Nadia Rihani Yoga VillageNadia Rihani is the founder and owner of Yoga Village, situated in Sydney’s Potts Point, who recently opened a second studio in nearby Double Bay. With her Double Bay studio barely three weeks open, I sat down with Nadia to ask some audacious questions about the challenges and joys of being a Sydney yoga studio owner.

When did you open your first studio and how much did it cost?

I opened the first studio on Bayswater Road, Potts Point (Just next to Kings Cross!) in 2011. It didn’t cost me much to open the doors – I had a lot of help from friends, who did some repairs, helped me lay floating floorboards, and designed me a logo and website. It probably cost a few thousand all up. But there were lots of unexpected costs that kept cropping up in the first six to twelve months – it’s been the same story moving here to Double Bay. There are so many more costs that what you originally expect, and they never end!

What promotions did you do to get the word out about the studio?

I did some opening specials which I advertised in a letterbox drop and put some notices up in local businesses. I also agreed to offer a special with one of those social commerce companies who send daily deals to their extended database. I had something like 1000 people sign up which was crazy.

It was fairly effective but I wouldn’t do it again – it was really far too cheap, not financially viable for us, and put off people who had been with us before we did the deal. Now that my brand is more established, it wouldn’t be in alignment with what we’re about. In 2013, we moved out of that space and around the corner to the main strip in Potts Point – we needed more space and I had been having issues with my landlord from day one. By then, we had an established group of clients so promotions weren’t really needed outside of letting people know we were moving.

And how about this second studio? Why did you decide to open a second space in Double Bay?

Truthfully? I was feeling like I needed a challenge. I don’t like to stay in my comfort zone and thought it was time to up the ante. I knew a lot of clients were travelling from this area (Double Bay is two suburbs away from Potts Point) so it made sense for us to be here and make it easier for our clients from Double Bay, Rose Bay, Bellevue Hill … there isn’t any other yoga studio in Double Bay either, so that seemed like a great opportunity.

This time was definitely easier than opening the first studio, but again, there were lots of unexpected complications and costs that I hadn’t factored for. It was a stressful time and continues to be. The pressure of this second studio is pretty heavy. People prefer the homeliness of a local studio where your teacher greets you by name, knows your body and injuries or issues, and perhaps a little about your life, too. That’s why people come to yoga studios rather than gyms, so I encourage my teachers to take their role as teachers seriously, to remember that the role of a teacher isn’t just to give a sequence but to actually teach the students who are present. To challenge them and their perceptions. Yoga Village has a really authentic feel. Each teacher is different and we aren’t trying to be something we’re not. We admit mistakes. We admit to being real. I find that so rare these days.

Nadia Rihani Yoga Village

What are you looking for in yoga teachers that you hire?

First and foremost they need some life experience and deep authenticity in how they carry themselves. They need to have an established personal practice so they have something to teach. A lot of the teachers are doing other things with their lives outside of yoga teaching such as acting, animal rescue, or health coaching. I really like to hire teachers who teach yoga as well as do other things, as there seems to be more understanding of how yoga applies to all aspects of life including your career and family life. I just find this gives them more life experience and makes them able to relate to the students a little better.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a studio owner?

Scheduling is never much fun. Because a lot of our teachers have other careers and pursuits, they regularly go travelling or aren’t available to teach. At any given time I can have five to eight teachers away for more than a month. It is really difficult to manage. But I would never ask them not to do it. I travel to India for a minimum of two months each year so I know why they need to do it.

The other thing that never really goes away is this sense of responsibility – that people are relying on you, and that the buck stops with you. I get up very early to do my own practice but I’ve always got an ear out for the mobile, waiting for a text from the early class teacher saying she’s sick and needs a cover. I’ve been slowly managing this stress by leaving my business every year to go to India to study with my teacher for months at a time. This was terrifying the first time and I had to keep telling myself that I was only 12 hours or so away – I could jump on a plane home if anything went wrong.

In the end everything was totally fine – in many ways it was better than when I left! I had left one of my yoga teachers in charge and I was planning to check in once a day, for an hour or so, in the internet café. Turns out, the town where I was living in Goa was in the middle of a jungle and there was no internet! Initially, it was hugely stressful, but I got over it and had a great time and, when I returned, everything was fine. I’ve been returning to India to study with my teacher in Mysore every year since and it’s become an absolutely essential part of what I do as a studio owner – I return feeling reenergised, recommitted and enthused to teach this amazing practice all over again.

Is there anything you’d do differently?

I probably wouldn’t have opened the studio when I was so young. It’s a huge responsibility that never really leaves you and I probably could have waited and travelled more and been more carefree. There are other options for progression as a teacher that I would have like to have dipped my toe in, such as travelling the world teaching workshops and retreats.

Could you offer any advice to any Yoga Reach readers who are hoping to open a yoga studio?

You need to have a committed personal yoga practice as your time will be squeezed by a thousand different things. I strongly believe that yoga teachers should have a teacher too; just one teacher so they aren’t confused. This helps them stay committed to their journey as a yoga student, as well as a yoga teacher. Be prepared not to pay yourself. Not just at the start but ongoing.

I have months now where I don’t pay myself. It just comes with the job. Unexpected expenses will crop up so it’s best to have savings in addition to the costs associated with opening your studio. It also helped a lot that we didn’t have much competition in either location, so that was definitely an advantage that you’d want to consider. I would say to consider it thoroughly.

As well as teaching, you’ll be doing accounts, scrubbing toilets, answering emails, and a million other things. Be prepared. It is a very rewarding experience but not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for everyone. But there is a lot of joy in holding a space for students to learn and grow on and off the mat. All the hard work is very rewarding.

Check out the Yoga Village website and try one of their classes when next you’re east-side Sydney.
Photos by Cynthia Sciberras.