| 2015 Q1 | story by LIZ WESLANDER    | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |

Sharyn Harley, owner of Om Tree Shala, leads a yoga class.

Yoga is not just for flexible people who want to relax – it’s a rapidly growing segment of the health and wellness industry that has the potential to increase muscle tone and strength, reduce the risk of injury, boost mood, and assist in weight loss.

Lawrence has a number of options available for people wanting to add yoga to their wellness routine. Local gyms, yoga studios and independently arranged yoga classes offer an eclectic mix of yoga levels and styles which means that just about anyone can find a yoga class that will suit their needs.

This rich supply of yoga options is a great thing for Lawrence residents looking to gain physical and mental balance in their lives. The high demand for yoga in Lawrence also means that local teachers and studio owners must work to establish their niche while finding a personal balance between service and business that works for them.

Sharyn Harley is the owner of Om Tree Shala, the newest yoga studio on the Lawrence scene. Om Tree, 1405 Massachusetts St., teaches a blend of yoga styles and offers many classes that are meant to make people sweat. Harley said she believes the studio is filling a demand that has existed in Lawrence for a while.

“When I moved to Lawrence in my early 20s, there wasn’t that place that you could drop into at almost any time of day and get a good yoga workout – which was what I was into,” Harley said.

Sensing that teaching was the next step in her yoga journey, Harley became certified to teach Body Flow, a trademarked, yoga-inspired fitness class, at the local women’s fitness club Body Boutique.

“That was a great place to start. Both the staff and the clientele at Body Boutique are awesome. There is some really fun energy there, but I was still looking for a studio vibe. And I knew there were people in Lawrence -often people who came from other cities – who were wanting more power vinyasa and harder flow classes,” she said.

With two young kids and not a lot money, Harley assumed that opening a studio of her own was a dream that would need to wait. However, when she unexpectedly received an email from Yoga Pod, a yoga studio in Boulder that was running a teacher training and was also interested in franchising, Harley took it as a sign. With family in the Boulder area that could provide lodging and help with childcare, Harley headed to Boulder for 10 weeks to take advantage of the training and to further explore the idea of opening a franchise studio.

“The Boulder yoga scene is iconic. I did research on what I really liked about their yoga culture, and what I wanted to bring back to Lawrence,” Harley said. “I looked closely at the franchise opportunity, and how I thought it would translate here, but at the end of the day, the franchise wasn’t a good fit for Lawrence.”

However, the trip to Boulder was not in vain. Instead of opening a franchise, Harley took what she learned in Boulder and used it to create a Lawrence yoga studio according to her own vision. With the help of mentors and friends, Harley developed a business plan, secured and remodeled a space, and then opened the studio within six months of returning from Boulder. Om Tree opened in September 2012.


Gopi Sandal, Westside Yoga instructor and co-owner, demonstrates a yoga pose.

Harley said that setting rates in a way that was both lucrative for teachers and palatable for students was challenging in the beginning.

“People were not used to being told exactly what to pay for yoga in Lawrence,” Harley said. “There are a lot of sliding scale classes and there are a lot of donation-based classes -which is awesome, and I love that we have that – but students had to get used to coming in here and seeing there’s no making a special deal with the teacher. That was a little bit of an adjustment for some of the community.”

Sorcha Hyland is one teacher in town who has taught in a variety of settings for a variety of prices, including a weekly donation-based yoga class that she taught at Be Moved Studio, 2 E. 7th St., from 2005-2013. Hyland said she did not charge a set price for her class because she did not want to exclude anyone from the practice of yoga. Her open-door policy brought a variety of people to her class, some who were homeless and paid nothing, others who paid her with tomatoes, and others still who paid $8-$10 for the class.

“It was very important for me to teach the class in the true spirit of traditional yoga,” Hyland said. “I could do that once a week, and it served me well, but I don’t think I could do it that way for a living.”


Sharyn Harley, owner of Om Tree Shala

Melissa Arthur, one of the three co-owners at Westside Yoga, which opened in 2011 at 4935 Research Park Way, said that generating income from a yoga studio is indeed quite a challenge. The Westside Yoga studio is located in a space that the co-owners rent from Dr. Mehdi Khosh and Dr. Farhang Khosh, who operate their Natural Medical Care practice in the same building. Arthur said the Khoshes were generous about setting an affordable rental rate when the studio was getting started. Arthur and her co-owners, Rita Joy Stucky and Gopi Sandal, have jobs outside of owning and teaching at the studio.

“We as studio owners do not take a profit from the business. We do our pay our teachers and we do pay rent, but it’s something that we basically run as volunteers as a service to the community,” Arthur said.

In terms of filling a niche among the yoga studios in Lawrence, Arthur said that Westside’s location and their accessible and inclusive classes are what set them apart. The studio offers a class called curvy yoga, as well a class designed for seniors.

“We try to make sure that our studio is a place where anyone can do yoga and where everyone feels comfortable,” Arthur said.

The Yoga Center of Lawrence, 920 Massachusetts St., has been in operation since 1999 and is the longest-standing yoga business in town. Jack Krebs, who co-owns the Yoga Center with his wife, Jill Krebs, said that with a progressive curriculum that focuses on the very specific and disciplined Iyengar style of yoga, the Yoga Center of Lawrence sees itself as more of a school; a place where people learn proper alignment of yoga poses, rather than a studio, in which people go to get a workout while doing yoga poses.

Both Jack and Jill have other sources of income beyond the Yoga Center, but are constantly thinking about the business and doing small tasks related to the Yoga Center.

“We look at what we so as a service to the community, but we also want it to be economically viable for the time we put into it. We are professionals and don’t want to work for six dollars an hour,” he said. “But the balance in terms of the time that we put into the center and what we make – it’s hard to pin down.”

For Harley, opening Om Tree has forced her to spend more time focusing on the nuts and bolts of the business, which was a tough adjustment from focusing solely on teaching. However, applying the principles of yoga to how she conducts business has been a welcome challenge, she said.

“That is the ultimate yoga for me now – doing the yoga of being a fair and just business owner,” Harley said. “Every decision I make I am asking myself is this yogic or not. Usually it’s very to tell. Your gut we tell you.”

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