Student Teacher To Studio Owner In Under A Year

I discovered yoga by accident.  Yoga was a small part of a fitness challenge I participated in, shortly after my son was born, in an effort to “get in shape.”  I loved everything about it though and looked forward to seeing it on the workout schedule each week. 

When the fitness challenge ended, I cautiously began exploring yoga.  Initially, I had a lot of hesitation because I was raised a Christian, and growing up yoga carried a very negative stigma.  I struggled with committing to a yoga-centered exercise routine because of this mental battle, even though I was obsessed. (How I sorted through that drama is another story in itself.)  Once I decided I was just going to go for it, everything changed.  Sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s true. 

My practice was entirely online in the beginning.  My first full class was with Yogi Nora and I will never forget how incredible I felt afterwards; my first “yoga high.”  I found more of her classes through an online platform (Yoga30) and started exploring other instructors.  I took as many teachers as possible, followed them on social media and learned what I could on my own.  While it was challenging, the physical goals of yoga (simultaneously increase strength and flexibility) felt achievable.  I was never so motivated to workout, which is a minor miracle considering that my athletic background was so riddled with failed attempts at high school sports that it became a running joke within my family.


A year into my practice, I traveled to Redlands, California to take a class at The Yoga Room, the studio where most of my online classes were filmed.  Because it was a four hour drive (one way), it had been difficult to make the trip.  The experience was incredible.  I was a goner, hook, line and sinker.  I walked in only five minutes before class started (rookie move, right?), but the woman at the desk, Kris, was beyond friendly and welcoming.  I signed up and walked into a large room packed wall to wall with yoga mats.  There had to be 100+ students in there, and there was no way my mat would fit.  Kris sweetly followed me in, took a sweeping look around and spotted a potential space for me.  The students were just as friendly and happily made room for me.  I was completely overwhelmed and unprepared for the experience I was about to have.  The room was warm, but not hot and I noticed many of the students had towels on their mats, large water bottles, smaller towels set aside and even sweat headbands. “What the?!” was all I could think. 

The studio owner, Daniel Head, was teaching and I was in total fan girl mode because he had become one of my online favorite teachers.  I told Kris how I heard about the studio and she made it a point to bring Daniel over to meet me.  Imagine elation combined with an inability to form a coherent sentence; that was me.  He realized I did not have a mat towel and quickly grabbed one for me to borrow.  I still did not realize why this was necessary.  Twenty minutes into class the mystery was revealed as I began to move and sweat more in that one class than I had in my combined 27 years of life.  The guy next to me had non-stop rivers of sweat flowing down his arms, almost like he was taking a shower…in sweat.  By the end of the class I was completely exhausted, yet fully energized.  Daniel came around after class and thanked me for coming, which just put a cherry on top. 

First live class at The Yoga Room

I returned home a little sad that there was not a similar yoga studio near me.  I soon learned I was pregnant and continued taking classes online, but my home practice paled in comparison to the studio experience.  While pregnant, my practice slowed down, and eventually came to a complete halt due to a pregnancy related issue.  Being completely unable to practice made it a challenging time, but it only strengthened my interest and passion.  At 38 weeks pregnant, I decided I wanted to do a teacher training.  I researched some options then looked at The Yoga Room, knowing that I loved the owners and all their online teachers.  Lo and behold, their 2016 training was starting in January. Luckily, the format was one weekend a month, for ten months, which was realistic with my schedule and responsibilities.  Taking the biggest leap of faith, I signed up not knowing how any of it would work out.   I returned my attention to finishing my pregnancy and getting through those first few, challenging months of motherhood. 

When January 2016 rolled around, I was three months postpartum, nursing an infant and potty training my toddler.  It was “go time” though.  During the first five months of the teacher training my incredible husband tagged along, with the kids in tow.  The training days were long and exhausting, but so incredible, making the weekends seemingly fly by.  I would pump during our breaks, and eat simultaneously.  After the sixth month, we decided I would go alone for the remainder of the training.  I wasn’t sure what was going to come from all of this. The practical side of me (which, for those who know me well, is nearly 95% of my personality) questioned if all the hours, stress, money and so on, were even worth it.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t deny the happiness and fulfillment I felt after each weekend. It challenged me in ways I never expected, but desperately needed.

First night of yoga teacher training (January 2016)

First night of yoga teacher training (January 2016)

I taught my first public yoga class a year ago today, on April 18th, 2016.  I was only a third of the way through my teacher training, but knew I needed to start practicing.  I also knew it was going to be painful, awkward and embarrassing.  It’s like learning a new language; the fastest way to master it is by speaking it.  So I set out to practice my new “language” in the form of free classes in the park. One student attended my first class, and throughout the summer I continued teaching in the park to any warm bodies that would show up.  In June, I landed my first paid teaching opportunity through a friend (the same one who came to my very first class).  I was now halfway through my teacher training, and to say I felt unqualified barely scratched the surface.  One opportunity led to the next, and my confidence slowly grew.  In August, I heard a local gym needed yoga subs, so I applied with the full disclosure that I was not yet certified. I had little hope that I’d be hired, but also wasn’t afraid to be told “no.”  Through a combination of things, I had slowly become unafraid of failure, and realized the power that came with that mindset.  To my surprise I was hired, not as a sub, but a permanent teacher.

My first public class! (April 18, 2016)

My first public class! (April 18, 2016)

My first night of class I knew deep down it was going to be terrible.  How could it not be?  I repeatedly asked why I was inflicting so much stress on myself and many times had trouble remembering what started me on this path to begin with.  Teaching in the gym was HARD.  The room was huge, cold, and echoey.  I had to wear a mic and couldn’t figure out the sound system half the time.  I hated it and loved it equally.  Despite my own internal challenges, I generated a following of loyal students that I looked forward to seeing each week, however, I could not see myself teaching in there very long.  In the gym, there were too many factors out of my control that I knew would keep me from flourishing as a teacher.  If I didn’t change my class environment, burnout was inevitable, and that was the last thing I wanted. 

I began exploring some options that would allow for some more freedom and flexibility.  An opportunity to buy an existing studio came up, but fizzled quickly.  Another opportunity to rent a space inside a physical therapy office presented itself and I considered it very seriously. Something in the back of my mind kept telling me to just open my own pIace. Unbelievably, there were still zero yoga studios in Clovis at this point.  I had wanted a studio nearby to practice at for years, but there were a million reasons why I was the last person who would start one.  I wasn’t a certified teacher at that that, I had two kids (3 and 11 months old at the time), and we had very little money to do something that huge and if it failed….death was inevitable (at least the death of my ego).  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle it.  I thought I’d lost the fear of failure, but clearly, I hadn’t.

First time checking out the studio on our own. 

First time checking out the studio on our own. 

I looked at what is our current studio space in mid September 2016.  I was not convinced that this dream was even remotely possible, but what harm was there in looking?  I snapped a picture from my car, called the real estate agent for information and set up a time to check it out.  Andy, the kids and I all went, and just five minutes in to our appointment, in typical 3-year-old fashion, our son announced that he had to poop.  We quickly examined the space and snapped a few pictures.  I sensed that the agent was not taking us seriously, although, he was very kind and patient. We went home to discuss everything, and to let my son go poop.  I was scared s*#%less.  In retrospect, I think it was because my abstract dream suddenly snapped into focus with the potential of a physical space.  The chance to replicate my incredible Yoga Room experience, in Clovis,  was exciting and terrifying.  My husband unquestionably thought I should go for it. He had so much faith in me that it scared me even more.  We fought a lot during these months, mostly because I was terrified and didn’t have a fraction of the confidence my husband had in my ability to pull something like this off.  A few quotes rang in my mind continuously and eventually helped me make the final decision.  They are written below, and how they helped me should be pretty clear.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so.” - Mark Twain

“Massive results require massive actions.” -Tony Robbins

“If you have a 10 year plan and know how to get there, you have to ask why can’t you do this in 6 months?”-Peter Thiel

On October 7th, 2016 I signed the lease for our space and graduated teacher training the following weekend.  We got our keys at the end of the month and busted butt for the next six weeks getting everything ready for our grand opening.  So. Much. Work.  Those details could make up another post by itself. There were renovations (every surface was redone except the ceiling), marketing, building a website, legal forms, schedule planning, finding teachers, dealing with the city, state and IRS (I cringe remembering it all), plus all the thousands of small decisions and crises that came up along the way.  Staying busy helped distract me from the fact that I was about to own a yoga studio and could barely teach a full length class. 

By some miracle, we opened on time.  Our business license arrived in the mail the day before our grand opening.  That has been the theme of this entire experience; things falling into place right when they need to.  We had well over 100 people come to the grand opening event and packed 53 mats into our space for our first class that day.  Four months later, we are still going strong and loving nearly every minute of it. 

OTY Grand Opening Day with my right hand lady, Crystal.

OTY Grand Opening Day with my right hand lady, Crystal.

A year ago I couldn’t even say “I’m a yoga teacher,” much less a “studio owner.”  A LOT can change in a year though.  Every so often during class, I am hit with an emotional tidal wave when I look out and see the precious people practicing yoga together.  What an incredible privilege to be their teacher.  This is a dream that I didn’t even dare to dream, but it’s taught me to dream BIG, especially when failure seems certain.  What is your dream? It may be so far fetched that you haven’t allowed yourself to fully formulate it. Just remember, vague goals will reap vague results.  Dream specifically, with guts and confidence.  One day at a time, with one foot in front of the other, start walking towards it and when things get scary, you’ll know you’re on the right track and that’s your signal to start sprinting towards it.

-Desiree Heckman