Yoga lovers heading east may enjoy being a part of a yoga retreat run by teacher Michelle Merrifield. She runs several every year, at beautiful venues including Kakadu and in Byron Bay. That’s aside from her day job, running several yoga and pilates studios on the Gold Coast. I think she’s an inspiration, and a terrific role model for young woman, having managed to turn her passion for yoga into a successful livelihood.
I caught up with her recently and asked her the key to her success.
Emma: How did you get into yoga?
Michelle: I had the good fortune to go to my first yoga class with my mum at when I was16 years old. During that first class of twisting and turning, bending and stretching on the hard wooden floorboards, I knew I had found something special. In fact, the magic was ignited in Savasana. During Corpse Pose, -often referred to as Relaxation Pose, I felt a deep connection to something greater. I have always had a strong relationship with my divine and the practice of yoga just magnified that connection. I distinctly remember lying there, thinking I would love to feel like this forever, and imagine if I could share this with others.
Let me add though I couldn’t touch my toes and was literally as stiff as a surfboard! But my heart had been opened and I wanted to go deeper in the practice despite my lack of flexibility and skeletal disadvantage.
Emma: You have a studio in Mermaid Beach and you’ve recently opened one in Southport. What inspired you to open your own studios?
Michelle: I believe that this is my dharma life’s work as when I was just 22 years old I was asked to open a Yoga & Pilates studio as a joint partnership with my yoga teacher at the time. She was going to be the head yoga teacher and I was going to be the head Pilate’s teacher and eventually I ended up buying her out and running the whole business as a sole trader whilst she continued working for me teaching yoga for a few years. I am very grateful for that initial opportunity and I have literally grown up running this business that now facilitates over 2500 students a week locally. I had three franchises a few years ago, but the operator’s circumstances all changed and they each closed their doors. Business is definitely not for the faint hearted and it takes a huge amount of stamina and continuous improvement to be sustainably successful over a long period of time.
The opportunity to open the Brickworks, Southport studio was presented to me last year by a friend from Byron. After much consideration and meditation I decided to open another studio, as everything seemed to flow very naturally and organically. I am not a fan of growing just for the sake of growing and bigger definitely isn’t always better. However in this case I had the staff, the following, the demand and could also see the potential growth. With the Southport area growing at such a rapid rate it seemed like a good strategic move without much more extra effort or work. I could utilize my main angels who work the ‘Essence Engine Room’ being the multiple specialist brains in the back office who handle all the accounting, marketing, public relations, I.T, etc. I think we made a great move opening at Southport as we had over 500 students doing Yoga & Pilates on the opening weekend and we have been growing from strength to strength.
Emma: Is yoga good for business?
Michelle: It’s excellent for business owners and employees alike as yoga is ultimately about the quality of your relationships. The relationship you have with yourself first and foremost. To find harmony within our selves benefits so many people beyond our individual self. When we cultivate positivity internally, we naturally create and vibrate positivity externally. Peace starts within first and only then do we have the potential to cultivate peace within the workplace, with our friends and family. If we are suffering inside then everyone around us is suffering. Yoga endeavors to bring us back to our true nature, where we are in-touch, in-tune and in-sync with each other. Can you imagine a better working environment where everyone is working to be the best version of themselves and inspiring each other to do the same?
Emma: Do you have any upcoming retreats? Where and when?
Michelle: We have a Whale Watching Yoga Retreat later this year, (3rd- 6th October) and I should be releasing a retreat date next week for April.
Emma: Who is your inspiration/mentor?
Michelle: I get inspiration from the greats like Oprah Winfrey and Anthony Robbins but I have also drawn a lot from power couple Fred Devito and Elisabeth Halfpap. Fred and Lis are the founders, directors and owners of Exhale, a chain of 22 studios specializing in Yoga, Barre, and Spa around America and are very astute business people, owning all 22 studios themselves. They are extremely passionate about the same things as me, are humble, hard working and have a sincere love for people. I keep in regular contact with them as they embody many of the qualities I aspire to have. I’m not particularly driven to have lots of studios like them but I always want to be accessible, open and light hearted. Oprah said it the best “Even though I can afford really expensive shoes now, I always keep my feet firmly on the ground.”
Emma: What is it about you that other people might be surprised to hear.
Michelle: That I can’t wait to get married and start a family. I’m really looking forward to opening the next chapter of my life as I feel very content and satisfied with everything I have done and don’t have any ambition to have more. I’m sure lots of exciting new things will come up as I am a creator full of ideas but maybe those fun ideas will be family focused? Who knows what the future holds all I know is that I’m happy with where I am at and what I have got.
For more info on Michelle’s classes and retreats visit: http://www.essenceofliving.com.au