How a former headhunter wrote a bestseller on Restorative Yoga & built the first Yoga studio in her town
In the fourth episode of Reach.Live Creator Series, we spoke with Gail Grossman, a former headhunter in the graphic design industry who founded Om Sweet Om - one of the first Yoga Studios in her town in Long Island. Gail’s journey from the world of recruiting to opening her own Yoga studio to writing a bestseller on yoga is nothing short of spectacular and inspiring. We wanted to share her story with the broader community of independent instructors and business owners and hopefully inspire them to create their own businesses as well.
For this interview, Gail chatted with the Reach.live team from Berkshire County in Massachusetts. Right before the conversation - Gail had just finished teaching a live yoga class via video with one of her clients.
Q: How did you leave the world of recruiting and get into Yoga?
I used to love my job as a headhunter in the graphic design industry. My task was to recruit the best and brightest graphic designers. This was the pre-Linkedin era so a lot of the work was manual to find the most skilled people. It was great for a while but then the dot com boom happened with all these internet companies like Monster.com and others, which made my part of the job kind of obsolete. So, I realised this job was not for me anymore but I could not make the final decision to quit. I used to think that my job defined me, so there was a lot of hesitation. It was my husband who encouraged me to quit. Finally I did and I loved it.
I remember my first yoga class in New York when there were maybe 4 studios in the entire city. When I took that first class, I realised I never want to do anything else in life - exercise-wise. I loved it. I used to take classes in the city a few days a week. After I had quit my job, I did my training to teach yoga to children with Yogakids International. I had briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a yoga teacher for kids, which I thought was a crazy idea, but then my family encouraged me as well. That’s how I ended up as a yoga instructor - by starting to teach kids.
Q: How did you transition from teaching kids to adults of all ages?
I started out by teaching kids since I thought they would be less critical of whether I could teach the hardest yoga poses or not. I developed a relationship with the parents who used to come and drop their kids for the classes and over time they started asking me to teach them as well. I initially said no, but the parents kept insisting. That’s how I got into teaching adults.
Q: What was your experience setting up your own studio?
Initially I was teaching the kids and their parents out of my house.It was one class a week, then two classes, then three and from there it snowballed into a bigger thing. I started thinking about a yoga studio because I couldn’t fit more than 8 people in my home. That’s when I started looking for space and finally opened a studio in Long Island in 2004. The studio was set up for all levels, all ages, and all types of yoga. Our initial philosophy behind the business was that if you build something useful people will come. We were doing 55 classes a week. Then the 2007-2008 crisis happened, which was a challenging time for the business, but I stuck with it.
Q: Tell us a bit more about your teaching philosophy
The concept of Truth is the most important to me. It’s everywhere. It's in religion, personal codes of ethics, and life decisions. That also goes into the world of yoga and living a life that feels true to you. In my classes, I encourage people to make decisions that feel truthful to them. I always tell them don't look at the yoga mat next to you because their body is not your body. My mentor and teacher, Nevine Michaan, the founder and creator of Katonah Yoga, always says to go by geometry. I loved that concept because it is inherently truthful. If I am at a right angle, I know it's the most stable position.
Q: How did you end up writing your book “Restorative Yoga for Life”?
As yoga was picking up more and more as a commercial endeavour, one of my clients started to approach me a few times with the idea of writing a book on the practice of Restorative Yoga. He was working in the publishing industry and thought it would be a great book to bring forth and thought I was the one to do it. For months I went back and forth about the idea that should I or should I not write it. Then I wrote a draft and shared it with the publishers. They loved that draft and decided to get me on board. They gave me 6 months to finish the book. When I was thinking about the title for the book I was thinking - “Restorative yoga for Everybody” because that's the truth. I believe that this practice of yoga can be followed by people of all ages in any stage of life. It can be helpful for athletes, pregnant women, or older people. Restorative yoga is something anyone can do to reduce the stress in their life. But the publishers suggested “Restorative yoga for Life” which I also loved since it had a more philosophical feeling to it. We decided to go with that.
“When I opened my studio, it felt like a calling. There was no yoga studio in the town I lived in, so I decided to open the first one.”
Q: How was the transition from owning your studio to now being an independent instructor?
When I opened my studio, it felt like a calling. There was no yoga studio in the town I lived in, so I decided to open the first one. I felt more people needed yoga in their lives and I had the skills to share it with the broader community. After many years of running the business, I wanted to focus more on other aspects of Yoga and opportunities instead of running day to day operations of the studio. That's why I decided to sell. I still teach regularly at the studio, but I just don't own it anymore.
“ I love working with people around the world, and I can do that now with live video classes”
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?
I think the quarantine situation has led many instructors, studios, business owners & customers to transition from in-person classes to online in a very short amount of time, which I think is really good. I have done a few online programs myself, which is helping me refine my business offerings. I want to make more content and would like to be able to reach more people. I love working with people around the world, and I can do that now with live video classes. I even had a student who read my book who came to do training with me from Brazil. I love the idea of doing business via a video platform so I could reach people in other countries easily & develop a personal relationship with them. I would like to be able to train people virtually especially in a smaller group because it feels like a community. I’ve been thinking about how to engage this community for my business in new ways now.
“I have students in London, Cyprus & Istanbul, I would love to be working with them via video”
Q: What benefits have you discovered while doing your business via live video?
I used to travel to Long Island from NYC for the classes but now it's no longer a commute. I can save that time and do the classes virtually via live video. It's also been great for my students that they don't have to build in travel time in their schedules. I have students in London, Cyprus & Istanbul, I would love to be working with them via video. Previously I had gone to Istanbul 3 times to do a kids yoga training program. Now I can do the same training via live video without getting on a plane. The video call really makes the experience very personal.
“there shouldn't be any hesitation for charging money for your business, whether it’s via video or in person”
Q: How do you consider the financial aspect of running your business online?
A lot of people feel that when you teach yoga you have to give up your worldly possessions and not care about money, but I have spent a lot of time and money learning about yoga, and that did not come for free. That’s why I have become comfortable with the process of charging for it. There are lots of ways to do it now, and there shouldn't be any hesitation for charging money for your business, whether it’s via video or in-person activity. Yoga is a service like any other business you would pay for, so there shouldn't be any hesitation to charge for the service.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to fellow yoga instructors who are trying to set up their own independent businesses?
Bring who you are to the table. Bring your own unique values and ideas to your business and attract your own audience. This also applies for a yoga business -- don't try to copy from others but focus on creating your own brand. Find your own path, and people will be attracted to you and your energy and what you have to offer them. Even after 20 years of teaching, I am still figuring out what that means to me because it always evolves. I recently read a quote by Abby Wambach which really resonated with me - “What you do will never define you. Who you are always will”. And I feel that’s exactly right. I am warm, I am loving, I am a mother. I have a grounding energy that I provide through my teaching. I want people to feel comfortable and at ease, and that’s why they come to me.