Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in health and wellness but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Mary Richards, Founder of Yoga with Mary Richards, located in Alexandria, VA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I offer continuing education about the various practices and therapeutic applications of yoga. My area of specialization focuses on the instruction of anatomy, kinesiology (the science of movement), and the neurology and physiology of stress resilience. I share my three decades of experience and education with both yoga students and teachers, as well as other movement and integrative health professionals. From Pilates and Feldenkrais instructors to physical therapists, I work with a wide range of folks of all ages and physical conditions to develop an understanding of science-informed and yoga-based strategies for functional movement and mobility, pain management, sleep disruption, and overall self-care and wellness. For many years I taught weekly classes at several yoga studios as well as co-directed a teacher-training program. Along the way, I formalized my education with a master of science in yoga therapy. In 2015, I began a digital business to share online courses with yoga-interested folks worldwide. I have multiple digital course offerings, such as “Experiential Anatomy,” a 50+-hour course to introduce people to nuts-and-bolts body sciences. “Deep Rest,” a 4-week course devoted to contemplative, restorative practices to recharge and replenish ourselves, and Somatic Strength, a 5-week course to build functional strength and mobility to facilitate safe exercise. I also lead a monthly “Asana Lab,” with my non-yoga-practicing but supportive husband as the student volunteer, dedicated to specific techniques and information about the physical poses and breathing exercises of yoga. In addition to teaching continuing education online, I lead in-person retreats that bring together practitioners for a weekend or weeklong immersion in the physical practices and philosophy of yoga.
Tell us about yourself
I began my study of yoga on the philosophical side four decades ago, at age 14. At the time, I was struggling with depression that was deeper than so-called teenage angst, and my father was concerned about my health and safety. An inner voice directed him to introduce me to Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha” and, later, the Bhagavad Gita. I studied the Bhagavad Gita, along with other sacred texts like the Dhammapada, for years with the guidance of the minister at the United Methodist Church that my family attended. In particular, the Gita’s wisdom resonated and stimulated within me an abiding curiosity about how to live a life of authenticity and autonomy. To this day, I believe that introduction to Buddhism and yogic philosophy saved my life, literally and figuratively. It set me on a lifelong path organized by the ethical precepts and multipronged practices of yoga and its Eight Limbs.
I began the physical discipline of yoga seven years later, at age 21. A colleague who had worked in India introduced me to asana, the “exercise” aspect of yoga. From there, I began attending weekly classes in the various physical limbs of practice — again, asana along with breathing exercises (pranayama), sensory attentiveness (pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), and meditation (dhyana) — as well as more of its philosophy at local yoga studios in the Washington, D.C., area. I began teaching in 2000 after I was tapped by a studio owner to become an apprentice. She’d been teaching for nearly 50 years and simply informed me one evening after class that I would start teacher training with her the next week. I actually laughed and told her that I had no business teaching. She replied, “That’s why you can teach. No ego.” For some reason, that made sense to me, and I started leading classes. I took to it like a fish to water. I loved connecting with people through movement and breath. I loved bearing witness to their sensory — and emotional — epiphanies when they learned a new way to move and feel into themselves. I knew in my bones that I was privileged beyond measure to co-create conditions with people where they felt safe to undertake difficult tasks, whether learning to stand on their heads or seeking relief from low back pain. To this day, my respect and love for the gifts of yoga practice and the presence and willingness of people to join me in its study motivate me. It motivates me to get on my mat to practice every day, and it motivates me to continue to meet people where they are and travel together along the yoga path for as long as our twains intertwine. Not only do I enjoy the effects of yoga practice in my daily life, but I dig people! They’re so interesting. Everybody is unique, just like everyone else! I learn so much from listening to and observing folks on the mat — as well as off. I don’t believe curiosity kills the proverbial cat. I believe curiosity ensures its nine lives are well lived. The older I get, the more I enjoy the challenge of knowing less because it means that I get to keep on learning. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
My first book, “Teach People, Not Poses: Lessons in Yoga Anatomy and Functional Movement,” will be released by Shambhala Publications on Aug. 29, 2023! I’ve been a voracious reader since early childhood and have wanted to write a book for decades. It’s a dream come true to synthesize some of the organizing principles of my work into book form. And that my book is being published by the same publisher as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as my personal mentor and dear friend, Judith Hanson Lasater, knocks my socks off. I am also profoundly grateful that my online business and community of learners grew during the pandemic. I was really well-positioned to weather the disruptions to in-person commerce thanks to my relatively early adoption of digital learning platforms. While I had to cancel many workshops and retreats due to necessary public health measures, I was able to shift all of my instructional offerings online with ease.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
The hardest thing for me is separating from work. I run my business out of my home office, so I am always “in the office.” I enjoy my work immensely, so I tend to work 7 days a week. Even though I know better — hello, I teach about the necessity of rest to support immunity, creativity, emotional health, sleep hygiene, and general well-being — I tend to work 12-hour (or longer) days, Monday through Friday, and 4 or more hours on Saturday and Sunday. Since I am responsible for all the admin, marketing, community outreach, content, etc., my to-do list seems unending. The overwork struggle of small business entrepreneurship is real!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Identify your niche. What are your specific skills, knowledge base, and interests? Outline in detail what lights your fire, i.e., your values, mission, ethics, intentions, etc.
- Identify your customers/consumers/audience. Be specific about your audience. Are you seeking to work with fellow professionals in similar fields/areas of expertise, or do you want to connect directly with consumers?
- Identify how you want to connect with your audience/customers. Are you selling a physical product like a clothing line, for example? Do you want a brick-and-mortar location? Do you want a temporary/demand-driven space to bring people together? What’s your comfort level and fluency with social media as a marketing and outreach tool? How do you prefer and enjoy connecting with people? By newsletter, blog, reels, sample sales, etc.?
Where can people find you and your business?
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