How 8 Limbs Yoga Centers took an idea and made it their reality.
Anne Phyfe Palmer is a visionary with big ideas. A year and a half after taking her first yoga class, she decided to open her own studio. Nine months later, in 1996, 8 Limbs Yoga Centers in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood was born.
“I had no business being a yoga teacher, let alone a studio owner so early on, but I had such a strong feeling that yoga was going to be big,” said Palmer. “It had captured me completely.”
Despite Palmer’s inexperience, 8 Limbs’ growth progressed at a rapid rate. The decision to add a second studio was made rather easily due to the initial success, and so they expanded to another location.
Thriving from the success of the two studios, Palmer was encouraged by students to open another location and expand into the West Seattle neighborhood. In 2005, while pregnant, Palmer decided to start the expansion process. Within weeks of signing the lease to her third studio, she lost the pregnancy and spent months grieving, while still trying to manage an expansion.
To say the third studio was a challenge is an understatement. It put 8 Limbs in debt, was much too big and was slow to build a following. The main challenge was becoming an addition to an already established neighborhood.
“With this studio, it was a lot of this city-girl coming in and thinking, ‘Oh this neighborhood ne8 Limbs in debt, was much too big and was slow to build a following. The main challenge was becoming an addition to an already established neighborhood.eds an 8 Limbs,’” said Palmer. “I showed up and was like, ‘Oh here we are, we are bringing yoga to West Seattle.’ And people there were like, ‘Yeah, we’re set, thanks.’ It took a while for us to really become part of the neighborhood.”
8 Limbs began to be welcomed into the neighborhood once Palmer hired a manager from the community. She explained incorporating staff from the area helped put an emphasis on the local community, which eventually led to the location’s success.
With an organic growth process over a span of 20 years, 8 Limbs now has four studios in the four corners of Seattle.
As a result, 8 Limbs has grown to a size that’s made it impossible for Palmer to have her hands on every single aspect of the business. This spurred the realization that in order to thrive, it was important to bring in people with varied levels of expertise to run different areas of the business’ operations.
Enter Ashley Dahl, who is now the executive director of 8 Limbs Yoga. She is the “big-picture holder” and works alongside Palmer to channel her visions into a reality. Palmer explained she opened a studio with the broad mission of yoga, but Dahl has helped clarify that idea.
They work cohesively together to consistently keep steadfast to the mission of creating a supportive, inclusive and non-competitive atmosphere in which yoga practitioners can learn and grow.
With Palmer in charge of education and Dahl in charge of operations, it seems the two have created a strong front. Dahl described herself as grounded and calming, which pairs perfectly with the unmistakable spark within Palmer.
“What I do is help create some deeper roots for her to grow this spirit out of,” said Dahl. “I am someone who is good at seeing that if this is where we want to go, then here are the steps in between. Anne Phyfe has a lot of ideas of where to go and I am kind of the one who can fill out the in-between area. Not just how do we get there, but how do we get there in a way that is true to our mission and our values?”
Palmer had been working to create a mission-driven business for her customers, but gives Dahl the credit for helping her realize the back-end of the business needed to be focused on this mission, too.
“When I came into it my focus was very much on the customer, and making sure the customer was happy and got what they wanted,” said Palmer. “Of course you can’t have a business without the customer, but Ashley helped me take it to the level of making it an awesome experience for the employees, especially as we grew.”
A Home for Everyone
As the studios expanded, layers of “aha” moments were being peeled back for Palmer in regards to the inclusivity of her studio. Since October of 2015, 8 Limbs has been engaged in learning about and dismantling internalized racism and privilege, as well as becoming aware of the cultural appropriation of yoga.
Palmer described their studio as, “Deeply in learning mode on this subject — not leaders, rather we are following the work that many have done for many years to undo racism.”
She explained, “Once I became willing to listen and hear, people began educating me on, ‘Well actually this might be a comfortable space for you and people like you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a comfortable space for all other people.’ People were saying, ‘Hey we need to look at the practice we are doing and how it is perpetuating more of the segregation, how it’s perpetuating privilege and how white people are keeping themselves in places that are very white-centered.’”
Willing to listen, Palmer began leaning on her local community for her education on what she could do to help battle this internal bias at her yoga studios. Because Palmer has a bigger yoga studio in the area, she realized she has a voice and a platform to be used for good.
For starters, Palmer began to realize the importance of having a diverse staff. 8 Limbs began throwing the net wider in the application pool and became intentional and encouraging to who they pursue for j
“We are doing the work internally to make our company a place where we aren’t just a white-centered company that says, ‘Oh yeah, we want you to come work with us,’” said Palmer. “We are saying, ‘We would like to change our work culture so that it is a place where people of color can actually feel comfortable.’”
On top of creating this company culture, 8 Limbs added trainings on undoing racism to their teacher training curriculum. The studio is also currently examining their service and work culture to create a place where a wider breadth of people can feel welcome. “We realized it is a very big amount of effort to take on changing your company to be more inclusive, and there is a lot more awareness we want to take on so people feel more at home,” said Palmer.
Palmer credits a majority of her growth as a leader to Dahl. Dahl and Palmer began to work as equals, which spurred Palmer to see the potential in her other leaders as well. The evolution of her leadership really increased as she found satisfying results of working alongside others, as opposed to working above them.
“In some ways, I have become less interested in leading, and more interested in other people bringing forth their great ideas,” said Palmer. “For a long time, I just wanted to have all the good ideas and saying I came up with things or wanting credit for things. It was immature of me, but I have grown to be much more interested in other people’s strengths.”
Finding the strengths in their staff begins as early as the interview process at 8 Limbs. Both Palmer and Dahl stressed the importance of having clear job descriptions and selecting interview questions that stress what you need from the position.“You need to be very clear with yourself what you need from the person you are interviewing; whether it be independence or collaboration, they will do anything to get the job done or do anything to make sure the customer is happy,” said Palmer. “Those are sometimes at odds, so with each position we have hired we have to get really clear with ourselves what is most important for that position.”
Dahl explained a major concern for yoga studios can sometimes be yoga teachers trying to do positions they aren’t trained for. While the intention is honest and true, having a skilled individual in that position can allow the yoga teacher to do her task of teaching much better.
“A studio doesn’t want to hire a teacher who simply can teach — they want to hire teachers that are inspired and putting a lot of their heart into teaching a beautiful class,” said Dahl. “We are looking for people to work for us that have that same approach to the admin side as well.”
8 Limbs has placed their focus recently on the future and goals they have set for themselves. Rather than adding more expansions or classes, they are turning their focus to making the programs they already offer better and more supported. Both Dahl and Palmer referred to this as “strategic pruning.”
The idea of strategic pruning came from the overwhelming feelings both Palmer and Dahl were experiencing. “In some ways we had created a sense of irony, because here we were offering all these ways to ground yourself, but we weren’t feeling particularly grounded behind the scenes,” said Dahl.
They both began to take a deeper look at the studio’s mission to become more clear on the things they do well, in order to bring that mission to life in each aspect of the studio.
“Sometimes we think of 8 Limbs as this tree, and there are these branches and roots, and we realized the foundation, or roots, wasn’t deep enough to have as many branches as we had,” said Dahl. “We have been doing some cutting back to grow out and fill in our shoes. We are simplifying procedures, offerings and literally checking in with ourselves more on a day-to-day basis to see if we are feeling calm and grounded.”
This concept of strategic pruning is where Palmer sees the longevity of her studio. What once started as a studio forged from one woman’s desire to dream big is becoming a lifelong livelihood with conscious decisions being made daily.
“I think what built 8 Limbs is that there was something for everyone,” said Palmer. “But what is going to sustain 8 Limbs is more of a clarification of doing what we do really well.”