What would your life look like if you could do anything?
Where would you go? What would you be doing? Who would be involved? Sitting together at their home in Lake Tahoe, Alex and Terri Cole asked themselves these questions and had an epiphany. The unconventional and extravagant idea of visiting 100 yoga studios in 100 days came to mind.
Both, with decades worth of corporate experience, decided to quit their jobs, cash out their savings and hit the road on what the couple would deem “The Summer of Love.” The journey would begin in Seattle and travel along the West Coast, with the end destination being San Diego. But most importantly, the couple would blog about their experiences with a variety of teachers, styles, people and cities. They would seek out the challenging classes and dabble in restorative programs, telling their stories along the way.
YoYoYogi, the blog, was thus born. What Alex and Terri thought would be a 100-day, quirky journey of discovery became 145 days of a life-altering adventure. The blog amassed an enormous following, with yogis from all over using it as a resource for finding a class when traveling.
“Honest to God, that ‘Summer of Love’ was a blast,” said Terri. “The hardest part of the whole thing was striving to keep the blog fresh. There were so many great, great classes and amazing teachers who we learned from on the trip — we wanted to give each of them their fair due. We never expected to get the following we did. We didn’t have any expectations; we just wanted to experience everything we could. ”
Upon their return, Alex and Terri knew their next life decision would be an easy one. After experiencing one amazing studio after the next, the couple determined they needed to share, grow, teach and live the rest of their lives dedicated to yoga.
With both of their daughters living in the Pacific Northwest, the location for YoYoYogi, the studio, was simple. Portland, Oregon, would be where the family would open up shop.
“Portland had a place in our heart even before we did the blog,” said Terri. “We were up here a lot many years prior — we knew the area pretty well and loved it. When we were here with the blog and experiencing the different studios, Portland just grabbed us by the heart and we knew one day it would be our home.”
It took over eight months for the couple to get the ball rolling on their business. They worked with SCORE, a local nonprofit consisting of retired business professionals who coach clients through establishing a company, to draft their business plan.
“When we walked into the Historic Gadsby building in the midst of the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon, we knew,” said Alex. “The character of the 1906 structure, with its old brick and mind-blowing wood floors, posts and beams, won our hearts. YoYoYogi opened in August of 2010. We put our heart and soul into what would become our heart and soul.”
Alex and Terri started out doing everything, as most studio owners do. They taught, cleaned the bathrooms, built schedules, hired teachers, managed the books and built the YoYoYogi community. For the first three years, they did not take a single day off.
The decision to hire employees to assist them on the business side was a slow, building one. The owners knew they needed help in order to maintain the fast-growing community. Fortunately, their daughter, Kristi Vote, had a background in marketing. At the time, she was a teacher at the studio, but also held a full-time position at a mental health organization. However, she knew it was time for her to move away from that job and begin looking for something else.
“I was at my parents’ house one day when they were talking about maybe hiring a studio manager,” said Vote. “I had been teaching at the studio for about three years, but I mentioned management might be something I would be interested it. It was a really organic process, and my parents were never pushy about it. We have always been extremely close and I knew it would be amazing to work with them. They were working morning, noon and night every day, so I thought I could help out with that.”
Alex and Terri have consistently been adding to the team with the same love and consideration they gave to Vote’s decision to come on board. The majority of the 30-member team have grown through YoYoYogi’s teacher-training program, and have been a member of the studio’s community for an extended amount of time.
“Family sets us apart,” said Terri. “It’s a family business. The people who are on our staff are extended family to us. Our community is extended family. That’s how we view everything — with that care and trust you give only to family.”
The welcoming, family-style atmosphere found at YoYoYogi grew from Alex and Terri’s experience on the road. They noted the studios that were more welcoming made them feel comfortable and at home in the space. Their theory was if they could bring that element to their studio, no matter someone’s background, they would feel at ease.
One way the staff works to make everyone feel like a part of their family is by truly taking the time to get to know each student. Alex explained they encourage the teachers not to see someone as just a student in their class, but as a friend.
“What makes a community sticky is getting to know people,” said Alex. “We like to know what our students are going through. You can know the joys they have and celebrate with them, or the struggles to help with as well. While there’s a lot that goes on inside the classroom, there’s also a lot that goes on inside the studio when people aren’t in class. YoYoYogi is a place for people to come and be, and feel comfortable being there, not just a student.”
Vote also noted that because a majority of people work remotely in Portland, either at home or in coffee shops, there has become a disconnect forming between the relationships people form when first moving to the city.
“We wanted a place where these people who move here without knowing anyone could come and connect,” said Vote. “YoYoYogi has always been this place where people can come and be who they are, without feeling as if they have to show up in a certain way. We often say we aren’t just a community for the good times; we are a community for all the times. Through the years we have shared weddings and babies, but we have also shared deaths and divorces — the ups and downs of life. We wanted to be as real and as authentic as possible, just like you would find in any family.”
While many members of the YoYoYogi community have asked for the studio to expand to other areas of the city, or even other states, the family and team leaders have made a decision to stay right where they are. Rather than expanding their physical location, their future goal for their community is to use what they already have in existence and take it to its fullest potential, making it as wonderful as it can be.
For example, in the one location, YoYoYogi has a hot studio room and an unheated studio room. This year, the studio will launch a third studio room, The Om Zone, intended for quieter practices.
“We have seen a deep need for meditation and slower practices,” said Vote. “Our studio, while we have those offerings, is more heavy in the power vinyasa and hot styles of classes, but it is good to balance. We have seen this need for people to slow down and be mindful. We want to launch a more robust, restorative and gentler practice area for our community.”
Another area the management team explained would see growth in is the teacher-training program. Currently, the studio offers a 200-hour program, but will soon be launching a 300-hour training program.
“It will be the next level, the next stage for teachers who want to know more and more about this amazing practice,” said Terri. “Basically, we look at this teacher training at YoYoYogi as creating little ripples all over the world as [teachers] go out and spread the word in whatever way they do.”
What started as a unique road trip to try out different yoga studios has grown to be a brick-and-mortar studio with nearly 900 members. The management team has worked to find the area of the business they excel best at, and grow from there.
“After seven and a half years, we have all organically grown into our roles,” said Alex. “We have discovered, at a deep level, where our talents best lie. We work diligently in these areas that are our focus.”
The dream of Alex and Terri Cole has grown much further than just in their family. Their passions for life and yoga have extended to every new family member who walks into the YoYoYogi studio.
“We could not have this robust community and all the students we reach without the huge amount of other people involved,” said Vote. “Every student connects to certain teachers, it’s not just the Cole family. We have created this family that goes outside the blood. I want to give credit where credit is due to the team that keeps us alive, interesting and connected to what students want and what Portland needs.”