Diane Calabria (also an Ananda Yoga Teacher Training graduate) interviewed Cheryll to explore the process of opening and running a yoga studio.
Diane: First, a little background information. When did you complete Ananda Yoga Teacher Training?
Cheryll: I received my Ananda Yoga® certification in August 2001 and my certificate to teach meditation in July 2001. (I had already been certified in other styles.)
After I read Autobiography of a Yogi, I contacted Self-Realization Fellowship in Houston and attended an introduction on Kriya Yoga. I enrolled in their program and began looking for a retreat center. That’s how I found Ananda.
Right away, I knew that I wanted to teach Ananda Yoga. I felt that something had been missing all the years I had taught prior to finding Ananda. I wanted a more spiritual yoga. Perhaps it had been offered way back then and I was not ready to receive it, but I was at the time I found Ananda.
Diane: What was your impression of Ananda Yoga Teacher Training (AYTT)? Easy, hard? Any especially powerful “aha!” moments?
Cheryll: I loved my AYTT. It was all that I had been seeking and more because of the dedicated and knowledgeable staff.
Diane: I felt I had found not only a training program but a spiritual family. I don’t really remember it being hard, however it was very comprehensive. Two of my yoga students have gone to AYTT and I will continue to recommend this great program to those who ask me.
Diane: At the time you completed AYTT, what were your teaching plans? Teach a little, teach a lot?
Cheryll: I was already teaching yoga when I earned my certification; however I had not been teaching meditation. So, I continued to teach three classes a week at different centers in town, and I started teaching meditation a couple of times a year in my home. I was teaching at the YMCA, hospitals, and schools.
You know, packing around the stereo, music, mats, blankets, huff and puff. However, I was doing what I loved.
Diane: Describe your initial teaching experiences. How did you manage the transition from AYTT to actual teaching?
Cheryll: When I began teaching Ananda Yoga, I felt that I had more to offer my students. The affirmations were well received and loved. The transition to pauses between asanas and a less athletic yoga was trickier.
However with continued help from other Ananda teachers and staff I got better at it. Having students focus on the affirmations during the pauses seemed to work well.
Diane: Were there any rough spots? How did you overcome them?
Cheryll: Some days, when I had been very busy with other responsibilities in my life, I would find that my classes had a less peaceful vibration. I was not centered and felt I was cheating my students. I didn’t feel that I had fulfilled my purpose.
So I began offering every class to Master [Yogananda] and asking him to guide me, that each student would receive what he or she needs. It works wonders.
Diane: Describe any special joys, or experiences that kept you going.
Cheryll: Students report that they have lost weight, are more calm, can act and not react, are more balanced and flexible, but my favorite is when students say that they feel more spiritual after classes.
Diane: When did you begin thinking about opening a studio? How long did it take between initial musings and bringing your goal to fruition?
Cheryll: I always thought it would be nice to have a studio, but once I felt it was necessary, it still took me two years to bring it to fruition.
Diane: What factors influenced your decision? What encouraged you, and what fears did you have to overcome? Was there a particular incident that solidified your resolve to move forward on opening a studio?
Cheryll: I felt I needed some control over the environment. I could handle packing all my stuff around, but the facilities would change my days and times (sometimes not telling me until students and I arrived for class), or the length of time the room was available, and it was usually very cold in the rooms. T
he atmosphere at several places was very competitive and loud. And some places were filthy dirty when I arrived. I was told not to hand out any literature from Ananda, nor could I sell any books, blankets, etc.
(Image placeholder)Cheryll Barsic poses in her new Lotus Yoga Loft
The greatest factor was that I wanted a peaceful, spiritual energy in our space — I wanted a place to grow internally, not just physically.
Diane: Did you just see this space available one day and think, “There’s my yoga studio”? Or were you actively looking for a space when you found it? Is there an interesting story connected with how you found the space?
Cheryll: I’d been looking for about a year and wasn’t finding anything appropriate, not even close. Occasionally I wondered if it was a message that I should stay at the YMCA. After all, I had been teaching yoga there for 15 years.
In retrospect, I think it just wasn’t the right time. My intuition kept telling me that I could be truer to my path if I found someplace where I had more control over the energy and atmosphere.
Then a lady I work with mentioned that there was a big, vacant room (loft) in a building belonging to a relative of hers, a karate instructor.
When I saw it, I fell in love with it. It needed some cleaning, painting, and emptying of stored stuff, but it was perfect. I started working on it, but ran into a snag: this guy didn’t own the building after all, and the owner wouldn’t allow me to sublet!
For the next six months, I visualized, intended, and willed the place to my cause. Every time I drove by, I asked Yogananda and Ganesha to remove all obstacles and make it so, if it was the right place. Eventually, the karate instructor bought the building and I was in!!!!
Diane: Do you think there is a “critical mass” at which an aspiring yoga teacher/studio owner has to be in terms of length/breadth of teaching experience?
Cheryll: I feel that it is whenever and wherever the teacher is guided internally, following intuition and staying true to one’s real purpose for teaching. I really did not have the time, money or assistance, yet it needed to be done.
I actually quit teaching completely, and the void lasted for six months while I affirmed, “I go forth in perfect faith, in the power of Omni-present Good, to bring me what I need, at the time I need it.”
Boy, that became a constant mantra!! And it still is.
Diane: In your opinion, what are some important character traits a yoga studio owner must have?
Cheryll: Responsible, creative, dependable, and dedicated to purpose.
Diane: You work full time as school counselor. What kind of counselor? And how do you find the time and energy also to run a yoga studio?
Cheryll: I am a School Community Liaison with the Palestine Independent School District. I interface between our community (student’s parents) and our schools.
I work with families of “at risk” kids who have failed, have been truant, have been in trouble at school or with the law. I counsel the children and teach parenting skills, and I do social work. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology. I love my job and am very grateful for it, but to do that and to run a studio, it takes lots of Energization Exercises and meditation.
I relate back to my affirmation to stay away from worry/fear and to stay in faith! When we do something that we love, the energy is available. I sure do wish that there were more hours in each day, though.
Diane: Do you have anyone to help you with the business aspects of the studio (bookkeeping, advertising, enrollment)?
Cheryll: I do the business aspects of the studio myself. My very talented husband, John, and I do the cleaning and maintenance of the Loft.
John has replaced toilet seats, door handles, and installed air conditioners. The feeling of shared love and support helps establish positive energy at the Loft.
Diane: About how much time do you spend on these parts of running a studio?
Cheryll: It takes about an hour or two each week to keep my records straight and to call or e-mail students. Then at the end of each month, I spend about four hours doing accounting, making a new schedule, getting it out to students, business etc.
I do not spend time doing things that are not important to me, like watching TV. I wish I had more time to read. My husband is very supportive, and that’s important. He does help me with e-mails and bank account stuff when I need him to.
Diane: What’s the best part of owning a studio?
Having control over the energy in the studio, being able to display Ananda literature, not having to worry about the cleanliness (I clean it myself) or scheduling of classes.
Diane: What’s the biggest challenge of owning a studio?
Cheryll: Not having another teacher to cover for me, and being concerned about being able to pay the bills. I have not made much profit but I am staying afloat and feel fulfilled.
Diane: What do you know now that you didn’t know: 1) when you enrolled in Ananda Yoga Teacher Training? 2) when you opened your studio?
Cheryll: I did not realize that teaching yoga would impact every aspect of my students’ lives, that it could offer blessings beyond their physical needs.
When I opened the studio, I did not know if anyone would come. They are coming, and in faith I believe more will come.
Diane: What was your biggest surprise in opening the studio? Anything you really weren’t prepared for?
Cheryll: I was surprised when some students offered things to add to the decor. They seemed to feel a part of the “building of community.” It was very special.
I wasn’t prepared for all the work of managing a business. It requires much time and energy that I had not had to expend before. I know that I should be making more phone calls when people are absent and would like to do more advertising but it is expensive.
Diane: Anything you would do differently, if you had known then what you know now?
Cheryll: I don’t think that I would do anything different. Daily, I offer gratitude and ask that the Lotus Loft be an instrument for growth of body, mind and spirit for all who come there.
I am also very thankful for my guru and everyone at Ananda who has shared his teachings with me. I continue to feel their blessings and guidance.
Diane: What are your future plans? Do you plan to expand?
Cheryll: I have been looking for a nice way to do something special for the community, so am now offering a restorative yoga class to seniors at a wellness center in town on the first Saturday of each month. This is a population that cannot get up the stairs at Lotus Yoga Loft.
Already I have had several people sign up for the class. I am excited about it. Any love offerings will go to the homeless shelter. Also, I would like to hire a teacher who could help me teach and who would offer some classes during the day while I am working as a school counselor.
I do not wish to change locations. My loft has hardwood floors, it is about 50 by 75 feet, has three big windows, a bathroom, lots of parking, is downtown Palestine and the rent is fairly inexpensive.
We do need a better air conditioner, as it’s very hot here. Guess I could teach Bikram yoga… just kidding.
Diane: Any sage bits of advice you’d like to pass on to Ananda Yoga teachers who are considering opening a studio?
Cheryll: It is never too late to open your own studio. I taught here in Palestine for 17 years before I opened my studio at age 60. And, listen to your intuition and repeat Yogananda’s affirmation: “I go forth in perfect faith…”