How a former digital marketer is creating an independent yoga business during a crisis
In the first episode of the Reach.Live Instructor Series, we spoke with McKenzie Riepen, a former digital marketing professional who has been practicing yoga since the age of 14 and recently quit her job in the field of marketing to pursue her dream of setting up her yoga business full time.
For this interview, McKenzie chatted with the Reach.Live team from her home in Seattle, Washington. McKenzie was getting ready to host her next live yoga class in a few hours.
Q: What inspired you to get in the yoga business full time?
My first encounter with yoga was at 14 years old when I was in high school and went to a gym yoga class just looking for a workout. During the class, I was confused and didn’t understand the language the instructors were using and left it at that. A few years later in college, I was feeling very anxious, and that's when I used yoga again as a mental health thing. Later I was helping out at the front desk of my friend’s yoga studio -- just helping out with no intention of teaching. My friend asked me to join her and start teaching alongside her so I just jumped in. I was in the right place at the right time. It was not until I actually started teaching when I realized it was the most powerful source of connection with other people. Just being able to see people walk in the room one way and then coming out of the room being a completely different soul and having that sense of vitality.
Q: Tell us a little more about the transition from a marketing professional to full time yoga business owner?
I studied public relations and advertising in college, and it was just the time when Facebook was coming on the scene. Social media marketing was not really a thing then so as the youngest one in the office, my manager just asked me to take care of it. That’s how I started my digital marketing career, sort of just learning on the job. During my entire marketing career I was still teaching yoga on the side. But when I used to go to the office 9 to 5, my heart was still at the yoga studio. So after 10 years, I decided to quit and pursue yoga full time. I still do part-time marketing but my main thing is my yoga business. There was a lot of conversation, soul searching, and trying to think of making it work financially. I am married to a finance guy, so it's all about the numbers. But I really wanted to make it work. I went on a yoga retreat in January which was a really inspiring week and gave me the confidence to jump into it full time.
“I am always open to new ideas and exploring online networking groups that I join to promote my business”
Q: What is your teaching philosophy and where do you find inspiration?
I use a lot of the elements in my yoga practice but I focus on integrating our true nature: Earth, Fire, Air, Water to connect with nature. Nature is my biggest source of inspiration. I really have to be outside at least once a day even with rainy weather. Pixie Light Horse is my favorite author and I love her book Prayers of Honoring Voice. I recommend that for anyone really; it's a source of inspiration for me. All the chapters in the books are related to seasons, so sometimes I just read the chapters based on the season we are in as inspiration.
Q: We love your blog and know you’re an advocate for wellness. What inspired you to start writing and how do you choose what goes into a blog post?
I started writing the blog because I wanted to share more information that I could not share in class. When I created my own yoga brand I wanted to come across as authentic to my followers and to consistently share messages with them. Sometimes it's hard to wrangle all the ideas together, but you just have to make time and go for it. My favorite thing to write on is the elements of nature, Ayurveda, how the elements reside in us, and how they change with each season. Each season our bodies are changing to balance. Elements are found in the food we eat and really in everything. I am always open to new ideas and exploring online networking groups that I join to promote my business.
Q: How has the (yoga teaching) industry changed since you started? How has your personal practice changed?
The yoga industry has changed a lot since I started teaching yoga when I was in college. I have seen this huge transition from vinyasa classes to a more slow and therapeutic setting. I have had to get out of my comfort zone a bit. I used to teach these power vinyasa classes, but now I feel we need this restorative therapeutic approach. My mediation has had the biggest impact on my practice in the last 3 years. I made this nonnegotiable, and I have to start my day with that. I have mentors with whom I check-in and are constantly helping me. When I am overwhelmed I constantly do these meditative practices to make sure I apply it in my own life. There are so many different types of meditation, so it takes a while for people to figure out what works best for them, but the learning and growing never stops. Continued education is definitely a key. I just started my 500-hour yoga teacher training.
“The future of yoga is online and is not going away. Even before Covid-19, I dipped my toe into teaching online yoga”
Q: What do you think is the future of independent business owners like yourself and where do you see it headed in the next 5-10 years?
The future of yoga is online and is not going away. Even before Covid-19, I dipped my toe into teaching online yoga. Next fall I am leading my first 200-hour teaching training, and in the next 5 years, I definitely want to lead my own yoga retreat. That's the best way for me to connect with myself and I highly recommend it to everyone. I want to open my own yoga retreat centre and train people globally. The idea of success is changing. The definition of success is more important than ever since I am on my own now. My answer is still evolving. Ideally, it means consistency in students showing up to my classes and being able to be a part of their journeys. From a metrics level, having busier schedules, more people setting up and booking my events because that's how studios obtain monetary success.
Q: How was the transition to move your yoga business completely online?
My online classes are still not perfect and there is a tech setup that is still needed. The teaching of online classes is exhausting, since the students might take a break if the teacher is not present. Every day there is a silver lining to this COVID situation. Just being able to connect with people right in their homes and connect our heartbeats personally. There is still this personal space we share. These online classes are so good and convenient and being able to practice with people all over the world is so much cooler. So there is this nice little silver lining to the current situation.