The COVID-19 pandemic made former Mantra Studio owner Carleen Birnes never want to lease a studio space ever again. But when timing, location and opportunity aligned, Birnes followed the flow.
“Right when COVID-19 hit… I was like, ‘I can’t wait to spend all this time at Yoga Barn in Bali,’” said Birnes, 48. But coronavirus travel measures foiled the then want-to-be yoga instructor’s trip to Indonesia, where she would’ve had her first introduction to a Yoga Barn.
Two years later she got a tip from a friend that Cindy and Doug Schafer wanted to lease their barn off the B&A Trail.
“Here’s a barn and I wanted to teach yoga. So I asked, [Cindy], ’Would you consider, if I was able to get enough teachers together, could we share the rent overhead?’”
Birnes was ready to teach yoga, but the post-pandemic traumatic stress after decade-long studio ownership thwarted any desire to take over a lease. But with her new yoga certifications and stand-up paddle instructor experience, Birnes collaborated with the Schafers to consider Yoga Barn’s concept. Teachers set their own prices and each student pays them directly.
Though Birnes had heard yoga instructors express concerns about not making money as teachers, she decided to challenge that narrative. As Yoga Barn’s manager, she allows teachers to set their own class value and get paid directly.
“We explain to our students, ‘This is how our teachers create a sustainable living, teaching mindfulness education. So you have to pay them directly,’” Birnes said.
Though she admits it’s a bit of an initial adjustment for students accustomed to signing up for classes or dealing with a “front-desk person,” they become excited by Yoga Barn’s approach.
“I really love the connection between the teachers, the space, and us as students. It really has become my little safe haven,” said Abigail Smith, 26, who has been taking Yoga Barn classes since March.
Though it takes tactful marketing and keeping one’s own books, the co-op style is working for teachers, who are also appreciating the personal touch.
“From the teacher’s perspective, it feels like you have a deeper relationship,” Birnes said.
Then there’s the barn’s style, which lends itself to a unique environment for practicing yoga.
“There’s no mirrors,” Birnes said. “People can just come in and close their eyes to be with their breath and body and just not have to see themselves or compare to other people or any self-judgment.”
Classes have grown since they began in October 2021 and the space is rented out for special events. The barn also has received improvements like a new floor and air conditioning. What started as a place to store automotive parts, is now a spot for people to practice their downward dogs and tree poses.
“They have transformed what was essentially an empty space that didn’t turn heads, into a space that brings together such an amazing community,” said Smith, of Pasadena.
This fall, Yoga Barn hopes to offer more cardio-based classes and programming for young yogis.
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“The community is asking for more children’s yoga, so teen mindfulness and then kids yoga,” will be offered, Birnes said.
“We’re really working for anybody who walks in to feel welcomed.”
44 W. Earleigh Heights Road, Severna Park. yogabarnsp.com