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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Love and Yoga: Three Atlanta Couples on Running a Studio Together

Feb 01, 2023 06:00AM ● By Diane Eaton
Launching and managing a business can be a tall order. But what if it’s with your romantic life partner? And what if the business is a yoga studio? Natural Awakenings spoke with three Atlanta-area couples who are partners in running yoga studios to get their perspectives on the challenges and the rewards of the venture.

Marty and Marti Yura
Vista Yoga

“Yoga has been a context for living for us,” says Marty Yura, E-RYT 200, who, with his wife Marti, co-owns Vista Yoga in Decatur. “It’s a way for us to express ourselves, to earn a living and to touch people’s lives.”

Marti Yura, E-RYT 500, was a personal trainer and taught group fitness classes in corporate settings all over Atlanta for many years, but her passion for yoga grew. She began to envision opening up her own studio—“a sacred place dedicated to yoga,” as she described it—and was inspired to establish a yoga community in her area. Having an extensive business background, Marty doubted the viability of the idea at first, but after a business investment went bad, they revisited the idea.

That’s when Graham Fowler, then-owner of PeachTree Yoga, and David Aukamp, owner of Springs Yoga, stepped up to help. “They were very encouraging and supportive and became mentors in a wonderful way,” says Marty, a kindness he’s found is not typical for yoga studios in urban areas. “And we, in turn, have done the same with those who have approached us.”

Both trained in the Prajna yoga lineage, they wanted to offer practices steeped in the wisdom of yoga and the teachings of the Buddha. They opened their doors a year later, in November 2009.

The couple has a natural way of dividing up their responsibilities. “I’m the structural part of it,” says Marty. He monitors the concerns of viability and profitability to “shore things up, so we stay open.” Marti, on the other hand, “has a wonderful capacity to see what we might want to add or take away and how to introduce new offerings.” 

Marty & Marti Yura 

(Photo: Ed Jenkins)

Their personal relationship nourishes their business partnership, they say. “We trust each other implicitly,” says Marty. “It’s the background of how we relate to one another.” And they’re cheerleaders for each other. “If either one of us senses the other is doubting, we uplift each other,” says Marti.

Of course, their own yoga practice supports them as business owners. “You could say that asana [the yoga postures] gives us the stamina—physical stamina and mental stamina—to do the work,” says Marti. “Meditation gives us the capacity to hold space for people. And the yamas and niyamas are very important, helping us keep our minds, bodies, and hearts in line with Spirit.”

Their favorite times are when, after an intense week, they go out for a late dinner and talk about everything. “We love sharing with each other about seeing our students and our teachers soaring and expanding,” says Marti. “It’s very sweet times.”

LeNaya and Branden Crawford
Seviin Yoga

Early in their relationship, Branden and LeNaya Crawford recognized in each other a drive to become entrepreneurs—and they both loved yoga. So once LeNaya received her yoga teacher certification, the gears started turning. They noticed that none of the studios in the area seemed to have “the experience and vibe” that felt true to them, and they figured the same was probably true for others, too. In 2018, they opened Seviin Yoga in Atlanta.

But, as self-described “serial entrepreneurs,” Seviin wasn’t their first business venture. The two have also been running a private therapy practice for eight years, and Branden owns a landscaping company as well. “We’re multi-passionate,” says LeNaya, a licensed therapist and E-RYT 500 certified yoga teacher. 

Lanaya & Branden crawford

It’s clear that their relationship has been the glue as well the driving force behind their success. “We’re both entrepreneur-minded, and we have a really great friendship,” says LeNaya. “It’s one of the things that really makes working together unique and working together work.” 

That friendship is critical to getting through the challenges of the day, but they admit they have to be mindful and careful not to make everything about business. “At the end of the day, we know we have each other’s best interests at heart. And we like each other.”

To stay on an even keel, they love to do breathwork together; they’re big fans of sound healing and sound baths. As for the business, they each have their own roles and understand them. Whereas LeNaya manages the studio and operations, Branden focuses on marketing and development. 

Of course, the practice of yoga helps them through the challenges of life and of running a business. Yoga “helps us stay grounded and reminds us of the present moment. When our thoughts are racing, or we’re anxious or rushed, it’s great to spend time in the studio or at home and get grounded, get clarity and move through it,” says LeNaya. “We also love to do breathwork together.”

“I think the best part of owning a studio together is to create something authentic,” she says. “To see people really get it and resonate with our authentic vision is my favorite part.”

Branden loves the way they get to create community. “That’s the glorious part of entrepreneurship,” he says. “You’re able to just kind of call people in. I think that’s a gift for us.”

John and Karina Carmichael 
Giving Tree Yoga Center

John and Karina Carmichael had very different professional backgrounds before they purchased Giving Tree Yoga Center in December 2022. They originally met in Scotland 25 years ago, but after going their separate ways over the years, they reconnected on Facebook in 2019. “It’s been a crazy nonstop whirlwind—from getting married, moving to Atlanta and now buying a yoga studio,” says Karina. “But fate brought us back around.”

John & Karina Carmichael 

(Photo: Handerson Gomes)

Karina, an E-RYT 500 certified yoga teacher, had owned a yoga studio in Scotland for more than 20 years before coming to the U.S. When COVID struck in 2020, she was forced to pivot to an online business, which turned out to be to everyone’s advantage in the long run. Her Scottish students were able to continue working with her online, and many of them continue to this day.

When Karina came to Atlanta, she wanted to find a studio that suited her, and there was something about Giving Tree in Smyrna that spoke to her. She and John loved the area, too, and were happy to find a new community. So, when the studio owner announced several months later that she was selling, the couple jumped in to purchase it. They saw that it was a healthy, well-run business with 15 teachers and many class offerings, and it felt right to them.

The two have clearly defined roles in the business together. John is a partner in a construction company, which has given him expertise in outreach and operations. “Because John has a full-time job, he can reach people I wouldn’t be able to reach. He helps spread the word,” says Karina. 

And the fact that they have different backgrounds seems to eliminate some potential conflicts. Similar to the Crawfords and the Yuras, trust is at the heart of their work together. 

As the behind-the-scenes support guy, John has found the practice’s software to be a challenge. Their company inherited a database with 3,700 names in it, and much of the data was out of date or not useful. “I call it a spider web because every time you find a thread, it goes deeper and gets more complex,” he says. “There have been tears,” admits Karina.

John started practicing yoga just three years ago, but he’s noticed profound improvements in his health, weight and flexibility. Karina relies on yoga to help her through the challenges of the day. “I call yoga my ‘toolbox,’” she says, “and I ask myself, ‘What do I need from my yoga toolbox today?’” ❧
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