On the banks of the Potomac, in the small village-like atmosphere of Georgetown, there is a small yoga studio with a cute name and a cute logo. As a resident of Georgetown, I have passed the sign pointing to the studio many times. Having known someone who worked at Down Dog as well as several people who are regular yoga “practitioners,” I was well aware of the studio before I first entered – but had no idea about its rich history.

Patty Ivey (Picture from Down Dog's Website)
Down Dog's Logo

I re-started yoga after having run the Marine Corps Marathon and felt that my running practice could be complemented with the in-depth stretching and movement of the whole body that yoga provides. When I asked a friend which instructors to take at the studio she said, “Under no circumstances should you take Patty’s class if you are a beginner.” Although a bit unnerved and confused by this comment, I decided to do it anyways, and although I felt surprisingly challenged, I didn’t regret one moment of it. In hindsight, I was fortunate to have been instructed by the owner of Down Dog YogaPatty Ivey. It gave me a great sense of respect for the practice of yoga and for Patty.

As part of my entrepreneurship class at Georgetown and my own intentions of being an entrepreneur, I decided to interview Patty. Patty Ivey started Down Dog Yoga in April 2003. She started the business with a partner who was experienced with yoga. Patty was a runner and didn’t practice yoga as a form of exercise. She was asked to help because she had business experience.

At some point, Patty’s business partner decided she was not cut out for business, moved to the West Coast and left her with the company. She hadn’t come up with the idea, wasn’t a yoga teacher and found herself in a situation she didn’t know much about.

To make sure the business continued to operate, Patty did what was necessary. She took over the business by putting “her nose to the grindstone” and decided to start an intensive journey of her own yoga studies. She discovered that the yoga business is different than most and that one must take a different approach with it in order to succeed.

Picture of Down Dog Yogis (Washington Life)

Yoga is about community. Patty says that the fundamental difference between her business and others is that she’s not selling a widget that fits into some other process. She’s cultivating a community that grows from a collective shared experience. She was always inspired by the Starbucks approach, intrigued by how it is selling an experience for coffee buyers. Starbucks doesn’t just sell coffee – it sells an experience that you have when you enter its shops.

As Patty took over Down Dog, she brought people with her on a journey. As the business grew, she took more and more people with her. Patty had worked on other businesses in the past and knew she could succeed.

When asked about what drove her, her response was “The most important thing is to believe in yourself, and be really be passionate about what you are doing. You have to love what you are doing. It’s not about the money.”

“Focus is the biggest thing,” she said as she started to talk about why she thinks her business is successful. Down Dog offers one style of yoga. “Everyone teaches the same style. The teachers are skilled and although at different levels of training, offer a consistent level of skill in all classes. We are steadfast in our product offering. Consistency is huge.” Patty remarked. “When you go into a restaurant, you expect the experience to have the same feel every single time.”

When you are first starting out, there is a fine line between listening and when to take or not take feedback from all those around you. I believe there’s a difference in being a business owner and entrepreneur.

You can’t walk around with “rose colored glasses”. You have to surround yourself with mentors that will really hold you to task. You must be open to listening. It’s important to understand that you can create a solution to a need but can’t necessarily inspire a need.

Creating an experience is what drives our business. As the community builds at Down Dog, it takes on a life of its own. Our job is to be on top of our game with customer service.

Before becoming a yogi, Patty was a runner; she has since given up running, having run a lot in her earlier days. For her, running was a way to be outside and feel free – it became a meditative practice. I tend to run for meditative reasons as well and identified with her. During this conversation about exercise, I began to see the human side of who I think is a very successful business owner. It’s easy to see someone as larger-than-life when they are known as “the owner of Down Dog Yoga,” especially when a brand like Down Dog is well known within the community.

When I asked Patty where she came up with the name,  she said that she was out on a run when she came up with the name of the business. Running helped her stay focused and build her mental strength. It allowed her to focus on her breathing. She compared running with yoga. She says “It’s about how you bring yourself mentally to the mat. How you meet your challenges. You have to work more from inner strength than physical strength.

Yoga opens up your body in a different way. The physical components are different. In running, the muscles are tightening. In yoga, there is more of an opening. Running doesn’t making your body flexible.

The opening of the body has a different way of changing the mind. It can bring general openness. Yoga has made me a better listener. It has helped me in using and trusting my intuition and not being reactive. Decisions come from a grounded place of intuitively knowing the next right action.

Yoga makes me more present in my life. It makes one very aware of every step and every breath. How do we accept life as it shows up? It’s also a great way to learn impermanence. How one brings oneself from this current moment to the next without resistance.

Patty Teaching (Down Dog)

I asked Patty about how she applies her Yogic and seemingly Buddhist philosophies to business. It would seem that if one were a Yogi and Buddha-like in nature that he/she wouldn’t worry about things like business and expanding locations. Business is not normally thought to be connected to being content with one’s particular position in the moment, as taught in the practice of Yoga. I really liked Patty’s response because she meant what she said and she said it well:

I’m creating a business from a strong intention. My intention is to reach out and show people how yoga can help with living. To not be afraid of staying on the path. There is competition all around. I don’t see them as competition. I’m not saying that I’m on any kind of a throne, or oblivious to what is happening. I am always going to pay attention to what is happening in the market. But I am always going to move in the direction that is guided by my intention. All my actions are aligned with the company mission.

I think that where a lot of people miss the mark is that they don’t bring yoga practices into business practices, into every conversation, every action. Yoga offers us an opportunity to live from a higher level of consciousness, with everything stemming from loving kindness, compassion and thoughtfulness.

Yoga needs to show up everywhere: the principles of the company and the mission of the company. Every person has to be in the same form of alignment with those principles. I can’t be a hypocrite.

Every situation is a teaching moment. I hold my staff to a high level of integrity. If someone has stepped out of integrity, it is a teaching moment. Everything about the business is about the yoga. What is the bigger conversation? I can’t separate the two. I’m constantly working within a spiritual alignment. Staying focused.

It’s about customer service. How you treat people. Accountability is a big thing. Holding oneself accountable for what you do.

Understanding at this point in our conversation that Patty was the real deal and was committed to providing the best service in the yoga industry I have ever seen, I was curious as to where she wants to go with Down Dog. I really admire how she prefaced her answer regarding her Yogic philosophy before answering. It goes back to her constant struggle to being aligned with vision and mission:

There is a difference between having a plan and thinking about the future, or being present. We’re all so busy thinking about the future. Actions that we take today affect our future. How you are living your life today affects your life tomorrow.

Who am I being is the question that leads me each day. Who I am being is what will inspire others to try yoga.

There are more studios in Down Dog’s future. In 2011, we’re going to get one if not two more studios. We’re going to drop the studios in pockets of community. One of our biggest intentions is to be able to give people jobs who otherwise wouldn’t be able to work in other industries that they love.

Different people from different professions can bring those skills into the yoga world. I like offering job opportunities to people who love the yoga industry as a way to work and take care of their families. We want to reach as many people as we can to show them how to develop a daily yoga practice.

Every business has challenges, even if it is really good at what it does. Patty’s challenges are probably the same as any business’, but she hit the nail on the head:

Down Dog Georgetown (Patch)

At a smaller level, finding dedicated employees is always a challenge. Administrative issues are easy. The way people show up nowadays is different. It is hard to find people who stick with their commitments. So we focus on finding people that are in alignment with what we are doing. Staffing is always a challenge. We’re constantly looking for good people.

That’s a small challenge. I think the one of the bigger challenge is getting people to give you space for a yoga studio. They don’t understand yoga, and they think that yoga people are flakes. That is shifting. Now developers and landlords are calling Down Dog to get them in to their locations.

I asked Patty to advise me on what I should do as a budding entrepreneur. I told her my company’s mission (to empower individuals, non-profits and small businesses to leverage their goals through the power of the internet). Her response was honest and blunt, and I liked it. This businesswoman is straight to the point when she talks:

I have no idea what you just said. Go back to the old elevator speech. I think that you have to make your intention more tangible in order to for people to connect to understanding your vision.

Going into business is not cheap. Starting a new studio has always been expensive. Ideas can be fleshed out, and that doesn’t cost anything. I did a business plan. I had a couple of mentors. One of them was a venture capitalist.
I can’t tell you enough about focus. Get more focused. Keep dialing it in. Get people around you to keep you focused. Write your business plan. I used BusinessPlan Pro.

After my conversation with Patty, I realized that working in a brick-and-mortar business is tough. I’ve started several digital enterprises, but the costs, risks and challenges involved are nothing compared to starting a physical yoga studio. Judging from my conversation with Patty and having been a student of her studio, it seems business is doing well. Every single time I’ve gone, the studio is full and every square foot of the yoga floor is covered by people on their mats.

Down Dog’s studio does not face a major street in Georgetown. It’s not apparent that in the quiet back lot of Dean & Deluca near the Georgetown mall, there is a place many yoga practitioners call home. It is a community. It is an experience. Another friend of mine remarked that the gym we attend also has yoga classes when I mentioned that I was taking classes at Down Dog. I told her “It’s not the same. Down Dog does it better.”  If you are ever in Georgetown, drop in at Down Dog Yoga for the experience of a lifetime.