Today we’d like to introduce you to Karson McGinley.
Karson, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I got to where I am today as a result of taking my own medicine—learning to get in the flow of life by prioritizing happiness and choosing to believe that the Universe loves and supports me. At every turn, I made a choice to see disappointment as a form of contrast, rather than a punishment. I took ownership of my outlook and learned how to interpret my emotions as indicators of how aligned I was with my highest self. I wrote goals, clarified visions, made gratitude a value, and got really clear about the laws of the Universe. I leaped knowing I would be caught, and when I felt an intuitive hit, I drummed up my courage and went for it.
I moved to San Diego in 2008, acting upon a calling I had for adventure. I was happy in my life as a high school drama teacher, but was feeling a little lost and like there had to be something more. After a few months of “testing the universe” to see if moving across the country was the right choice (via oracle cards and looking for signs), I ultimately decided to go for it. I only knew two people in San Diego, one of whom was a college friend I had fallen out of touch with, but I knew was really happy there. I reached out to him and asked if I could stay on his couch for a few days while I scouted potential places to land.
That first trip to San Diego lit a fire inside of me. I could live HERE? The sun, the sand, the palm trees, the vibe… something felt very right, even though I would be moving far away from my family and leaving a very secure job with excellent benefits. I thought, maybe I’ll be an actor again, rather than just teach other people how to act. Or maybe I’ll teach yoga—after all, my mom had owned a studio my entire life, and even though I wasn’t certified, it seemed like a viable option since almost every street corner in SD had a yoga studio on it.
So, I leaped. I quit my school job and headed across the country. I auditioned for my first play the day after I landed, and I booked it. I started acting as much as I possibly could and enrolled in my first yoga teacher training that Fall. And that guy from college whose couch I crashed on? We started dating. Six months later, we moved in together, and one year later we were engaged. A common date for us was going to yoga class together, followed by OB Noodle House, and we would dream about spending our days barefoot (no desks, no suits, no ties), making our own schedules and being our own bosses.
One day, on a whim, I asked the owner of the studio where I taught if she would tell me if she ever wanted to sell. It was an off-the-cuff comment, but I guess it stuck with her because about two years later, I got a call that she was ready to sell—was I interested? Having been married to Mitch for a year at this point, and knowing that he was OVER his day job of managing a hotel, I called him immediately. I think we sat on it for 24 hours (if that) before we responded with an enthusiastic YES, and began our negotiations. Now, it was Mitch’s turn to quit his stable, well-paying, benefits-providing job for a leap into the unknown. He resigned, we high fived, and the very next day, we found out I was pregnant with our first child! All we could do is laugh. Had we found out I was pregnant just one day earlier, we would have chosen to be “responsible” over being adventurous, and our lives would be completely different. Life is funny that way…
Those first three years of owning the studio were amazing, challenging, expanding, and highly demanding. We lived .7 miles away and walked the baby and the dog back and forth to the studio several times every day. We did everything ourselves—checked in every class, locked and unlocked every door, posted every social media post, and I taught as many of the classes as my body would allow. It was thrilling, deeply satisfying, and often quite daunting since we watched studios come and go, and were never quite certain if we’d be able to support our growing family. But month after month, year after year, things kept working out. We had a dedicated following at the studio, and by this point, my sister Tierney had moved to OB to teach and help us out with the business.
In 2015, we had an idea to buy a little piece of land in Temecula, since we loved it out there and wanted somewhere with a little more space for our toddler to run around and play. We found the place and convinced my parents to join us out there from the east coast so we could have a little family compound in wine country. Mitch and I put a 399 square foot tiny house on the 8-acre piece of property that would house my parents across the yard. We didn’t know how it would work with running the business, but we trusting our gut and went for it.
We packed up and moved from OB to Temecula, and started commuting to OB to keep running the studio. We hired a manager, delegated some of our responsibility, and chose family over convenience. And it worked! There were some trade-offs and challenges along the way, but we felt a great sense of expansion being in a location that allowed us more physical space and a deeper sense of connection with our family.
Three years and another child later though, we were getting tired of commuting and felt like living so far from our business was no longer sustainable. We had just had our best year ever and remembered a conversation we had had with a friend just two years before that where he asked us to tell him if we ever wanted to sell. It was coming right around full circle. We told him we were ready, and as of January 1, 2019, six years to the day that we started Happy-U Yoga, we sold it to Riffs Yoga Studio, where they now stand holding space for our incredible community.
Now, Mitch and I are still living in our tiny house and can be far more present with our kids (Chase is 6 and Siena is 2.5). Yet we still feel the call to be of service and stay connected to our San Diego community. Since selling the studio, I have started teaching yoga online so I can both stay committed to my dedicated students from OB and have a farther reach, teaching women from all over the world. My online kula (a Sanskrit word for intentional community) called Happiness & Bliss already has over 100 members, and we practice, meditate, read, laugh, support each other, and gather virtually every week.
And turns out, Mitch and I aren’t done being business partners quite yet, either. We are keeping the dream alive of being our own bosses by opening a retreat center in Temecula’s wine country where we will continue offering yoga gatherings, retreats, training, and excursions. Now, friends, students, and travelers from San Diego and beyond can convene for a retreat experience to immerse themselves in nature, yoga, wine, and good company. We’re looking at holding our first retreat in Fall 2019.
Has it been a smooth road?
Of course, the road wasn’t always easy! Few things worth having are met without some friction along the way. But I have always believed that you have a choice about how to see challenges. You can see the donut, or you can see the hole. Mitch and I always did the inner work to see opportunities wherever possible. We had unwavering faith that the universe wouldn’t let us fail, and that as long as we kept our vibrations high, our circumstances would rise up to meet us.
As a small business owner, money didn’t always flow. There were many months when we didn’t get paid, and a few months when we had to take out a loan to cover payroll and our expenses. But we never let ourselves wallow in fear or self-pity. We used our creativity to come up with solutions. We relied upon our strengths and what we knew we were good at, which was bringing people together and staying focused on the teachings. We stayed centered in our hearts and trusted that the Universe was supporting us and whatever happened was for our highest growth.
And this is my greatest advice for other women starting out—stay committed to your values no matter what, and choose to see opportunities instead of lack or failure. Take care of yourself on the inside first, and then everything else will line up. Oh, and also, get a good accountant ☺ Don’t try to do everything yourself.
We’d love to hear more about Happy-U.
On my last class at the studio, I asked the room of 72 people to raise their hands if they had made a friendship (and carried it outside the studio) as a result of coming to Happy-U, and I swear every single person raised their hand. That is what I am most proud of at this point in my life—the way I have connected people around health, happiness, and being connected to their true Spirit.
My approach to yoga has been different from the get-go. Since I’ve always been so interested in happiness (what makes people happy, how to be happier, what the heck IS happiness anyway?), I learned through direct experience that yoga is just another form of experiencing true, long-lasting, joy. It’s a state of being that can be tapped into, not something you acquire or find outside of yourself. Our studio was always special because it focused on the feeling place of Oneness, not on how it looked or how it “should” be performed. Our approach at Happy-U was always to connect with people, to make sure everyone is seen and valued for who they are. I think a lot of other teachers and studios say that is a value of theirs (and I believe it is), but it’s like the difference between saying you love someone and actually showing that you love them. My yoga practice was as much about making eye contact and giving heart to heart hugs as it ever was about Downward Dog or handstands.
The “Happy” in Happy-U stands for a Holistic Approach to Positive Psychology and Yoga, which means that we combined the ancient traditions of yoga with the modern science of flourishing to help people find their way back to their own heart. Our mission was (and personally, still is) to raise the vibration of the world one breath at a time, which is both a huge undertaking and the simplest thing on earth. A deep breath (especially a deep breath shared in unison with another) can completely change our life experience, and I want to keep teaching people how this can be.
I love to move my body, laugh, groove to the music, and tell stories. I integrate all of this into my classes, and now that I’m teaching online, I have even more freedom and leeway to connect with people inside their homes. On this platform, my students get to connect with me (and the other people in the kula), without feeling self-conscious about trying something new and really connecting to their higher selves. After all, being in touch with your true essential nature can look like meditation, but it can also look like shaking your butt, being silly, falling over, and bursting into tears. I believe the yoga mat is a safe space to experience the fullness of who you are, whatever that looks like on the outside.
So much of the media coverage is focused on the challenges facing women today, but what about the opportunities? Do you feel there are any opportunities that women are particularly well positioned for?
With all that’s going on in the world to polarize us, I feel like women are rising up stronger than ever. I think the most important thing for women to do right now is stick together. Get involved side-by-side. Stop hating on each other, and lift each other up! Any community-centered activity for women that can remind us we’re not alone is worthwhile. Women also have unique challenges in the modern day world, which is why I created Happiness & Bliss as a kula for women to prioritize their self-care and be the best they can be.
- Membership to my online yoga kula: $30/month
- Website: www.karsonmcginley.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: karsonmcginley
- Facebook: karsonmcginleyyoga