Yoga: Running a Studio as a Single Mum

When Abigail McLachlan fell pregnant, the baby’s father chose not to be involved. Following a yoga retreat in Goa, she left her music industry job – working for Napster – and set up a yoga studio. We talk yoga, business and being a single mum…

Abigail lives in Walthamstow, east London, with her son Raffy.

Mornings and yoga practice…

What time do you wake up?
When Raffy, my three year old, wakes me which is about 7.30am these days.

When do you start your yoga practice, where do you do it and how long does it last?
I have gone through periods where I have set my alarm and got up before Raffy to practise but I find it hard to switch off as I am waiting for him to wake, so it’s not ideal. I am lucky that my job is running a yoga studio, so the days when I am there and Raffy is in childcare, I try to take classes.

My business partner and I also have a weekly private lesson with Stewart Gilchrist, which is 90 mins on a Thursday afternoon and I love it. One reason I love yoga as I get older is that sense of accomplishment. I am not someone who finds it easy (not naturally hugely flexible etc), so it can take me ages to figure out a posture, but then suddenly it will click. Stewart always says to me: “oh, you’ll get that posture when you are 70 or when you’ve had your hip replaced” and I love the sound of that (as well as finding it hilarious), the thought that I can be learning new physical things in my dotage!

As well as the weekly sessions with Stewart, I recruit babysitters to help out so I can occasionally go to class in the evenings and at weekends. I used to do an hour of yoga while Raffy napped, but now he doesn’t, I have to take the chance where I can get it! It would be great to be able to practise every morning first thing, but as a single mum with no involvement from Raffy’s dad, that’s not really an option.

Abby and Naomi

What is the advantage of practising first thing in the morning?
For me, I love practising first thing when life allows. It means I start my day slowly, take time to breath and stretch out and move, then I feel full of energy and focus for the day. Plus I can then go and eat a massive breakfast.

What can daily yoga practice add to your life?
I’ve definitely become more grounded and more content since yoga became a regular part of my life. Between running a business and having a three-year-old, that time when I slow my brain down, focus on my breathing and move feels every more important. I also like feeling strong, and the more I do yoga, the more I realise that I continue to benefit it from mentally and physically as I get older.

When and why did you start becoming interested in yoga?
I did the marathon five years ago and decided to do a yoga retreat in India a few months before as prep for that. It was the perfect place to fall in love with yoga, facing the ocean and taking the time to understand how to do things correctly and some of the philosophy behind it.

Setting up the yoga studio…

At what stage did you decide to set up your own centre, East of Eden?
I met my business partner Naomi through her ex. They had both moved to Walthamstow and had a baby recently and we had a mutual friend. We bonded over yoga (in the pub!) and both talked about how we wished there was somewhere to practise in Walthamstow. I’d been working in digital music for years, and was ready to get out. I had already bought the East of Eden url a while before, and luckily Naomi liked the name, so we decided to go for it.

 

Why Walthamstow?
We both live here, we love the community and we felt Walthamstow was missing a community studio with a range of classes for everyone.

What is your role; what’s Naomi’s?
Naomi is a yoga and Pilates teacher so she takes on responsibility for the teachers and scheduling. She’ll also drive the teacher training and she leads on creative direction. My background is business development and marketing so I am responsible for the business side, marketing plans, managing our investors and the business planning etc. It works well as we have very clear roles!

Being a single mum…

How are you finding it, juggling motherhood and a business?
Last year was tough. I’m a single mother and Raffy’s dad decided not to be involved when I was pregnant, so starting a new business is hard on many levels. I was still consulting for Napster for three and a half days a week until August last year, then doing the work for the studio around that. Plus as Naomi is also a single mum, I had her son from 6am two mornings a week, plus a few evenings and every other weekend until we got going. Luckily this phase only last five months, but it nearly broke us both!

The lack of support is tough as a single working mum: financial, emotional and practical. However, it was worth it. We raised investment in September and open Studio 2 next month, and I’ve been full time on the business for six months now. Raffy is in nursery four days a week and I can drop him at 9am and pick him up at 5pm. I’d never get that if I was commuting into a job in Central London. Plus I am proud of what Naomi and I have achieved, and that’s a great feeling.

Running a business…

What’s the greatest challenge when starting a business?
Without doubt for me, it was the balancing of everything. From having to look after Raffy, to having to manage my day job, to getting everything done. But I had known for a long time that I didn’t want to be in music forever, and actually when I left my last full time job at Warner Music, my plan was to change career and go into international development. However, I got pregnant and stayed in digital music as I needed to make money and pay my mortgage.

I was lucky as I managed to find the Napster consultancy contract for three and a half days a week, but I always knew that when that ended, I’d probably have to take a full time job and commute into London and I just didn’t know how I’d manage that with looking after Raffy on my own. So when I got the chance to explore this with Naomi, I jumped at it.

I am not sure I believed we would actually do it even when we were writing the business plan, but we put one foot in front of the other and then things take on their own momentum in a way, though it’s a lot of hard graft. It’s probably lucky I don’t have a partner in some ways, as I could just work in the evenings and not worry about having to invest time in a relationship!

Abby - full body

And what makes it all worthwhile?
When people say how much they love the studio. When I can pick Raffy up at 4.30pm some days, or if I am able to get him from school at 3.30pm when he starts in 18 months. I used to be really ambitious but these days, I just want to be able to spend as much time with him as I can, while still pursuing my goals and ambitions. I feel lucky that so far, I’ve been able to do that.

 

What is the dream, business-wise?
We are really excited about studio 2 opening. We’ll have space for 40+ mats, showers and changing rooms on a mezzanine, a living wall with oxygenating plants to make the space super functional and a big East of Eden neon sign outside. We are also launching reformer Pilates in studio 1. We are also launching a few sub brands including a sounds/yoga experience called Ommersion. We’d love for these to be successful and to take them beyond Walthamstow. We’d also like to open more studios plus start doing retreats and teacher training. Big plans over the next three years!

And in your personal life: what would make you happy, longterm?
Raffy and my family and friends to stay happy and healthy, number 1. It would also be nice to have another relationship at some point!