I’ve been taking yoga classes since for about 15 years, and I always find it soothing to find a teacher who can immediately put her class at ease. That’s exactly what I found in Caitlin’s class when I first started attending, that I could consider her class and my mat a small sanctuary from the rest of noisy Los Angeles. Caitlin is a co-owner of Hollywood Power Yoga in Los Angeles (along with her business partner Liz Espersen and studio mascot Zorro), and will welcome you into her studio for a break from the noise.
Tell us a little about yourself and the road that led you to becoming a yoga instructor. What made you want to own a yoga studio? What do you love most about your work?
This topic is fresh on my mind because I just received a call from my Alma Mater, UC Berkeley, asking me what I’ve done since graduating over 10 years ago! Long story short, I was already practicing yoga starting in high school and in college it became a way to keep me balanced and withstand bouts of depression. With a degree in Comparative Literature, I stayed in Berkeley and worked as a literary intern at Berkeley Repertory Theatre where I got into professional stage acting, which led me the next year to enroll in American Conservatory Theatre’s Masters in Acting program. Throughout my masters, I was taking yoga and got certified as a teacher during one of the summer breaks. After grad school, I spent 3.5 years in New York City pursing acting but got more and more into my yoga practice and started teaching yoga on the side. By the time I moved to L.A. in 2011, yoga’s doors were opening wide whereas acting seemed more and more a closed-door pursuit. A yoga franchise from San Francisco asked me to open a location in L.A. and while that route didn’t end up making sense with my current business partner, it opened my mind up to the possibility of opening a yoga studio. When I mentioned it to my current business partner, Liz Espersen, who was at the time managing the studio I worked at, she was all aboard. I could have never guessed my life would lead this way. In fact, I remember laughing when, 10 years ago, my yoga instructor, Larry Schultz, told our group of teacher trainees that we might open yoga studios in the future. But, while I never would have anticipated my life going this way, I also have never felt more balanced, self-assured, and comforted by the fact I am giving back to the community. What I love most about having a business and teaching yoga is undoubtedly the connections I have made with my students, the extended feeling of family and a space to grow spiritually, within a collective.
What was the biggest obstacle to starting your business?
As you can imagine, starting a business is a multi-layered undertaking and like many things, if you knew how much were involved in the development, I probably wouldn’t have set out to do it. Finding a location where we didn’t have to take out loans and go into debt almost felt impossible until one of our teachers discovered a spot and we hopped on it without a second thought. In the first year, we didn’t pay ourselves, in an effort to stay out of debt and avoid taking out loans. It worked, but it meant that first year I was waiting tables at a restaurant, teaching yoga at other locations, privately, and doing the bookkeeping for our studio as well as running the business. It was exhausting. It still is, but less so. My goal is that running the business always feels like work but is more and more rewarding with each year. I now exclusively teach yoga and run the studio, which I am very proud of, but it’s not to say the journey is complete. I would like to have more free time, more income, expand the studio, but these are things that will come with time. In the meantime I am so fortunate to have a job that keeps me healthy, connected and growing.
What is the most exciting part of being a business owner?
The possibilities it offers. At a yoga studio—teacher trainings, retreats, different class offerings, hosting other instructors and workshops, collaborating with other businesses, fundraising for specific causes, meeting so many different people—there’s no limit to the possibilities. We’ve even had a popular web series, Namaste, Bitches filmed at out studio, which I am currently co-representing at a film festival in Vermont as a little vacation from the day-to-day in Los Angeles. The studio will continue to grow and expand and it’s a lot determined by me and Liz’s imaginations. I love how we as individuals can dream thoughts and visions into reality.
What do you see in the future for your studio and your yoga practice, and how will you get there? How does owning a yoga studio affect your yoga practice?
I would love to see Hollywood Power Yoga reach capacity at it’s current location, continue to offer teacher trainings and specialized trainings, as well as host annual retreats abroad. I’d love the studio to open another location in a more rural setting mostly because I’d love to have a specialized location retreat center in California, and also, I long for nature at times, being in the thick of Hollywood, and I’d selfishly love an escape, as I’m sure many of our students would. It would be fantastic if the second location could be mostly a retreat and training destination (like Escalen or White Lotus) and in Northern California, or on the California coast. I would also love to have a location that was more of a wellness/recovery center, offering yoga, therapy, acupuncture, 12-step meetings etc. Liz and I are very good communicators and we constantly voice our wants and desires for the studio and ourselves as individuals. I think as Hollywood Power Yoga continues to grow our goals and pursuits will become manifested with our work, diligence and visualizing.
As far as my personal yoga practice, I’ve heard instructors say that when they are teaching so much in pursuit of making a teaching career viable, they don’t have time for their own practice. While I don’t take group classes every day, I do at least four times a week and practice on my own the other days. It’s rare a day I don’t get on my mat in some form or another. Meditation has also become a part of my life as are the other limbs of yoga and the way I interact with the world is a yoga practice in itself—meaning at ease, in peace and grounded.
“THIS LIFE THING IS AN ON-GOING JOURNEY, NEVER STAGNANT OR ‘FIGURED OUT,’ JUST LIKE THE POSES ARE CONSTANTLY FLUCTUATING AND FEEL DIFFERENT DAY TO DAY.”
Hollywood Power Yoga is a very teacher/student friendly atmosphere. There aren’t a lot of barriers between students and teachers getting to know each other and because of this, the studio has an intimate, family vibe. I love that I can go, in any shape or condition to practice at the studio, and know I will be supported and seen—in the sense of all my layers. I think that’s what students love about our studio as well. I left the acting business for yoga because acting felt competitive, filled with disappointment, feelings of powerlessness and brought me to unhealthy places, such as an eating disorder. Yoga is everything the opposite for me: loving, nurturing, accepting and validating, and it continues to urge me to practice and grow. This Life thing is an on-going journey, never stagnant or “figured out,” just like the poses are constantly fluctuating and feel different day to day.
What the best piece of advice for women who are interested in starting a business?
My advice would be: DO it! I think only something like 30% of businesses in the U.S. are run by women. I think women running businesses, women running the economy, being educators, self-reliant and the fabric of our communities, is what will transform this nation and world from a male-dominated society, to an inclusive, thriving, more peaceful and cooperative world, where people can support one another and thrive together.