by Rosalie Murphy
Two years ago, Kate and Nikki Woodford-Shell tore down a wall.
The barrier had separated the two halves of the yoga studio at Yoga Squared, which opened in December 2016 in Highland Square.
Nikki, who founded the studio, had hoped they could run two small classes concurrently. But Kate, who dropped into the studio on its second day, suggested getting rid of it. Bigger classes would mean more people practicing together, more energy in the room. Nikki listened.
Although they didn’t recognize the demolition of the wall as a milestone until much later, Kate says the following months were a “combustion of ideas” — leading to both a business partnership and a marriage.
“We do make a good team,” says Kate, a marketer by trade. “I am not afraid to go in a new direction, try something new, and it’s good because she can pump the breaks for me a little bit and ask the questions.”
“I think it’s good to have one person that is less cautious and one person that’s a little more cautious, probably in any business partnership,” adds Nikki, who worked as a nurse for 10 years before opening Yoga Squared. “We happen to be married, so that adds a little bit of a different layer to things.”
Yoga Squared has been growing more or less constantly for the last two years. The studio the couple expanded in 2017 now hosts half a dozen classes per day. Yoga Squared opened a meditation studio, Zen Space, in July 2018.
In the last six months, they’ve offered their first teacher training program, and next year, they’re taking students on a yoga retreat in Costa Rica.
Plus, on September 1, 2018, Nikki and Kate married.
“Our lives are very much in sync,” Kate says. “When we get home at the end of the day, we don’t have to talk about what happened today and ‘why are you feeling this way’, whether it’s good or bad. I know why, and I’m able to give her what she needs as her wife in a much better way than I could before.”
When you’re running a business with your partner, however, Kate says the pros and cons can be two sides of the same coin. They can be called to work with a moment’s notice. And their work requires them to be calm, generous and open.
“In order to help people heal, you want to be there for them, you want to organically and authentically hold space for people to heal. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way,” Kate says. “And so you have to get really good at sitting here, pulling it together, in the present moment. That happened in the past, whatever it is at home — she says something backhanded or I say something backhanded, we’re still human beings, or we’re rushing to get out the door — it teaches you how to come to the present moment really quickly, so that we can be here for our business and the people our business impacts.”
There are few moments in the couples’ lives when they can separate themselves from Yoga Squared.
But both think that’s the norm for entrepreneurs like them. Kate’s father owned a gym when she was growing up, and while she was drawn to the freedom and flexibility of life as a business owner, she knew it could be all-consuming.
“It can be challenging to turn off,” Nikki says. “For us, and for so many other people [whose] work is their passion, the line is blurred. We love to practice yoga, we love to teach yoga, but we also run a business that is a yoga studio… it’s something we do for leisure as well as work. The lines are blurred, which can be a really, really good thing, but it can also create challenges when we’re trying to turn off.”
Nikki started doing yoga while training for a marathon and found it connected her deeply to herself and other people. Her family began practicing too. Today, her mother and sister teach at Yoga Squared.
For Kate, yoga has been a tool for mindfulness, recovering from depression and living a healthy life.
And they’re not alone. Yoga Squared sits in a subterranean storefront, with a lobby that only fits half a dozen people, but classes frequently fill up. Both women want the studio, and their community, to grow.
“We have people who come in here who don’t say a whole lot, but you can see a change in their body and a change in their affect because they’re practicing,” Nikki says. “We’re teachers, we own the studio, but we’re members of this community. They help us. We heal from them.”
To learn more about Yoga Squared, visit www.yogasquaredakron.com
This story is part of The Devil Strip’s Akropreneurs series, which is made possible by the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and the Fund for Our Economic Future.
Rosalie Murphy is Editor-in-Chief of The Devil Strip.