All Together Now

Circle Yoga’s switch to a co-op puts its staff and students in a whole new position

September 18, 2012

Students at Circle Yoga can now choose to become members of the cooperative.

It’s election day at Circle Yoga in Chevy Chase. And every candidate is running on the exact same platform: Balance the budget.

Annie Mahon opened the studio in 2003 as a spot for children’s yoga classes and soon expanded to teaching adults, too. Serving hundreds of students each week, Circle Yoga is fulfilling its mission. But it’s not quite filling its coffers.

“It’s still a for-profit business, but we’ve never made a profit,” says Mahon, who knew it was time for a change. “The studio needs to leave home like my kids did. It’s time.”

Rather than going off to college, though, the studio’s going co-op.

Running a business as a cooperative isn’t unheard of in D.C. — there are food co-ops and other collective endeavors — but it’s still an unusual way to operate. It’s also in keeping with Mahon’s plan from the beginning to prevent Circle Yoga from feeling corporate.

Mahon worked with a lawyer to officially convert Circle Yoga into Circle Yoga Cooperative. On Tuesday night, elections will be held for a board of directors, which will be composed of Mahon, five employees and two students.

Students can become members — and get a vote and a chance to join the board — by paying a $20 membership fee. (Anyone else can still take classes at regular prices.) More than 100 students have chosen to become members.

“I already felt like a member rather than a customer,” says Keith Laughlin, 60, a nonprofit executive who’s running for one of the student positions. Since signing up with his wife for a class in 2004, he’s come at least once a week to work on his physical and mental health. “If I can help, I want to pitch in.”

Giving students the chance to have input into how the studio is run makes sense from a business perspective and a yoga perspective, says Laura “Blondie” Marginata, 57, another student-member candidate. “The most enduring strength springs from the center, the core,” says Marginata, who said she’s blown away by the candidates’ range of expertise.

That’s what Mahon hopes to tap into with the board, which won’t be responsible for day-to-day operation of the studio — that’s the staff’s job — but rather the big-picture issues.

“I think I’m a decent business person. But one thing that’s humbling is I don’t have the skills for everything,” says Mahon, who will still finance the studio.

While becoming profitable would certainly be nice, the real goal is sustainability, says studio assistant director Anne Kennedy, who’s up for one of the staff-member slots. She hopes the co-op structure will get them there.

“I think people like being connected to businesses,” Kennedy says. “They feel a part of it, interested in the future.”

Whatever lies ahead, the Circle Yoga community will be facing it together.

Do You Mind?

Running for office at Circle Yoga (3838 Northampton St. NW; Circleyoga.com) isn’t so stressful, but politics sure can be. Congressman Tim Ryan (no relation to Paul) relies on meditation. The Ohio Democrat will appear at the studio Wednesday at 8 p.m. to discuss and sign copies of his book “A Mindful Nation,” which advocates for bringing mindfulness into daily life.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Rachel Kaufman · September 17, 2012