City: New York City

Passion: Yoga/Connectivity

Website: www.popupyoga-nyc.com

An accomplished professional pianist, Angelica Olstad first turned to yoga after developing crippling performance anxiety while at grad-school.

She “accidentally” discovered that weekly visits to her local studio helped her feel calmer, and her love of meditation and spiritual practice grew from there.

Upon graduation, she decided to move to New York City to get certified and began teaching yoga to kids in prison, but continued working as a musician.

While working with these troubled youths, Angelica realized that many people still assume yoga is an activity exclusively for the privileged and decided she wanted to teach by example by hosting her own free pop up classes in non-traditional urban locations, like parks, for anyone that wanted to join, and her company Pop Up Yoga NYC was born.

ON PASSION

I did a little bit of yoga in college. I was a runner for a long time and I didn’t know a lot about my body so I ended up getting a few injuries and I’m actually not able to run anymore. That was kind of the beginning of my yoga journey but I didn’t really get into it seriously until I was in grad-school for music.
Piano was surprisingly stressful. In addition to practicing five hours a day, I was a teaching aid and I was starting to become obsessed with perfectionism. It was really unhealthy for me emotionally. I was really dealing with performance anxiety, so much so that it was crippling my performances, and I wasn’t able to perform as well as I would have liked.
There was a free yoga class at the school’s art gallery and I would go in there every week. The teacher was great and taught really easy classes with a calming, soothing voice, so it was really healing for me. I started making a lot of connections between my body and music, how I could control my mind better and that’s kind of what inspired me to move to New York and get certified as a teacher.

ON MASTERY

The yoga world is just so saturated in New York. My personal path became about trying to find non-traditional places to practice. I wanted to create an opportunity for anyone to join, so I got the idea to create pop up classes in parks that would be free or donation based.
There was an urban market across the street from the school where I taught and I became friends with the event’s coordinator, so we ended up doing our first event there. It was much bigger than I expected it to be, we had DJs and vendors, and about 70 people came for the class.
After the first few classes, we started getting asked by other companies and venues to do Pop Up Yoga classes and it will be two years old in June.

ON TRANSITION

I feel like I’ve been playing catch-up since I started Pop Up Yoga NYC and I only realized recently that this is a business and it can really grow. It’s been a really interesting journey and one that I’ve loved. I never thought it would be anything like this but I’m very happy.
I come from a very strong music background, so I’ve never had a ‘real’ job; I accompanied, I taught or I played at churches and that’s what paid my bills. Pop Up Yoga for me is a transition because it’s more like a 9-5pm but I feel like I’ve been able to apply the self-discipline that you need to be a professional musician, like unpaid hours.
We wanted to grow organically so we’ve started doing community classes in addition to corporate classes and corporate training.
It was really good for me to take a step away from the classical world. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it wasn’t quite the right path for me.

ON FAILURE

The brand wasn’t very clear for a long time and we had a couple of failed projects in the first year, a couple of no-shows and a couple of canceled events. We haven’t had anything like that since then and I learned two lessons from that; one was that I had to step up as the face of the company and really represent it. I was afraid to put myself out there and thought I didn’t know enough, hadn’t been teaching long enough or wasn’t good enough to be a spokesperson, but that’s what I’m passionate about so I realized I had to step up. I am very hands on and teach as many classes as I can.
The second thing I learnt was not to spread myself too thin. If you’re working nine hours a day on a company then it does have to have some sort of promise of a return. In New York things float or sink really quickly, so I knew the concept was strong but I had to refocus my energy to create profitable projects to support the free classes.

ON FEAR

There are fears but they are on a more day to day basis, like maybe this client won’t get back to me or this deal won’t go through, but when Pop Up Yoga NYC happened I knew this was what I wanted to do; to create community and spread the good word, and I’ve never questioned that decision to go forward with that type of work. If there is any fear, it is just losing that message but I have stayed pretty true to what my mission was in the beginning.
I think introducing Eastern philosophy into your life is very effective, especially with the high stress expectations that Western philosophy places on jobs, how our lives should work and our relationships with people. I just think it’s very applicable for managing the stress and taking yourself away from your triggers. It sounds so simple but a lot of people struggle with it. I did and it’s still a work in progress.

ON MONEY

It’s hard having your own company because you have to be self-disciplined.
In the beginning everything was free but now it’s a combination. We have ticketed events, for example we might do a yoga class followed by a dinner. We’ve done a yoga singles mixer, whiskey tastings and many things that you normally wouldn’t combine yoga with, but it really solidifies the group dynamic and creates a bond. It’s really interesting how much of an icebreaker doing yoga is with someone, instead of getting drunk. We also do private yoga parties for birthdays or bachelorettes.
While I’m not paying my bills completely from Pop Up Yoga NYC, I’m starting to make more money now. I have really been careful about keeping the integrity of the mission of the company. This summer will be a big turning point, I think, because I have a lot of stuff lined up.

ON SELF-LOVE

It was really important for me to be able to separate my own yoga practice from the business. I have to focus on building myself so I’m strong, confident, functioning well and just try to create a positive energy around myself. Even as a teacher I’m always learning. I’ve actually known a lot of teachers who have gotten burnt out on teaching so I try to take care of myself.
Some people don’t realize that yoga is more than a physical practice. The philosophy is very logical; it’s about taking care of yourself, which I really need to do. Yoga teaches us to be really successful at whatever we do, but to accept things with ease and without stress.
It’s been fun and good for me to do music for the love of doing it and not for worrying about competing or getting a gig. Ever since that shift happened in my mind, I’ve performed so much better. Music has always been a big part of my life, but I feel like I’m a better musician now because of my yoga practice.

ON INSPIRATION

A huge inspiration for me is Elena Brower. She is the founder of Virayoga in New York. I was going through a lot of pain and suffering after a bad breakup and I took a workshop with her. I don’t know what it was about her voice but I went into a forward bend and I started crying. I already felt really emotionally moved and then after the class she talked about her experience, growth and marriage issues. This woman is so well-known and so many people look at her as a goddess, but she still talks about real painful issues, including her anger problems. The fact that she owned this very imperfect history and how she was coming to terms with it really resonated with me. I was blown away and ended up talking with her after class and have been in touch with her a few times since then. She’s the most inspirational teacher out there for me; she’s very real, honest and I feel like she’s just walking the walk of a true yoga teacher. That really inspired me and I definitely look up to her.

ON SUPPORT

Running your own business can be kind of lonely. I have some people who work with me on a contract basis when big events are happening, but for the most part it’s me alone working at a coffee shop or from home. So being social has really helped me and I’ve been really thankful to Pop Up Yoga NYC mostly for the community that it has created. It’s brought together a really interesting group of people that are not necessarily yoga-goers like the hard-core yoga studio enthusiasts, who are often young, creative professionals or entrepreneurial types. Pop Up Yoga NYC has introduced me to this wonderful community of people into health and wellness, into wholesome social activities. I don’t have a mentor but I do have a very close-knit group of people that are doing similar things to what I’m doing and we’re all sort of growing together, which is great. It’s been really nice to have that support.

ADVICE TO THE COMMUNITY

A lot of entrepreneurs do online courses, read material on branding and advertising. Do your research and make sure what you’re doing is right for you and then not taking no for an answer and believe in what you’re doing.
It’s a combination of being strategic and having a road map, but also knowing what you want and understanding that the path is going to change. I’ve gone on many paths with Pop Up Yoga NYC and the reason why I feel things are really starting to change, and there are really exciting things coming up, is because I’ve started to learn what it is to run a business. What I’m doing now is designing blueprints basically so I can execute things better because, as someone who doesn’t come from a business background, building your community is really important.
It’s not easy but it’s worth it if you want to spend your life working on it. Success comes from building positive patterns and building positive habits.

2 Comments