Words by Sharon McDonnell
Mention the word “yoga” and it may bring to mind young, thin and incredibly agile people doing outrageous configurations with their bodies. Or perhaps a wise sage sitting cross-legged on the floor in hours of seated, still meditation. Yoga has come a long way, baby, and is no longer just in the realm of the flexible or devout. Which is perfectly fine with Audrey Ryder and Toni King, owners of the newly-opened YogaSix studio at the Stanford Shopping Center.
Highly-regarded fitness professionals, Audrey and Toni are also lifelong athletes. Audrey rowed for Stanford and has been a distance swimmer as well as a springboard and platform diver. In addition to being a TRX and swimming instructor, Toni holds a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Both women are certified personal trainers and run their own concierge corporate fitness and private training company, Tonik Fitness. With the onset of the pandemic, demand for their services exploded. So what made them want to take on the challenge of owning a yoga studio, almost always a high-risk business venture?
“It’s our passion,” explains Audrey, “and we wanted to create a community.” Both women began practicing yoga as a way to deal with the inevitable stress and damage caused by years of running and rowing. They first practiced at home, using online videos and then began to realize they were incorporating aspects of yoga (movement with breath) into their own teaching. Audrey noticed how yoga could be infused into her swim classes. “Yoga is a huge body of knowledge, tradition and work,” she observes. “There is a crossover between it and many sports.”
Both women became certified as yoga instructors and began to think seriously about opening their own studio. They decided to find a franchise opportunity that would allow them to teach but not have to worry about the myriad administrative details required. When Audrey and Toni learned about Xponential Fitness, a San Diego-based global franchise group of boutique fitness brands, they were attracted by YogaSix’s “not elitist, not exclusive” approach, which offers “a fresh perspective on one of the world’s oldest fitness practices.”
“YogaSix wants to create an environment that is energizing, empowering and fun,” notes Audrey, adding, “Everyone knows they probably should do yoga, but not everyone does—So why? What are the barriers?” She points out that the YogaSix philosophy centers around how everyone can find a place in one of the six types of classes: Yoga 101, Restore Yoga, Slow Flow, Hot, Power or Sculpt and Flow. Taught in heated rooms, there is no Sanskrit, no chanting or meditation, staples of most yoga studios. “We are not disrespecting the tradition,” Audrey explains. “We just want to make it accessible to everybody.”
Toni elaborates, “All of the class instructions are concise and clear, and every class is taught with the beginner in mind—all levels, even the power class.” Nodding, Audrey demonstrates by folding forward and touching her toes. “This is yoga,” she says, and then lifts to a halfway point. “But this is also yoga.” More advanced cues are layered on for the experienced yogi, but as Toni emphasizes, “People don’t feel bad if they are not doing the advanced version.” Students are encouraged to find their own level and instructors who resonate with them. Audrey laughs, “There are no gurus. The student is in charge and ultimately decides.” Toni agrees: “We teach people to trust themselves, to know their own bodies.” And what about the common yoga block: “I don’t do yoga because I am not flexible.” “Are you too dirty to bathe?” exclaims Toni rhetorically. “That’s why you do yoga!”
Audrey and Toni acknowledge that it was a big pivot to take on a new business at the beginning of a national health crisis. When their first studio opened in 2019 in Mountain View, they were mired in COVID restrictions. Luckily, online classes allowed them to maintain a full schedule and keep staff working. Their second studio in Oyster Point is located in a biomedical park and offers lots of private sessions for the employees there. The pair have licenses to build six studios in their territory, which runs from South San Francisco to Mountain View. “It took courage to change our lives in this way, but we learned a lot,” smiles Toni. “Sort of like getting an MBA.”
The Stanford location currently offers 29 classes per week, both in person and online, with plans to add more. When asked if there are discernable differences between the three studios, Audrey tactfully responds, “We love them all like our children.” Both women say they have noticed an increased desire for evening classes, probably due to the changing nature of how and when people work. In response, they will hold classes at 9:00PM. “People can practice and then go home and get into their pajamas,” laughs Toni.
Ultimately, Toni and Audrey hope to build a community at the Stanford studio where, as they describe, “You don’t have to fit in because everyone belongs.” Watching as yogis linger after class to introduce themselves to one another and share comments about their experience is the ultimate and best feedback. “It’s a chance to connect with your body,” affirms Audrey, “but what will make you stick with a practice? If you enjoy it, if it is fun and if you can be with people who also enjoy it.”