10 minute interview with
anna korkmaz of
bikram yoga tasmania
23 March 2016
I first met beautiful Anna many years ago when I was first starting out in the world of Bikram yoga. Back then, neither one of us have had children. I had just moved to Hobart and did not know many people, I was grateful for Anna's kindness and infectious smile at yoga class cause sometimes all you need is just one person to smile at you like an old friend. I remember I would be really happy to see her in class and I would make sure that I would place my mat beside hers cause I knew just practising yoga beside this determined, kind woman would mean that I would try just that little bit harder to be present... to stay true to the real intention of why I went to class in the first place which was to really listen to my body and not be distracted by how hot it was in the room, or how many people there were, or watching and competing with others... but, really just to thank myself for making that time and be grateful for being me... whoever that "me" might be that day. I remember when Anna first started teaching Bikram and at one of the first classes she took, she just said, "I have every confidence in you, Heidi, that you can stay true to that pose"... I struggled with my left triangle pose, I still do but just having someone acknowledge and take that moment to notice that I was internally struggling and to bring light to that struggle was enough to make me not give up. I have never told Anna this but since that day, I have stolen that uplifting phase from her both as an employer and as a mother, to bring awareness to the other person, that "I see you... I see your intention... I see your struggles.. and I am here. But, more than that, I have every confidence that you will overcome this. I know you will. I am with you." Thank you, Anna. I know, we lost touch for a few years with having businesses and children, and just life, but I am so grateful to have been able to reconnect with you again.
MD: Thank you so much for having a chat with me today, Anna. For all my readers that don't know, can you tell me a bit more about what Bikram yoga is?
AK: Sure... Bikram yoga is a form of Hatha yoga. It came about in the 1960’s when Bikram Choudhury and his then guru, Bishnu Ghosh were helping people individually with yoga postures. Traditionally, in India, if people were unwell or had some disease within the body, they would go and see their yoga guru and get given a series of yoga postures to help ease their ailments. Bikram was seeing so many people that he decided he needed a sequence of yoga poses that helped lots of people at once. Of all the thousands of yoga postures, he chose the 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises that make up the Bikram yoga sequence. It is performed in a heated room during a 90 minute class.
MD: Oh wow... I never knew that about being given a series of postures to help ease ailments. It does make perfect sense when you think about it. Tell me more about the benefits of Bikram yoga over other forms of yoga?
AK: Gosh, I always find this question so tricky, because the benefits are so many!! Definitely, the biggest difference to a lot of other styles of yoga is that it is practiced in a heated environment. It’s not like a sauna! There is lots of fresh air that circulates throughout the room, as it is important that the heat is there to aid your practice, and not detract from it. The heat helps to thin the blood, allowing for freshly oxygenated blood to travel faster to the entire body. This improves circulation and detoxification, as well as the cardiovascular system. We have also had fantastic results from those who suffer from severe arthritis in the joints, back pain, digestive issues and depression, just to name a few.
The Bikram yoga poses are performed slowly and surely, holding some postures for up to 1 minute. We do not focus on depth, but rather correct technique and alignment. You’ve got your whole life to go deep into a posture!
MD: I like that... the idea of yoga is a life long practice. It's not about how deep you go into the posture right now, it's more important that you are practising the posture. What are the other types of yoga that your studio offer?
AK: I’ve been teaching Pregnancy and Post-Natal yoga for 2 years now and we have also started offering Yin Yoga. Yin yoga is so beautiful! The most complimentary style of yoga to the “yang” Bikram style. Yin is performed in an un-heated room and is predominantly seated poses held for up to 5 minutes in length. We use bolsters, blocks and blankets to support the body in poses, so that you can deeply relax and NOT work the body dynamically. It’s one of the few activities that works deeply into the body’s connective tissue. This is a really therapeutic style of yoga, and one that can help people work through trauma that has been held in the tissues of the body. This is especially helpful for those that have been through surgery, sit for long periods of time in their day, or experience a lot of physical stress and anxiety.
MD: That sounds beautiful! I must try it out soon. So, tell me more about being in business... How did Bikram Yoga Tasmania come about? What is your story?
AK: My husband, Ben and I, first opened our Bikram yoga studio in New Town in October, 2010. When I was pregnant with my second son, we moved the studio into the CBD where we were able to purpose-build a studio with state-of-the-art facilities (because that seemed like the smartest thing to do when 6 months pregnant and a toddler underfoot!) Both myself and Ben have received such incredible healing through a regular Bikram yoga practice – Ben had severe sciatica and disc problems in his back, and at the time, I was battling with excess weight and depression. We both noticed huge changes to our physical and emotional well-being, and we just knew we had to share this with others. It wasn’t an easy path, opening up our own business. In fact, we took huge risks. But we just knew, within our hearts and guts, that we had to keep going. Thankfully, we did and we’re still here 6 years later!
MD: I think this is what makes small businesses great! Behind every small business, is an inspiring personal growth story waiting to be told. We need to hear the struggles and how people overcame these challenges behind every brand. So, tell me Anna, who is Anna Korkmaz?
AK: Whoa, big question!! I am a wife, a mother to 2 gorgeous boys (aged 3 and nearly 2), I am a yoga teacher, a mentor to other yoga teachers, a business owner, a sister, a daughter, an aunty, and above all – I am a student, ALWAYS! My children are my biggest teachers!
MD: Oh yes! Aren't children just the best teachers? I think the greatest gift of being a parent is almost like being given a second chance to look at the world through a child's eyes again... but this time, hopefully with some wisdom! I know you have always been an inspirational person, even when we just did yoga alongside each other those many years ago. What made you take that path though, to become a yoga instructor?
AK: During my teenage years and early twenties, I thought I would be an actress. Alas, this did not go according to plan, as I simply didn’t handle rejection well. I would double-guess myself and had low confidence. All pretty normal at that age. Then, when I was living in London, a friend took me to my first Bikram class. I had done other styles of yoga, as it has always been something I’ve been drawn to. After my first Bikram class, I started immediately planning when I could do my second. As I was working as a full-time nanny at that time, I rarely actually got to a class. It was when I returned to Hobart to get married that I rediscovered the Bikram practice and experienced the life-changing results. From there, I started to research how and when I could train as a teacher. I studied under Bikram Choudhury and his staff in 2009 and began teaching straight away. In 2012 I fell pregnant with my first son and continued to practice and teach throughout the entire pregnancy. My obstetrician thought “everyone should do yoga!” and this experience with yoga and pregnancy gave me a passion to help other pregnant women. In 2014 I studied under Anahata Giri in Melbourne to complete my diploma in Yoga for Pregnancy and Birth and have been teaching pregnancy yoga since then. Teaching this has been especially rewarding, as it is such a privileged journey to be a part of with a woman.
Earlier this year, I completed my Yin Yoga Therapy Teacher Training in Melbourne and I plan to take my yoga knowledge further this year with more training. Through the pregnancy yoga, I have also joined a network of other like-minded women in the health industry. We have started a Facebook page called Hobart Pregnancy Fitness and give women updated tips and information on how to stay strong and healthy throughout pregnancy and once baby is born. The group is made up of myself, Jo Cordell-Cooper from Active Solutions and Health Network, & Julia Speirs from Pregnancy Exercise and Beyond.
MD: Another two inspiring mothers and businesswomen, like yourself, helping other women! Family does become such an integral part of a business when there are children involved. I always feel that the learnings I get from my family directly feed into how I run my businesses. What is it like running a family business for you?
AK: It’s definitely unique! Ben and I are pretty direct and upfront with each other when it comes to the business, because we know each other so well. We know what makes each other tick and what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are. So, in that way, we are very much a team. We both bring our different skills to the table, and so this helps to run a fairly well-oiled machine. Well, it sort of has to be when it’s 7 days a week with 2 toddlers as well!
On the flip-side though, we do find it very, very hard to leave work at work! Our studio is like our third baby, so we don’t simply stop when the doors close. More often than not, you’ll find us still working on emails, posters, marketing, scheduling, and budgets past 10 o’clock at night! We absolutely love that our boys can come to work with us, and they have done so from the moment they were born. We are incredibly grateful to have an awesome childminder who runs care 5 mornings a week for us, so our boys can have a couple of hours with her if Mummy or Daddy are teaching or taking class. I also love that our boys are so exposed to yoga every day. It makes me laugh when my 3 year old tells me to stand on the yoga mat in the studio and he starts telling me how to do yoga poses. Our next teacher perhaps??
We are also very grateful for our small team of staff. They are like an extended family to us and we like to look after them and ensure they feel valued. Without them, we simply couldn’t do what we do. I think Ben and I are constantly striving for more work/life balance, and we hope to achieve that more this year by employing more staff and taking more mini family breaks.
MD: This sounds so familiar! I think it's a blessing for kids to see their parents working together toward something. Certainly, being in family business myself, my kids are very aware of the value of things and we are blessed that they have a real sense of the "teamwork" from mummy and daddy that goes into creating a lifestyle for them. What advice would you give to mums thinking about going into business?
AK: You can do it! Have a strong vision both short and long-term for your business and then set out to achieve it.
MD: Haha... There she is! The Anna who told me she "had every confidence in me" to hold that triangle pose for just that bit longer...
AK: Yes! If you feel passionately about your product and your aesthetics for your image, go with it! Don’t let others make you second-guess what you feel passionate about. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Identify where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and then delegate accordingly. For example, Ben is fantastic at graphics and design. I am good at the content for those things. So we share the load with that instead of stressing about the jobs we either don’t enjoy doing, or would prefer not to be doing.
MD: Yes! Don't stress... Leverage the skill set of the people around you and ask for help. Asking for help doesn't come easy for a lot of mums and we talk a lot of about balancing motherhood and business in our interview series. What’s your take on it?
AK: Our balance feels like it changes constantly as the needs of our children and business change. Both Ben and I feel strongly that we want to be there for our children, and we want them to grow up knowing they are loved and they feel secure. We also want them to see that Mummy and Daddy work hard and that through hard work you can achieve a great deal. Not just from a financial perspective, but that you can make a great deal of change to someone else’s life. Our boys attend childcare twice a week, and this has only been a new thing for us to do. It was a hard decision for us to make, but everyone is winning from this! The boys love seeing their friends at care, and they have experiences there that Ben and I can’t offer them. We also benefit from this time, as we choose to either have 2 solid, productive work days. Or, we go on a lunch date together! We do feel that we are better parents when we can focus 100% on running the business without interruption for 2 days. Because then we try to be focused on the boys when we are with them for the rest of the time. We are also very fortunate to have Ben’s parents live very close by and my mum as well. I have a lot of friends who do not have any family as a childcare option, and it makes me feel incredibly grateful for our parents.
MD: It's just as important to take time out for yourselves to recharge so you can be ready again to be available to your children. What does yoga do for you personally?
AK: I’ll try and keep this short! My yoga practice has changed drastically over the years. I used to care what people thought of me when I practiced ... What did I look like in a posture? Was I “performing” the pose correctly? Pregnancy changed ALL OF THAT for me. Practising yoga during pregnancy gave me a new appreciation for my body, it made me ease up on myself instead of pushing myself beyond my limits. It was humbling. During my second pregnancy, I experienced Pubis Symphasis Dysfunction, which basically means my pubic bone separated to almost twice its normal gap. I wasn’t even able to walk upstairs or carry my toddler, let alone practice yoga. Working WITH my injury and supporting my body, I was able to continue practicing and teaching. This approach gave me a deeper understanding of how to practice yoga to heal the body and how to work with bodies in a way that supported their injuries and ailments.
My life is very busy and very noisy these days, which I love! But, when I’m on my yoga mat, whether I am practicing Bikram or Yin, it is just still and quiet. My practice challenges me physically and mentally and reminds me how to be comfortable in the uncomfortable. I have more energy when I practice yoga, and yet, I also sleep better. My practice brings me mental peace and clarity. I have more patience and compassion for others. I practice yoga, not because I am a “zen yogi”, but because I NEED to keep practicing all of these qualities. It’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect.
MD: So, who is yoga for?
AK: EVERYBODY and EVERY BODY! Yoga should be accessible to everyone. I have taught children, people with back problems so bad they struggled to walk, and professional athletes. I have taught a 76 year old man who came in with a walking frame – he sat in a chair and practiced all the postures to the best of his ability and left the studio carrying his walking frame! It’s not rocket science – our bodies are designed to move! If we do not move our bodies, if we do not lubricate the joints and work through muscles, tissues, bones, joints, ligaments and tendons – then they will degenerate. Something is always better than nothing, and so I encourage everyone to do yoga.
MD: If you don't use it, you'll lose it, right? What would you say to someone thinking about starting yoga but has never done it before?
AK: There is nothing to fear. Sadly, our culture these days heavily promotes yoga as something that looks amazing and pretty. Whilst this can be inspiring to a lot of people, I can tell you that these images often put a lot of other people off coming to class. They see these images as unattainable – and they are! I often tell my students to “do the very best you can, with the body you have today,” because your body will be different every day.
Every single person has had a first class. So to someone who is thinking about starting yoga, you’re going to be in excellent company! Even the teacher has been in your shoes before. Start your practice by easing into it. Go at your own pace, and if in a class situation, feel confident to take breaks when you need. It’s never a race to the finish line. Yoga should be used as a therapeutic tool, and it is a life-long practice.
MD: What do you love about what you do?
AK: It’s very, very simple. I absolutely LOVE helping people to feel good. I love seeing people feel ten times better walking out of a yoga class, than when they walked in. And as long as that continues, then I will keep teaching yoga.
MD: What have been some of your favourite moments from running Bikram Yoga Tasmania?
AK: When you run your own business, you pretty much do everything, especially in the beginning. Quite often, I would get asked by people if Ben and I just relaxed in between classes!! Um……no! We would put the rubber gloves on and clean showers and toilets, vacuum the studio, clean mirrors, update newsletters and stay on top of administration. As I have already mentioned, we like to run a well-oiled machine, but it doesn’t always go according to plan. One time, in our first studio, I was cleaning a mirror and I must have put way too much pressure on it. Of course, it fell off the wall and cracked! This was 5 minutes before I was to open the doors for a busy class. I just remember this moment, where I was desperately holding the mirror in place while Ben was trying to frantically safely stabilize it so we could at least run the class. The doors were opened on time and no-one had any idea that we had a moment of total panic just 5 minutes prior! All of this is worth it though. The amount of success stories we hear every week about people’s improvements in their overall health and wellbeing still amazes us. This yoga is incredible and it works!
MD: Haha... Yes, I can totally relate.. So many things can go wrong and do but the show must go on in small business. I must admit, we've had some near misses as well over the years but it's all about presenting that front to the customers to make sure that they get the experience of what you promised they would get. What is your vision for your brand going forward?
AK: This year I am running my first Women’s Wellness Retreat in June, which is something I am very passionate about. We also want to continue steering Bikram Yoga Tasmania down the path of health and wellbeing, so that people gain an even better understanding of how yoga can improve so many health issues. Yoga is not about looking pretty in a pose, it is about the therapy of each individual pose and the sequence as a whole. Our vision is to continue teaching yoga and reaching even more people so they can experience the healing benefits of yoga.
MD: I can't help but notice how stunning the building is and it's like a little heaven coming up those steps away from the bustling Hobart CBD. You have built a wellness hub around your studios, tell me more about that...
AK: Within our building complex, we have established a second health hub called Heart Life Natural Therapy. We are so lucky to have some incredible people working alongside us at Bikram Yoga Tasmania; Jason Le Roy- an osteopath, Emma Coad & Zana Johnson – hairdressers, Sara Rocchia – Beauty Therapist, and Carmen Bernstein – an occupational therapist. We also offer various workshops throughout the year and we have a series coming up on “how to take your yoga off the mat and into your daily life.”
MD: It is really about building that holistic knowledge of self. Thank you, Anna! I can't wait to see what else unfolds with Bikram Yoga Tasmania! It is certainly an inspiring story and I'm certain that you have helped so many Tasmanians through yoga, and will continue to do so!
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