Staying true to ones own vision can be challenging. But for two yogini’s, taking a leap of faith to change their lives and open their own studios has given them not just a sacred space for practice, but a sense of peace and wellbeing.
It is a typical weeknight in the quiet, leafy suburb of Bellbowrie in Brisbane’s west. City commuters have already made their way home from work; many are out walking, making the most of the fading Queensland light.
At number 12, dim light from the downstairs room spills out onto the street from behind venetian blinds. Inside, lying on her back with her legs vertical against the wall, 69 - year old Carole King is preparing for the night ahead.
Legs-Up-The-Wall (Viparita Karani) is a relaxing yoga pose that restores and rejuvenates the mind and the body. It is the first of many postures Carole will do over the next hour and a half. A teacher for 19 years, Carole is taking a few moments to relax before her students arrive. Soon the glass sliding door glides open “Welcome Sue,” says Carole on hearing the familiar sound. “How has your week been?” she asks as she effortlessly and gracefully slides her long legs down the wall and walks over to greet the first of her students.
The double glass sliding doors replace what were once metal roller doors. Carole, originally from England, transformed the bare, cold, concrete garage underneath the family home into her own intimate yoga studio. “I got fed up carting the props around everywhere,” she says.
Carole tried yoga for the first time at the age of 50. A high school dance and drama teacher, Carole says yoga was the perfect fit. “I absolutely loved it. I thought all the things I’ve done through my life, it’s all brought together through yoga.”
Carole loved it so much she started training to become a Yoga teacher. Her role as a high school teacher had started taking its toll and after 30 years she found herself feeling burned out. “I got to the stage where I had had enough. I thought ‘I’ll take early retirement and then I’ll do what I really want to do- teach yoga.”
It’s 11 years since Carole hung out her own shingle. She says she has seen a big increase in the number of yogis taking up teaching.
“When I started this studio, there were two other yoga teachers in my suburb who taught in gyms and community halls. Now there are five teachers, two with their own studios.”
According to Roy Morgan Research, one in 10 Australians 14 years and older regularly practices Yoga, that’s up from one in 20 in 2008. In true yogic spirit, Carole doesn’t see other studios as competition. She believes there’s room for everyone.
“I specialise in looking after people- people with injuries and those recovering from illnesses such as cancer. Because I have a small, intimate space for a maximum of 10 people, I can make sure my students get individualised attention. Big studios with dozens in a class can’t offer that.”
Carole’s remaining nine students trickle in for their regular weekly class. For many of them, this is the highlight of their week.
As a student heads towards the last available mat, Carole slides the glass door closed and lowers the venetian blind. A natural quietness immediately descends upon the room. Carole settles herself on her bolster and begins “When you walk through this door, leave the outside world behind…” And they do.
It’s 4am the next day and Celia Roberts is already up doing her own morning ritual- one to two hours of walking meditation followed by half an hour of Yoga practice.
A few hours later, having got her 13- year old daughter off to school and her four and a half year old settled with the babysitter, Celia walks the 15 metres from the backstairs of her rustic red farmhouse to her architecturally- designed yoga studio. Here, it’s all about inviting the outside in.
Only a short distance apart, the contrast between the two buildings is stark. The farmhouse is rambling and at its essence, simple. The glass and wood studio with its sleek lines and wrap around verandah is the antithesis. Nestled on the side of a hill, it looms as a showcase of contemporary Queensland architecture.
Architect Voight Holgar, a yogi himself, has made the most of the natural landscape. From inside, yogis gaze out over rolling green hills, a picturesque dam and horses grazing lazily in surrounding paddocks. There’s not a hint of city life here.
Here 40-year old Celia, a Brisbane girl and dedicated yogini of 21- years, 13 of those as a professional teacher, is living her dream - to create a yoga retreat on her own property. It’s a dream borne out of tragedy.
Celia was just 18- years old when her younger sister committed suicide. “From 18-21 the grieving process was very heavy,” she said. That changed her life.
Studying Biomedical Science at the University of Queensland at the time, Celia went in search of something to help her make sense of it all. “I was asking ‘who is going to explain this.’ “Instead of drinking my life away I thought, I’ll start yoga and meditation.”
She started taking yoga classes at the University of Queensland and immersed herself in different yoga traditions, everything from Bikram to Buddhism. Celia had found her niche and finally a little peace.
But the road to establishing her retreat hasn’t necessarily been a blissful journey.
“After the studio was built I could barely look at the thing because it was so financially, physically and emotionally draining,” she says. “The builder told me I would hate it initially. He was right.”
The studio is the first building project Celia has embarked upon. She and her husband bought the property in 2012. After two years of running meditation and yoga classes out of their farmhouse and with a second child on the way, she knew it was time to turn her vision of a studio into a reality.
“We had 17 people in our living room at one point. Sometimes I wonder how the students managed! They had arms in their faces,” laughs Celia as she reminisces. “We ran meditation retreats as well and people were staying in the house, or camping outside. It was full-on,” she says.
Having students in her home also meant a lack of privacy. “People would comment on our house, or our photos or our toothpaste. Everything was open. “Now I feel I can leave the house in a mess and walk over here.”
The studio, which took 12 months to build, can take up to 20 students inside and a further 30 on the spacious verandah if need be; four times the number she could squeeze into the farmhouse.
A senior Yoga Teacher and Therapist, in 2014 Celia started offering teacher- training and suddenly, there were a lot more students coming through the retreat, “There is more of a teacher, friend separation or boundary now which I think is healthy, she says.”
Celia has continued to expand her business and recently founded of the Biomedical Institute of Yoga and Meditation. And while the country location is the retreat’s draw card, inviting the outside in, can have unexpected consequences.
“Our goats Milky and Boots have been known to escape and they enjoy playing and head-butting each other on the studio verandah. The display can go on for ages and it really freaks the city students out,” laughs Celia. Celia takes it all in her stride. “Luckily the person with the most dreads usually steps up and manages to goat-whisper them.”
That one-degree of separation between family home and yoga studio works equally well for Carole. “I love that I can walk downstairs, close the door and I’m there. I can put my legs up the wall, meditate or do my own yoga practice. As well as my classes, it’s where I go if I need to have a bit of quiet time. It’s very precious.”
With the help of her husband Jack, they sourced the double glass sliding doors and the floor covering second hand. The ceiling was lined, down lights installed and walls plastered.
“For some reason the plasterer thought the walls should be rough not smooth,” she says.
I went out for a couple of hours and left him to it. When I returned he proudly showed off the rough, stucco finish he was applying. I was horrified!”
“Fortunately it wasn’t quite dry and he was able to sand it down. It’s not perfectly smooth, but at least its not going to cut anyone’s heels to shreds when they’re coming out of the Legs-Up-The-Wall pose!”
The cost of the conversion was $10,000 and with six classes a week, Carole says the studio has paid for itself many times over.
For Celia, with a much bigger project and bigger price tag, there were bigger problems. “I had originally visualised the studio way out the back of the house where it wouldn’t be seen. But after consultation with the council, it was eventually relocated to in front of the house,” she says.
The rural location and the risk of bushfires also meant Celia also had to meet tough fire safety regulations and was forced to put in a swimming pool. “The costs just kept going up and up,” says Celia.
There was also an emotional price tag attached to the project. “There was a period where I was still very teary about it all, because initially our former neighbour, who I love and respect dearly, didn’t appreciate it,” she says sadly.
Four years later and with new neighbours, the studio has mellowed. Rather than sit on top of the hillside it gives the impression of having morphed into it- that it belongs to the landscape.
For Celia, her initial regret and anxiety has given way to a sense of accomplishment. “About six months after it was finished, I was in the studio on my own, in meditation, and all of a sudden I thought, ‘this is the most beautiful thing ever.’ ”
She now has the lifestyle she clearly envisaged -a successful yoga retreat that also allows her to be home with her children.
While running home studios suits Celia and Carole, the business and financial side has been a steep learning curve for both of them. “I’m always getting the term dates wrong,” laughs Carole.
“My long term students are very kind. They will call and say, ‘Carole you have shortchanged yourself again!’ But I must admit, as I get older and need the money more, I am learning to approach it more seriously.”
Celia admits being business savvy isn’t something that came naturally to her either. “I’ve learned how to do it, but its not my thing, it’s not my art,” she says. “I think people look at this retreat I’ve created and think ‘this is really successful.’ ”
And while she admits it does appear that way on the surface, her success is the result of staying true to her vision.
“I’ve let it grow organically which I would highly recommend for anyone starting out in yoga now because I’ve seen some of my more over- ambitious students lose $50,000 in rent and fold, simply because they didn’t have the business skills.”
Celia’s determination to keep learning and growing the business is infectious. Her aim is to master that fine line between inspiring and educating people about Yoga, without being what she calls, ‘too pushy.’
“Ethically, I try to keep my roots firmly in the ground, but at the same time I’m aware that I want as many people practicing yoga as possible because I really think if you are training people how to use the relaxation response, it’s the most effective tool for anyone’s health, wellbeing and state of mind, and that’s incredible, ” she says.
Both Celia and Carole are good examples of what can be achieved on both a large and small scale. But at the core of what they do is a determination and passion to share the benefits of an ancient practice they know has the power to change lives.