by Brentan Schellenbach
I was very fortunate to do my yoga teacher training at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga.(POTH)
From the moment I walked in the doors I always felt at home. I quickly fell in love with every yoga class and every teacher. I absorbed with fascination everything my teacher training mentors brought me. I started meditating with Sujantra, going to philosophy class and joined the kirtan band (aka yoga music) on Thursday nights. It was yoga studio heaven for me.
The Big Move
But alas, I was 22 and adventure was calling—it was time for me to go beyond my comfort zone and move to Chicago.
When I moved, I was eager to explore the yoga studios and find what I expected to be POTH equivalents in the Midwest.
By my third year living in the city, I was working as a yoga teacher full time—teaching 25 weekly classes at nine different locations around the city. Some studios had massive infrastructure and were well-oiled machines, others were smaller boutique studios run by a one-man-band owner-manager-lead teacher.
But there was still no Pilgrimage. Now I’m sure many students have found their yoga home in Chicago—their cherished studio that claims all their love and loyalty and affection—but it just wasn’t there for me.
But what was I to do? I had already invested three years in Chicago building relationships with students and studios, and I was finally paying my bills with money I earned teaching yoga.
Additionally, I had a wonderful musical partner named Oli, who I met as a surrogate for Sujantra’s kirtan band that I was missing in San Diego. Not only had he and I written and recorded our own kirtan album, but we had also fallen in love—a love that was founded on self-inquiry, creative expression and philosophical pondering.
Shortly after Oli and I started our romantic relationship, he started coming with me to my evening classes. Sometimes we would stay after class with students deep in conversation about yoga and life and God. But there was still a sense that something was missing—a community, a home, a family. We wanted something more than the fragmented moments before and after yoga class—we wanted friends and teachers who infiltrated every aspect of our lives.
Fermata Yoga Center
This is why we opened our own yoga studio in Chicago.
As first-time business owners, we had a lot to learn. We recruited all the help we could find, including Sujantra, who helped us remotely establish our metrics for evaluation and success. We learned the simplest of things, like what it means to rent space commercially, or develop a relationship as a business entity with other businesses. We learned about balancing our creative ambitions with the needs of the market, how to advertise, how to represent the business publicly.
In a lot of ways, Fermata Yoga Center was a success. After two years we were on a steady upward sales trajectory (and en-route to make a profit in our third year), our word-of-mouth had kicked in and was yielding new students every day, and our operational processes were running smoothly.
But there were still a few problems. Neither of us had really grown to love the city—we had tried even to the point of opening our own business, but it still didn’t feel like home. We were also meeting many traveling yoga students at the studio from all over the country who confided, “If only your studio was in my town, I would come everyday.”
We felt so silly owning a business in a place we didn’t really want to live and only be able to offer our services to those who magically lived in a four-mile radius from the studio.
We had some big decisions to make.
After two years, we decided to close the studio. The heartbreak was palpable for everyone involved, but we wanted to move back to California (closer to what I still consider my home). We also wanted to move our business online so that budget, time and distance was no longer a factor in whether people could practice with us.
And that’s where we are now.
Yoga In Your Living Room
We just launched the new leg of our business, called Yoga In Your Living Room, which is an online yoga platform that brings high-quality yoga into students’ homes. The site features a Free Videos section, updated regularly, which is full of diverse content. It also features an annual membership that unlocks what we call Premium Videos, which are specialized classes filmed on location that target more specific body and mind goals. And because we know how important it is for students to feel listened to and connected to their yoga teachers and each other, we’ve incorporated multiple communication platforms in the site (blog, commenting, social media) for friendships to emerge and flourish.
We are excited to offer this to our Chicago students as an extension of the yoga studio they fell in love with and to grow our client base all over the world. We’re looking forward to offering more diverse products like teacher trainings; retreats; clinical yoga programs for depression, anxiety, PTSD; and meditational therapies.
Most of all we are excited to be home in California, to settle our roots and be present for the ever-changing Now.
I am so thankful for my unparalleled education at Pilgrimage of the Heart, which inspires me to keep practicing, learning and growing as a yoga teacher and student. And I’m also thankful for the community—for Sujantra, Nikole, Linda and all the staff and students—this is the support that makes me feel comfortable taking risks, becoming independent and walking my own sometimes terrifying path in life.
I am blessed and I am home.