If You Can Breathe, You Can Do Yoga | Ep.1

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Claire visits with Karma, a joyful studio owner who’s all about breaking down barriers for people who think yoga isn’t for them. She shares her strategies for making sure beginners stick around long enough to feel successful and commit to a regular practice. Wine yoga and cat yoga are part of the plan!

Timestamps

  • 0:00 Introduction to Karma
  • 1:35 Wine Yoga
  • 4:00 Yoga for everyone and appealing to non-yogis
  • 4:45 Where Karma comes from (fitness-yoga journey)
  • 6:44 Creating the studio space
  • 8:11 Virtual classes
  • 10:45 Beginners Course and Beginners Plus
  • 13:15 Yoga scene
  • 14:13 Finding Instructors with different styles
  • 16:19 Student growth
  • 18:14 Cat Yoga
  • 19:14 Finding space for self-practice and meditation
  • 21:59 Yoga maintenance and growth
  • 25:19 Clients needs and goals
  • 26:47 Getting off the ground with Punchpass
  • 29:20 What’s next for YBK?

Special thanks to Karma, owner of Yoga By Karma, for being our special guest on this episode!

Transcript

[00:00:00] Karma: I was supposed to be a boy. When I came up as a girl, my dad said to my mother, “Well, that’s Karma for you.” That's how the name came about, and I hope this makes the cut so my dad can watch it.

[00:00:13] Claire: Hello and welcome to Good Moves, a podcast by Punchpass. On our show, we have wholehearted conversations with fitness and yoga studio owners to learn more about the unique ways they run their businesses and the inspiring ways they live their lives. I'm your host, Claire. I ran a thriving yoga studio for eight years, and I've been part of the Punchpass team for almost as long. We have so much to learn from each other. Let's jump right in. 

So, welcome to Good Moves. We're here with Karma from Yoga by Karma. Karma, can you just start by introducing yourself? 

[00:00:45] Karma: Hello. 

[00:00:46] Claire: Hello! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your business?

[00:00:50] Karma: My name is Karma, and I run a business called Yoga by Karma. I've been operating for about two and a half years to three years now. Basically, I have this opportunity to live my best life and to impart well-being to others. 

[00:01:12] Claire: That’s fantastic. So you've got a smaller studio at the moment. How many students are you getting in for classes right now?

[00:01:19] Karma: Right now, it's a max six. Usually, it's a max eight, given our restrictions. But sometimes when I do offer the wine yoga, we get in about nine or ten.

[00:01:34] Claire: That's fantastic. I read about that on your website, actually. Can you tell us a little bit more? I'm always interested in the ways people combine yoga with all sorts of different things. Tell me about wine yoga. 

[00:01:44] Karma: Wine yoga is a super fun yoga class. We incorporate wine tasting along with some fun activities. For example, if you spill your drink, you have to say one thing you're grateful for. It's a fun sort of class, and anyone's welcome, so you don't have to be an expert. You can be new to yoga. And then, of course, at the end, we finish it up with some narci nibbles and fun facts. And sometimes, I chuck a quiz in there for those that have been coming a few times. We change it up, and it's just a fun class.

[00:02:20] Claire: That's awesome. I have to kind of ask, I don't want to get too deep too soon, but obviously, for some people, the concept of wine plus yoga is a little bit controversial. Have you had anyone sort of push back and say, “Hey, this is not YOGA-yoga?”

[00:02:37] Karma: No, not at all. In fact, I remember going into a store one time when I first opened my business, and I was talking about my business, and this woman said, “No, no, yoga is not my thing, but if wine was involved…” and I said, hold that thought. I will make it happen. So I've actually got people who have never done yoga before coming to do yoga. And we're talking only a small amount of wine here. It's literally a wine tasting. So everyone is not falling out of the yoga studio intoxicated.

[00:03:11] Claire: No, it's not about that. And I think that's always sort of—I've run a yoga studio in the past, and I think that's always been my philosophy too. I would rather have a hundred people turn up imperfectly than one person turn up perfectly. It's like getting people in and getting them to beginner yoga classes that they are comfortable with. I think it's such a critical thing because it's a huge step for people. 

I think people really—it's intimidating to walk into a yoga class for the first time when you’re new to yoga. And if you can couple it with something that they're comfortable with, and that feels a little bit maybe irreverent and connected to something they do in their regular life, then it's not this wild, crazy next step.

[00:03:51] Karma: Exactly.

[00:03:50] Claire: Do you find that it helps people take that first step, and is that the type of community that you tend to attract as well? You attract people from all over the place, you think?

[00:04:02] Karma: Yes. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the clientele that I have in the community. A lot of them haven't done yoga, or they think you have to be flexible to do yoga. Is yoga for everyone? Everyone can do yoga. Wine yoga is just one of those ways of getting people in and seeing that there is a yoga for everyone and getting them to understand that it's not just about being flexible. It's about the whole package, the wellbeing package. We do breathing; we do mindfulness and meditation. Breaking down those walls and barriers, I think, is important for us as yoga teachers. So if we can offer different beginner yoga classes, that's a way to expose people to better, healthier well-being.

[00:04:46] Claire: Absolutely. So how did you first get exposed to yoga? Obviously, your name is Karma, so I feel like maybe it may have been somewhere in your childhood. But maybe I'm completely wrong about that. Can you tell me a little bit about your journey?

Karma: [00:05:00] Sure. I'm legitimately called Karma. A lot of people think that it's a name that I've changed just due to my job. But I was supposed to be a boy. When I came up as a girl, my dad said to my mother, “Well, that’s Karma for you.” That's how the name came about, and I hope this makes the cut so my dad can watch it. 

Anyways, I came about yoga because I've been involved with sports my entire life: competitive sports. I got to the age where I was finding that this competitive sport is just—I was not able to do that anymore. And so, I started doing yoga, and I found that the by-product of doing yoga was calming my very busy monkey mind and calming my very busy body. 

I've always been a teacher in my adult life in some way, shape, or form, and I literally had a light bulb moment where I wasn't quite happy with the place that I was teaching. And I was like, “What can I do? What can I do?” And I literally was like, “Oh, I know. I'm going to quit my job, train to become a yoga teacher, own a whole yoga studio, and create an environment where people come into some tranquility.” It was literally one day.

[00:06:22] Claire: That's amazing. And then the process just began that day. And did you quit that day? Was it that dramatic, or was it more of a process of figuring out no, I'm actually going to follow through on this? 

[00:06:31] Karma: It was about a month. I basically did a bit of research for a month on how to start a yoga studio, and since then, it's been a hundred and fifty percent, and I'm still going.

[00:06:44] Claire: One of the things I really love about your business is your studio space. Did that exist before the idea of the studio existed? Which came first, the beautiful little space that you have or the idea to run a yoga studio? 

[00:06:55] Karma: The idea came first, and then I was lucky enough to sort of have a space that I could convert and make a purpose-built. So it was a labor of love for sure before I opened the business. I had workers, and I had my husband helping me, and it was a team effort to get to this place of having the good feel, tranquility, and a zen-like environment. So—a labor of love.

[00:07:25] Claire: Yes, I think it's really important to have that sort of moment where people walk across the threshold, and they really feel that sense of peace and calm. I think that's something that's—there's something beautiful about practicing yoga in a gym or somewhere a little bit different and making it work. But something about having that committed studio space is really a beautiful part of the practice. And it gives people that opportunity to just switch gears a little bit quicker. I think it's a little bit of a fast-forward to serenity: when they step in and they already feel like they're back in that space where they can be relaxed, genuine, and have that connection. It's a real blessing, I think, to be able to give people that; it's gorgeous. 

And currently, you're teaching online and in-person at the moment. So you're finding students that are virtual as well. How's that going for you?

[00:08:17] Karma: So, at first, it was really challenging, and I think it was quite good being able to just offer it online first. And then, when we were able to open the studio again, learning how to offer those hybrid classes with teaching in-studio and online at the same time. It’s just like anything in life: Practice makes precision. So I still offer those classes, and it gives everyone—I guess it incorporates my motto, yoga for all—the opportunity to practice yoga. So if they don't feel comfortable coming to the studio or they have to miss because they're sick or something happens, they have that access there online.

[00:08:56] Claire: Do you feel like you're mainly serving—is it that people generally do both? So is it still local people, for the most part coming to online classes? Does it still feel like you're serving the local community, or are those online classes finding a broader audience? 

[00:09:10] Karma: To be honest, it's still the local community, and my clientele is very much like the whole package. So I find that when we have to shut down the studio for the alert level changes, then our clientele does drop off. A lot of these clients have got families at home, or their space is not conducive to practicing yoga, and they want to come in. That's their time away from their kids or the busy life. They want to come in and get that zen-like environment as well as the yoga practice. 

Yes, it's a great opportunity to broaden it, but also, there's only one of me. There's only much you can do to market and spend time. I'd love to have more of me.

[00:09:57] Claire: It's definitely one of the things I think a lot of yoga studio owners struggle with in navigating how to run a yoga studio. But I think the online realm has given them that possibility.

Are you dabbling in recorded classes at the moment? Are you using the content library and things like that, or are you sticking to live at this stage?

[00:10:11] Karma: So it’s a little bit of both, really. What I've found really useful, and my clients have found really useful, is that when I teach a beginner’s course, I will record the class. Because the courses are nine weeks, sometimes, people miss out. And so they will access the recording. They have access to those recordings for the full nine weeks of the course. And then also, there are little tutorials that they have access to. So prerecorded material as well as live. Everything.

[00:10:41] Claire: Yes, the whole bit. One of the things I saw that I really like that you do is you do the beginner’s course, which is great. And I think that's a real foundation for a lot of yoga studios and something that is really, really common. But the thing that I saw that you do that isn't as common is doing the next step. So, not quite beginner-level, but not quite ready to come into regular classes. You've got sort of that next level for beginners. Why did you implement that? What did you see was happening after your beginner's courses? Are people still not ready to take that step, or were there different things you wanted to add in there?

[00:11:13] Karma: Yes, I had done a whole bunch of beginner’s classes and what I was finding is that they're not quite comfortable enough to come into the Casual Yoga, All Levels; that’s how I've titled that anyways. So I created a beginner’s plus yoga course to give them that next step. And I also offer it at the same time. So for the nine weeks, let’s say, for example, it's a Thursday at six o'clock, and then for the next term, the beginner’s plus, all those clients have the opportunity to transfer into the beginner's plus course. 

And I guess that keeps people committed, and it progresses them. Then you find that after those courses, they actually feel more comfortable coming into those casual classes. There’s yoga for all levels, so it gives them a little bit more confidence, a little bit more practice. Because there's only so much you can accomplish in one hour a week for nine weeks.

[00:12:11] Claire: Right. And even, I think even nine weeks is quite long for a beginner's course. We see lots of studios that are running beginner's courses for four weeks, six weeks. I think that's more the standard. So I really love that you spend that much time with them. And I really feel like you must have a good handle on what they need at that point. Really, listening to the needs of your community and your students; how they're feeling, and what they need to do next is really brilliant because an all-levels class is not really an all-levels class. 

I think a lot of studios want to welcome beginners to give them some way to go. But if you give them that bad first experience where they feel intimidated or out of their depth, I think that's a really precious time for yoga teachers to just really catch those people at the right time. It doesn't take much to throw them off and have them go, “Well, that wasn't for me.” 

We always tried to encourage people to try different teachers and even different studios. I think that's a really interesting way to go. Do you have other studios nearby? What does the yoga scene look like in your area?

[00:13:16] Karma: So, when I first opened the studio, there weren't any studios in the area. There was only sort of the community centers that you go to; massive community centers. Since then, there’ve been a couple more yoga studios open. But I sort of live in the countryside rurally, so I service different areas. I'm right smack in the middle of different areas. There are some little studios popping up here and there, and they tend to be studios that are at a school or community center. I like to think that I'm offering something different from them. And yes, a hundred percent. I always encourage clients to try out different teachers, try different places and find something that works for them because not everyone's going to like my studio or me. They might resonate with someone else or a different style of yoga, so I'm big on that.

[00:14:11] Claire: Absolutely. And you've got a few other teachers working for you now. Are they teachers that have trained with you specifically, or are they teachers that you've just seen resonating with the style of yoga and the type of community you want to build? How do you find your people?

[00:14:25] Karma: I put out a job ad as per usual. And then I get to know the teacher; I get to watch their style. What I base it on is being able to offer the clients different styles of yoga with different people. So I try to find people that are completely different from me so that if a client comes in and like, “This didn't gel with me”, then I say, “Okay, what is it that you're after? What are your goals? Okay. How about you try this teacher?” And so I employ, or I contract out different teachers to provide that opportunity to try different styles and different teachers. Because at the end of the day, we all had that science teacher or English teacher we didn’t quite like, and we all had that favorite math teacher that we did. That's the same with yoga. Isn't it?

[00:15:19] Claire: So do you think that influences people and the type of yoga that they may eventually start following along with? Do you think maybe the teacher can be powerful enough to have them attracted to a particular style because they love the teacher and they love the way they teach?

[00:15:33] Karma: Absolutely. Yes. I think that's a huge part of it, and I think that's just human nature. Isn't it? Where we gravitate to our peeps, you know, and our teacher. And that's totally fine. I think that's great. If you can find someone that works with you, resonates with you, and helps you achieve your goals, then great. I think you’ll find in the yoga world that people get very attached to their teachers. And I think it’s also the same. As teachers, we would have our favorite classes. There are some people we absolutely love coming in and bringing their energy. 

[00:16:10] Claire: What are your favorite types of students? It's controversial. Obviously we very much—I know sometimes obviously you get to see people transform or come in a bit shaky and then bloom and blossom. What kind of things do you resonate with?

[00:16:29] Karma: I like the ones that come in who are vulnerable and share because it's a small studio. I always like the ones who've come in, are new to the community, make friends and find themselves in a comfortable environment. And, the ones that come every single week and we just have a chat at the start of class like, “How's your life? How's such and such? What are you up to this weekend?” And it's about not just coming to do the motions for yoga, but about connecting with people. And those that come every week, you obviously naturally connect with.

[00:17:11] Claire: Right. And having been around now for two and a half years and seeing a lot of the same people, you'd then be seeing them move through some major life transitions and different things that they're handling through yoga. I think that's a really beautiful thing to see and the longer you do it, I guess the more that's going to continue on through. It's a beautiful way to connect with your community.

[00:17:32] Karma: I have this one client who—we just got some land and some lambs.

[00:17:39] Claire: Yes, I saw your lambs, I think. 

[00:17:41] Karma: Three pet lambs. And I have this one client who loves the lambs. So she's been coming to just feed the lambs and comes a little bit early to pet the lambs. And that warms my heart because I've made her day in more ways than one. Not just coming to do the yoga, but she also gets to connect with nature and it just warms my heart.

[00:18:02] Claire: I think that's really beautiful because it's nice to give a little bit more than just the yoga class, but since you mentioned it, are you still doing the cat yoga? I'm very curious about cat yoga.

[00:18:16] Karma: Yes, but not at this particular point with the restrictions. When the restrictions lift, definitely we'll be bringing back cat yoga. I can see it on the board. I've written on the board: “don't worry. Cat yoga and wine yoga will return.” 

[00:18:30] Claire: Are they your cats that come to yoga?

[00:18:35] Karma: Yes. And I've always sort of said, if you want to BYO cat, you're welcome to as well, but that hasn't happened yet. 

[00:18:44] Claire: Oh my. That would be quite a yoga class. Have you thought about doing outdoor things and things out on the lawn? Or do you stick to the studio and, and enjoy it that way instead?

[00:18:53] Karma: I have thought about doing it out on the lawn, but it's just one of those things I haven't gotten round to yet. And with the lawn being dug up—summer’s out, so the lawn’s all dug up. It's one step at a time.

[00:19:09] Claire: I think that sounds more than reasonable. Speaking of balancing one step at a time, what does your practice look like these days? Do you still practice now that you're teaching? Because you teach quite a bit each week. Do you still?

[00:19:20] Karma: Yes. I teach probably about 16 hours a week. It is a lot. I sometimes attend my other teachers’ classes and get a good dose of my own yoga practice, but I have literally many yoga practices throughout the day, particularly in the evening. As I'm folding the washing, I'll sort of pause, stretch to the left and take a few breaths. I might do a half-moon as I pick up the washing. Or before bed, I’ll do a downward dog. I do guided meditation every single day. So I just sort of interweave my yoga practice throughout the day and in the evening, especially.

[00:20:05] Claire: That's gorgeous. I think a lot of people do end up making that transition. I remember feeling like it wasn't an hour and a strong, powerful Vinyasa class. You couldn't take off that yoga books, but I think it's so much more important to just weave it in and just have it be a part of your life. And it's great if you get an hour every now and then, but the little bits, the 10, 20-minute practices, are really a fantastic thing to do.

[00:20:29] Karma: Exactly. And it's realistic. I actually said it to my clients. If you can get in one minute, two minutes, even if it's just breathing practice for a minute, you're doing something. And in this busy world, especially running a business, it's so hard to find that hour or so.

[00:20:53] Claire: Yeah, I can relate. It's really interesting. And I think a lot of people—it's very possible that a lot of people have not done that for 10, 15, 20 years before they’ve stopped and been present. I remember teaching classes where we would just do really simple breathwork like literally sitting and feeling your breath go in and feeling your breath go out. And that was honestly the first time that people had done that and been present because they would literally wake up every day and then go to sleep at night. And in-between, it would be one thing to the next, to the next, to the next, to the next. And I think that's quite a remarkable thing to break that cycle for people and just show them that there is another way for their brain to exist; I think maybe is the best way to put it. It's a real gift to give to people.

[00:21:37] Karma: And I think you find that once you've got that regular practice, you find that you can't have life without that practice. I don't want to use the word addiction, but it becomes like you have to have that in your life because otherwise, you feel like crap.

[00:22:00] Claire: Yes. It's that maintenance. And I think as people get older as well, they just assume their body is going to start going downhill. I think I had someone message me once and say, “I'm 38, and I'm just starting to feel so old”. And let's not talk about how old 38 really isn't. But it doesn't have to be that way. And don't get me wrong. Some people have genuine conditions and injuries that can't be overcome with yoga. It is not a miracle. We can all understand that, but it also doesn't have to be this sort of slow downhill into every time you stand up, your back hurts, and your knees hurt and you feel terrible, and you have no strength. I just think yoga is this sort of lubricant to keep you going for the rest of your life, especially as you get older.

I remember getting a message when I was a studio owner from a 38-year-old, which is not old, but let's not—I think I was 38 at the time, actually, which was kind of interesting. And she was like, “I’m getting older, and everything’s starting to hurt, and I'm wondering if yoga can help.” Thirty-eight isn’t old, but I think it was a really interesting point for the idea of yoga as maintenance. Like you were saying, spiritual maintenance, learning how to breathe, and interluding. But I think it's also a really important tool so that you don't necessarily have to just slide downhill when you get older. 

Do you find that people are responding that way to your teachings as well? And just that maintenance side of things, kind of the flossing of the body.

[00:23:28] Karma: Absolutely. And I've got a client. He must be in his seventies or eighties, and he's been coming with his wife religiously for about two years now. And at the start, he could not balance and hold a tree. He had very limited balance and two years down the track, he can hold his tree. So it's not just about maintenance, but I think also you can learn; your body can re-train; you can gain balance and strength. So maintenance, but for those who are consistent, there definitely are changes over time.

[00:24:06] Claire: I think that's really powerful. I think that's such a great thing. You get those people that say they're not flexible, so they can't do yoga. And that's such a wild thing, I think, as a yoga studio owner or as a teacher to hear that over and over again. I can see how it makes sense to them, but on the other hand, that doesn't actually make a lot of sense. Yoga is for everyone. So there's that battle of overcoming those misconceptions. Do you find that you do a lot of work with reframing things for people and encouraging them to come in and give it a try?

[00:24:41] Karma: Yes, absolutely. And when you've been out there in the community at community events and things, you find that I've sparked a conversation with someone or you overhear someone say, “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.” And that's literally the most common thing that I hear anyone say. I also think once clients have had the opportunity to

come and have a regular practice, they pass that on to their friends and family. And it's like, “Look, you don't have to be flexible to do yoga.” So breaking down those misconceptions, one person at a time. 

[00:25:16] Claire: I think that's really, really important. Do you feel like your studio is deliberately a welcoming place for all body types and demographics? Do you deliberately train your teachers or make sure that's part of the kind of vernacular of the studio; that it's super-duper welcoming?

[00:25:34] Karma: Absolutely, I make sure that when a client first comes, they'll write down their goals and get the teacher to know. And one thing I love about Punchpass is that you can write the notes in so that we can see and communicate clearly about what the client's needs are and then direct them to a class that does to their needs. Whether it be restorative yoga or a beginner's course so that everyone does feel like they're here. And then sometimes, they offer a mindfulness meditation class. If you can breathe, you can do yoga. And that's something that I really like to push and communicate to people.

[00:26:14] Claire: Yes. But I think the flip side to that is that not all classes are for everybody. And I think there's a power in that too. And that was always something that I was really strong on when I was running a studio. If we're really clear about what this class is for and who it’s most suited to, that really gives people the freedom to give it a try if they want to give it a try. But it means the teachers can teach it the way it's supposed to be taught, keeping everyone safe, obviously, and not putting anyone at risk, but making sure that there are enough classes there so that everyone can get to a class that suits them the best. 

So you've been with Punchpass since you created your studio. That's right, isn't it? So you've never used spreadsheets and punched actual punch cards or anything like that. You've been using the software since the very beginning. 

[00:27:01] Karma: Yes. So when I first started out, I did a lot of research on different booking systems, and I communicated with various different companies. And to be honest, Punchpass was an absolute no-brainer compared to everyone else and everything else. I absolutely, and still to this day, love Punchpass, and I'm not just saying this is not paste content here. And my clients as well. So many say—and a lot of them are sort of middle-aged. They say it's really easy to use, which is important: for clients to be able to access something that's easy to use.

[00:27:42] Claire: Absolutely. So are you finding that it takes a lot of the load off of you from an admin standpoint? Do you use any other systems, or is it really just Punchpass, and away you go?

[00:27:53] Karma: Just Punchpass, pretty much. It’s got everything that I need to collect any information about clients, which is really important. People's health status, and yeah, I literally cannot fault it.

[00:28:10] Claire: Awesome. I remember doing the setup with you a few years ago, and it did seem like it was going to be a great fit. You just got kind of up and running really quickly and hit the ground running. And then obviously, tricky transitions through different lockdowns and  COVID and when the world changed. I'm really glad we can kind of help people navigate those. I think that was really one of our shining moments: when we kind of jumped on board the Zoom thing really quickly and gave our clients options. Again, not to try to sound like an ad for Punchpass because it worked, but it was a really beautiful thing to be a part of. And people thought the world was ending, and we gave them this whole opportunity to open it back up again, which I think is a really great thing to be able to do.

[00:28:53] Karma: Absolutely. And I think I just want to add to that. You guys are always changing and evolving and are able to provide feedback as well. And the communication I've had with you guys is a second-to-none service. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making life so much easier.

[00:29:15] Claire: You're very, very welcome. It's absolutely my pleasure to be a part of it all. So, I guess my kind of final question for you before you wrap it up today is, what's next? Are you happy where you are? Are you just sort of settling in with the smallest studio in your current community, or do you have any next steps in mind?

[00:29:34] Karma: Wow. Well, I've got lots of plans. I would love the biggest studio, and I will be

doing everything in my power to try and make that happen, to offer it to more people. And I would love in the future to be able to offer this in different communities. So perhaps open up a Yoga by Karma franchise, probably call it YBK.

[00:30:02] Claire: Beautiful. 

[00:30:04] Karma: And my goals have always been huge, but—I haven't got these cushions behind me, but, “If you dream big enough, anything can come true” is on my cushion.

[00:30:18] Claire: That's gorgeous. I mean, just from talking to you, it feels like you're so balanced and where you want to be. But with that, great looking forward and seeing a lot of possibilities and potential too, and I think that's really exciting. I kind of see that on your face. It's a beautiful thing. 

[00:30:33] Karma: Yay! You know, I'm so privileged and honored and grateful to do what I do. And when I'm having a really bleep day, doing what I do makes me feel a lot better as well. So imparting that to other people is just such a truly wonderful experience.

[00:30:59] Claire: That's beautiful. Well, it definitely comes through, and I really appreciate you talking with us today. Thank you so much for being a part of the podcast and giving us your time. Thank you very much. 

If you'd like to learn more about any of the guests that we featured on the show or about Punchpass, you can head to our website at punchpass.com.

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