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RapidChat: Melissa Tungl on making yoga all about community, getting rid of the yogi stigma & more

Over the years, we have seen an increasing number of boutique fitness studios pop up in and around Grand Rapids – particularly those which revolve around the ancient practice of yoga. Likewise,it can be somewhat of a status symbol to even be called a ‘yogi.' Trends aside, owner of Seva Yoga, Melissa Tungl, is on a mission to root her studio in the community and make yoga a practice accessible to everyone while removing that aloof yogi stigma. 
Melissa Tungl

Over the years, we have seen an increasing number of boutique fitness studios pop up in and around Grand Rapids – particularly those which revolve around the ancient practice of yoga. Likewise,it can be somewhat of a status symbol to even be called a ‘yogi.' Trends aside, owner of Seva Yoga, Melissa Tungl, is on a mission to root her studio in the community and make yoga a practice accessible to everyone while removing that aloof yogi stigma. 
RG: Something that is unique to Seva Yoga are your donation-based classes. Why was this
something you wanted to offer to your community?
 
MT: Our current model to support community yoga for everybody includes our popular Free Friday series of classes. These are absolutely free and open to all levels! During the winter the location is in the studio, and in the summer we often host in special locations around town. Last summer our most popular spot for Free Fridays was the Blue Bridge downtown GR, with over 100 yogis practicing in the sunshine. It was probably my favorite yoga class I had the opportunity to organize and teach!
 
RG: How did you first get started with the Blue Bridge outdoor classes?
 
MT:  We appreciate how beautiful West Michigan is in the summer, and wanted to offer more outdoor classes when it is nice.  The Blue Bridge classes were inspired by that.
 
RG: Are you planning on continuing with Free Fridays on the Blue Bridge this year in 2017?
 
MT:  Yes, I am currently planning late spring/summer events, and it's definitely on the list. 
 
RG: Why would someone choose Seva Yoga over other yoga studios in town?
 
MT: I cannot speak for other yoga studios, but I know we are doing great things in the community, things that matter to me, and that make an impact on individuals and the collective good of the city. One major focus for 2017 is to engage our yoga community through community involvement and activities. Yoga is an ancient practice, and more people than ever are curious about it; they know it works to help bring balance into their lives. With that being said, it can also be an intimidating goal. Seva Yoga is committed to creating opportunity for the community to try a yoga class for the first time. To make it something lighthearted and welcoming. We want yoga classes to be seen around town, not just in the studio. For 2017 we are planning more Blue Bridge yoga, yoga involvement with Blandford Nature Center, classes at Robinette's, and more work with the Humane Society of West Michigan.
 
RG: That sounds exciting! Can you give us some insight on what those might look like?
 
MT:  This has been the best way to reach a larger student base and widen our community.  For example, our Robinette's classes are outdoor in the early fall, and we have donuts and get to know each other after. Our Humane Society event in April is a benefit we have called “Cats on Mats,” and we are bringing adoptable kittens into the studio to wander around during class.  For a fee, you can practice with the kittens, and all proceeds go to HSWM.  These events are a unique spin on the “free class pass” way to get students to try yoga in a fun easy going environment.  Often friends will come together, and that is twice the opportunity to make a difference in the health and wellness of the individuals and the community, as well as widening our circle. 

RG: Is Seva Yoga the first business you have ever owned?
 
MT: Yes.
 
RG: What changes have been made to the Seva Yoga brand since you and your husband took over?
 
MT: Well, we expanded to a second location, and it proved to be more of learning experience than a success. I will say that the experience of closing our hot yoga studio was actually the biggest catalyst for growth that we have ever experienced. We learned what our strengths are, and that we do not have to offer everything in order to succeed. With strong community support we have continued to grow and expand our Gaslight Village location, and actually increase our off-site class offerings with those resources that were required to run two spaces.
 
RG: What inspired you to take the plunge into being a small business owner?
 
MT:  My parents are both entrepreneurs, and I guess it was written in the stars.  Watching them run a small auto repair shop, and seeing what it takes to make and grow a business, has definitely shaped the way we blend work and home life.  With the business and two small children, it's all about balance!
 
RG: Back in 2013 you spoke to Rapid Growth Media about sponsoring ‘Seva Cycling’. How has that come along?
 
MT: Our small team continues to ride events around the state and have recently sponsored some winter Fat Tire biking races.
 
RG: What is the synergy between yoga and mountain biking?
 
MT: For me, a rather new mountain biker, there is so much about biking that is similar to a yoga practice. For one, the most obvious is the absolute full attention needed when riding through the woods. The trails are often technical and challenging, and it becomes a moving meditation! I can’t think about anything other than what I am doing when I am riding through the trees. It’s a beautiful experience.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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