Whenever I meet someone who’s got a really cool job, who runs a thriving business, or who has completed an amazing project, I always want to know: “How did you do that?”
I’m always curious to hear the “behind-the-scenes story”—who they emailed, what they said, how they got their first client, how they got their foot in the door—the exact steps that they took to achieve their goal.
HOW DID YOU DO THAT? is an interview series where we get to hear the REAL story behind someone’s success—not the polished, neat and tidy version.
To see a complete list of all the interviews that have been completed to date, head over here.
Name: Anna Guest-Jelley
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Profession: Founder of Curvy Yoga
There are thousands of certified yoga instructors. But you’re not just an instructor. You created a completely new style of yoga—Curvy Yoga—and now, students can take Curvy Yoga classes in 10 different countries around the world! When you first started Curvy Yoga, did you ever imagine it would become the international movement that it is today? Was that your plan from the very beginning?
I had no idea what Curvy Yoga would become! I honestly didn’t even have a plan at the beginning, much less expect it to become a business.
Initially, Curvy Yoga was born out of my own personal search for a type of yoga that would “work” for me. I have a curvy body. I wanted to find yoga classes and resources designed for people with bigger, curvier bodies—people who looked like me. I searched everywhere, but I couldn’t find anything! Eventually I realized, I need to create “curvy yoga” classes by myself, for myself, because this kind of thing doesn’t exist anywhere. So that’s what I did. I knew I couldn’t be the only person on the face of the earth who wanted this kind of information, so I wanted to share what I’d learned.
I started teaching Curvy Yoga classes a couple times a week here in Nashville—and I started a blog because I like writing and thought it would be fun. I never thought that Curvy Yoga would grow into anything bigger than that. Back in those days, not many people were running “online businesses” or “online classes,” so it never occurred to me that Curvy Yoga could move in that direction.
Curvy Yoga eventually evolved into the business that it is today because of an ongoing conversation between myself and the community. People would ask me for things—like video classes that they could watch at home, for example—and I’d scoff and think I wasn’t the right person to do it. But then eventually, I’d realize that because I believe so deeply in sharing this info, I needed to figure out how to give people what they needed.
Take us back to your very first month as a yoga teacher. How did you find students? Did people come to your classes right away, or did things feel “empty” and discouraging for a while?
During my very first month as a teacher, I taught different small groups of friends as a way to practice and have fun. I didn’t start teaching in more formal settings for about a year.
When I first started teaching more formally, Curvy Yoga was a new concept, and I was able to get some publicity about the class because of that. I taught a few free classes so people could try it out, and after that, the classes were packed! We were in a huge garage, and there were around 50 people per class. I remember looking around the room and thinking, “What have I done?!” I didn’t feel prepared for that in the slightest!
As a yoga teacher, whether your classes feel “too empty” or “too full,” it can pose challenges either way. And of course, once you start charging money for your classes, it can be difficult to sustain a regular group of students, as well as keep inviting new people in. Growing classes is definitely a challenge for most yoga teachers, myself included. I think the main thing that helps with that is simply knowing that it takes time to “find your tribe” and build a strong, devoted community, and to embrace that, and be patient with the process.
Your company has been mentioned in some amazing publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post. How did those opportunities arise? Did you pitch yourself to those publications to tell them about your work? Or did a journalist approach you? What was the sequence of events?
I have pitched myself over the years, but all of those big name mentions came because a journalist approached me. In those cases, they were doing stories on people who were teaching yoga for curvy bodies—so in their research, they found me.
Sometimes, though, even for those big name mentions, I didn’t even know about it ahead of time. There have been situations where Curvy Yoga was mentioned as a resource, but I wasn’t interviewed, and the only way I found out was when someone said, “Hey, I saw you in The New York Times!”
You have a new book that just came out! Hooray! It’s called Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body A Little More Each Day. How did you get a book deal? Did a publisher approach you and ask if you’d like to write a book? Did you write a book proposal and contact lots of literary agents? How did it happen?
I co-edited an anthology, Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body, that came out before this new book, so I was familiar with the publishing process.
For Curvy Yoga, I wrote a book proposal and got a recommendation from a friend for a literary agent. I was fortunate that she was interested and we connected, so she agreed to represent me. From there we worked on editing the proposal together, which took a couple months, and then we sent the book out to publishers. We had lots of interest, but it took about four months (and plenty of rejections!) to get an offer.
What was one of the scariest or toughest moments of your career, and how did you get through it?
2014 was a big year for me. I lead two 200-hour yoga teacher trainings, lead two rounds of my online certification for yoga teachers, lead three retreats, had the Yoga and Body Image book come out, and opened a local yoga studio—and that’s just the big stuff! It sounds like this would be the height of happiness and success, but it didn’t turn out that way. I burnt out. Big time. And I wasn’t sure if and how I’d be able to continue.
After some soul searching, I ended up pulling way back in 2015 because I knew if I didn’t make some changes immediately, then Curvy Yoga would soon be no more. So, what was one of the greatest times in my career also turned out to be one of the most challenging and scary.
As I reset my priorities, the ship began to right itself and I’m now in a good place. But for a while there, it was definitely very touch and go!
If someone is interested in becoming a professional yoga instructor like you, what are the first 3 things they should do?
1. Develop your own practice.
By that I don’t mean “work on fancy poses,” though there’s nothing wrong with that. What I do mean is, “make yoga a regular part of your life.” This is important because it helps you see what yoga is teaching you—because creating a regular and sustainable practice is a challenge for pretty much everyone. So as you navigate that process, you learn so much about what yoga means to you and if / how you want to share it with others.
2. Do your research.
There are so many different types of yoga teacher training programs out there today, which is beautiful! You can explore and find one that works for you. Spend some time thinking about what you want to learn, who you might want to teach in the future, and then talk with teacher trainers about what they offer. Choosing the right trainer is so important, because you’re going to be spending a big chunk of time immersed in that person’s perspective! You definitely want to find someone that you “click” with.
3. Trust that you are the “right” teacher for someone.
I hear from so many people who are interested in becoming yoga teachers, but who fear that they’re “too much” of something (too old, too big, etc.) or “not enough” of something else (not flexible enough, not wanting to teach a fast enough practice enough, etc.).
Of course, these fears are totally common and understandable in a culture that privileges one form of embodiment above all others. But the truth is that we need teachers with all different kinds of bodies and teaching styles, not just one body type and one teaching style. There are so many people who want to practice yoga, but who feel like they don’t fit in at certain types of yoga studios, and you can serve those types of students who are searching for something different. While you’ll never be the right teacher for everyone (because no one is!), you’ll definitely be the right teacher for someone!
ONE MORE THING…
Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Anna? Email me and tell me what you want to know! I might choose your question for my ONE MORE THING… Podcast (Coming soon!!!)
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