Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Why I Stopped Teaching Yoga at an Ayurveda Resort in Sri Lanka

Why I Stopped Teaching Yoga at an Ayurveda Resort in Sri Lanka

Beginning of December last year I started a full time yoga teaching gig in Sri Lanka, at an Ayurveda resort called Plantation Villa. Luckily I also had the time to focus on my projects. Exactly what I was looking for! Yet I decided to leave earlier than agreed. Four months earlier.

A positive first impression

I was really looking forward to this experience. After those three months teaching hatha yoga and pranayama in Cambodia, at Angkor Zen, I was feeling really excited.

I knew that my experienced in Siem Reap had been way beyond the ordinary, so I was not expecting my experience in Sri Lanka to be that good. I was positive but I was not making illusions to myself.

By the time I arrived at the Colombo airport on the 1st of December, the resort taxi driver was waiting for me outside. Unfortunately he had to wait like for five hours cause my Malindo Air flight got super delayed (worst service ever).

I was supposed to arrive at 11:30 pm. I arrived around 4 am instead. But although he had been waiting for ages he still had a big smile on his face. He was super friendly.

That was a good first impression. I was feeling positive then.

However as soon as I arrived at Plantation Villa everything changed. But before I tell you what I didn't like about this place, and why I decided to leave earlier, let me tell you about the good things.

Creating a new daily routine

After the inspiration that I got from the daily routine that I had at Angkor Zen, the first thing that I did after I arrived at Plantation Villa was to create a new daily routine for myself.

Besides teaching hatha yoga and meditation, and doing my practice, I wanted to use my time at Plantation Villa to focus on two main things: updating this blog and studying yoga philosophy.

Because of the way I was sharing the schedule with the other yoga teacher I decided to do this on alternating days.

There were only three yoga classes in the daily schedule. A one hour yoga class at 6:30 am. A half an hour meditation class at 10:00 am (which we later changed to 11:45 am), and a one hour thirty minutes yoga class starting at 5:00 pm.

Since we were two yoga teachers we were able to share the classes the way we wanted. One day I would teach the 6:30 am class. The next day I would teach both, the 10:00 am class and the 5:00 pm class.

So on the days that I would teach at 6:30 am I would dedicate the rest of my day to work online and to update my blog. On the days that I would teach the 10 am class, and the 5 pm class, I would focus on studying Patanjali Yoga Sutras. That worked really well.



I was also focusing on my pranayama practice.

I had been keeping up my one hour pranayama practice every day for several months. I didn't want to miss my practice for even day. Luckily I managed to fit it perfectly in my daily routine, right after the morning yoga class.



This is exactly what I was looking for.

A place where I could continue teaching yoga and meditation. A place where I could continue with my practice. A place where I could save some money.

A place where I didn't have to worry about food and accommodation so that I could focus on learning, and on the online work that I needed to do.

I got all that at Plantation Villa.

Well, my meditation practice was not that great though.

It is so much easier to practice meditation when you do it at the right time, at an a specific time during the day, and specially when you do it in a group. I had that at Angkor Zen. I had so many deep meditations there.

Unfortunately at Plantation Villa there was not a specific time in the daily schedule to do a long group meditation.

I would still do my daily meditation practice upon waking up. But in the night, after dinner, I'm usually too tired. I could meditate then for about 10 to 20 min. There was no other moment to do an evening meditation.

But regardless of my weak meditation, following strictly my new daily routine made me really happy since I'm passionate about everything I do.

I'm passionate about blogging and working online. I'm passionate about learning yoga philosophy. I'm passionate about my yoga practice.

Everyday I would wake up with excitement knowing that I would follow my routine, and knowing exactly what I was going to do that day.

I would look forward to my one hour pranayama practice, to my blogging time, to my study time. I even had a specific time during the day to do some reading and to go for a walk.

After lunch I would sit on a swing in the garden to read for about twenty minutes. Then I would go for a really nice walk.

My days were not complete without having at least a twenty minutes walk. The surroundings were so beautiful that it would have been a real waste not to enjoy all that nature.



This is what my daily routine looked like:

04:30 Eyes open
05:00 Out of bed
05:30 to 06:30 Personal morning meditation
06:30 to 07:30 Teaching hatha yoga or self practice
08:00 to 09:00 Personal pranayama practice
09:00 Breakfast
09:30 to 11:45 Yoga Sutras study (or 09:30 to 13:00 Blogging)
12:00 to 13:00 Body weight training (not every day)
13:00 Lunch
13:30 Reading, walking
17:00 to 18:30 Teaching hatha yoga or self practice
19:00 Dinner
20:00 Online research
22:00 Personal evening meditation and time to go to bed

Once a week I also had to lead the evening program after dinner. There was nothing specific that I had to do so I decided to either talk about yoga philosophy or do a Meditation Q&A.

I really enjoyed both sessions. I had many interesting conversations with the guests during the evening program.

But although I was enjoying teaching yoga, and made myself really happy by using every single second of my day to do what I love to do, something was not right. I was not feeling very comfortable at this place.

Something else was sucking all my energy and my joy away.

Do you really want me to stay in that room?

By the time that I arrived to the resort it was 6 am. As soon as they welcomed me at the resort they showed me the room where I was supposed to stay for six months.

Yeah, that's right. The agreement was for me to teach for six months. Pretty long time. Don't you think so?

I was a bit shocked. Besides a large double bed there was only a chair and a table. That was it.

Well, that's not really a problem for me. That's pretty much all I need. I actually thought, "Great! I have a table to work on!" And with those little lamps the room looked quite cozy, although the table cloth was disgusting.


My Room at Plantation Villa

But I didn't have any place where to put all my clothes, and there was only one small window which didn't have mosquito net. And I tell you what, this place is infested with mosquitoes, and flies!

The biggest issue though was that there was no ventilation at all in the room, and even worst in the bathroom. The room was humid, hot, smelly and dark.

And this is where I was supposed to live for next six months?

I asked right away to put a mosquito net on the window and to get some sort of cupboard to put all my clothes. I had to remind them multiple times a day about this request. Still it took them three days to fix the room.

So for three days I had to keep all my clothes, with all my other stuff, on top of the table. I also had no choice but to sleep with the windows closed, in a room that already had zero ventilation inside.

This was the beginning of this new adventure.

I expressed my discomfort

But even after they placed the mosquito net, so that I could keep my windows open, it was still pretty much unbreathable inside the room for most part of the day.

So after a few days I complained to the manager and I asked for a different room, a decent room. He said that they didn't have any other rooms available. All the rooms were supposed to be fully booked.

I tried to manage but after fifteen days I wrote an email to the owner of the resort to complain about this situation. I asked for a solution.

By this stage I was already feeling really annoyed about my stay at Plantation Villa, and it was not only because of the room (more about it later).

In my email I said,

"I feel really uncomfortable in my room. The room smells disgusting and the bathroom even worst because non of them have proper ventilation. It's not a matter of cleaning it, there is just too much humidity in this room.

I have to keep the fan on all day long to keep it relatively fresh and I have to burn incense everyday to hide the bad smell. But this is not a solution.

On top of that the mattress is terrible and the bed noisy, so I even have trouble sleeping at night.

I think it is not acceptable to ask a yoga teacher to live in this conditions. We deserve a decent room; clean, specious, bright and fresh to be able to sleep and stay comfortably."

She was friendly and polite on her response, but not very helpful.

"The room we have for the yoga teacher is what Alana is using now (if I am honest, I think your room is better than that - it is more spacious, better location and new furniture)."

She also said:

"To be honest, the rooms we give to yoga teachers and doctors are not too different from the villa rooms. We have not had any complains before and we of course adapt based on feedback we get. In fact the last few yoga teachers we had were very positive about the accommodation we provided."

Alana, the other yoga teacher, and I were quite shocked with her response.

Believe me, the yoga teacher's rooms have nothing to do with the villa rooms. The villa rooms are really nice, new, clean, specious, with larger windows (no mosquito nets though).

And, new furniture? Seriously?

Like I said, there was only a bed, a table and a chair, and I can assure you that the table and the chair where not new at all. Perhaps the bed frame was new. But I don't sleep on the bed frame, I sleep on the mattress, which was terrible anyway.

Oh and my room was definitely not more spacious then the other yoga teacher's room.

What is surprising is that the owner would make such a statement when she actually never saw the room. She doesn't live at Plantation Villa and that room had just been built.

When I mentioned this to Lucy, the yoga teacher that arrived end of January to replace Alana, she was also shocked. She couldn't believe any previous yoga teacher would have been positive about the accommodation.

Actually, before I even mentioned anything to her, the day that she arrived she said to me, "I'm a bit surprised with the room. It's quite basic."

After a little while, when she felt a bit more comfortable to be open, she said that the furniture seemed to have been picked up from a dumpster.

I totally agreed with her. I had taken a quick look at that room before. I was considering switching rooms after Alana left. I decided to stay in my room though. There was not much difference.

I can handle basic rooms

Now, let me tell you something. I've been living like a nomad around Asia and South East Asia for the last seven years. I have stayed in all kinds of rooms. I'm used to this. I can handle basic rooms.

But it is one thing when I'm backpacking and when I get to choose my own accommodation. It is another thing when I'm supposed to stay for SIX MONTHS at a nice Ayurveda resort, which is not cheap btw, offering my valuable skills as a residential yoga teacher.

Actually, even if I was backpacking I wouldn't have stayed in a room like this for more than a couple of nights. I have my standards.

My standards are pretty simple. As a traveling yogi I need a comfortable, clean, spacious and bright room so that I can do my yoga and meditation practice with ease.

My meter is: if I can stay the whole day inside my room then that's the room that I need.

A couple of days after I left Plantation Villa I made my way to Arugam Bay, on the East coast, to plan my next surf and yoga retreat for June. I stayed in a very old room, almost the same size as my room as Plantation Villa. I loved it.

On the other side, I couldn't stand staying longer than five minutes in that room at Plantation Villa. Luckily, at night it would cool down and freshen up a bit, but still I had trouble sleeping. I had two months of poor sleep because of this.

Silly rules: sad, embarrassing and even comic

The room was a big issue during my stay, but it was not the only issue...

The yoga teachers are not allowed to eat in the dining room together with the guests.

According to the contract (which I didn't want to sign but I had no choice), the reason was that eating with the guests could "blur the boundaries" between the teacher and the guests, and that the teachers might become demanding on the staff.

Yes, I knew this in advance, but you never know how it would be until you are actually there.

Once I was there I realized that this is indeed the most silly rule ever, and the guests thought the same. Sometimes the guests would ask us, "Why you don't join us for dinner or lunch?" Many of them thought that it was our own choice.

But it was not. We were supposed to eat in a small table in the kitchen, in a cluttered space next to the plate racks and the fridge.

And the dinning room was just outside the kitchen. So during dinner we could see the guests eating in the nice clean dinning room, while we were eating on our little corner in the kitchen.

That was quite sad and embarrassing, and even comic. It kind of reminded me one of those scenes from The Titanic. Lol.

But for me this was an issue mainly because meal times are the best moments during the day to connect with the guests. That's when you can get to know each other better, learn from each other's journeys, and perhaps create valuable connections.

The rest of the day, as you already know, I would be busy following strictly my daily routine. So I hardly interacted with the guests, except of course during the yoga classes.

Feeling disrespected

The room was an issue. Not being able to eat with the guests was an issue. But this was not all.

During meal times, not only we were not allowed to eat with the guests, but we were also not allowed to use the same plates as the guests. We were supposed to use only the staff plates.

Not a big issue, but some of the staff plates we were given were old and full of stains.

The towels that we got look like floor mops and the bedsheets were also full of oil stains. And it is not because they don't have proper bedsheets or proper towels. It is simply because the yoga teachers don't deserve to use the same quality stuff as the guests.

On top of all this I felt as if I had to fight for my food.

So many times when I was filling up my plate they would tell me "Oh no, guests, guests." Which meant, "Sorry but that's for the guests, there is not enough for you." Can you imagine that?

Food is really important to me so that would make me really upset. Regardless of what they would say I would take more food instead.

One day I asked for hot water because I was feeling sick. One of the staff working in the kitchen had a jar full of hot water in her hands. She walked passed me saying, "guests, guests!" She quickly gave me a couple of drops, turned her back on me and rushed to the dining room.

This is one of the main issues of being a yoga teacher at Plantation Villa. It is not just the accommodation, and the silly rules, but also the way they treat the yoga teachers, on a day to day basis.

Because of all those little things you end up constantly feeling aggravated, disrespected and undervalued, although it should be the other way around.

Yoga teachers add so much value to a business like this, a wellness resort. People don't visit Plantation Villa only for the Ayurveda treatments. They come also to practice yoga, and practicing yoga makes a big impact on their whole experience, and on their healing journey.

As you can imagine, because of all these "little" things I was not feeling happy at all. I was ready to leave pretty much as soon as I arrived.

I tried to give it some time though. I wanted to calm myself down to make sure I wouldn't take a rushed decision, and to try make the best out of this experience.

To be continued. Update 26/02. This story continues in Teaching Yoga at Plantation Villa. This is How it Ended

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In the next blog post: What I had given up to be at this resort, what happened during Christmas time, and my final thoughts about Plantation Villa: would I recommend this place?

15 comments:

  1. Hi Marco,

    Sad to hear that you had to teach under these circumstances. Even though there was so much dissatisfaction with how Plantation Villa treated you, I never noticed it, because you seemed calm while teaching us yoga! Thank you!

    I hope you are having a wonderful time in Cambodia!

    Regards,

    Ya-Ching

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    1. Thank you Ya-Ching. I tried to keep that mood away from class, since it is not your fault, and I did enjoy teaching yoga and meditation there :-)

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  2. Well done!! This is unbelievable!! The fact you are staff doesn't mean you need to be treated with disrespect.

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  3. Unless a teacher is regarded with respect, the default experience is exactly what you described.… As devalued staff, all the people who work at this resort probably have awful rooms, poor food and restrictive regulations that you experienced. Did you notice anyone else who was suffering who works there?
    To grow your deepest yoga practice it might be wise to not take this personally but rather look at the larger issue of how human beings create pecking orders and do not treat one another as they would like to be treated.

    Sounds like you’re experiencing an age old lesson of the golden rule… This is not really about you.

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    1. Hi Bethany. Yes indeed. One of the doctors wanted to leave because of similar reasons. Her situation is more difficult though. She needs the job. I don't need it. I chose to be there and was free to leave whenever I wanted to. I don't take it personally though. I know this is a situation that all yoga teachers have to experience there, that's why I'm sharing my experience. Thanks for your comment Bethany.

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  4. Hi Marco, thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Your yoga and meditation classes were so inspiring and energetic. Thank you for your focus, your knowledge and your warm heart. Perhaps one day we will meet up at Angkor Zen. Namaste. Reimar and Maria (living in Istanbul!)

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    1. Oh hi Reimar and Maria. Thanks for your comment. It was a pleasure to share yoga with you. Yeah, it would be wonderful to meet you one day at Angkor Zen :-)

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  5. Namaste and Hello

    I am sorry to hear about your experience something we equally have in common as we were there in early 2017 after being conned with the same lines by Ishara the owner of Plantation Villa.

    She is a smooth talker and has the experience from many years of seeing yoga teachers come and go with the same issues, BUT doing nothing to make it easy for fellow human beings. Her focus is clear and simple, GREED, charging guests up to $200 a night and more for an illusion of what they should expect from a luxury resort. And she is very very very far from any form of luxury.

    The place is hanging on threads and one day it will collapse and fall into the jungle again, but until this day, she will continue manipulating teachers from around the world.

    We shared your blog with a group on facebook that helps and supports teachers like us, spreading the word and making sure this doesnt happen again.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/1748989955143626/

    If you see any posts on yoga jobs or any other facebook group, please let us know so we can call her out.

    Hope your next journey is much better and you continue your yoga journey with peace and happiness. Namaste Gary

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    1. Namaste Gary! Thanks for your message. Too bad you also had a negative experience there. I imagined there must be quite a few teachers unsatisfied by their experience teaching there. This is why I share my experience, for other yoga teachers so they know what to expect. I hope other teachers want accept a position there until the situation changes.

      I do not wish the owner or anybody at Plantation Villa any harm though. I just hope they will realize this and change their attitude, but it is their choice. I do have a few more things to say that will come in my next blog post.
      Cheers brother.

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  6. Hey Marco,

    I think it’s important that you’re sharing your experience and important that you are heard! I wanted to share with you a little bit of my own experience as I used to work at Plantation Villa for 6 months!

    Starting off with your comment about the eating situation:
    Personally, the boundaries between staff and guests allowed me to really integrate with the local staff more, and allowed me to become more familiar with the Sri Lankan culture, learn some Sinhalese, and have the chance to be invited to some of the staff’s homes. Also, you don’t HAVE to eat in the kitchen. Most of the time, I would eat outside overlooking the garden and have the opportunity to eat mindfully in peaceful silence, OR I would eat with the staff, after I helped them serve the food to the guests. I think the perspective you take really will shape your experience. Different retreat centers have different rules based on their passed experiences, so usually there are reasons why certain policies have been created.

    During my time at PV, the staff became like my family, and we were treated equally. Just because we are foreigners, doesn’t mean we should get special treatment. So I think embracing the everyday life that they too live, is an important part of the experience at PV and helping them to build capacity at PV and in contributing to being a helping hand to them as oppose to another guest that needs to be served and catered. Working at any place, nothing will be perfect. While it is important to express your boundaries from the beginning, it is equally important to adapt, be aware of the context and setting you are working in, and determine whether it is for you or not. Please do remember that PV is NOT a 5 star luxury resort, it is a retreat center that also focuses on community development to recycle wealth into the community.

    About the room situation:
    I also, did not have a huge, fancy room at PV, in fact, there were times where I had to share a room with the staff women, but I didn’t find it disrespectful as I believed I was there in the first place to help develop the capacity of this retreat center, not further burden it with complaints of my own and demand pristine room conditions. Why should I, just because I am a foreigner, have a better room than the staff do who work and live there FULL TIME? That did not seem equal to me so I believed enriching myself in the full staff experience was pivotal in my own growth and bonded me further with the staff and the environment I was working with.

    On Being disrespected:
    I understand that some things are uncomfortable, trust me, my experience was not completely easy either, but when I expressed myself to Ishara respectfully, and the other staff on site, I was heard and my opinions were taken seriously. I do believe that the staff can get very gossipy and at first it is hard to integrate with them, so it can feel like you are being alienated and disrespected, but this is simply a cultural thing, with a little effort, persistence and patience, they become extremely accommodating and loving.

    In addition, I would like to mention, that because I stayed at PV for a long time and because of my dedication, I was given the opportunity to travel with Ishara to the UK to conduct a series of workshops and yoga classes with the help of previous clients who organized them for us. This was a very validating and powerful experience for me!

    In addition, the terms are made clear from the get go, if getting paid the salary the offer is not enough, then the job is not for you. Many other centers that hire yoga only offer accommodation and food, so this is not uncommon. This is the yogic way, giving back and paying forward. It's not about money, it's about compassion. So if Gary, above there, feels it's okay to complain about 'greed' etc, etc, then I think it's a bit contradictory to also demand more money from a center that also shares it's profits with the surrounding community...

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    1. A well written alternative view. Thank you for taking the time to express your experiences so well. Now, I am wondering what you do when you aren't teaching yoga!

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  7. Moving forward, as I said before, while I do think that your opinion is important and valid, bad mouthing a retreat center that you only spent three months in can significantly impact their business. This doesn’t only hurt PV itself, but also hurts the community that PV employs, and the future guests that could benefit from PVs services.

    I believe that just because you had a bad time there, doesn’t mean it is just to bring them down with you. I think it would be more effective to offer solutions to the management instead of complaining about things you didn’t like. I know how much opinions and reviews can put a dent in the reputation of any business these days, so I hope that you do reconsider what you say about PV. During my 6 months there, I met many guests who stayed for weeks at a time and were rejuvenated and looked so much lighter when they left. Many of them I still keep in touch with and have even visited them in their homes!

    Also, if you don’t like the schedule at PV, then it’s up to you to adapt it! I made adjustments to the schedule myself, adding hikes or taking the guests to a clifftop and doing yoga from there, or to the beach, doing chanting, etc.…What I thought was unique and refreshing at PV was the openness to bring new ideas to the table and integrate your own personal schedule (which I think is really great by the way, I love how you structure your time! and create time for svhadyaya!) with the existing schedule in place.

    Anyways, I hope that this comes across in a positive way. I don’t mean to discredit your experience, I just hope to shed light on my own and also look out for the staff that are employed by PV, as bad business significantly affects them and the surrounding community. I hope you can understand!

    If you want to chat feel free to message me and we can swap experiences: my instagram is gemsunshiine

    Peace & Love to you fellow yogi!

    ~GeMmA

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    1. Hello Gemma! I really appreciate that you have dedicated the time to comment on my blog. It adds lot of value to the readers to have a different opinion and perspective, specially coming from another yoga teacher. Thank you so much.

      It is good thing that you managed to make the best out of your experience, and take it as an opportunity to be humble and to integrate with the local culture. Good for you. But you can't expect other yoga teachers to view their time there as you did.

      That because of your dedication, and because you stayed for long time, you were giving the opportunity to travel to the UK with Ishara to run workshops, which became a very powerful and validating experience... That's great. Congratulations! Good for you.

      But do you think this is what other yoga teachers are looking for? Do you think that investing six months as a teacher in those conditions to get the opportunity to host workshops in the UK is what others might consider a validating and powerful experience? I'm not even sure why you mention this.

      Also, that you stayed there for six months doesn't make your experience more valuable or your opinion more valid than others who stay for less time than you.

      Now, I'm not trying to bring anybody down with me. Like I mentioned in my comment to Gary, I do not wish the owner or anybody at Plantation Villa any harm. I just hope they will realize this and change their attitude towards yoga teachers.

      Anyway, this is my blog where I share my journey, the good and the bad. I talk more about this and my intention on sharing this experience on the second have of this blog post which I'll publish sometime next week.

      Again, thank you for commenting and sharing your experience. Namaste.

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    2. hehe thanks for replying Marco, take care ;)

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