Yoga has taken the world by storm and chances are, at least 1 in 5 of your friends is into Yoga. However, not many Yogis can stake their claim as an owner of a chain of Yoga studios. But 39–year old Ashly Lou isn’t any Yogi. She is the owner of Yoga Inc. and many also know her as a self-taught comic artist and creator of The Bitter Stickgirl. Column Editor, Angela May Tan, speaks with Ashly to find out more about the person behind Yoga Inc.
SGLS: You once famously said that the Yoga Inc. business started on an impulse. Tell us more.
Ashly: I’d only been teaching Yoga for four months when I learned the Yoga studio I practiced at was looking for someone to take over the business. The studio was near my home so the idea of being able to walk to my workplace was enticing. In addition, I had around S$200,000 in savings back then and thought it wasn’t a bad idea. However, I balked when the owners asked for “at least half a million”. The deal didn’t go through but the thought of owning my own studio has already been seeded in my mind. I didn’t think it would materialise so soon, but just a month later, I stumbled upon a great space along Guillemard Road (which is now our flagship studio) and just like that, Yoga Inc was born.
SGLS: You were a flight attendant before you started your career as a yoga teacher. Tell us more about your journey in making this career transition?
Ashly: I wanted to improve my flexibility and a yoga studio near my home showed up on Google’s location search, so I gave it a try and enjoyed it. After two years of regular practice, I signed up for a three-month Yoga Teacher Training course in Koh Samui, Thailand and became a certified yoga instructor in June 2013. The main reason why I chose to be a Yoga Instructor was the flexible working hours. Having worked as a cabin crew for almost 10 years, I knew I could never adapt to an office job.
SGLS: Which is your favourite type of Yoga and why? What sort of Yoga should a beginner start off with and why?
Ashly: I started with Hot Yoga and a fixed set of 26 poses. As an inflexible person myself, the heat helped me stretch better and the poses are simple to follow. I think it’s a great work out and fell in love with it.
Most yoga studios will have a list of classes with descriptions that indicates if it is suitable for beginners. There are so many different class types one can choose from, and it is not necessary to shun hot yoga. Please do not give up If you do not enjoy your first yoga class, because the yoga experience is a combination of many factors, which is very subjective. Try a different teacher, a different genre, or even a different studio. You will be able to find a class you like eventually.
SGLS: What are your plans for Yoga Inc.? How many studios and instructors do you currently have? Are you planning to open more studios?
Ashly: We currently have five studios and 33 instructors. I have no expansion plans for now because I am looking for a buyer who is as passionate about Yoga as me to buy over the business so I can “semi-retire” and pursue other passions.
SGLS: Tell us more about your comic persona, the Bitter Stickgirl. How did she come about? Is she your alter ego? How did the “Qian Bian” series come about? Tell us more.
Ashly: The Bitter Stickgirl was created in 2005 when blogging was still the “in” thing. I randomly got an idea to start a blog about a girl who is ultra “suay” (unlucky) in her love life, using comics. Even though she wasn’t my alter ego, some of the comics were inspired by my personal experiences.
This theme deviated quickly and I started drawing about other random experiences. Hence, I created my first “Qian Bian” series about “Baos” (Chinese Steamed Buns) in 2017 and it was really well received. My Facebook following grew from 5000 to 50,000 within a week, so I was motivated to create more comics using Chinese puns.
Bonus Q: What is one piece of advice you’d give your 18-year-old self?
Ashly: Don’t waste money and time by going to university.
Interview by: Angela May Tan
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