Yogi entrepreneur learns to trust the process
By Juliana Bergstrom
It’s pouring rain as I arrive at The Yoga Root in North Vancouver to take class with owner and instructor, Rachel Rozen. She welcomes me with open arms and her big brown eyes sparkle as she tells me about what a whirlwind it’s been; from deciding this past January to open her own studio, to opening the doors for business in August. She shares how grateful she is for the opportunity to share yoga with her students as it’s been such an important tool for her to stay grounded in her own life. Providing that to others, she says, is so fulfilling.
She graciously guides me through a private, candle-lit Hatha-Yin-hybrid class. Being a one-on-one, she asks what I’d like to work on, and voila, I get a curated-for-me yoga class.
“Use the pose to get into your body, not your body to get into the pose,” she offers, as we move into the pigeon posture. I stay there for a slightly uncomfortable five minutes as I feel my hip peeling open, but when we slowly move out of the pose, I can feel blood rushing to the area that was just stretched. It feels amazing.
Hatha yoga is an energetic, or yong, practice that focuses on a balance of strength and flexibility. In yin yoga, poses are held for several minutes to allow the stretch to move into the deep tissues. Rozen offers a combination of the two to provide a dynamic class to exercise both the body and mind.
“Yoga is about so much more than the physical body,” she says. It’s a theme she keeps coming back to in our class and following conversation.
A few days later, I return to take another class and to chat more with Rozen. The class is comprised of both men and women, of all ages and different skill levels in their practice. There is a strong community vibe in this room. There’s no lobby or fancy tearoom – everything takes place in the space where class is held. All the students know each other by name and stay after class to drink tea and chat.
Rachel and I walk to Thomas Haas to grab a snack as she tells me about how she is concentrating on making her rounds to the other local businesses to establish a connection with her community. The server taking our order asks her how everything is going at the yoga studio. A man in line overhears this conversation, turns to us and says “You’re Rachel, the owner of The Yoga Root? My wife loves taking class there.” I guess her community outreach is working.
Rachel’s (indirect) journey to becoming a yoga instructor started her senior year of high school. The stress of finding her “passion” having a “life plan” and facing the unknown was so severe that she started experiencing panic attacks. A counselor recommended that she start meditating to deal with these stresses and gave her some guided meditation CDs led by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This guided meditation series taught her techniques to become more comfortable in the mind and body she was born with, at a time that she was feeling uncomfortable in both. It is hard to picture her in this state as she describes it in her steady, confident voice.
“I would love to meet that man one day,” she tells me, her gratitude prevalent.
For her, meditation and mindfulness were integrated into her life long before she started her physical practice; it came a few years later when she did a progressive series at a recreation centre.
“Those classes were so freeing,” she reveals. “My mind and body were both getting stronger and more calm.”
One of her yoga instructors suggested to Rachel that she do a yoga teacher training program – and that was when it clicked.
Why couldn’t she dedicate her time to learning as much as possible about something she was so passionate about?
She signed up for the yoga teacher training course at Open Door Yoga in Kitsilano. It was there she learned a solid foundation about the eight limbs of yoga in an intimate and supportive setting. In teaching, she found her way of helping those who were suffering through that same anxiety and stress that she had felt in her past.
A week after completing her training, she was already teaching – uncommon in the yoga-teacher community. She explains that, in Vancouver, where there are so many teachers, studios are looking to hire instructors with multiple years of experience already under their belt. That’s difficult to attain when no one will hire you for that very reason.
Momentum soon picked up and Rozen found herself in a position in which she was comfortable taking the leap of faith to quit her job in the fashion industry to teach full-time. Eventually, she was teaching up to 15 classes per week all over the city. She finally broke down, saying, “I am so exhausted, I have no more left to give.”
This was when the idea of opening her own studio formed.
“It is so competitive in this city, Rachel; you are never going to be able to do this,” a former colleague, whose name she wouldn’t reveal, told her. In that moment, she decided that she wasn’t going to feed into that fear but rather allow it fuel the fire of her drive to be successful.
“But can I do this on my own?”
“Do I have enough teaching experience?”
“How can I have a successful yoga studio in a city that is already so densely populated with them?”
Her past experience in business gave her an advantage – she already understood what it was like, what was needed and how to run a business. Still though, could she do it on her own? Maybe having a partner would make her feel better about pursuing such a risky endeavor. So, she started conversations enrolling fellow teachers that she respected to partner with her. But while some of them were interested, their timelines didn’t match up with her own.
“Well, maybe this is a sign that it isn’t supposed to happen,” she said to her husband, Adriano.
“Well, maybe this is a sign that you can do it on your own and that is how you need to look at it,” he responded.
She takes a moment to acknowledge that without that conversation, and the unwavering support from her husband, The Yoga Root likely would not have come into existence.
To her, what was scarier? Failing? Or, the regret of never having tried because of the fear of failure? In that moment, when her husband flipped those insecurities on their heads, she knew that the thing which scared her most was the fear of looking back and thinking “I wish I had.”
Rozen got to work. She chose her location on Harbourside Drive. There weren’t any other yoga studios in that radius, a developing area on the North Shore. Her vision was to create a space that was welcoming to everyone – somewhere people could have a sense of acceptance and belonging. She wanted to connect with her students and have her students connect with each other.
She chose her staff with this in mind. Her employees are all certified yoga instructors who share her passion for holding a safe, fun space for their students. She trusts them to be the face of her business and provide that caring experience for their students when she is not there (or, when she wants to be a student in class). She also felt very strongly about providing the same support she had been given as a new instructor, so has taken onto her roster Kyla, a teacher who received her certification a few months prior.
On top of offering traditional classes to whomever wishes to practice, Rozen offers yoga for teens.
“It is such an impressionable time in their lives that I wanted to give them what I wish I had had as a teen,” she explains.
“Adolescence is a time in our lives where we form a lot of our thinking habits and patterns. I want to provide the tools to build strong positive attitudes and coping techniques that they can carry forward with them in life.”
How is a teen yoga class different from an adult yoga class?
Rozen has created a game to play with her tween and teenage students: a sort of Yoga-Jenga. She has written a yoga pose on each Jenga piece and as they play, she writes down the posture written on each piece that they stack. When the tower inevitably falls, they all go back to their mats and she guides them through the flow they created as a collective unit, together.
In the future, the entrepreneurial yogi hopes to combine yoga with her love of travel by offering Yoga Root retreats. Her vision is for it to be a vacation with her “yoga family.”
She is already offering workshops and one-off community events; on Halloween, she taught a black light yoga class followed by a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
“Trust in the process, has been my biggest mantra,” she tells me. “In this chaotic world, we can’t always have the assurance or guarantee that everything is going to work out as planned, so I am practicing going with the flow and enjoying the journey.”
To learn more about The Yoga Root and to view the class schedule, visit The Yoga Root.
Juliana loves most Vancouver clichés — such as yoga, hiking and drinking tea with elaborate names — but what you wouldn’t guess about her is that she danced her way through 32 countries, is a die-hard No Doubt fan and cries when she is really excited and/or happy. Oh, and she loves a dry sauvignon blanc.