Spreading Wisdom and Wellness - Interview with the Owner of Epic Yoga, Leanne Woehlke

Spreading Wisdom and Wellness - Interview with the Owner of Epic Yoga, Leanne Woehlke

Have you ever tried Yoga? What was your experience like?

Many people love yoga for its many benefits that span from lower blood pressure to improved ability to sleep, but some choose to take their training much further. Meet Leanne Woehlke, an entrepreneur and yoga expert who decided to take her extensive training and spread the joy of yoga to others - as the owner of her own popular yoga studio. Discover the challenges and tough choices that led Leanne to live the life she loves as a yoga instructor, each and every day.

What was Leanne’s First Experience with Yoga?

The first time we try something new can reveal a lot about how a particular activity resonates with us. In Leanne’s case, she felt an immediate connection with yoga but was unaware of her instructor’s world-class status in the community.

Twenty-three years ago, I walked into my first yoga class at Frogs, in Solana Beach. I had no idea what to expect, no clue that there were different types of yoga, and no understanding that the teacher in front of me (Dominic Corigliano) was one of the best in the world. When I walked out of the room, 90 minutes later, I was changed and I was hooked.

First Introduction to Baron Baptiste

It’s funny how a chance encounter can lead you to the exact thing you’re looking for. In Leanne’s case, a random magazine purchase introduced her to Baron Baptiste, the man who would become her mentor and lead to her professional yoga career.   

In 1997, I moved to Philadelphia. I remember buying a copy of “Philadelphia Magazine” at the airport when I arrived. It was one of those “Best Of” editions. On the cover, it had some guy named Baron Baptiste. I had never heard of him. When I got back home I showed it to my teacher, Dom, and asked if he knew him. He shook his head and said, “It’ll be good, but it isn’t Ashtanga.

Leanne’s “Philadelphia Experience”

A few months into what I call my “Philadelphia Experience” I was desperately seeking yoga. The classes at my local gym were much “calmer” and slower paced than my ashtanga practice. During class, I found myself alternately making my grocery list or planning my escape from the room. I craved the vigorous flow of Ashtanga, and its ability to calm my monkey mind. I would try to practice on my own, piecing together the bits I could remember, but it wasn’t the same. Periodically I would go Baron’s classes out in the suburbs. His classes were packed. There were familiar elements, mixed with positive messages and themes of transformation, but it wasn’t Ashtanga.

Searching for Yoga in 1998

Over the next few months, I took all of the yoga workshops I could find, which was limited in Philadelphia in 1998. I found a Yoga Teacher Training program at Omega Institute, led by Beryl Bender Birch, and her husband, Thom. It was Ashtanga, and it felt like home. Beryl mentioned that Manju Jois, Pattabhi Jois’ son, was going to be in Philadelphia teaching for a while. Synchronicity, destiny, who knows. Whatever it was, I was excited!

Leanne Jumps at the Opportunity to Train in India

Somewhere in there I went to a David Swenson workshop at a little yoga studio on Rittenhouse Square in Downtown Philly. There were maybe 20 people there. As I was walking in for the workshop, David said to Janine, the studio owner, that she should go to India to study yoga with Pattabhi Jois. She laughed it off and explained that she would love to, but that she didn’t have anyone to go with. Nonchalantly I said, “I’ll go.” I didn’t really know her, but I knew that I had more frequent flyer miles than common sense, and India sounded like the next step on my yoga journey.

At the time I had a stressful job and felt nauseous most days on my way to the office, but I noticed on the days I went to practice with Manju the nausea wasn’t as severe. Eventually, I took a leap of faith. I quit my “good” (if you define “good” by six figures, coupled with daily nausea) corporate job, went to India to study with Guruji (Pattabhi Jois).

Impacted by Life in India

India changed me. It showed me the beauty in the simple things. It allowed me to see I had all I needed, even when I ran out of money on my way home. It taught me the thrill of adventure, of the unknown, and of finding your path.        

When I got home from India, I had plans to buy the yoga studio. However, after a few weeks, I decided I didn’t want to rely on yoga for my salary. To me, it felt cheap to trade yoga for dollars. Even now, I tell people I am paid in a different currency, which is joy. My yoga was still a driving force in my life, but I went back to the corporate world to fund my yoga habit.

Yoga as a Source of Relief in Difficult Times

My practice got me through a lot of difficult times, the loss of a baby, infertility, a high-risk pregnancy, and my husband’s cancer. It was as essential as breathing. I say the yoga allowed me to process the emotions, to not let them take hold in my physiology.    

My practice was more of a necessity than a hobby, so there was no motivation needed…life seemed to supply the circumstances and yoga provided the relief.  

Leanne’s Thoughts on Fundamentals Versus Advanced Training?

Many who try yoga are either anxious to try or intimidated by, some of the advanced poses. From an experienced point of view, however, the true benefit of yoga isn’t found in your ability to hold a handstand - it’s in consistent practice of the fundamentals.

Advanced training? I think that’s a misnomer. The more I practice, the more I come back to the basics. I think the beginner is more likely to be lured by “advanced” asanas. I can get just as excited about Warrior 1, as Handstand. The principles are the same. The illusion is that if a pose seems more like Cirque du Soleil, that the practitioner has a more illumined mind. That is total Bullshit…can I say that? And that is one of the problems with social media. We think that the outward expression is more important than what’s going on on the inside.

People Want the Fruit without the Labor

One of the most important lessons I learned from Guruji was, “Do your practice and all is coming.” Everyone quotes this. Yet sitting with him in satsang and hearing him dole out this advice, I get it. Show up and do the work. DO THE WORK! What I see happening more and more is that people want the fruit of the practice without the labor. They want an advanced pose, but there is no integration in the body. DO THE WORK! It’s like the story of the two birds in the mango tree. One is the looking bird, one is the eating bird. The looking bird is content. The eating bird is consuming and never really fulfilled. That’s what happens with the never-ending pursuit of the “advanced” asana.

Discovering the True Advanced Asana

For me, I love to get lost in the breath. Even if it’s late and I’m tired, I know if I drag myself to my mat, even for a few sun salutations, that I will feel better, my mind will let go and I will find myself in a state of flow. To me, that is the advanced asana.

The Pivotal Moment - Leanne Opens Epic Yoga in Nashville

Starting a business is no easy endeavor for anyone. It’s a major risk that takes tons of time and more resources than you typically have at your disposal. But with a dream that was 15 years in the making, it was only a matter of time before Leanne opened her own yoga studio.

I knew I wanted to open a yoga studio for about 15 years before I actually opened EPIC. I think the pivotal moment for me was after a canceled IVF cycle. My body had been pumped full of so many hormones and I developed a cyst in my breast that had to be biopsied. I realized that in my pursuit of trying to have another child, I could die and leave the child I had without a mother. That was unacceptable to me. I phoned my husband to tell him that I was done trying to have a baby and that I was instead going to open a yoga studio. He tried to console me and told me we could talk more about it when he got home. I told him that wasn’t necessary, that I was okay and that I had made up my mind. Thankfully he was hugely supportive!

Leanne Explains Why Her Instructors Don’t Train During Class

Putting in time as an instructor at Epic Yoga means being 100% focused on the students who walk through the door. Leanne explains why her instructors do their own yoga training on their own time.

Our teachers don’t practice with the class because if they are upside down in Downward Facing Dog, they can’t really see the student’s alignment. So I think in situations where the teacher practices along with the students, it’s a rip off for everyone. The teacher isn’t really getting a good practice because if they are cueing, they aren’t in their breath, and the student is getting ripped off because if the teacher is focused on their own practice they aren’t fully there for the student. As I see it, it’s a lose-lose situation. I’m selfish. If I practice, I want it to be my practice, not a half-baked practice while I am craning my neck to see if the guy in the third row has a funky knee position in Warrior 2. When I teach, I want to be there fully for my students and when it’s my turn, I want to be there fully for myself.

Do You Recommend or Teach Yoga for Kids?

I used to teach a weekly class at the elementary school. It was one of the favorite parts of my week. The kids would tell me that they felt more focused, calm and peaceful after the classes… to me, that is priceless!
Kids are under so much stress! The practice gives them confidence and teaches impulse control plus so much more! I’d love to see yoga offered at every school. Kids can see right through anyone who isn’t authentic.    

The beauty of yoga is that anyone can do it. Does that mean the poses will look the same? Absolutely not! I’ve taught people with all types of injuries and special circumstances. You just need to be able to get to the basics of a pose. Think, “What is this pose trying to accomplish?” And then you recreate that feeling however you can with what’s available. That means if someone can’t have their head below their heart, you modify and do a sun salutation on the wall, or some other way. The only limitation to modifications and adaptations is your own creativity.

Biggest Obstacle You Encounter from Students

When students first sign up for a class, they’re thinking of all the fun classes and life improvements that will come from it. But a few weeks in when the various stresses of life take their toll on their schedule, it can be easy for that fitness class to take a backseat to other distractions. It turns out that the biggest challenge that threatens the dedication of Leanne’s yoga students is one that faces us all.

The biggest issue I hear about is time. The truth is, we all have the same amount of time per day. If you have time for social media, you have time for yoga.

If You Could Only Do 2 Poses for the Rest of Your Life?

Yoga relies on deliberate and challenging poses to engage and spread awareness of different parts of your body. To date, 200 poses have been detailed by Guru BKS Iyengar, and each of them serves a different function for the practitioner. For someone with decades of yoga experience such as Leanne, picking only two may be a challenge.

This is a tough question! I think I’d have to say Up Dog and Down Dog. The rationale is that they balance each other out. You have a spinal flexion and spinal extension. Keeping the spine healthy and moving is the key to longevity and mobility.

What Unexpected Challenges Did You Have to Deal With?

I often say that opening a business is like an accelerated Ph.D. program. I feel like I’ve learned so much! Trademarks, cease and desist letters, website creation, social media, traditional marketing, retail purchasing and merchandising, firing people - I’d have to say the people management part was least expected. I had been in positions with direct reports, but I thought yoga teachers would just love yoga and want to teach. I could never have anticipated some of the challenges.

What Tips Have You Learned for Maintaining Your Yoga Studio?

Every type of business comes with extra concerns about how to keep the place clean, presentable, and ready for operation each day. Leanne explains how they handle these concerns at her studio, Epic Yoga in Nashville.

We have a built-in system to eliminate odors and bacteria. We also clean the floor after each class. I always say, “If you think you want to open a yoga studio, you better make sure you enjoy cleaning floors and toilets.”

What’s Different About the Style Taught at Epic Yoga?

EPIC YOGA is a Baptiste Affiliate Studio. Baptiste Yoga uses the tools of Meditation, Asana, and Inquiry. We use meditation as an access to getting present and awakening. It’s about letting go of the day to day noise and background chatter of the mind and becoming still. We use the Journey Into Power sequence to access more vitality, power and freedom, both on and off the yoga mat. The practice is vigorous, and yet doable by anyone. Inquiry is what really sets it apart from other forms. We use Inquiry as a way to discover new possibilities. It’s asking deeper questions.

Leanne’s Advice for a New Owner of a Yoga Studio?

With over 20 million Americans currently practicing yoga, it’s clear that it’s a popular and rapidly-growing art form. With more than 8% of people being involved in yoga, the number of people wanting to own a studio is sure to increase. But as someone who has been through the highs and lows of owning her own yoga studio, Leanne has advice for those with aspirations of opening their own.

Ask yourself WHY you want to open a yoga studio. Then look long and hard at that WHY. If it’s because you love yoga and want to teach more, go become a full-time teacher, not a studio owner. Get super clear on your WHY so that when the tough times come, and they certainly will, you can remind yourself why you did it in the first place and why it is important enough for you to continue.


How Does Your Yoga Practice Carry Over into Everyday Life?

Yoga is known to provide a massive array of benefits for those who practice regularly. From improvements to cognitive function and stress control to relieving sore muscles and decreasing depression, the fruits of your yoga practice are truly remarkable. When asked of how her yoga practice flows into her everyday life, Leanne sums it up with a quote from her primary instructor.

Baron, who is my primary teacher now, says, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” I agree. It’s that “Wherever you go, there you are” thing.

Should Yoga Be Taught to Kids in Schools?

Absolutely! Yoga is not a religion. It is a system based on science. I think the way yoga is approached in schools may have to be slightly altered from how you would teach it in a studio - even regarding what is appropriate to say and what to wear. You can’t go in and think you are going to mold the students and parents into your typical “yoga studio students”. You have to meet them where they are. If that means calling it Breath and Mindful Movement, I’m fine with that. I think the practice is too important to try to force it down anyone’s throat. Let them experience it for themselves and then decide if it works.

What Would You Say to People Who’ve Driven By their Local Yoga Studio Countless Times, but Have Never Gone In?

Go in! You’ve got nothing to lose! We had a student who was in her 60s who drove by and thought about coming into EPIC for over a year! She finally did come in and loved it and went on to do Teacher Training. If you try it and don’t like it, find a different studio and keep doing that until you find one you like.

Find Leanne at Epic Yoga in Nashville, TN

Leanne Woehlke has over 20 years of experience practicing yoga, and you can train under her yourself by simply visiting her studio, Epic Yoga near Nashville in the town of Brentwood, TN.  With classes ranging from Yoga Shred and Power Yoga 75 to Stress Resiliency and Yoga Basics, she offers a class for every type of practitioner. You’ve read about the numerous benefits of yoga - now experience them first hand at Epic Yoga.