The Business of Yoga

"Money doesn't make you happy, but happiness makes you money." --Russell Simmons

The words "yoga" and "business" seem to go together about as well as oil and water. In addition to the obvious benefits of strength and flexibility, yoga turns practitioners on to mindfulness, embodiment and stress reduction, and with that comes an infusion of spiritual awakening, open-heartedness and self-discovery. Given these physical, mental and spiritual benefits of yoga, the concept of the business of yoga seems to be a contradiction in itself.

The challenge is in finding a way to run a successful for-profit yoga business while keeping these objectives and ideals in mind. Although it has not always been an easy task, my husband and I have found a balance running successful yoga studios without losing the basic physical, spiritual and mental aspects of yoga that drew us to practice the discipline in the first place.

I began practicing yoga when I was just out of college and living in New York City. My passion for the discipline quickly became clear, and I worked tirelessly to study and teach yoga.

My career teaching yoga included managing a studio in East Hampton, N.Y. I have continued training and maintained a daily practice in Buddhist meditation for the past 15 years. Meditation has been a huge asset in managing the daily business and staff while keeping my vision clear. I have studied Vipassana meditation in India and massage in Thailand. I've been practicing and teaching Thai massage for 10 years. I've also trained in craniosacral therapy through the Upledger Institute.

My husband, Stan, followed a similar path. He has been studying and practicing ashtanga yoga for 13 years, previously managed a successful yoga business, traveled and taught all over the world, and has an impressive background in massage, anatomy, vegan foods and nutrition.

In 2006, Stan and I took overGreenwich Yoga studio in Greenwich, Conn. Although the studio had been open for almost four years, it was turning only a small profit. During the first year of our ownership, not only did we double our sales, but we paid for the business out of that first year's profits. To accomplish that, we used our experience and expertise to develop a nationally recognized yoga teacher training program. We brought in several top national yoga teachers for workshops. We also expanded the styles of yoga offered and added more weekly class options to our community.

We had planned to open a juice bar from the beginning of ownership. During our second year, we added our first juice bar cafe with 100 percent organic juices, cleanses, smoothies, food and an online natural food co-op. We had to carefully consider how this growth would affect the expansion of the yoga business. The juice bar was an immediate and amazing success -- and just the community we needed to start to inspire ouronline natural food co-op

Our ideals and yogic philosophy play into what we serve in the juice bars that accompany our studios. We serve only vegetarian food because of our belief in ahimsa, or nonviolence. Low- or no-sugar products are used in our cafes because we believe that sattvic foods -- foods that do not overstimulate but instead balance the body and mind for meditative practice -- are an important part of balancing our lives. We serve foods that promote a calm mind and better health, which is challenging when deciding between what we know will sell vs. what we believe is best for the body. Most "organic" restaurants say they serve organic "whenever possible." We serve organic or we do not serve it at all. I believe that being true to what makes us passionate about our business will ultimately be what makes it succeed.

Our second studio space, on the east side of Greenwich, opened with an additional offering of a hot yoga studio. During that year, we also had a beautiful baby girl, Kaia -- after whom the studio is named. We tripled our revenue in the first three years due to our success adding additional revenue sources based on the needs we saw in the community and in our own lives.

We opened our third and largest studio in June of this year in Westport, Conn. It's been an unbelievable success, with 2,000 new students in the first three months and another big jump in revenue. We attribute that to word-of-mouth, reputation and an amazing PR team. With three studios in different towns, Greenwich Yoga no longer worked as an umbrella name. We changed the name to Kaia Yoga to build a stronger brand for our company. The word kaia means "pure" in Scandinavian and "body" in Sanskrit, as well as being our daughter's name.

Our business has been so successful because we realize that yoga classes are just the start to supporting all aspects of a person's being. This lifestyle approach leaves room for endless growth within our business model. In a world that is increasingly speeding up and overmedicating to deal with unhappiness and stress, our business is a breath of fresh air. An individual can find a yoga class, a green juice, a massage, a workshop or a relaxing yoga trip to Costa Rica. There are never-ending options for personal growth, healing, embodiment and mindfulness for everyone.

I have heard over and over from many business professionals that the downfall of a business is straying from your main product and trying to diversify too much. However, our product is pure self, and there are endless options for connection. I believe our ability to diversify is what has made us such a successful and rapidly growing business. Our business model is closer to an institute of higher education than a retail business, as our product is personal well-being and growth.

The challenges of running a yoga business come out of the benefits of practicing yoga. It becomes a lifestyle rather than just a job, and with that comes a lot of responsibility on our end to make sure that consumers are receiving a consistent, quality product even as we support our staff's personal and spiritual growth. Our business definitely leans toward the more nurturing feminine ideal and, within that, it is important to maintain boundaries and protocol for teachers and staff. We have a staff of 63 teachers and a schedule that includes more than 200 weekly classes at all locations. We are quickly becoming one of the largest wellness and yoga studios on the East Coast. I am constantly challenged on how to maintain open dialogue and support for each teacher and, at the same time, maintain a quality, consistent and authentic product.

In the business of yoga, it is essential that a business owner understand the ethics behind her decisions, maintain her own personal health and physical strength, and stay true to the basic principles underlying the practice of yoga. In the end, this balance results in a happier consumer and a happier business owner.

Gina Norman co-owns the Kaia Yoga Complete Wellness Centers in Westport and Greenwich, Conn., along with her husband, Stan.