When I was teaching yoga in New Orleans, Life was pretty easy. I was headquartered at one main studio, I had great students, and an impressive staff of teachers and colleagues who motivated and inspired me.
Then my boyfriend (now husband) got a job offer he couldn’t refuse in Chicago. Loathe as I was to leave my community behind, I knew I couldn’t stand between my dude and his dream-job. So off to the cold north we went, and all my connections and achievements in New Orleans suddenly had no traction. I felt invisible.
In my early days of marginal employment, in an effort to feel productive with my downtime, I built my first website. In a stroke of what I thought was resolute genius, I came up with the name ChicagOm Yoga. How clever!! How has no one thought of this yet?? How is this name not already taken? Suck it, losers! It’s mine now!! Maybe one day I’ll open my own studio, and I’m totally gonna call it ChicagOm Yoga! (Assuming said studio is actually in Chicago, of course.) A Facebook and Instagram account of the same name eventually followed suit.
While I’m very proud of the website I built (no small accomplishment, when you take into account that I am a total dumdum who doesn’t even really understand what “cookies” are and whether they should be turned of or off), ChicagOm Yoga as a moniker was pretty much a disaster. No one could spell it; no one could pronounce it. I spent five years correcting people who called it “Chicago-Om Yoga” or “Chicago My Yoga” or even just “Chicago Yoga.” (For the record, it’s “Chicag-oooooooohm Yoga.” The “Chicago” and the “Om” share an ‘O,’ so it’s one word.) Turns out, jokes you have to explain are not actually funny.
I knew I was in need of a serious overhaul, but I felt committed. I had social media accounts to consider, for heaven’s sake! Plus, making a website was not easy for me. I didn’t want to start all over again from scratch. Not to mention, I still had (ahem, have), like, a million business cards with the old name lying around.
Earlier this year, however, I felt that the clock had finally run out on ChicagOm Yoga. By this time, the notion of building a personal “brand” seemed to be everywhere. Not just for yoga teachers or entrepreneurs, but for everyone. Every person. No matter what your actual job or career is, you, personally, need to be thinking about your personal brand. For some reason. Branding experts and coaches were lurking around every corner, making their services for helping you develop your own personal brand available for the low, low price of lots and lots of money.
This idea of everyone needing to have and be a personal “brand” struck me as a very Millennial notion. (No offense, Millennials.) My stodgy, inner Gen-Xer clung to the belief that if you simply showed up and did your job well, you’d be rewarded with success.
But then I took a step back and thought about capital-Y Yoga. I read lots of yoga blogs and belong to a few yoga groups and online forums, and the one thing that we can all agree on is that we like to disagree about EVERYTHING. Like, vehemently.
Which got me thinking….”yoga” is so broadly defined, that the word itself is almost meaningless. If you were to see “yoga” listed on a class schedule at a studio, gym, or hotel, you could show up and get anything from Swaroopa to Hot Power Flow, and it would all fall under the label “yoga.”
Not only that, but even within each specific style of yoga, you can have a very different experience based on the teacher at the front of the room. At one of my workplaces, I taught a set-sequence class, meaning that the sequence was always the same, no matter who the teacher was. Among the teachers who led this sequence, the students had their distinct favorites and lesser-favorites. Why? Because even when we were teaching the same poses and saying the same words, our vibes, energy, and presence differed, filling different needs for different students. Each of us teachers filter our classes through our own personal history and experience.
So, maybe this whole concept of “personal branding” is actually kind of useful to the yoga consumer. Shouldn’t a yoga student have some idea of the experience they will get from a teacher, before they drop their hard-earned money on a class?
After changing over all of my social media accounts, buying the new domain name, building the new site, and ordering new business cards, I certainly felt a sense of accomplishment, but was unsure of what to do next. In the interest perpetuating my newly revitalized entrepreneurial spirit, I signed up for business strategy sessions with the founders of the online video platform Namastream. (Side note: I’ll be launching my own Namastream video channel sooooooooooon!) They invited me to be “audited” for a webinar with designer and yoga branding guru Danielle Joseph of Hello Function. As excited as I was to be a panelist in a webinar for the very first time, I was also terrified to hear about all the things I was doing wrong.
As a designer, Danielle’s focus was on my visuals. Turns out that seemingly simple details like consistency with fonts and colors can have a real impact on brand recognition. It makes sense: robin’s egg blue immediately makes me think of Van Gogh; bold yellow-and-red combos conjure up McDonald’s drive-thrus. The wisdom that Danielle imparted unto me (and the viewing audience) is that your visuals can either support or undermine your message, depending on how you use them. Determining what that message is, arguably the hardest part of the whole equation, is entirely up to you.
So, what is my personal brand? If you follow me on social media, then you know that I have a fuzzy little rescue dog, I love doughnuts and mac-and-cheese, and date nights with my husband often involve pajama dance parties to the Mr. Mister Pandora station. While those facts might not directly translate into a coherent mission statement, you can be assured that the alignment cures for chaturanga I’m spewing at you tonight are coming out of the same mouth I was shoving doughnuts into earlier today. That alone might give you some idea of what to expect: That I have a work-hard, play-hard philosophy. That I believe life is hard enough; we might as well have as much fun as we can, whenever we can. That I love yoga for being a practice of both discipline and freedom.
Suffice it to say, promoting a Paleo lifestyle would be decidedly off-brand for me.
"Too busy learnin'" is a play on the Jungle song "Too Busy Earnin'." But jokes you have to explain aren't actually funny, so never mind.
I like careers that involve wearing comfy pants. If I weren't a yoga teacher, I'd try to write full time for a living. Join me here to see what's on my mind, and share your thoughts with me!