to Catholic school. I feel like I should do the sign of the cross and say Amen after reading it. It was the closure of an e-mail from someone I’d never met asking about teaching opportunities. It didn’t make me want to hire him.
Example 5: “Hoping You’ll Join Me on the Path to Enlightenment”
This one is fantastic. It came after a simple e-mail. Something about wanting to rent our studio for a photo shoot. Unless the e-mail is signed by Buddha, I don’t think anyone should ever use this. Never. Ever.
And so now I find myself confused as to how I should sign my e-mails. I tried infinite peaceful blessings a couple of times, but the inauthenticity of it made me feel like I should wash my mouth out with soap. I tried just signing my name for a while with no closure, but it seemed far too closed and unavailable. Needless to say, I’m determined to try different things out until I find the right fit.
Jazz Hands and Glitter,
It was December 2010. Our studio was now independent and we were free to advertise however we wanted. While we were affiliated with XXY Yoga, I had asked about the possibility of doing an online group buy (Groupon, Living Social, etc) kind of deal just to get our name out there. We were steered away from it and encouraged instead to go viral by word of mouth on the street. That might have worked if we had been the first and only yoga studio in all of Toronto, but based on the 7 surrounding studios, we needed something more. With no sign on the front door yet and no money to get one, we needed some feet through the door…and fast.
Many popular group buy sites approached us with offers and promises of “instant clients.” We chose our site and were introduced to our sales rep “Keenan”, who I’m pretty sure wasn’t a day over 19, “I don’t know what hot yoga is, but clearly it’s HOT. Just like this deal is gonna be. You dig it?”
Somehow in our transition from co-dependent to independent yoga studio, we lost our minds, because Keenan convinced us to sell 21 classes for $20 dollars. No. You didn’t misread. We saw the opportunity as a lost leader and a marketing opportunity. We figured we’d sell 200-300 passes and get a much needed infusion of energy in the studio.
The day of the sale (just before Christmas), Ernesto was on a school field trip and I was at Casaloma with the kids. While I sat watching a giant holiday clad “Shrek” dancing to Love Shack with a bunch of 3 year olds, Ernesto was texting me.
Text 1: “Toni! We’ve sold 490 passes.”
Text 2: “510″
Text 3: “517″
1597 passes later, the one day sale was done. Apparently “21 classes for $20″ is a steal. After giving the group buy site 50% and minus a processing fee. We realized that we successfully sold 33,537 single classes costing approximately 42 cents each.
Within a day, our studio went from intimate gatherings to full on party. Some of our guests were the kind that brought gratitude and good cheer, while others were the kind of party guests who came only for the loot bags.
“What do you mean I have to rent a towel for $2????,” said the woman with the 42 cent class. “You’re welcome to bring your own,” I replied ” but it costs us to supply and launder them.” “OUTRAGEOUS!!!,” she replied.
“What kind of yoga studio makes you rent yoga mats? Was that not included in the price of the 21 class voucher?”
“What!?! I have to pay $2.60 tax on this voucher?? No one told me that. I shouldn’t have to pay.”
There were all kinds coming through the door. The woman who regularly stole our paper towels, the man who wore jeans to class, the couple who we found making out in the vestibule – we welcomed them all.
Ultimately, aside from the lovely and gracious regulars we met through doing this, I have a major problem with offering yoga at such a drastically discounted price. There are already too many people who equate yoga studios with churches; thinking that a toonie in the collection basket is good enough since we have the gods on our side. Trust me, the gods don’t pay rent. Yoga instructors pay thousands of dollars to be able to teach what they know. They spend hours preparing, practicing and cultivating. To offer that kind of quality experience at 42 cents undervalues the yoga and seems, well, desperate and dumb on the part of the studio owner. I’d prefer to stick to good old fashioned donation-based karma classes.
About 900 of the vouchers have been redeemed thus far. Every couple days or so, another voucher wanders through the studio door. While I will never ever do another group deal like this, I will continue to welcome each guest equally. Party hat, anyone?
Having worked with both, I can honestly say that yoga instructors are a lot like actors. Some are humble about their talents, easy to work with and grounded. While others are high maintenance, self-absorbed and delusional.
We went through a fair number of instructors in the first 4 months of the studio. Partly, we weren’t sure what we were looking for and there were so many varieties to choose from. Most of them did a month or two with us and then left because they lived too far from the studio, were headed abroad to study with a master teacher or couldn’t work for us unless they were guaranteed back to back classes for financial reasons.
A few left for more profound reasons; specifically, that they were not being honoured. “Honour” is to a high-maintenance yogi as “exploring the craft” is to the high-maintenance actor. Honour in this context is not merely respect. Rather, it’s otherworldly admiration and awe that results from all the books the instructor has read about the yoga sutras and the workshops he or she paid hundreds of dollars to take with the decedents of the yoga gods.
Reading lots of yoga books and doing a 200 hour teacher training program does not make you a yoga guru.
Talking about other people’s “energy” is still gossip.
One instructor informed me that she was known as an “edgy” instructor around the city. I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant, but she was keen and I liked her so we gave it a whirl. When I realized that “edgy” meant that she had a trucker mouth in class, I had to talk to her. She explained to me that her language was an extension of her authentic self and that to change her energetic vibe would be inauthentic. I then had to be super authentic and let her go, which resulted in a palm to palm namaste and subsequent facebook defriending from her.
Let’s not forget about the instructor who approached us wanting to help when we first went independent. At that time, I erred more on the side of yoga than business and I thought his offer stemmed from friendship. He said he’d be willing to put his name behind the studio to endorse us as good people so that some of his instructor friends would graciously allow us to pay them to teach at our studio. He also said he’d be happy to let us pay him to teach 5 classes per week and spend one day per week at the studio fielding calls and brainstorming ideas.
The business woman in me didn’t understand why he would be willing to help us considering we had no money to pay him, but the yogi in me was proud to be a part of something where community came forward in times of need.
It was only a matter of time before the instructor was asking for company shares in exchange for his energy. I immediately stated that we couldn’t promise anything based on the fact that we were operating in the red and shares needed to be retained for actual money. Besides, considering Ernesto and I weren’t paying ourselves, shares was all we had. The instructor and Ernie told me not to worry because we would figure something out and the instructor headed off to the Himalayas to study. I knew well enough that you had to be clear in business because “figure something out” is synonymous with “this is going to end poorly”. I also knew I had to take matters into my own hands. I wrote a letter to the instructor saying that we could not give away shares In exchange for his energy, no matter how wise and magical it was. The instructor was not happy. What resulted when he returned back to the city was more bizarre than anger. It was his need for me to listen and witness him as he explained to me how betrayed he felt. “You don’t see all that I am! You don’t honour me or my energy,” he yelled, as if honour was going to pay the rent or the phone bill. “Thank you for your energy,” I responded, thinking that gratitude would calm him.
“I don’t give a f@ck about your thank you. I need to get paid.”
So much for goodwill and friendship.
That was one of the pivotal moments in my understanding of the fact that, yoga or not, this was still business. From there on in, I made it a policy to only hire instructors who were grounded and down to earth.
I realized that it doesn’t matter how long an instructor can hold a handstand if they’re a pain in the ass to work with.
For many years, I spent most of my Christmas holidays in Chicago. I worked in corporate entertainment and the holidays were always busy. Every year I’d fly in for a few weeks and dress up as an elf, do a couple productions of Peter Pan, take part in a few murder mysteries and then make my way up to Toronto in time for Christmas Eve dinner. It was good money, good fun and I got to spent some QT with my Chicago peeps.
It was 2007 and I was flying into the Toronto airport, excited to see Clarry on the other side. There he was at the gate; smiling from ear to ear. I hadn’t seen him in 3 weeks and was so ready to go home, order some Chinese food and catch up. Making an angel costume for the grade 1 pageant? Not exactly on my list.
“I just found out that Cassius needs an angel costume for tomorrow’s pageant. Can you help me tonight?”
Somewhere in between Mommy’s house and Daddy’s house, the angel costume fell by the wayside.
I headed to Clarry’s and channeled my inner-MacGyver as I created an angel costume out of an old sheet and some rope. No sewing machine. No thread. No nonsense. This was literally a wing and a prayer. I was pretty proud of myself. It didn’t look so bad on as long as you knew which hole went where and how to maneuver the rope so that he looked like an angel and not a lopsided ghost. Cassius was happy, Clarry was relieved and I was ready for some Chinese!
The next day came and I changed my schedule so that I could be at the pageant. Clearly some of the parents had spent longer than 30 minutes making their costumes. Clearly some of them had used thread. Oh, well. It’s not about the “sheet with a rope tied around it”. It’s about the “children”. The teacher stood at the front of the church and asked all the parents of the grade 1s to put their angel costumes on and make their way to the altar.
Hmm. This was interesting and completely awkward. Clearly I wasn’t the parent. I wasn’t even the step-parent at that time. I was just Daddy’s girlfriend in the bright sea green coat who came along for the ride. Cassius’ mommy turned around from 4 pews ahead and signalled for us to send up the angel costume. Clarry handed the angel costume to the man in front of him, who gave it to the woman next to him, who passed it to the man next to the finish line. I felt my stomach turn with every pass off. Only I knew the magic potential of the angel costume. To any normal person, it was a ripped up dust rag piece of crap.
“The big hole goes over his head,” I gestured. She wasn’t interested. Nor was she impressed. I watched with horror as she put the angel costume on incorrectly. ”I can’t move my arms,” I heard Cassius say. Off he went, tripping over himself up to the altar. I died inside watching the other kids flap their wings in full glory, while Cassius struggled to free his right arm from his side. It was less angel costume. More straight jacket.
“Don’t feel bad,” Clarry consoled me, “It’s not about the costume.” He was right. So why did I feel so bad?
Being a step-parent or a step-parent in training can be so confusing. It’s challenging to navigate through the boundaries and the term step doesn’t help. When I use the term step in a sentence, I think…
1. I fell off my STEP ladder.
2. Didn’t mean to STEP on your territory.
3. I have STREP throat. (take the R out and see what you get)
So, we don’t use step anymore in our family. Out with step-mom and in with BONUS mom!
Let’s look at that…
1. I got all the answer right on my test and BONUS points!
2. I made it to the BONUS round!
3. I got a BONUS at work!
See how much more fun BONUS is!!! So many more exclamation points!!!!!
Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms, Bonus Moms, God Moms, Grand Moms and anyone else who takes the time to love and nurture a child.
Shashankasana: Hare Pose
This pose relieves tension within the upper back and neck, massages the digestive organs and stimulates the energies of the Solar Plexus chakra.
This all started on Easter Sunday of 2010. My mother had hosted dinner for my family, which included my long-time friend and business partner, Ernesto. Ernie and I went way back. 15 years back. We met in 1995 while at York University. It was destiny really. He was the musical director and I was the choreographer of a show called “Life, Death and Other Comedies”. Our first few minutes of knowing each other went something like this…
Ernie: Hi, I’m Ernie. Musical Director.
Toni: I’m Toni. Choreographer.
Ernie: I’m working on an elementary production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat not too far from here. I actually need a choreographer. Any chance you might want to help me?
(another brief pause)
That was it. Our destiny was sealed and zipped up in Joseph’s coat of many colours.
Fast forward 15 years to April 2010. Ernie had been going to a yoga studio in the Burbs for the past year and had been raving about it. There was something different about him and I could tell that whatever was happening was really positive. We had just finished eating and I was nursing Isaac.
OH YES! I ALMOST FORGOT TO MENTION THAT PART.
I had just had a baby boy. He was exactly 4 weeks old on Easter Sunday. A la 1995, here’s how it went down just before dessert was served.
Ernie: Hey, the studio I’ve been doing yoga at is looking to franchise. I think we should open their first affiliate studio downtown.
Toni: Oh my God, seriously? I just had a baby.
Ernie: Yeah, I know, but it can really be whatever we want it to be, right? This is our dream! We could have our own space to create!”
Toni: We’re not even certified yoga instructors. I just had a c-section.
Ernie: Just think about it. I think we’re meant to do this.
I did have a picture of a “studio” on my vision board for a couple of years. I was imagining this big, bright and beautiful space where I could create, celebrate the arts and make a difference in the world. Was yoga a part of that? I was 4 weeks post-pardum, sleep-deprived, hormonal and emotional. I wasn’t thinking clearly, but it felt absolutely right. Had I been thinking clearly, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I loved yoga and I loved the idea of bringing my baby to work and of offering something that could make a difference.
The big question to me was, “can yoga be branded”. The big answer was, “hell, yes.” We brand everything. Why should a 2000 year old ritual be any different?
I told Ernie I’d think about it.
My baby was 6 weeks old when I drove out to an area Starbucks to meet Ernie and the founders of XXY Yoga (let’s go with that). The meeting seemed easy enough. Two mid-30s yogis excited about yoga and wanting to do good things in the world. How could this be bad? I listened to myself convince them of how this was my path and my destiny; how it was serendipitous and meant to be. Sure. Maybe. Or maybe I was desperately trying to find a way to justify why I thought this was a good idea. Founder 1 told me how she was bold enough to leave her very well paying job to co-found XXY. She talked of how she knew she wasn’t being authentic working in the corporate world and gave it all up to find inner peace and to make a first year yoga profit of $100,000. Founder 2 invited me to come and take a class so I could make sure it was for me and then suggested I buy a book at the studio and read about how I could embark on my own personal journey into power.
Founder 1 talked about how much our lives would be transformed. How shiny and “lit up” we would be to the people around us. She sold us on how much good we could do for the world. All we needed to do was pay $25,000 in affiliation (insert franchise) fees and a mere $3000 per month for their support. Founder 2 graciously offered to save me a spot in her $3200+hst teacher training and suggested a $3000 boot camp with her master teacher to really seal the deal.
Red flag #2.
I still refused to surrender to the red flags and the voice inside begging me to find some common sense. Everything in my life had been built from the ground up. Why would I want to be a cog in the wheel of someone else’s vision at this point in my life? Nevertheless, I still thought this was meant to be. After all, there was a studio on my vision board and the thought of making $100,000 profit in one year didn’t hurt either.
So, one night after Isaac went to sleep, I took my 7 weeks postpartum body to the studio to get on my journey. I walked past the BMWs and Jeeps up to the second floor, where I couldn’t help but feel like I’d stepped into a fun house. The studio was filled with smiley, tilted headed, name branded yoga wearing women greeting each other with lattes in hand. Their swinging pony tails matched the excitement of their voices as they talked to each other about feeling all “lit up”. It all seemed a little high school to me and I was the weird new kid, who forgot my latte.
I drove home that night feeling awful. I wanted this to work so badly, but I couldn’t figure out how I was going to stand behind something that didn’t resonate with me. I knew, logically, that independent thinkers and franchised brands might not be a good fit, but I kept telling myself that this was different because this was YOGA. “Ernie believes in it,” I said to myself aloud while driving back home along the Lakeshore. Clearly, I was simply being judgmental and closed about the experience. Clarry asked me how everything went when I got home and I didn’t have much to say. “I feel lit up,” I said, trying it on for size. Clarry laughed. I laughed. It had been a while and I needed it.
A couple of years ago, I was a single woman living alone in an apartment on Bathurst Street in mid-town Toronto. My apartment was always organized, my “to do” list was always checked off and I travelled to exotic places like Mexico and Peru for adventure and fun. Through the divine power of the universe (and a few too many drinks at karaoke), that all changed when I met my current fiance, common-law partner and baby daddy, Clarry. He was (and still is) a fun loving and handsome man, with a smile that goes on for days. He was very up front about the fact that he had previously been married and had two children. What did I care? I loved kids! Besides, although I’d never been married, I certainly had been in my share of long-term relationships. So, none of that bothered me.
We dated for several years. Our relationship was like a well-oiled machine. I would spend time with him and his kids at his condo for a few days and then I would make my way back across the city to my oasis of silence. I’d lock my apartment door and slide against it to the floor wondering how I could ever do that full-time. It seemed so overwhelming and chaotic, like one giant non-stop “homework, snack and extracurricular activity” extravaganza. “When do we all just sit quietly and do nothing?”, I’d ask him. ”We don’t do that very often,” he’d reply. Syntax error…syntax error! Clearly, this was a different world and I couldn’t fully process it, but what did it matter? After all, I could press eject at any time and be back at my oasis of silence within the hour.
In 2009, the divine power of the universe (and again a few too many drinks) brought news of a baby. At the time, I was an actor and television series writer working crazy hours. I went from contract to contract with no job stability and “time off” was equivalent with “no pay”. For about 3 months, I convinced myself that we would continue on as we were, except little Clarry Jr. would also make the treks across the city. Delusion lasts only so long and as my waistbands got tighter, I realized that I had to do something. I’m an all or nothing kind of person, so I said yes to Clarry’s proposal, packed up my apartment, put all my things in storage and moved into his condo. Who needs Peru and Mexico, when you can have fish sticks and soccer fields! Bring on the adventure!
It was all very Jolie-Pitt Clan, except with far less millions. My Indian-Canadian fiance, his 2 half-Phillipino children, Italian-American me and my growing Indo-Italian Canadian-American baby. Things were challenging in the condo. I constantly felt the walls coming in on me and I spend many hours taking baths trying to figure out how I could Shawshank my way out with a bar of soap. The lack of space, my raging hormones and the challenging dynamics of our new family were hard for me to juggle. There was no “going home for a couple days”. I was home and everything that made me comfortable was packed in boxes in my mother’s basement.
In March of 2010, baby Isaac was born. I fell instantly in love. I’d spend hours playing with his fingers and toes. It became my meditation. Everyone was excited to welcome Isaac. Clarry’s kids were over the moon and welcomed Isaac with open arms. Isaac became the gel for our family unit…our family unit of 5!
Now, I have always considered myself an excellent multi-tasker, but this felt overwhelming. The first few weeks post C-section were rough and I was constantly surrounded by people. Couldn’t they just give me some space? Did everyone need to watch me figure out how to breastfeed? Did we all have to change each diaper as a family? I know it was equally challenging for the kids, who now had to share daddy with their new half-brother in addition to their semi-new half-step-mom.
When Isaac was exactly 6 weeks old, I decided I would temporarily trade in my writing and acting career to open a yoga studio with my longtime partner and friend, Ernie. I realize this sounds somewhat (insert completely) insane, but it seemed like the perfect option at the time. I could surround myself with peace and tranquility, Isaac could be with me and I’d build financial stability. NO BRAINER! ”Is this a post-partum thing?,” people would whisper. Perhaps, but it was what I needed. I found solace at the studio. It provided me with the space I so desperately needed. As the months passed, I started to feel so much more like myself thanks to yoga. I was so thankful that one day, I invited my doppleganger Jolie-Pitt Clan to the studio for a family yoga class.
There we were. Clarry, my step-kids, my baby and my step-son’s friend who somehow made it into the car that day. I led them in a yoga class that focused on self-esteem. We used the yoga blocks to express our feelings and I taught them poses that physically involved supporting each other. It was, without a doubt, the best yoga class I’d ever been to. We all went home lighter, happier and feeling more connected.
This blog is my attempt to navigate through the simultaneous fast-tracked adventures in my life. My intention in life is always, always to find the humour. I have a lot to say about motherhood, step-motherhood and about the business of yoga. ”Namaste Bitches” applies on all fronts and is just plain funny to say. So sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Namaste.