Yoga biz stretches to midtown

[attach]5722[/attach]Having left her corporate job to reside in India for months of yoga training, Debbie Fung compares her life to Eat, Pray, Love.

While she studied in Jaipur, her future husband and business partner Jason Lu trained in Mysore.

“Jason and I decided that if we loved it so much why didn’t we make it something that we wanted to do on a daily basis,” she says. “We came back from India and used what we had in our funding to open our first studio and we built it from scratch.”

After opening Yoga Tree in Thornhill in 2007, they expanded to Richmond Hill and downtown Toronto with 10,000 members. This February they opened a fourth Yoga Tree on Eglinton Avenue East near Yonge Street. Though Fung says a midtown location was a good fit since they fielded many requests to open in the area, she says the building’s landlord approached them about the space when another yoga studio on the premise closed.

“A lot of people were going downtown or uptown but they lived in midtown,” she says. “So he suggested why don’t we locate in that area and that worked out very well.”

Fung, who first got into yoga as a way of treating her scoliosis, says they offer a variety of traditional yoga classes including hot detox, Hatha, restorative and pre-natal yoga. Lu, the principal instructor, says their job is to help people find the style of yoga they would enjoy and benefit from the most, which is way they call staff members yoga advisers instead of receptionists or front desk clerks.

“Yoga is not a one fit for everyone,” he says, adding their range of classes better accommodates everyone in the community. “If you’re 65 and you have arthritis and knee pain you wouldn’t do a hot class you would do a restorative or yin class. Whereas if you wanted to build that core strength or build that upper body strength you would do Ashtanga because it is more vigorous.”

Although Fung is now one of the youngest members of the Women Presidents’ Organization, a non-profit group for female presidents of multimillion-dollar companies, she says when she started the company at 24 they had to resort to using their savings because they couldn’t get approved for bank loans.

Fung says customers often compare their atmosphere to a spa and says she tried to think of what she’d want from a yoga studio when she was coming up with the concept. She says it is also important to focus on being green by using eco-friendly products and reusing building materials.

“We have showers, we have tea stations, amenities, soaps, parabin free skin care, that’s all complimentary for our students to use,” she says.

“So we really try to take it up a notch.”

Her goal is for people in the area to know about their new location and the services they offer, which includes helping people who have never taken yoga before.

“A lot of people think yoga is intimidating and for a very specific group of students,” she says. “Honestly I just really want to break that barrier and let people know that regardless of where you are just come in even talk to us and see where we can take you.”