5 Life Lessons I learned from running a Yoga Studio – Kathryn McCusker KMYOGA

KMYOGA, the joys, the challenges, the lessons, the future!

Today I handed back the keys to the space that for the past three years has been KMYOGA, the home of Kundalini Yoga in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.

As I looked back on these three years, I started to think about the joys and challenges of running a studio that combined so many facets – classes, workshops, events and teacher trainings – and how this all created a sense of community around the studio, and a sense of personal fulfillment.

When I came to Sydney from London in 2010 I soon realised there was no dedicated space for Kundalini Yoga and very few classes happening around Sydney, which made it a challenge to feel part of a community. Of course there were some teachers at different spaces around Sydney and there had been a small studio in the Eastern Suburbs some years previously, but I was inspired to begin something that had never been done in Sydney before, and I was sure it wasn’t going to be like any other studio that I had experienced before!

And so KMYOGA opened its doors on 11.11.11 – a beautiful studio space for classes and events that could fit up to 70 people and a welcoming garden terrace where one could relax and chat with fellow students after class or spend time in quiet reflection. Over the next three years it evolved into much more than a physical space, just as I had hoped. Many students experienced the studio as a unique sanctuary that was warm and welcoming as well as a place to grow, learn, share and transform. Many forged lasting friendships that were created within the studio and moved beyond its walls.

Some students came to KMYOGA for classes and others came for the many and varied workshops and events, like our 40 Day Cleanses, the Gyuto Monks, Film Nights, Karta Singh Khalsa, Khandro-la, Kirtan with Lulu and Mischka and Nadav Kahn, Mastin Kipp, our WOW Series of inspiring talks with women like Ronni Kahn and many other eclectic events we held at the studio over the three years. The frequency and diversity of the events and workshops we held was challenging to maintain, however I felt they encouraged people to come together and experience the space in a different way, rather than just for yoga classes.

The studio packed for the GYUTO Monks

People always remarked on the great energy in the studio, and I feel all these events helped to create that, and built on the energy already generated from our regular classes and Saturday Sadhana that integrated mantra, chanting and the Gong.

I remember speaking with my teacher Karta Singh Khalsa at the European Yoga Festival in 2011 and sharing my vision to create a Kundalini Yoga studio in Sydney, opening on 11.11.11 and asking him whether he could help me start a Kundalini Yoga teacher training there the following year. Karta in his usual supportive and passionate way agreed, and so we put the steps in motion relatively quickly.

Karta Singh has always said his mission was to create teachers, and inspired me to do the same. From my personal experience, I knew that Teacher Training under Karta’s school Amrit Nam Sarovar (ANS) would ignite the Sydney Kundalini community through its authentic, experiential and creative way of learning, sharing and growing.

And so it happened. Karta came and led a transformational retreat at Kangaroo Valley called Eveil de Soi (Awakening the Soul) and then within two years we had two Level 1 Kundalini Teacher Trainings, with Sat Sarbat and Satmukh from the ANS affiliated school in China (Ajai Alai Asia – AAA) and one Level 2 Teacher Training module with Karta Singh. I am also grateful to another wonderful ANS teacher, Nirmal Singh from Austria, who filled in for our Meditation Week when Sat Sarbat and Satmukh were unavailable.

Kathryn and Paul with Karta Singh Khalsa at KMYOGA

Over 30 students went through the Level 1 trainings and 18 teachers went through the Level 2 module. All of them said how touched they were by the transformational experience and how inspired they were at the high standard of training. It is wonderful to see how many of these graduates have gone on to teach and are sharing the teachings with others around Sydney. As Yogi Bhajan said ‘I have come to create teachers not to gather disciples.’

So without doubt the past three years have been incredibly inspiring, joyful and creative, however running a small business, especially a yoga studio, is not without its challenges! Perhaps I could have run it differently but you trust in your intuition and vision to guide you and I feel that what evolved was very special and those who walked through KMYOGAs doors knew it.

When I started the studio, I wanted to offer as much variety as I could. In addition to our core and very regular Kundalini Yoga classes, we offered classes in Naam Yoga, Jivamukti Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Yin Yoga, Kids Yoga and Pregnancy Yoga. At one stage we were offering nearly 30 classes a week and working with over 20 different teachers and 5 different receptionists. Add in the regular events – at least one every week – and it was a very busy studio.

The challenges of running this sort of studio, managing so many teachers and staff, and meeting the needs and expectations of students, were enormous. The energy required to keep teachers inspired, staff focused, and students engaged was sometimes very draining. We had some great help, especially with our managers Christina and Linda, and our great receptionists, but still it was sometimes a daunting task.

Classes, students, teachers and staff came and went. And while I know that KMYOGA was offering something unique and special over the whole time, it’s interesting that I feel that only over the last six months did the studio really start to truly flourish in terms of the energy and community. We totally refocused the studio to offer just Kundalini Yoga and Meditation with only four extremely dedicated teachers, we reduced our events drastically and recruited a whole new group of wonderful Karma yogi receptionists. It really was a case of less is more, though Paul and I were spending even more time running the studio – seven days a week and not leaving much time for anything else.

I certainly learnt a lot about business, about people, and about myself, and am so happy that my personal goal was also something that contributed so much to so many.

So here are the 5 Life Lessons I learnt from running a Yoga Studio:

Be true to your vision and true to yourself. I knew what I wanted KMYOGA to be and how I was going to create it, and I did it my way – and the result was amazing!

Never underestimate the importance of hiring the right staff. I made some critical hiring mistakes early on that took a good deal of time to recover from.

Seek advice from experts in fields you aren’t expert in – but make sure they are who they say they are. I’ve had some great advice and support but also been let down by some so-called ‘experts’ recommended to me. So take advice but do your homework.

No matter how much you give, some people will never be satisfied, so don’t take it personally. I created the most beautiful and authentic yoga studio I could imagine but still there were people who complained and were ungracious. I did take it personally at the time and took on the stress that they created. I’ve learnt not to do that now – and am much more relaxed as a result.

Do what you are passionate about, and ENJOY IT! Kundalini Yoga is integral to my life and I have seen how powerful a change agent it can be. I am passionate about it, and I started KMYOGA to share that technology as best and as far as I could. I love teaching Kundalini Yoga and it will be part of what I do forever.

After putting an enormous amount of time, energy and commitment into growing the studio for these past three years, recently I started to feel it was time for a new chapter. Our lease was about to expire and I knew I had made a huge difference, and knew that there were other people who would now be willing and able to take up the challenge of spreading the teachings of Kundalini Yoga far and wide. I look at just one of our recently graduated teachers who now teaches Kundalini Yoga at four different places around the Eastern Suburbs, and I know there are others like her. It touches me to see others embracing and sharing the teachings they first encountered at KMYOGA.

2014 Level 1 Teacher Trainees at Kangaroo Valley

So what now? After an amazing three years, we have closed the studio and are preparing to move to London in the new year. But KMYOGA will certainly not disappear. While the physical studio no longer exists, KMYOGA will now become an online community where you can continue to ask questions, share experiences and ideas, and soon, also continue to access “virtual” classes from me.

I will continue to send out the KMYOGA newsletter, but move it from a weekly update to a monthly one, and we can continue to connect with each other on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

I will write more regular blogs and post more new kriyas and meditation videos on the KMYOGA website and on our YouTube Channel, and I have plans for another book and CD and new DVDs to come. I will be bringing KMYOGA’s signature 40 Day Chakra Cleanse and Spring Cleanse to life online next year. I will also continue to hold regular retreats internationally (two already planned for India and Sri Lanka in 2015) and will hold workshops in Sydney whenever I return. I look forward to welcoming you to the new virtual KMYOGA community.

There is much to look forward to as we jump into 2015 and beyond, so please continue to join me at KMYOGA, no longer in Bondi Junction, but all over the world.

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As usual, Yogi Bhajan has some very relevant and guiding words for us:

“We are not permanent here. Nothing around us is permanent.?Everything moves on. This is the Spirit of the Universe.”? Yogi Bhajan

Sat Nam
Love and Gratitude
Kathryn McCusker– Sarb Sewak
Founding Director – KMYOGA