As we walked into the now-empty studio the heat of the last class still hung somewhat heavy in the air.
The walls are painted in vibrant colors to represent the sun as it charges up from the horizon. This mural brings additional intensity to the bright room and allows the space to seem to glow in powerful, vibrant oranges, yellows, and reds. The creation of this atmosphere is intentional.
It is unapologetically strong yet simultaneously carefree – a power through celebratory relaxation.
As with most yoga and fitness studios across the United States, one wall is comprised of gleaming mirrors. Unlike the average fitness studio, however, the far wall is a line of windows open to the foothills of the Santa Ynez mountain range.
Through those open windows, presumably propped in order to allow the studio to cool, comes the chatter of a sunny mid-afternoon Friday on Santa Barbara’s downtown State Street. People bustle by the second-floor business as they rush about between stores, restaurants, and happy hours.
Adrienne Smith, the owner and founder of Power of Your Om, focuses much of her day on building this community. And it is under her watchful eye that Power of Your Om has thrived and become a mainstay of the downtown Santa Barbara community.
Adrienne’s journey to becoming a small business owner started through, quite simply, an interest in fitness and a personality of ferocious determination. Adrienne started yoga through a program at her work and was inspired by the ways that practicing yoga helped her to be both emotionally-centered as well as expand her physicality in her other fitness endeavors. At the time, she notes, she was attending classes with a group of friends. They helped to encourage each other to stay committed to practicing and were foundational in making the practice of yoga a critical component of daily life.
Several years later, after people moved away and the community shifted, while still living in the suburbs of Chicago, Smith was on the phone with a personal mentor. She was lamenting the lack of a good space for her practice. Nothing in town seemed to fit her specific niche or hold up to the community she once had around yoga. Hearing her frustration, her mentor said it looked like time to “just create it.” You have an idea for a specific type of space, she encouraged, and “if you want it then other people probably want it.”
“So I started looking for a space,” Adrienne says, and she proceeded to build the community she wanted from the ground up.
Several years later, wanting some sort of change, Adrienne and her husband moved out from the cold Midwest to Santa Barbara. She kept the studio in the Chicago area but initially did not start a new studio in California. That did not last long.
She says, I “was teaching around town here a little bit but I didn’t just want to teach. I wanted to create a community and create this place that I wanted to go to because I just wasn’t finding that around town. And… so I did the same thing, I just started looking for space, and so we’ve been here since 2010.”
It is obvious throughout our conversation that Adrienne’s passion for creating a community around fitness is difficult to contain and that very little can get in the way of her achieving this goal. While simultaneously handling training as a triathlete, actively working as an instructor, managing the daily operations of a business owner, and taking on the role of a mother (to name a few commitments), she focuses her intention on growth; personally, and for the community at Power of Your Om.
This focus on community starts with a careful consideration of who teaches at the studio. As with most skills that Adrienne has honed through years of business ownership, it took an active effort to step back and evaluate her performance in order to develop the right system.
She says, that “originally I was teaching all the classes when it first opened and then I had a couple teachers that had a similar… teaching style as I did, but I didn’t have the business piece in place of like ‘what do we really want to create’ and so it took me taking a step back and realizing that it wasn’t about someone that has a world of experience teaching, it’s really about ‘what do you want to bring to your classes?’ ‘What do you want to bring to your life?’ ‘What kind of goals are you setting, what do you want to be about, do you want to be connected to the studio, or do we have to force you to take classes?’ Because if that’s the case it’s just not going to be a fit. So the questions that we ask, it’s not even necessarily that we’re like actively hiring someone but for instance someone might come to the studio and say like, ‘Hey I just moved to town and I want to teach,’ and I’ll say, ‘Come be a part of our community first.’”
At the core of this suggestion, that in order to teach well you have to care about the studio, rests that earlier mentor’s wise encouragements: fundamentally, you must create a space where you would want to go and the rest will follow.
It is thus the culture that provides the quality at Power of Your Om. When they hold twice-yearly teacher training, it is a self-selected group of inspired new teachers. They understand the ways in which Adrienne “started a studio because [she] wanted a space… to go practice. And, community that [she] wanted to practice with.” And, in order to be an active member of that community as a teacher, you have to uphold that same passion.
Thus the consistency of the classes rests in their mutual training (all teachers are trained in the Baptiste style) and their shared passion. It is for this reason that the teachers at the studio so readily attend each other’s classes: they are active members of a very intentional community.
Central to the concept of community is the idea that a community must be accessible. For that reason, once a week, the doors of Power of Your Om open to people regardless of their ability to pay in an aptly named “community class.” These classes are donation-based and support rotating local charities. At least twice a month a member of the Community Partner’s organization comes into the class on Sunday morning and “introduce what their cause is for at the beginning of class,” says Adrienne; “so, they get up and they talk about it for a minute to two minutes and they tell everybody, you know, this is where your donations are going, this is how you are helping the community in practice.”
On the last Sunday of the month, the Community Class is held on the historic Stearns Wharf. People can practice under the sun with the ocean all around them. It’s amazing, Adrienne says, to see so many people come out for the day and come together around yoga and community.
This much work in caring so deeply for the high-level roles that Power of Your Om plays takes up time daily for Adrienne. She says, “I originally started a studio because I wanted a space, honestly, that I wanted to go practice and a community that I wanted to practice with. And there wasn’t as much practicing occurring when I first started. I was probably practicing on my own more and then also teaching the classes. And then it shifted to… having to do everything. It wasn’t just teaching, it’s running an entire business. Paying the rent, doing the finances, marketing.”
As a business owner with such a clear vision, it can be difficult to delegate.
This skill, Adrienne says, was the “hardest [part of business onwership].” Initially she was running almost everything, “like handling people’s accounts, sending emails, there were times for a while that I was online, you know I’d get home, I’d take my computer out, I’d be entering profile forms in, and sending emails and doing all the email marketing and I don’t have to do that anymore. Because I got to a point where I was like, ‘this isn’t actually how I want to set up my life.’ So I looked at what I was doing and I was like, I’ve got to give something up if I want to have the balance and live the life I want to live.’”
A major component of that restructuring of her life laid in outsourcing. Principally, the bookkeeping, with Accountix.
Adrienne reached a point, she says, that “I didn’t want to do my bookkeeping anymore. I was always, you know I’m, I don’t do things on the regular when it comes to the accounting part of the business. It was always like, ‘we’ve got enough to pay the bills, we’re good, let’s pay taxes and yay! Another year is done.’ And that was always how I approached it every year. And… that’s not a way to run a successful business. It’s about setting goals, looking at past history, tracking, and actually having something consistent.”
After partnering with Accountix to provide some of that business structure and back-office support, “it’s just been a game changer in terms of taking a load off my shoulders of something that I just absolutely don’t want to work on.”
Adrienne looks once more around her now-cool studio and glances below to the street. People are still bustling by and stopping every once in a while to exchange greetings and to chat about the small earthquake that happened this morning which temporarily disrupted the feeling of Santa Barbara paradise.
“I think the biggest thing is that as an entrepreneur… people start a business because they’re passionate about something. They’re passionate about bringing something they love to others.” As we wrap up the interview, Adrienne notes that she feels lucky to be able to do just that: “I feel very fortunate and almost, like, undeserving of the life that I have.”