I first “met” Vie in a Facebook group for yoga teachers. When Vie volunteered her expertise on being a studio owner (she and her partner Tim have opened 4 yoga studios, 2 private training locations, and a SUP store) I knew I wanted to feature their story. Vie shared with me the lessons they have learned from each studio, and why yoga entrepreneurs should act out of love, rather than fear.
What does being a lifestyle entrepreneur mean to you?
Being a lifestyle entrepreneur means that I am never going to have to wait all week for the weekend to come, or all year for that much needed vacation, or even better, I am never going to have to retire. I get to spend every day, doing what I love the most and what I am really good at. And the best part is that I can do it anywhere.
I became a lifestyle entrepreneur a couple of months ago when we decided to close our yoga studio and focus completely on training and writing.
You have opened 4 of your own studios! What have each of your studios taught you?
Since 1999, we have opened 4 yoga studios, 2 private yoga/strength training locations and a stand up paddleboard store. At one point we had 2 yoga studios and 2 private yoga/strength training locations and a Kayoga (kayaking + yoga) business, all operating at the same time. This kept us very busy! Through the years, we have learned many lessons, the main one being tenacity. At the end of the day, you need to keep moving forward, no matter what. Parts of our story may sound unpleasant but it’s all part of what made us stronger and better.
The first studio, which we owned for 3 years, held 36 people mat-to-mat and hardly had any parking. Almost every class was full. We learned that if people enjoy a class enough, they will travel long distances to get to it.
When we outgrew this location, we moved a couple of blocks away to a building at least 3 times bigger. The new space allowed us to build 3 classrooms and a meditation room, and held approximately 70 people total, with the main classroom holding about 55 students. It gave us the ability to have regular classes, specialty classes and private sessions, all going on at the same time. The main lesson we learned from this studio was that if you are going to offer many different styles of yoga, you better know and be ready to teach any style, at any time, so you can sub for the teacher who cannot make it to their class (We believe in never cancelling a class).
Studio number 3 was on the beach and operated at the same time as our second studio. It was only about 900 sq ft and held 15 people but it was our favorite studio space. While inside the studio, practicing, you literally watched dolphins jumping in the ocean. The distraction of the sunset and the ocean waves made it extremely hard to teach. A lot of times we stopped class to admire Mother Nature at its finest. This studio taught us non-attachment. We were given less than 2-weeks notice that we had to move because the property was sold and being torn down for condos. All the love we had put into it was gone within moments, as we watched a crane go through the building.
In the meantime, our second studio was still flourishing. The classes were full, the clients were happy and life was good. Little did we know that the clothing store next door was closing and the landlord was about to rent the space to a person who was opening up a bar. But not just any bar; It opened up at 3pm and its patrons were from one of the local city gangs. They would sit outside the bar drinking, yelling and screaming at each other while we were teaching classes. The parking lot behind the building was written up in the local newspaper as one of the most dangerous parts of the city. After a gang related shooting outside the studio, we terminated all evening classes and turned the studio into a daytime private and small group training location which operated very successfully until our lease expired, a year later. We learned to be flexible and willing to adapt, making the best out of what is there.
After our lease was up we decided to reopen our yoga studio, studio number 4 now. Only this time, we knew better. We purchased the new location so we would have more control. And we are very happy we did. This last studio gave us the opportunity to implement everything we learned in the past and then some! We were able to streamline the studio operations so well that we now had time to grow our own personal practice and teaching skills. This studio was open for 7 years until we decided to fully concentrate on writing and teaching. We have published 3 books in less than 2 months. One of them made it on Amazon’s bestseller list.
What is your favorite place to practice?
The island of Aegina, in Greece, where we conduct our 200-hr and 300-hr teacher trainings. Practicing yoga at the Temple of Afaia, built in 480 B.C. is truly a spiritual experience.
What sets your 200-hr Yoga Teacher Training apart from others?
I was born and raised in Athens, Greece so I got to study Ancient Greek Philosophy since that was a significant part of my school’s curriculum. Years later I came to realize the strong and natural connection between the Vedic Philosphy and the Ancient Greek Philosphy. I say natural because history shows that Ancient Greece and India had a great influence on each other. Alexander the Great for example traveled with and studied with Yogis or Gymnosophists (aka Naked Philosophers) such as Kalanos.
So, the foundation of our Teacher Training is inspired by the Ancient Greek Peripatetic Philosophers (Aristotle and his students). We focus on helping the students understand their own unique skills, reflect on their current life purpose, recharge their passion for disruption and creativity, and consider how they will make a long-term impact on the issues that matter most to them.
When I first started teaching, I found it difficult to balance my drive to teach with actually finding time to practice myself! How do you maintain a regular practice while running your businesses?
It is very challenging to maintain a regular practice while teaching, whether that means 6-7 group classes per day with private clients in between, or 10-12hr days leading teacher trainings and workshops.
My students will tell you that my favorite term ever is the “economy of action”: Act in the most effective and efficient way for the maximum return. So we designed our morning routine to take no more than 40 minutes and that includes physical practice, breath-work and meditation. We then add some practice time during the day, as our schedule allows. These 40 minutes first thing in the morning, shape the rest of our day. Plus, according to Ayurveda, this is the best time to practice and a very essential element to your dinacharya (daily routine).
What is your first consideration when choosing a location for a new studio?
Location, location, location might mean a lot for some businesses but not for yoga. We have learned that if someone likes your teaching style, they will drive even an hour and a half to take your class. We have even been told by clients on several occasions that they moved closer to the studio to be able to take more classes.
If we were to open up another studio at a space that we would be renting, we would look at our neighbors, but we would also keep in mind that the neighborhood can change. More essential for us would be the inside of the space, such as insulation, ventilation, flooring and electrical.
Outside of yoga, you love to be outdoors (rock climbing, surfing, whitewater kayaking, and scuba diving). Have you started any businesses in these realms too?
As a matter of fact, yes. We started KaYoga in early 2000 which involved kayaking to a secluded island, practicing yoga on the beach, and kayaking back. It was about a 3-hour trip all together and clients loved it! We had 20 kayaks on our fleet.
In 2006, KaYoga led us to Stand Up Paddle & Yoga which took us into a whole new world. We developed the first SUP & Yoga Yoga Alliance Teacher training certification and have been certifying yoga teachers and fitness professionals in SUP & Yoga since then.
What is the first piece of advice you would give someone about to open a yoga studio?
I would ask them to always act out of love versus fear.
There seems to be an unfortunate dichotomy between yoga and business. We see many great yoga teachers who open up studios because they love yoga — yoga has helped change their life! But within a short period of time, they end up frustrated with yoga, closing their studio, and even stopping their practice all together.
It’s not that they are “bad” teachers (in fact, some of them are probably better teachers than both Tim and me). The problem is that fear kicks in. The fear of not having enough students in the class, the fear of other studios taking their students, the fear of the dreaded “competition”. That fear would not have kicked in if they had studied business and marketing first, before opening up their studio. And I am not talking about getting an MBA. I mean studying, reading books, listening to podcasts, joining entrepreneur forums, surrounding themselves with people who want to see them succeed.
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