We chatted with Sydney’s Urban Yoga studio founder Jacinta McDonell and co-owner/studio manager Lisca McClanachan, to delve deeper into what makes this Surry Hills yoga spot so special.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY AND INSPIRATION TO CREATE URBAN YOGA.
MCDONNELL: The inspiration behind Urban Yoga was to create a place for more people to connect with yoga. I had found through my own yoga journey over the past seven years that the experience of coming into a studio for the first time was intimidating and confusing. It was difficult to find an instructor I connected with or to find a consistent practice that was physical enough but not over the top. Music and lighting was definitely another area I felt was lacking in the yoga community. Music has been making its way into the yoga space over the years, but it’s still very much in the background which I think is such a shame. I love to move to music and think it’s really powerful, so I wanted to create a practice that enables you to move through the postures on your mat with rhythm—which can be so much more moving than a traditional silent practice.
WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR THE LOCATION?
MCDONNELL: The idea of creating the yoga space really inspired me. Often you find that yoga rooms aren’t that clean, you’re too close to somebody and it’s really bright. I wanted a space that could be beautiful, spacious, well-lit and create an experience that was inspirational and consistent.
In an effort for my practice to look better, sound better and feel better, I made the decision to have the practices pre-choreographed and taught by all our instructors so that as a customer, you rock up, land on your mat and know the practice is going to play out a certain way. It’s going to be physical and it’s going to be in a format you can get used to so you’ll get to feel really comfortable in the space. For people just starting a yoga journey, I think that’s very appealing. After that, it was a matter of refining the vision. What music would we use? What visuals? How would we move to the beat? What speed? What would the sequencing be? It took 12 months to bring together with the help of a choreographer, a DJ and a filmmaker to create a complete, immersive yoga class to take people out of their head while they are on the mat.
WHAT MAKES URBAN YOGA UNIQUE?
MCDONNELL: The way we combine our music and visuals into all our classes is a world first. The yoga flow is a sequence of fully choreographed poses set to the music and visuals displayed on our 7m x 3m screen, featuring incredible landscapes and scenery. All classes are in our dimly lit room which makes the experience truly immersive.
HOW DO YOU BUILD COMMUNITY AT YOUR STUDIO?
MCCLANACHAN: We have a cool chill-out space where our guests can sit before and after class and enjoy tea, and our instructors join them for this. It’s a great, relaxed way to chat and connect with each other. We also regularly run our Offbeat Events series which is another way to bring our community together and do something fun.
WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU LOOK FOR IN AN INSTRUCTOR?
MCCLANACHAN: The ability to engage with all people at all stages in their yoga practice. We get a lot of people who have never practiced before so our yoga instructors need to understand what it’s like for these people and remember how they felt before they fell in love with yoga.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE YOUR CLIENTS TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR CLASSES?
MCDONNELL: Whatever they need. But at a minimum they should leave feeling more connected, relaxed and inspired.
HOW DO YOU FIND A WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
MCDONNELL: I just love what I do. I don’t try to achieve work/life balance; I just seek my balance. This looks different for different people. For me, it’s important to spend time with my kids and regularly escape to Byron Bay. Having a strong team around me, both personally and professionally, means I don’t have to “do it all” and I don’t try.
ANY LAST WORDS OF ADVICE?
MCDONNELL: Yoga is a really powerful practice and the yoga community can be powerful in creating change. The more people practice, the more mindful we are together as a whole. We’ve built an incredible business around the Urban Yoga brand and an amazing culture with our instructors, which leads to something really special for people to experience. That’s definitely my inspiration.
ABOUT JACINTA MCDONELL: Jacinta launched the highly successful US franchise Anytime Fitness with her brother Justin into Australia in 2008. With over 2700 clubs and 2 million members worldwide, it has become the quickest growing segment of the world’s fastest growing fitness chain and is Australia’s number one health club chain. As well as setting up and managing the fitness brand, owning 20 franchises with her brother, and being a mother of three young children, Jacinta has developed several other business and personal ventures over the past 12 months, including The Human Kind Project, which is a for-purpose foundation that enables businesses to build brand equity whilst creating social change.
ABOUT LISCA MCCLANACHAN: After a number of years at Bain & Company, Lisca found herself owning Anytime Fitness gyms while freelance consulting part time—a great mix of corporate life and small business life. Over time she became more immersed in the fitness industry in Australia and overseas and finally admitted to herself that perhaps she really is an entrepreneur at heart! Passionate about bringing first-class boutique fitness experiences to Australians, when the opportunity arose to join Jacinta in partnership in Urban Yoga, the answer was a resounding “hell yes.”