Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My Experience Teaching Yoga in Arugam Bay - The Ups and Downs

Teaching Yoga in Sri Lanka

Just a couple of days after arriving in Arugam Bay a local invited me to teach yoga at his guesthouse. He promised to build a yoga hall in just a few days and he even invited me to stay for free. It took a month and half to complete the hall, with some disagreements in between, but even after the hall was finished I had still more challenges to face.

This post continues from: The Making of a Yoga Hall - How an Idea Manifested in Reality.

The Hall is Ready! Now I just Need to Teach, Right?

I wanted to place some promotional posters around Arugam Bay, at least one week before the yoga hall was ready, to make sure that there was enough time for people to find out about the yoga classes. Unfortunately, because there were so many delays I couldn't tell when it would be ready so I had to place the posters just two days in advanced.

As I was expecting it, nobody came the first day. That's very normal for a yoga class. I was not surprised, but Mohamed, the owner of the guesthouse, started to put pressure on me right away. On the very first day he asked me, with a little angry tone, "What happened? Why nobody came?" and every single day after he kept asking me "How many students today? What happened? Why nobody came?"

I was disappointed with his attitude, having a business mind and being the owner of a restaurant and a guesthouse I thought he would understand that it will take time for people to come, but he wanted to recover his investment in no time. To make matters worst I had only one student during the first two weeks! That was not very encouraging and the tension was building up between us.

Should I Stay or Should I go?

By the end of the first week I had decided to make another poster, based on the recommendation of a friend. I made the word Yoga more visible to attract people's attention even from across the street but it only brought one student. At the same time a couple of locals tried to intimidate me from teaching yoga in Arugam Bay.

One guy said that the police came looking for me but he had told them that he didn't know where I was. A fake story of course, but even then. He suggested, "for my own sake," that I should leave Arugam Bay or at least move to another guesthouse far away from Green Room Cabanas.

The whole situation was not very pleasant, I was not feeling very happy about it for sure. It was not working out for me so I felt like forgetting about the yoga classes and move somewhere else, perhaps even away from Arugam Bay. But I didn't want to loose my money that easily, and I was having so much fun surfing.

I Stayed and Tried Again

My friend Patrizia told me to just ignore them and not to worry about it, "there is just too much jealousy around here" she said, and my friend Lakshya encouraged me to keep trying, I had to teach yoga. So I decided to give it another try.

Some friends told me that I was charging too much; I was surprised.

Before I made the first poster I had checked the prices of the yoga classes at StartDust, were Kevin and Yael Kutler of Arugam Bay Yoga Waves teach. They are great teachers and they've been teaching in Arugam Bay since the beginning of time. I wanted to make sure that my price would be slightly cheaper but by the time that I made my posters they had changed their prices. I ended up charging more.

So I made a third poster with different prices, a bit cheaper than the first offer. By the way, placing these posters was not very easy. Arugam Bay is incredible hot during the season and even if I would do it early in the morning I would feel exhausted and dehydrated. It would take me hours, a meal break and a few liters of water.

Finally Things Started to Work Out

Finally, after that third poster, things started to work out and from the third week onwards I kept having students coming to the classes. I was really happy to finally be able to teach yoga.

Teaching Yoga in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
With a super fun group of Italians that loved the class

This was exactly what I needed to have a balanced life in Arugam Bay, to feel some sense of purpose and not just go surfing every day. I mean, I do love surfing but I also needed to feel that I was contributing with something.

By mid July I decided to teach a second class so I made a fourth poster announcing classes at 7 am and 10 am in the morning. The classes were going really well by then.

Yoga Class Poster in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
All the posters that I made for the yoga classes

The hall was pretty small but big enough for the amount of students that I was having, in average four students per class. I had one class with nine students and I could hardly move.

I had two other yoga teachers coming to my class, Anna-Maria from Sweden and Anna from the US. As soon as I found out that they were teachers I invited them to teach a few classes. That was fun, it felt really good to share the space with other teachers. Anna took the classes after I left.

What About My Money?

But Mohamed was still owing me the money that I had lent him to build the yoga hall and he didn't seem to have any initiative at all to pay it back.

I asked for it once more, about a month later when I was supposed to get it back, but he said he didn't have any money. He got angry and complained again about me staying for free at his place (we had had that same discussion before). After swearing a bit he asked me to leave and even threaten to call the police.

I tried to remain calm during the whole discussion. After a while, without apologizing, he said that he was stressed because he had too many bills to pay, including what he owed me, and the season had not being very good for his business. That I could understand, but his attitude was unacceptable to me.

Will I Get My Money Back? I Wondered

By the end of August I decided that it was time to leave Arugam Bay. It was not an easy decision but, as you might recall from Letting Life Lead Me in the Right Direction, I wanted to go back to Mysore for at least a month to practice Ashtanga Yoga with my teacher before moving to an ashram in Rishikesh.

"Will I get my money back?" I wondered. Just as I had predicted, I had to wait till my last days in A-Bay to know if I was gonna get my money back or not.

I told Mohamed, a week in advance, the date when I was going to leave; just to give him some time to get ready. Fortunately he kept his word and the last day he paid everything back according to what we had originally agreed.

Everything Worked Out All Right... Almost Everything

I was very happy, at the ended everything worked out all right, but the relationship between Mohamed and I deteriorated. It started very well and I thought that we would build a strong partnership but at end I lost completely my affection and trust in him.

Perhaps I wasn't able to put myself in his shoes or I wasn't grateful enough for staying at his guesthouse for free (that was his idea btw). I underestimated the impact that our cultural differences and the language barrier were going to have in our communication.

I know he is a good man and at the end he did keep his word. I hope that if I ever go back to A-Bay we can reestablish a more balanced and trustworthy relationship.

My Life in Arugam Bay

This is how my stories about Arugam Bay end. I must thank you cause I've really enjoyed sharing with you everything about my life in Arugam Bay, as I've written in:

Writing all these stories brought back all those wonderful memories. It was only four months but it feels like an eternity. I had a wonderful time learning to surf, meeting wonderful people from all around the world and teaching yoga, with its ups and downs, with its challenges and successes.

Please, watch with me the video that I shared in My Life in Arugam Bay - Learning to Enjoy Each Moment to the Fullest. While you listen to that awesome song picture yourself right there, at the beach, with a perfect sunny weather, seated on your surfboard in the company of some wonderful friends that you haven't met yet. Maybe you'll see me there, paddling to catch the next wave. That was my life in Arugam Bay.

Next: Interview with BNS Iyengar, direct student of Krishnamacharya, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga teacher in Mysore.

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