Proven Yoga Business Models 

I stay lying, rested and warmed, for as long as I can following the 75 minute asana practice in which we were encouraged to explore the uncomfortable. The room was near full; committed students enjoying their regular mid-morning yoga practice, milling around afterwards to share friendly exchanges and conversations. 

I’ve just completed my first class with Emma Moulday, Yoga Flame director, and one of three yoga studio owner-directors I spoke with about the business end of creating and managing a thriving and relevant yoga studio that’s doing things differently. Alongside Yoga Flame, I spoke with Ohana Yoga’s Gena Kenny, who has remained committed to restorative yoga in a city dominated by the fast and furious and director of Yoga Moves Louise Goodvach, who bravely transitioned from Iyengar yoga to the little-known Shadow Yoga system. This was taught exclusively through set courses, as the popularisation of yoga was heading in an alternative direction. With yoga continuing to grow as an industry, it’s easy to throw all faith behind the dominant model, which can outshine others. I wanted to shed light on those that have proven you can do things differently, who have learnt through challenges and have stayed firm on their own paths. 

There’s always a risk in starting a new business, no matter how positive or prepared you are. When Emma and husband Gabor wanted to launch a new yoga studio in Melbourne they embraced the challenge of the western suburbs as a first location, where yoga was yet to have any impact. In 2009, they dived in and it proved successful, outgrowing their first location in only two years. Emma puts this down to offering the best in service and on their ‘warmth in building and maintaining relationships’. With a clear ‘emphasis … on building and sustaining a sense of community’, within three years they had relocated to a refurbished fit-out behind busy Puckles Street. 

They took their friendliness to a second location in 2016, acquiring an existing studio. This experience proved an important learning curve as they quickly felt the impact of not having the same roots in this community, compared to the steady footing with their first studio. They acquired an existing community and one whose spirit was different from the culture created at the first Yoga Flame. It proved a challenge professionally and personally, so in 2018 they flipped the business and put all efforts back into their established studio, where they continue to grow. Emma knows this experience made them stronger in their core offer at Moonee Ponds and that returning exclusively to their diverse students confirmed their genuine commitment to an inclusivity that has resonated from the beginning. 

Community is at the heart of any yoga studio, but it isn’t something that fits neatly into a business plan. Gena Kenny’s Ohana Yoga came as a light-bulb moment after a spinal injury forced her to leave her career as a firefighter and was in need of community. As she started to heal through yoga, she became committed to the potential of offering restorative yoga to others, noticing a gap in the mainstream yoga community. 

This was a challenge from the outset. People questioned why they weren’t getting a workout and why they couldn’t feel anything. Gena would patiently guide and educate students, explaining how she was “a walking example of how the practices enable you to heal”. People kept coming as they began to feel better, sharing with others, and so from there the community grew. She had to accept, though, that her classes were not for everyone, which was tough. She remains firm in her ‘pono’ — Hawaiian for ‘walking your line of truth’, a word and culture that resonates deeply for Gena. She’s had teachers join the studio not compatible with the existing community and she’s added classes only to find them poorly attended and increasing overheads. Underlying these experiments has always been her commitment to staying true to what she is aligned to, ‘helping people integrate more with who they are’, and to what serves the community. 

Clarity and strength of purpose can be cultivated by a daily informed yoga practice. With over 35 years of practice experience, Louise Goodvach — one of Melbourne’s most senior yoga teachers and director of Yoga Moves in Balaclava — has harnessed her purpose in running the successful southside studio, one that has outlasted decades of changes in yoga, continuing to grow in its reputation and outreach. Although, it was as a senior Iyengar teacher in 2000 that Louise made her own significant change by beginning a journey in the vastly different Shadow Yoga system. 

Louise has always had a ‘deep love and inquiry for the subject of yoga’. As her practice developed she discovered questions that she couldn’t find answers to from the senior Iyengar teachers in India, nor her local colleagues. The decision to undertake the first teacher training in Shadow Yoga with Sundernath (Shandor Remete) was not a light one. The approach to asana and pranayama in Shadow were entirely different from Iyengar — the system by which she had built up her successful studio. But as she progressed with the studies, her bias started leaning towards Shadow and as she transitioned, so did her loyal students. 

Whilst yoga was becoming more popularised, Louise and her studio were taking on the challenge of heading down this little-known path of Shadow Yoga. In introducing the practice to the school, and like many self-cultivating arts, Louise offered a course-based model, eliminating most dropin classes — a system which continues today. It works as an approach giving the necessary structure to teach the forms of the practice and develop students, with every student beginning at the Intro to Shadow level, regardless of their yoga experience. From their beginning, Louise is committed to building the individual, to supporting them on the journey and giving the care and attention required in exploring the teachings. ‘The whole school is built on a sense of cultivating the person’, which starts with Louise and filters through to her other teachers, as teacher Veronica Moore explains. She recognises the work required in building the school like this but knows it’s the best way to cultivate commitment to the practice and self inquiry. 

Three different studios, three different models and approaches. Amongst their differences, though, are shared focuses, approaches to community and dedication to practices. They happen to be three women, across three generations — each inherently trusts her decisions, embraces successes and resilience, learning from challenges with an openness to grow. They continue to inspire new generations of yoga students and teachers, bringing fierce integrity to our yoga community. 

Thanks to: 
Emma Moulday
Gena Kenny
Louise Goodvach


Currently studying PWE at RMIT University,  Phoebe Dougall has been practicing yoga since 1996 and teaching since 2009, having founded and managed her own yoga studio in Armadale (Vic) from 2011–2015. Phoebe continues to teach on courses through The Yoga Social in Melbourne and since 2010 has been part of the production team for Yogafest Retreat — a bi-annual retreat that hosts over a hundred students each event to raise funds for Amma’s Australian ashram. Phoebe is a practitioner in Shadow Yoga and undertakes annual teachings with founders Sundernath (Shandor Remete) and Emma Balnaves. 
This article originally featured in YogaToday Business Edition 2019, Volume 26 

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