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Meet Sara Szunyogh of Spicy Gypsy Yoga + Conscious Events

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sara Szunyogh.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio and am a third generation carnie! My grandfather started a carnival in the 1950’s and we traveled all over the midwest with rides, food trailers and games. It was a unique way to grow up (caramel apples for breakfast!) and exposed us to a lot of diversity and excitement.

Around 8 years old I started working doing everything from making cotton candy and lemonade to running games & selling tickets; then in my later years, setting up and running rides and managing staff. I worked in the carnival and produced events well into my late 20’s. This experience taught me how to connect & communicate with people of all ages and backgrounds. It taught me to have the monstrous work ethic and gave me the thirst to be on the move, instilling that gypsy spirit.

My sense of adventure and interest in the outside world moved forward by receiving a BA in Anthropology in 2002. Around this same time in my life, I was in a long-term relationship, that eventually leads to marriage. Unfortunately, this relationship was very dysfunctional with both verbal and emotional abuse being a weekly norm. We really brought out the worst in each other! This went on for nearly six years (I was young, had a lot of lessons to learn and didn’t have the self-awareness & emotional support I do now).

At that point, I had zero confidence, no friends and nearly debilitating anxiety. I needed a tool to help connect me more deeply to myself as well as surround myself with positive influences. Enter yoga.

The first time I did yoga was in 1997. I rented a VHS from the library & laid down a towel on my mom’s carpeted, living room floor. I was always athletic and active so I thought I’d give it a try. The stretching & relaxation felt like it brought balance to all the other strenuous activity. Fast forward nine years and I was practicing weekly, taking group classes and meeting warm and caring people. I could feel the shift inside me go from self-hate, shame and anxiety to self-compassion, gratitude and confidence. ALL I talked about was yoga and in the span of one week three people said the same thing: “Sara, you are so obviously in love with yoga, why don’t you become a teacher?” Uh, hmmm, I never really thought of that before, so I began to research. This was Cleveland in 2006, a very, very different landscape from what yoga is today.

However, I found Marni Task, a well-known and beloved teacher who was starting her first yoga teacher training, I spoke with Marni and knew it was the right choice. I graduated from her 200-hour yoga teacher training in January of 2007 and have never stopped teaching since.

My obsession with travel, all things culture and community service came together in 2010 when I joined the Peace Corps. I served in the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific from 2010-2012. I loved my work, the relationships I built, the exotic adventures, interesting food and hospitality of the culture, but it was not all beaches and pina coladas. It was by FAR the two most challenging years of my life and a hotbed for exponential growth. My aunt passed away, then two weeks later my father died. I got dengue fever and was hospitalized for the first time in my life. Daily catcalling, being spit on, the struggle of being in a very isolated, foreign land really showed me what I was made of. I had to dig to depths that I did know existed within me to stay mentally, emotionally and physically sound. I am so grateful to the family and friends that encouraged me and loved me through those dark times. Alas, the future was still bright!

Once I successfully completed my Peace Corps service I went back to Cleveland to re-integrate into the Western world (It wasn’t cute! What is an iPad? And why is there a whole WALL of nut milk?!). One cold, December evening in downtown Cleveland while walking across the street I met a man. I struck up a conversation and out of that encounter, developed a relationship and six months later moved to New York City to start the next chapter of my life. The love didn’t last but I secured an amazing job working in marketing for Whole Foods Market. This was a dream job! I was on the pulse of food trends, attending some of the best food events in New York City and my carnie-hustle fit right in and went a very long way, Alas, New York ran its course. The weather, pace of life and the constant frenetic buzz was too much. I always heard rumors about San Diego being beautiful, so off I went.

I moved to San Diego with no friends, no job and secured an apartment the day before I drove cross-country by myself. When things are meant to be they flow & that’s exactly what happened when I came to the West coast. I now have an incredible network of friends, teach yoga in a kind and friendly community, learned how to surf and make frequent adventures in Mexico.

Some of my most proud career accomplishments include:
-Instructing yoga at NASA Glenn Research Center
-Instructing NBA professionals
-Instructing yoga to native villagers of Fiji while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer
-Partnering Whole Foods Market and LOLE Women for the 2015 White Tour, hosting 10,000 yogis in Central Park, NYC
-Images appearing in the premier issue of NY Yoga + Life magazine
-Article feature for workplace wellness in July 2017 issue of San Diego Magazine
-Instructing (2) yoga classes at The Yoga Expo Los Angeles, 2016
-Co-producing (3) consecutive years of the Festival of Yoga, San Diego
-Instructing female refugee youth
-Being an Athleta Brand Ambassador 2017 & 2018

Has it been a smooth road?
Not. Even. Close. haha! The main struggle has been turning this burning love into a full-fledged, self-supporting career. The industry of yoga, wellness and self-care have gone through major changes in the last decade, mainly social media. (Please STOP posting pictures of yourself doing a split-leg handstand in a thong! You can love your body & show that to the world without being over-exposed.)

It’s that love-hate relationship that swings from its all fake, to meet amazing people from all over the globe. The business of yoga being social media driven is a challenge because I thrive with real-time, face-to-face connection. Teaching and investing in myself through this trade for over twelve years but only having social media for less than five can make you less desirable or can offer less opportunity than someone who is fresh out of teacher training but has 10, 000 followers. Staying authentic to my style and message is critical when you have watched the landscape change over a long period of time.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
My business is a lifestyle brand highlighting, educating and uplifting others through a conscious lifestyle of health and wellness.

I am a yoga and meditation instructor leading group classes, corporate yoga and private one-on-one sessions. I produce my own yoga and wellness related events and retreats in southern California, nationally and abroad. Follow my adventures on Instagram to stay up to date regarding my events and stay tuned for details about my upcoming retreat to Fiji in 2019!

I am a superfood chef including mindful culinary components to my events as well as being a retreat chef. I focus on local seasonal ingredients while incorporating spices and inspiration from my global travels. I also provide fun and playful culinary education to individuals, small groups and corporations.

I also work freelance producing events and experiential marketing for brands in the health and wellness industries.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I feel like San Diego is a great place for the yoga and wellness industries. It has so many fun venues and natural settings to host year-round events. There is a vast population of health-minded people and is home to a large number of entrepreneurs and artists for creative collaborations.

If you are just starting out you better be ready to HUSTLE. With a large number of yoga studios doing multiple yoga teacher training’s, this city is producing hundreds of yoga teachers every year. There is free yoga in San Diego literally seven days a week. If yoga is going to be a sole source of revenue for you please manage your expectations about what can realistically be achieved and by what avenues. It inherently takes time to gain exposure in the yoga community & that goes for anywhere. Network, be prepared for highs and lows and come to the table ready to stand out.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Lionel Rakai, Scopos media, Jaymie Harrison, Joe Longo

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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