Alison Rubin grew up in England and began studying yoga at 18 when she moved to San Diego. “I was drawn to yoga from a spiritual perspective,” she recalled, “and then discovered the physical side.”
Eleven years later, Rubin faced a career choice: continue working as a secretary, or share her yoga skills with others. “It didn’t take much for me to jump over to the teaching side of things,” she said.
Twenty-eight years after launching Harmony Yoga, Rubin – Ally to her friends and students – is ready to offer training for aspiring yoga teachers. She recently reflected on the joys and challenges of running a yoga studio, and shared advice for those considering a similar career path:
S-R: What is a common misconception about yoga?
Rubin: That you have to be flexible. You come to yoga to become more flexible. You develop flexibility and strength as you go.
S-R: You say you were drawn to the spiritual side of yoga. What is that?
Rubin: It’s learning how to accept the present moment – learning how not to react, but to respond to circumstances in your life. And you do that physically, as well. The spiritual practice and the physical practice support one another.
S-R: What did it take to start your own business?
Rubin: Basically, just deciding to do it. At that time I wasn’t really trained to be a yoga teacher. I set up shop in a house, and later moved to churches. At a certain point I outgrew those facilities and set up an actual studio, and started hiring other instructors, because it was becoming obvious I needed more space, more classes, more teachers.
S-R: Was there a moment when you realized you were going to succeed as a business owner?
Rubin: I never thought that I wouldn’t. The possibility of failing never entered my mind.
S-R: How has Harmony Yoga evolved?
Rubin: The quality of instruction has improved. My teachers and I have been teaching for a long time, and we have lots of training.
S-R: And now you’re ready to start training new teachers?
Rubin: Our 200-hour teacher training program will start in mid-February and run 10 weekends. All graduates will receive a certificate of completion and be eligible to register with Yoga Alliance, a national organization that oversees the quality of instruction.
S-R: What sort of person makes a good yoga teacher?
Rubin: People who are systematic and methodical in the design of their classes, and have the ability to offer advice with compassion. Good instruction requires a blend of strong direction presented with love and kindness.
S-R: How does your style differ from what someone might encounter at another yoga studio?
Rubin: My style is what I’d call more therapeutic. We teach our students how to practice the postures with attention to correct alignment, and we use props and hands-on adjustments to help facilitate learning. Another distinction is that we integrate the physical side of yoga with the philosophical side, which can be practiced both on and off the mat.
S-R: Does class attendance fluctuate?
Rubin: Yes. January and February are usually really good. It goes down in the summer, because people want to be outdoors, and then picks up in the fall.
S-R: Do yoga studios around town tend to cooperate, or are they competitive?
Rubin: A little of both. Studio owners know and respect each other. And yet there’s a bit of competition – especially now, with the economy the way it is.
S-R: What impact has the recession had?
Rubin: A big impact, because yoga is also offered in all the health clubs, and the cost is included in the membership fee. Whereas if they come to a studio, they’re paying extra for it. But I believe the quality of instruction is higher in a studio.
S-R: Does your yoga philosophy overlap with your business philosophy?
Rubin: I like to think I live the philosophy, so it’s integrated into my business, my grandmothering, my parenting.
S-R: What do you like most about running your own business?
Rubin: Being able to make my own decisions as to how to proceed and what to change.
S-R: What do you like least?
Rubin: All the administrative work – having to stay on top of it pretty much seven days a week.
S-R: What are you most proud of about Harmony Yoga?
Rubin: That we’ve been able to keep our doors open throughout all the economic changes, and continue to offer high-quality yoga instruction. Mostly though, I feel honored to have affected people’s lives in such a positive way.
S-R: Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
Rubin: I ought to have bought a building. I’ve always rented, and in retrospect I think that was a mistake.
S-R: What advice would you offer someone eager to launch a fitness-related business?
Rubin: Start small and let it grow organically. Keep your overhead down. Be creative and believe in your vision.