Tiger Lily Yoga: A Yoga Studio That Feels Like Home
Ryan Calkins

May 1, 2017

Our next featured business is Tiger Lily Yoga, a yoga studio in the Rainier Valley. Emily Iverson started Tiger Lily nearly a year ago and has already become a community-building business in their neighborhood. Ventures provided Emily with pre-business training and now supports her through a variety of Specialized Services. I interviewed her recently to learn more about what motivates her as a small business owner. 

Tiger Lily YogaWhy did you want to start your own business?

I come from a family of small business owners so the idea of owning my own business was definitely a possibility for my life. My wife and I wanted to open a yoga studio that we would feel at home in. We also wanted to have a place for full-time instructors to feel at home. I pay my staff well and they are employees versus independent contractors. My wife and I have endeavored to create a yoga studio where teachers could feel like they could land, so to speak.  (The public may not know this but the life of a yoga teacher is one of driving and nearly constant commuting.) 

The every day of contemporary humans isn’t always gonna look pretty or tidy. Sometimes, for healing and authentic self-expression, we need to release what no longer serves us and this process can show up messy and unkempt. Yoga heals and releases effortlessly to some extent. But one of my goals is to bring consciousness to this process. To intentionally take our troubles to our mats and look at what’s present there. Even if it’s messy, maybe especially if it’s messy. And then we can be there for each other to hold space. This feels like authentic community to me. At least that’s the hope. It’s liberating, freeing, and healing to be able to say, “today is really hard and I’m going to practice yoga anyway.” The yoga sutras talk about tapas, which is the practice of showing up to your practice even when you don’t feel like it. The internal heat created by this (think mental temper tantrum being cooked off) strengthens us internally and gives us a relationship to our deep inner selves. Some of my best practices have been when I really haven’t felt like practicing. I just had to sit in that fire and work through it to the other side. Owning a business kind of feels like that on a weekly basis sometimes.  

Describe what a great day at work looks like for you.

Every day is different for me at the neighborhood yoga studio. Easily distracted, it’s hard for me to focus on the admin work if I’m at the actual studio so many mornings I sit on my couch and sink into emails and logistics till I can’t remember my own name (not necessarily what I describe as “great” but crucial for business). Other days, the studio manager and I work across from each other in relative silence, piping up when one of us has a question about something and then head out on a bike ride to scope a local space for a possible retreat. Some afternoons/evenings are a combination of sessions with private clients and teaching classes. Once per week, I teach a yoga and shamanic ceremony class and in planning that class I spend a couple hours in what’s called the shamanic journey space, which is healing and lovely. Though different and varying in my own personal desire to do certain tasks, these are all great work days as the overarching result is that I have a studio I believe in and that attracts fabulous people to it. Rarely does someone walk through the door that I wouldn’t want to go have tea or share a beer with and get to know them better. This makes the hard work worth it.  

What makes you proudest about Tiger Lily?

Pride in my studio comes from different angles: myself as the business owner, the students, and the people working for me. It’s pretty cool to say I own a business.  

  • Myself: It’s not as glamorous as some might assume but I’m proud of my wife’s and my hard work. You really learn a lot about yourself and your marriage when you own a business together.  
  • Students: When a student says something like, “Tiger Lily is my yoga home and family,” or, “I feel like I fit in here,” or, “my life has changed a lot since I’ve been coming here. I’m not the same person I was a year ago,” this makes me very proud.  
  • Staff: And when my staff reports feeling satisfied and fulfilled this too makes me feel proud.  

As I said above, pretty much everyone who walks through our door is interesting and up to great things. Our students are kind, desire connection, and many of them have dedicated their work life to making the world a better and more humane place. Our teachers are inspiring, fun, creative, and compassionate.  

What distinguishes your business from other Yoga Studios?

I want people to fall in love with their bodies and with the beauty of who they are. My goal is for everyone who walks through the door to experience a sense of belonging and family. I am in constant awe of what students bring to their mats. In our shamanic yoga class, for example, we sometimes confront what’s not working in our lives and what the blind spots might be in those areas. It takes courage to do this and courage to show up to yourself in this way. But what amazes me about the people attracted to Tiger Lily is their ability to see beyond the itchy scratchy what is in the moment and realize that the way out is through it. Not that we’re heavy all the time but Tiger Lily seeks to bring consciousness to these kinds of processes.  

How has Ventures helped you to achieve your business goals?

I found out about Ventures at a time in the planning of the studio where I was hitting dead end after dead end. A friend told me about Ventures and I’m so thankful they did because this amazing little non-profit was an answer to my small business needs. Using the skills taught through Ventures courses I was able to successfully write and finish a business plan and got a lot of one-on-one help with the financials (not my strongest area). I’ve gotten legal assistance and business consulting. The business consulting has been integral to how my business is now run. I have to say that Ventures and all the people I’ve met through them have been angelic in their gifts to me, my wife, and our small business. Tiger Lily Yoga would not be the same small business without the help of Ventures.