LOVE PROFILE: Zen Yoga Garage
Iana: Melissa can you share with us, how long has your studio been open?
Melissa: We have been open as a studio since 2013. I’ve been involved in the studio since 2015 and I became the owner on March 1 of 2020. The previous owner had the opportunity to move to Prague, when I went to sign the paperwork that day, we were like, okay, so we should maybe order some extra Clorox wipes!
Once we opened, we never officially closed our doors for even one day. We learned how to use Zoom really quickly and we started Zooming from the studio and from people’s houses. Then the other iterations we went through, because we have garage doors in our space, we were able to open the garage doors and qualify as an outdoor space. So we did that in January of one year, and had folks practicing in full parkas.
Now, there are no restrictions, which is awesome. We do still offer Zoom classes, which has been nice because a lot of our students have moved during the pandemic and we are able to keep our members connected.
Iana: There are definitely a lot of things we learned to do quickly, like zoom classes, that made some things better. Thank goodness.
Melissa: I mean, truly, the impact was huge. We have some folks who have been consistently taking our classes from other countries and it’s been really lovely to connect in that capacity. It’s really cool to see this practice that brings everyone together, but still has these really nuanced differences.
Iana: Tell me about your name, Zen Yoga Garage, it’s not just a clever name right?
Melissa: The studio started as one location with two studios and it was previously a Jiffy Lube and we put up some walls and put down some flooring. Then we acquired this space, which is directly across the street from the main studio. Our intention with this space that we call the Annex, was supposed to be a temporary location. Then we really liked it, so we kept it. While we were planning an expansion upwards, next door to the main studio was a car wash. For years and years and years, people would come in, they’d go and get their cars washed while they took class and it was such a beautiful relationship. That car wash just ended up shutting its doors after 20 years, so we were able to get that space which is directly connected to our main studio space. So that is a full size drive through car wash that we cleaned up, reconstructed, and now it’s a studio that can hold 100 mats comfortably.
It’s wild! We try to stagger classes the best we can, so at least there aren’t classes loading in, and coming out at the same time. But there are times where the studio across the street will have between 150 to 200 hundred people all practicing at the same time. Now we’re also running teacher training, so that just brings in new energy and life. We have an amazing staff of volunteers to make sure that the studio stays looking good while everyone’s coming in and out. Because while we’re really fortunate to have a really large lovely communal lobby space, we’re still in the middle of Chicago.
Iana: Tell me, are you from Chicago?
Melissa: I’m actually from the east coast. I grew up in Philly and then I spent most of my young adulthood in Baltimore and traveling up and down the coast. I was a professional dancer for a while, so Baltimore, DC, New York, Philly were my trek often. I moved to Chicago about ten years ago and it’s a really cool city.
Iana: The theme of our next issue is LOVE, and to own your own business you really have to love what you’re doing, because let’s be honest it’s not always easy…
Melissa: I kind of had to giggle at that because when I meet somebody new and they ask, “Oh, what do you do for work?” and I tell them I own a yoga studio, they say “That must be so relaxing.”
Iana: What is one word you would use to describe what it’s like being a yoga studio owner?
Melissa: Hats. Lots of hats. I think the biggest challenge in owning a studio, is you have to go from fully holding space, leading classes, spreading that passion and inspiration that you have…to then stepping off of your mat and responding to emails about mixed up retail orders and the internet that’s been out, and learning how to manipulate and set up sound boards and your visual equipment. So there’s this constant, push and pull of energy. The challenge that I find, and that I find with a few studio owners who I connect with often is, how to go from giving, giving and then can you receive? Can you find that inspiration piece?
Iana: Replenishing your well, that’s the only way you’re able to do it! It’s funny because I did a teacher training 15 years ago thinking I want to own a studio and be a teacher, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that shift that you just talked about from receiving and giving without being exhausted. So I chose a different path…
Melissa: I think that’s something that yoga teachers in general face. I think many yoga teachers aren’t solely yoga teachers. The nature of the industry is you tend to teach a few classes at a few studios, and you’re either a constant gig worker trying to pick up shifts, or you’re a nine to fiver who needs the fulfillment of teaching yoga and you have something to give there. But I think that regardless of where you are in the industry, it is a push and pull and like that old saying goes…”do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” or “do what you love and you’ll work every single moment of every day.”
Iana: Can you share with us before you go what you’re most excited about coming up? Is it a YTT? Is it a retreat? Is it some kind of class that is new to your schedule?
Melissa: We just started two teacher trainings, we have a 200 hour teacher training that just began and we are halfway through our 85 hours prenatal yoga teacher training. Big things that are coming up, is the annex is about to be transformed into a training space. So we are close to debuting our 300 hours teacher training. Through the pandemic most of our yoga teachers, if they didn’t already have their 300 hours, used the time for professional development. So we now have some of the most highly skilled, highly compassionate, most inclusive, diverse staff of any studio that I’ve seen. We made it a goal as a studio to put that out there because we want to keep bringing the industry up.
Iana: Thank you for your support.