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Angelica Olstad, Pop Up Yoga NYC Founder

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Angelica Olstad, Pop Up Yoga NYC Founder

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.

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Leigh Ferrara, Yoga Instructor

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Leigh Ferrara, Yoga Instructor

City: San Francisco, California

Passion: Healing

Website: www.leighferrarayoga.com

Twitter: @leighferrara

Like Leigh, I've always believed that "how are you?" is a more important question than "what do you do?" I can also relate to it being hard to beat the pressure and compulsion to 'achieve' in a fast-paced New England suburb. I met Leigh early one Sunday morning and stood by in stillness and awe while she moved through a few yoga poses for the shoot. Leigh not only moves through her daily practice with fluidity and intention - she shows up to life as her whole person. Injury forced her to pause and look at her life, and choices, in a whole new light. In her transition from journalism to teaching yoga full-time, she's deep in her journey of self-love. She's also out in the community teaching at various locales in the city including Yoga Tree Potrero and Yoga Mayu. Leigh inspires me with her courage, grace and wisdom.

On Passion

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I was a Division One athlete in college, and then one day my legs went numb. Turns out I was dealing with the physical effects of recent and past emotional trauma, combined with the rigorous training program of a college athlete. I had a yoga VHS tape (Wow. I feel so old.) that my mom had given me so I started practicing daily in my apartment. The physical healing came first. Yoga continued to sprinkle its fairy dust on my life for the next eight years until my back went out in 2008. I was working full-time as a journalist, and I wanted out. Long distance running had operated as my escape, but with a bum back, I had to confront the life I didn’t like. Gentle yoga on my living room floor and long walks helped me quit my job, even though the thought of starting over was terrifying to me. It was the middle of the recession, and everyone thought I was crazy to quit.
That year changed everything. I moved back east, bunked in with my childhood best friend, and used the hours and hours of idle time I newly had to vision my future: yoga. My inner judgement was fierce: Who makes a career out of yoga?; My parents are going to freak out; I’ll for sure starve; I’ll never be good enough; People will judge me; Nothing about this will show people that I’m smart; I can’t believe I’m starting over at this age.
But yoga would do more for me than heal me physically or help me transition my career. Over the years, yoga has walloped my ego, helped me heal my deepest wounds, and showed me that I didn’t need to fear pain or joy. I reclaimed a love for my body again after struggling with an eating disorder, and started to understand the trauma I had been carrying around for years.

On Mastery

I like to pluck various techniques and teachings from a huge pool of modalities. Somatic therapy, pilates, and physical therapy have all influenced the way that I teach and the advice that I pass along to my students. And working one-on-one with some of the most brilliant movement teachers in the city helped me hone my craft. (Harvey Deutch, Lauren Slater, Jason Crandell, Kerri Kelly, Carolina Czechowska: I’m talking to you.) I feel like I’m just scratching the surface, though, so mastery seems like a funny word to me.
I read a lot when I’m not teaching, poring over all things health and healing: blogs, books, online videos. And I follow people online who are talking about ayurveda, physical therapy, ballet, health, nutrition, spinal movements, you name it. And then I try not to freak out about all the things that I don’t know.
Lastly, I move on my own. Religiously. We forget how much intelligence there is stored up in this body of ours.

On Transition

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Something made me leap the year I started my first teacher training. I’m still not sure what it was. I think I was desperate to get to know myself.
During my transition, I still had one foot in the media world as a freelancer. People would ask me what I did for a living. I always replied, “I’m a journalist. And...I teach yoga.” Growing up in a household and town that valued intellectual pursuit, I wanted to make clear to folks that I was smart. I was insecure. Ironically, nothing would challenge my brain more than the work I do every day trying to listen to my body.
Today, I really enjoy creating yoga programming for groups of people who haven’t been exposed to yoga or face a barrier to integrating it into their lives, whether that’s an individual block or as a consequence of their environment. In November, together with my cofounder, I launched a men’s yoga program. The feedback has been outstanding. I also teach a weekly trauma-sensitive yoga class to the young boys and girls at the San Francisco residential facility, Edgewood. Each week, I’m driving, biking, and walking all around the city from class to class. I teach at Yoga Mayu, Yoga Tree Potrero, and Mission Cliffs, as well as to a badass crew of private and corporate clients. Sometimes, I can even drag my students away from their iPhones to go on retreat.

On Failure

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As a perfectionist, everything can feel like a failure to me. My practice has always been, and still is today, to cut myself a break over and over again. Remembering that life is a work in progress and that there is no time at which you are supposed to know everything or be able to achieve everything puts things into perspective for me.
We’re just learning as we go, making adjustments, starting over, and misstepping. If we can embrace that -which is really hard, I know - life feels less like a rat race to me. I’m also working on using new language around failure. Thomas Edison is helping me: ‘I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’

On Fear

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I have all the typical fears around money and failure, but mostly I fear being seen when I’m not up for being seen. When I don’t feel strong, presentable, beautiful, perfectly put together etc. This is still my biggest battle as a teacher, since whether you’re up for it or not, every day you have to show up and be seen.
My students, especially the ones who I work with one-on-one, have been instrumental in teaching me to show up as me. They pushed me to peel back the layers. I also try to remember that one of the most basic human desires is to see that another human is flawed too. We feel connected through that. This concept inspires me to show up even when I feel messy.

On Money

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I’m still in debt, but I’ll be debt free in May of 2014! Yoga doesn’t have a reputation for big paychecks. That’s not news. Nor do we have a reputation as fierce business entrepreneurs. But you can make a living if you work strategically. Transitioning slowly was a big part of my initial success, as was the financial help I received from my boyfriend at the time during my training. I straddled the media and yoga world for the first few years of my teaching career. I researched a book, freelanced and worked a part-time media gig. It was a hustle. And I was tired all the time. But now Leigh Ferrara Yoga sustains me 100%, and I get to dedicate all of my time to what I love. That feels really good.
Did I have to change my lifestyle? Not really. You don’t make squat as a journalist either. I think I probably live a cushier life now.

On Self-Love

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I’m my fiercest critic, so self-love has never come easy to me. Self-love and I are always in relationship. I’m trying to woo her and she’s trying to evade me.
When you start your own business, you have to believe in yourself. Or you have to practice believing in yourself every day. Some days, I struggle with this more than others. For those days, I turn to self-care: massages, baths, 2-hour long talks with a friend, etc.
I’m still learning that self-care does not equal self-love, although they do feed each other. I used to equate the two, but it doesn’t matter how many massages you get or baths you take unless you can work to rewrite your inner dialogue — retrain that little voice that says “I’m not enough” or “I’m not good enough” or “I can’t do this.” And that takes practice. I work daily to accept me as being enough.

On Inspiration

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People who show up as themselves. With all their baggage and dirty laundry and faults and strengths and beauty all smashed together in a messy, wonderful package of a person on display for everyone to see. I think it’s the hardest thing we are tasked to do as humans. I’m inspired by those people.

On Support

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I depend on a team of people who support me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I have too many mentors to name. They are brilliant minds with enormous hearts. And my friends deserve 500 words on this subject. But, I think my parents wrote the definition for support in Merriam Webster. I’m so grateful for them.
What I’ve found most interesting about this career is that some of my students support me as much as I support them. If you play a part in helping someone transform their physical or emotional life, they will return the love. I like that. It’s not a dynamic I anticipated.
But the most important lesson I’ve learned on this subject is that support is a two way street. If you can’t receive it, it’s like it’s not there. A colleague of mine once called my relationship to my support network a funnel, calling out my inability to receive as a bottleneck to the huge flow that was trying to get in. I’ve been practicing leaning back on people ever since.

Advice to the Community

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Running your own business can be really confronting. You’ll bump into you around every corner. And this is not easy. But it’s worth it. Try to face all the things that you hide or are ashamed of. And then embrace them. I know it sounds cliche. But you need them. They make up your whole person, which is what people respond to. And it’s what will make your business hum and your heart sing.

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