About a month ago, one of our long-time community members asked if she could interview me for a school assignment, and I excitedly agreed. The story of how Yoga in Bowness came to be, and what we're all about, is one that I've been asked about a lot lately, and this was a great way to put it into words. The interview was a little more lengthy and turned into a 12 page-report (which she got an A+ on!), but I thought you might be most interested in the below questions. I hope you enjoy learning about our humble beginning, our deep roots in community, and our values, vision, and mission.
1) Can you describe your role at YIB and how you came into it?
I am the owner / founder / manager / and one of our teachers for Yoga in Bowness (I wear many hats - including occasional janitor, administrator, marketer, and much more). As a small business owner, you have to be able to play all the roles.
It’s a rather long story about how I came into this role, and I really love sharing it, but I'll try to shorten it up a bit. I prepared myself for a career in any industry, by doing a business degree in University (though I didn't know what field I wanted to apply my skills to). Post-university I took a job with a not-for-profit hoping that would satisfy my interest in "helping" others, but it was not what I was needing, and I continued to crave something with more personal meaning.
I had a long-standing, consistent interest in Yoga, which after almost a decade of occasional, mixed with dedicated practice, led me to pursue my first yoga teacher training. I didn't go into the training with the intention of teaching yoga full-time (and certainly not owning a studio), but rather just to deepen my own practice and understanding in yoga. I started sharing the teachings with friends in small personal classes in my kitchen, or their homes, or wherever (which I had also done in University, though I wasn't trained to teach, but just shared what I knew from my own practice and studies).
Shortly after completing the training I was laid-off from my unfulfilling job (a blessing not so in disguise), and decided that in the interim I would start teaching yoga until I figured out my next career move. Almost immediately I met with a woman who ran classes at a community center close to my home to ask her about teaching with her, and we had shared a very serendipitous moment together. Her previous business partner, who was supposed to be taking over the whole business from her in just a few weeks, had just called her and told her he wouldn't be. With a sparkle in her eye she told me this, and that she was moving out of the country in a few weeks, and asked if I would take over her classes at the community center. I was taken aback, and thought about it for the next day, but couldn't ignore the signs that the universe was clearly pointing me in this direction.
Just 2 weeks from then, I took over the 4-times weekly classes as Yoga in Bowness at a community center just blocks from my house. After a year of teaching yoga full-time, and beginning to explore life as a (very) small business owner, I decided this was the life & path for me! With growing support and interest from my students, and no other time-slots available to rent the center I was teaching out of, I knew it was time to look for other spaces. It wasn't until six months of searching for other rental options and coming up dry, that I decided to sign a formal lease and build out a dedicated yoga space in our community of Bowness
Though I was reluctant to call it a "Yoga Studio", as I felt it might take away the great casual, community feel we had at the center, we took on that role and grew into quickly. With the help of friends, family, and some of our very dedicated (and still present) yoga students, we built out the space that you now know and love. I decided on the values I wanted to portray, and hired on other teachers to work with me, who shared those values. We opened the doors to Yoga in Bowness, as you know it, on January 13th of 2014, and had the instant support and excitement of our students, and the community all around us.
Just over three years later, here we are - growing a stronger presence in the city, engaging with new students every week, and continuing to share the values of yoga and community that I initially set out to. My role continues to evolve and grow as the business does, and I enjoy seeing the change, and taking on new challenges as we adapt to the evolving interests of our community, and changing environment in the city. It couldn't have all come together without the interest, support, and help of everyone we've come in contact with: teachers, students, karma staff, other businesses, the BCA and BRZ, and my friends and family who've trusted in my vision, shared in my excitement, and help me see through to the end of the challenges. Our roots are in community, and we've grown organically - responding to the needs and interests of our students and teachers, while maintaining a clear vision around spreading the knowledge and true benefits of yoga, as far as we possibly can.
So to simplify even more, on HOW I came into my role, I think the recipe would look something like this: Adequate planning & preparation (even though I didn’t know where I was going), putting effort into the things that gave me joy, listening to my intuition and following signs that stuck out to me, a heavy dose of courage and trust, with a sprinkled of serendipity.
2) Can you describe your organization's vision or mission?
When I decided to evolve my simple weekly classes into a formal business, I really wanted to maintain the feeling of acceptance and inclusiveness that I had in the community center, and the other yogic values that I believed in (and still do). As a new yoga teacher in Calgary, I often heard the consistent belief of many “non-yogis” that they didn’t think yoga was for them because they weren’t “flexible / fit / spiritual / female / thin / hippie / young / wealthy / sexy / strong / weird" (insert any noun really) enough for it (like many North Americans still believe to be true). And though my practice may have started from a more vein and superficial intent, the one thing I knew to be absolutely true about practicing yoga, is that it could & should be available to everyone (so long as we allowed ourselves to experience it with an open-mind). So with my business, I wanted to be sure we represented that: that people who came in knew that they were welcome (regardless of their experience, status, or intentions), and they got a sense from our classes that they could start exactly where they were (no expectations) and we would provide them with the teachings to grow (in all ways). So thus, I created the following foundations for Yoga in Bowness:
- Vision: “Yoga for Everyone, and for a Better Community” – the “community” part here is a representation of two things: my belief in yoga’s ability to help unite and uplift the whole community / society / world. Through this practice's deeper benefits that extend beyond the individuals, we create a ripple effect into the community and beyond - sharing the joy, peace, and contentment with ten-times the amount of people who actually come into class. And secondly, my interest in keeping a very community-centric approach to the business – where we would continue to grow and shape our future around the interest and needs of the community we served.
- And we supported this vision, through our Mission: Our vision is to make yoga available to everyone by keeping it affordable, accessible and approachable, and our business is based around these 3 pillars:
- Affordable: we are committed to offering quality classes at a lower price than other nearby yoga studios.
- Accessible: Yoga classes that almost anyone can enjoy. We ensure that all of our classes offer modifications and variations on postures so that each student can get an experience that works for them and their body. If you have specific concerns or injuries, our instructors are knowledgeable and will be able to suggest which type of class may be best for you, or if you might find more benefit from a private session to begin.
- Approachable: Yoga shouldn’t be scary or intimidating, or create a space that encourages competition, or exclusion. YOGA IS FOR EVERYONE. We pride ourselves in creating an environment that is warm, welcoming, and inclusive. Everyone is welcome!
3) How would you describe the "culture" of YIB as an organization?
As described above, I really wanted to create an understanding that yoga is for everyone – so this played a big part in our culture. We value the diverse experiences, interests, needs, and skills of our teachers, staff and students. And by offering diverse approaches to yoga, we can support almost any individual in their discovery and journey into yoga. Additionally, because I wanted to keep a strong focus on community, I wanted everyone to feel as if they had a role in our growth. So though I am a one-women-owner-operator-teacher of the studio, there is a lot of support and interest in our continued success from others around us.
I suppose if I had to put it into two words, the culture of YiB would be “inclusive, and community-oriented” (ok three words).
4) How do you create and sustain that culture, in a city & society that often values more superficial and material things?
I encourage each individual to be authentic to themselves in all ways, and share that with everyone. I believe that everyone has a unique and special perspective and gift to share with the world, and by yoga can help you to get in touch with what that is. Then staying aware and connected to your own authenticity (your uniqueness as well as the things that unify you with others), you become a brighter light, more directed towards your passion (and true calling or path in life), and better able to succeed, excel, and propel others to do so as well. I stay true to myself – showing and being unafraid to express my authentic self, and celebrate that quality in others as well. And of course, as part of this all, I continue to share the science, and teachings behind how yoga helps us with this.
5) Has the modern day culture of yoga in general ever had an impeding effect on any part of your business? If so, how have you made changes to address this?
Yes, most definitely. Anyone in this industry could probably give you several experiences they’ve had where the general population’s understanding of yoga, has misconstrued what they do. There’s a really great meme that show several images, with text under each one saying “what the general population thinks I do”, “what my parents think I do”, “what my students think I do”, “what I think I do” – that relates to the varying and often incorrect perceptions around being a yoga teacher, or in the business of yoga.
In our westernized world, we tend to latch onto tangible, material things, and the idea of “perfection”, and we want it quickly. We want to know the exact science, with proof and years of studies to back it up, for why or how things are. And we want to SEE the results – faster, quicker, better, and more conveniently (read: without effort). Unfortunately for those who subscribe to this, they have a difficult time believing in yoga. Though there are many more studies and scientific proofs now, about how yoga benefits us, there is still much of this practice and process that can not be seen, measured, or even explained in scientific terms. And unfortunately for those who want the immediacy of our “convenience-oriented” society, the process of yoga (though has some immediate effects) is a long-one, and as one of the great yoga masters Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said “Yoga is for everyone: the fit, the weak, the young, the old … except the lazy” – it takes effort on behalf of the practitioner.
There are many yoga businesses and teachers who cater to our modern convenience lifestyles, with “built to awe and soothe you” environments, class types that are meant to please students, and especially marketing that continues to perpetuate the belief of yoga being only for those who can touch their toes or contort themselves into unrealistic pretzel-like shapes (or again – insert noun here). They create an expectation and culture around yoga being exclusive and as a “short cut” to certain material gains.
All of that goes directly against the core purpose of yoga, and the values that I believe in and put out there. So I (and we – those who share my values), have to work hard, and consistently to represent them, and help change the general population’s beliefs around yoga. Not to mention those who profess to be teachers of this ancient practice and yet promote and display values that distract from, or are completely opposed to the true authentic purpose of this practice.
6) How do you make your business stand out among the many yoga studios that exist in Calgary? What makes you different?
To be honest, this is a tough one to answer, as I constantly struggle with trying to put into words, how we are different from other studios. To “stand out” as a yoga studio in our city is a challenge on it’s own. There are more yoga studios per capita in Calgary, than any other Canadian (and maybe north American) city! This means, you have to put yourself & your message out there, louder and brighter than others, just to get noticed. Having a business degree (with a major in marketing) certainly helped me to understand this, ready to put the effort forth into working on it. But the biggest support we have for this, is the shared experiences of our staff and students. Word of mouth goes a long way, and every individual explains our space a little differently, in a way that lets their passion and excitement shine. However, one thing that is very commonly said & heard, is that of all the studio (to teach or practice at) – Yoga in Bowness is their favorite! Which just makes my heart sing!
I believe it’s the real commitment to the real purpose of yoga (awareness and acceptance of your authentic self) that makes us different. It’s felt & seen in different ways – through teachings, through the smile on the person at the desk, through the genuine interest of our students in theirs and others well-being, and through our no-ego, no-expectation environment.
7) Do you find differences and challenges between your role as a yoga instructor and that of the business owner?
Yes – definitely! There are significant differences in being a yoga teacher and a business owner: mostly differences in priorities, types of work, skills, and abilities. Managing these different roles can certainly be challenging, but it’s also part of what makes me love my life. I have the ability to explore and practice multiple disciplines and areas of interest and talent in my work. And being consistent in the way I handle my work (and I suppose my perspective on life in general), makes it easier. Though we are not as much of a traditional business as other studios, and maybe as some people think we should be, my approach to the business stems from my approach and beliefs in yoga: it’s organic, fluid but firm, and consistent. I share these values in my teaching, as well as in my business, and it makes my transitions from role to role more seamless – as if they were simply different spices I am using in my “soup of life” (hahaha :P).