Wanderlust Yoga Austin owner Ashley Spence Clauer enters the yoga studio and heads straight to the front desk. Right away she embraces her staff as if each is a dear, close friend — because in fact, they are.
“The people who work and teach for Wanderlust Yoga are who keep our doors open,” said Clauer. “I want them to be happy here, feel supported and heard. I want people to love where they walk through the doors every morning, and love the people they work with. I want them to be creative and true to themselves.”
To accomplish this goal, Wanderlust Yoga has an “It Takes a Village” philosophy that touches every aspect of the studio, from the physical to the emotional.
Take the studio itself, for example. Upon entering Wanderlust Yoga, located in eclectic downtown Austin, Texas, your eyes are immediately drawn to a floor-to-ceiling candle wall that was constructed by a student. Above the front desk a hand-picked, wood-infused chandelier hangs that is impossible to miss. And in the hallway, a beautiful mural painted by Clauer’s cousin provides inspiration to all who visit.
On the emotional side of the “It Takes a Village” philosophy is the studio’s goal of creating a safe, comfortable space for students to practice yoga.
Maile Floyd, the director of marketing, memberships and yoga retreats for Wanderlust Yoga, said she was struck by the studio’s positive energy the first time she visited it back in 2013.
“I came from California looking for a studio that had instructors I really loved,” said Floyd. “I came one day to Wanderlust Yoga, and it really has that feel in here like you can just go — because everyone is so welcoming. It felt like a second family. I came in as a student and I thought, ‘I really love this, how can I become a part of this?’”
This positive energy is exactly what Clauer was hoping to convey when she opened Wanderlust Yoga Austin in 2012.
The inspiration for the studio came while Clauer was attending the Wanderlust Festival in Squaw Valley, California, in 2010. The four-day event immersed attendees in nature, music and yoga, and was a life-changing experience for Clauer. “Attending the Wanderlust Festival was the most pivotal point in my life,” she recalled. “I reconnected to this inner happiness, which I hadn’t had in years.”
Up to that point, Clauer had been struggling to find inner peace after a devastating event that occurred when she was a 19-year-old student at Arizona State University. In the middle of the night, a man intruded her apartment, raped, assaulted and nearly killed her. The man got away, and Clauer ended up dropping out of college and moving. “That moment in time that forever changed my life, led me down a really dark path,” she said.
When Clauer went to the Wanderlust Festival, the beautiful setting and warm, supportive people, instilled in her a rejuvenated sense of inner peace. “I began, unknowingly to find that path of healing for myself,” she said. “I left and said, ‘I have to share this light with others, I have to teach yoga.’ I just left there literally skipping. It was like a fairyland.”
Determined to bring this fairyland to Austin in the form of a yoga studio, Clauer approached the owners of the Wanderlust Festival and was granted permission to open the very first studio inspired by the event.
Today, Wanderlust Yoga is a top-rated studio in not just Austin, but nationwide. Drawing inspiration from the Wanderlust Festival, classes taught by some of the most premier instructors in the country are infused with live music from local musicians and DJs. Students can also take advantage of high-end amenities including a café and boutique.
According to Lizzie Bowers, the studio manager, Wanderlust Yoga has become a true second home to its 1,500 students and 15 employees.
“This place has really become my entire life,” explained Bowers. “I love the people I work with and I love my boss, who has actually become a really dear friend. I am now friends with so many of the clients as well. Because of that, it’s become a safe space for many. I even had a guy snoring in class last Sunday night, so I turned the music up and let him do his thing. Any way that we can try and help facilitate [a safe space] for people, I think that is what’s important.”
Although this safe space for students and employees is now on solid footing, when Wanderlust Yoga first opened, Clauer was unsure of its future. “Four-and-a-half years ago, opening the studio in the location we are now was a huge risk,” she explained. “It was a slow first year full of anxiety, worry and fear over if the doors would even stay open.”
In addition to the location struggles, Clauer was still growing into her role as a teacher and first-time business owner. There were many days when she’d teach the last class of the evening, work throughout the night, and then teach the first class starting the next morning.
“I remember thinking, where are the people — why did I do this?” recalled Clauer.
The turning point for Wanderlust Yoga came after Clauer attended a MINDBODY: BOLD Conference in New York City. There, she received practical advice on operations and marketing, and discovered she was making a big mistake impeding her studio’s growth: Offering a free intro class.
“That just doesn’t work for this business model,” said Clauer. “I have teachers teaching so many different styles under one roof, so if you’re a student and you go to just that one, free class and you don’t like the style in that class, you might think the studio isn’t for you.”
So, Clauer ditched the free intro class, and through positive word-of-mouth, the studio began to expand its reach. “It’s been a slow growth, but once the city began to grow and once we built a reputable name for ourselves throughout the community, [it took off],” she said.
As the studio’s membership grew, so did its staff, taking some of the load off of Clauer’s shoulders. Today, she is extremely grateful for every person that is part of the village that is Wanderlust Yoga.
“Everyone’s roles are so important, and without just one of them, the place wouldn’t work,” said Clauer.
The same year Clauer opened Wanderlust Yoga, investigators used a DNA match to arrest and prosecute the man — a stranger — who had assaulted her years ago. In May 2016 she testified at his trial, and he was sentenced to 138 years in prison.
As a result, Clauer said she experienced closure, and also had a revelation. “I thought my giving back was always going to be having Wanderlust Yoga, and if people could privately find healing on their own, then that was my dharma,” she said. “But then it became really clear: There’s something bigger that I want to do.”
Recently, Clauer shared her story of survival with the Wanderlust Yoga community and received a huge outpouring of support. In 2017, she plans to launch the Rising Voices program through the studio, which will offer free yoga to those who have experienced assault or trauma.
“Yoga changed my life,” said Clauer. “I don’t know if I’d be alive today without it, I really don’t. It’s always going to be a constant battle, but I have this anchor of the practice. So my goal now in life is to share that with others, and that includes sharing my story more broadly. I feel like that’s my purpose.”
In addition to offering free yoga to survivors, Clauer also plans to host a variety of workshops surrounding yoga and healing. But more importantly, she wants to continue to offer a tight-knit and supportive community to those who need it most.
“I have a platform to share with others and hopefully allow others to find the pathway to healing for whatever trauma that they’ve had,” said Clauer. “And also, just have a community that supports them through Wanderlust Yoga, to know that we’re here, we’re your family, if you don’t have anyone, come to us, because we’re here for you.”