Niche: Yoga center for yoga instruction and yoga teacher training
Years in business: Three
Employees: 1 full-time owner/director; 1 part-time office manager, 15 teachers
Hours: Open when classes are in session; most classes offered 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m.
Location: 4701 Auvergne Ave., Suite 104, Lisle
Phone: (630) 968-3216
Have you ever fantasized about taking the great idea your boss just rejected, opening your own business and showing him exactly how well it would work?
Lori Gaspar not only dreamed it, she did it.
Once an employee at a training center for yoga teachers, Gaspar recently opened her Prairie Yoga in Lisle. The center offers yoga classes, instructor certification courses and - yes - the advanced teacher training program her previous employer wasn't interested in.
Gaspar tells us more about the practice and teaching of yoga.
Q. What's your background?
A. I have been a dedicated yoga practitioner for 13 years, a yoga teacher for nine years and a yoga teacher trainer for seven years.
Q. When and why did you strike out on your own?
A. I worked as an assistant yoga teacher trainer for the largest yoga center in the Midwest for four years and helped develop their teacher training programs. I struck out on my own when I designed an advanced teacher training program and the owner of the center I worked for did not want to offer it. He didn't think anyone would sign up for it.
I applied to be a registered yoga school through Yoga Alliance, an organization that establishes educational standards for yoga teachers. My training program was approved. I offered it myself and 17 students signed up. I started out training certified yoga teachers who wanted advanced training. I taught them how to modify and adapt the yoga practice for everyday people and for special populations - for example, seniors, athletes and people with injuries and chronic conditions.
Q. How did you know you could be successful?
A. When 17 yoga teachers actually signed up for my first advanced yoga teacher training program!
Q. What milestones do you look for to indicate you've made it?
A. It is challenging to make a living teaching yoga. I feel like I have made it already.
Our yoga teacher training programs are very well-respected and we get asked to bring our training programs to yoga studios throughout the Midwest. I am teaching people about something I believe in very much and I am able to make a modest living at it. Now we are expanding and opening a yoga center. I want the yoga center to be financially viable and a place where everyday people can experience the benefits of yoga.
Q. What's your niche?
A. We offer a modern approach to traditional yoga. Yoga is more than 5,000 years old and the tradition has stood the test of time. Yoga provides tremendous health benefits. Yet we need to adapt yoga to our current culture, which is very different from where it originated in ancient India.
When you take classes at our studio, you know the teachings come from the deep wisdom of many generations of yoga practitioners. We take the essence of the traditional teachings and adapt them to the needs of our western, contemporary lives.
Q. What sets your studio apart from competitors? Who are your competitors?
A. Our primary competitors are the local health clubs, park districts and community centers.
People want to do yoga at places where they feel comfortable, but their experience is limited at these types of venues. We have special equipment and props to work therapeutically with our students.
Most of our instructors are senior teachers with tremendous knowledge and experience. They have completed advanced training and can modify the practice so that it is appropriate, safe and beneficial for everyone.
Many people say they want to try yoga, but they go to the local health club and it is too fast for them. Or they have tweaky knees or lower-back issues that require special attention. Those big group classes can be a wonderful introduction to yoga for many people, but if you want a deeper experience or need specific instruction, you need to go to a center dedicated to yoga. Yoga should be adapted to the individual.
Q. How broad is your customer base?
A. Most of the teachers we train live within a one-hour drive from Lisle. We also travel and train yoga teachers in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Ft. Wayne, Ind.
Our new studio in Lisle will attract students primarily from a 10-mile radius. Most students don't want to drive more than 15 to 20 minutes to take a yoga class, although we do have dedicated students who think nothing of driving an hour to study with their favorite teacher every week.
Q. What changes are you making to weather the economy?
A. We have held our prices down to remain competitive. We eliminated requirements in our teacher training programs that weren't essential.
Overall in the yoga community, the economy has not affected class attendance but has affected special workshops and trainings. Students still want to practice yoga at the yoga centers. The poor economy has made people seek comfort and things that make them feel good and yoga does that. Yet, students have cut back on special events and fewer people can afford the teacher training programs.
Q. Where would you like to see your business in five years? Ten years?
A. In five years, I want to have an established community of yoga practitioners sustaining the studio and our yoga teacher training programs. I would like the Prairie Yoga name to be highly regarded nationally. In 10 years, I would like to see some of the teachers I have trained running the studio and opening their own studios under the Prairie Yoga name.
Q. How has technology affected yoga practice and instruction?
A. The more technology we have, the more people need yoga. With the newer technologies, we can be reached 24/7 and work doesn't end. People never get a break. Consistent, high levels of stress are taking a toll on people's physical, mental and spiritual health. Also, people are developing chronic physical conditions because our bodies weren't designed for all these small-scale devices or for staring at a screen all day.
Q. What trends are you seeing?
A. There's a strong interest in yoga therapy, using the techniques of yoga as an alternative or complement to western medicine.
Q. What advice do you have for someone looking for an instructor?
A. To find a good yoga teacher, look for someone who has been practicing yoga a very long time, has at least a 200-hour certification from a well-known yoga school, who continues to study yoga and who is recommended by others. Most importantly, seek a yoga teacher who is more interested in helping you than serving themselves.
Q. How does your business support the community?
A. We offer free community classes at the studio twice a month. We offer free yoga classes for veterans of war. For the 2009-10 school year, we are volunteering to teach yoga monthly in the public schools during P.E. classes.