The Bright Side of Business: PranaShanti Yoga Centre opens two new locations during pandemic

Devinder Kaur
Devinder Kaur. (Photo courtesy The Notley Creative)
Editor's Note

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The Bright Side of Business bimonthly column is presented by Star Motors.

Finding flexibility in both her yoga practice and business, Devinder Kaur turned 2020’s challenges into a year of growth.

Before founding PranaShanti Yoga Centre – the largest training centre east of Toronto – Kaur was an IT consultant. Some 20 years ago, she started doing yoga at the recommendation of a colleague. Falling in love with it, she became a teacher and initially started PranaShanti as an e-newsletter for her students.

“2020 has become this full-circle moment,” Kaur says. “It started off online, and I'm online again!” 

By 2008, Kaur opened her first studio, renting a 6,000-square foot warehouse.

“Everybody thought I was totally crazy,” Kaur laughs. “(People said) ‘It's way too much space, and (Hintonburg)? Nobody's going to go there.’”

But Kaur stuck with it, eventually adding another 2,000 square feet to make room for her 10 staff, 55 teachers and 80 weekly classes.

The successful launch in the midst of the financial crisis gave Kaur confidence that she could navigate virtually any business challenge that came her way. But last year taught her that a global pandemic was a completely different ball game.

Rolling with the punches

In March 2020, Kaur shut down her studio due to COVID-19.

“I had to lay off staff – horrible, horrible, horrible,” she says. However, the pause didn’t last for long – within three days, Kaur and her husband, also an IT consultant, had moved the whole business online.

Virtual yoga class
PranaShanti Yoga Centre's preparations for a virtual class.

“25 years in IT paid off yet again,” she says.

By going virtual, PranaShanti was able to continue its teacher training courses, as well as offer free yoga classes for five weeks. Upwards of 300 people joined each free session, tuning in from North America, Iceland, the U.K., Egypt, India and more.

“It was so uplifting (during) such a dire sense of disaster,” Kaur says. Even now, with a charge for online classes, PranaShanti continues to draw clients from around the world.

Despite the success online, the lack of in-person sessions meant Kaur had to give up the Hintonburg lease – PranaShanti’s Armstrong Street home for the past 12 years.

“Unfortunately our landlord was not interested in doing any rent relief, so it kind of forced my hand,” she says.

But when one door closes, two more open. Kaur moved her yoga studio to a new location on Gladstone Avenue, as well as opening an education centre on Eccles Street.

Devinder Kaur
Devinder Kaur, outside PranaShanti's Gladstone Avenue location. (Photo courtesy The Notley Creative)

Using a hybrid model of in-person and online classes, PranaShanti now offers international teacher training, as well as other courses for stress management, healthy living and more.

“I went into COVID with one space, and I'm coming out of COVID with two!” Kaur says. 

New horizons 

Surviving the pandemic is a feat for any business, let alone doubling locations. While she used some government assistance, Kaur explains that it was her personal finances covering the bulk of expenses.

“Typically they say you should have a reserve of x number of months to cover rent, salary, things like that. Well, I tripled that,” she says. “I was hoping I would be able to use it for other advancements of our business, but here’s where we are.” 

Kaur is considering franchising the new business model. Until then, PranaShanti will continue to support the Ottawa yoga community while catering to global audiences.

“People are able to come for courses throughout the week (while) working from home,” she says. “It gives us a tremendous opportunity for flexibility in the way that we can serve people.”

The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.

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