Kelli Harrington confesses that she was one of those "gigglers" in yoga class. Always engaged in some sort of outdoor cardio — running, skiing, sledding, hiking — the contrast of slow-moving yoga was a jolt to her system.
"My first yoga class, it was so slow it was like torture," she said. "I remember going and I would break out laughing. It just felt uncomfortable to go that slow. I needed to move. It was almost like running me, like I was a puppy or a dog."
She ultimately found her calling with yoga, opening a studio at the Monroe YMCA before taking three 200-hour teacher trainings. One of those was led by Jonny Kest in Birmingham, also attended by now-business partner, Nicole Ferguson.
"We both were placed in Ann Arbor when (Center for Yoga) opened up the new location," Kelli recalls. "Everybody in Ann Arbor seemed to be more comfortable with Iyengar style — more guided ashtanga. There was a huge yoga community in Ann Arbor, but this kind of hot yoga — like go on your own — was so new."
Center for Yoga ultimately closed its Ann Arbor location, leaving the newly-converted hot yoga fanatics in the area without a place to practice.
"There were students that approached us to get together and open a studio, and we thought, 'Why not?'"
Two Years Strong
It's been two years since Nicole and Kelli opened their studio together — an experience that has forged a lasting friendship.
"We have become great friends ever since this," said Kelli. "I couldn't ask for a better partner. Total opposites in so many ways, but then, we're not. It's funny what you see when you get to know somebody. We complement each other very well."
For Kelli, the journey of Red Yoga has been all about humility. With a vibrant, larger-than-life personality, she says the biggest thing yoga has taught her is that she can't beat it.
"I have always been able to go to a class whether it was Tae Bo or kickboxing or step aerobics, and I could memorize the routine after one time," she said. "It just came easy to me. At age eight doing 'The Firm' tapes with my sister.
"So every time I would go through a training, it would excite me to learn more."
She is also humbled by the students who attend Red Yoga — everyone from college students to physicians at University of Michigan hospital. When Kelli does take a class (and she says Nicole pulls out all the stops when she does), she realizes just what her own students are able to do.
"I can hold postures forever," she said, "it's very hard to get me to drop my knees just because I've been teaching for 20-something years. But, man, that heat.
"During a recent class, I had to keep telling myself, 'Oh my god, you can not ask these people to do these Logs for you if you drop your knees.' So, for me, it was an uplifting, humbling experience, because I held it just on that pure fact that I expect that from my students. To get out of their comfort zone."
Inspired by Community
In the two years that Red Yoga has been in existence, Kelli and Nicole have created a genuine community. One or the other (sometimes both) comes to the studio every day and they get to know the people who walk through the door.
"Our students know they can come talk to us," said Kelli. "You see either Nicole or I every day. People know there's always someone they can call. If someone can't afford yoga, there's somebody that can. We have scholarships. We have students that give money just for people to have teacher training that can't afford it, and they don't want anybody to know.
"There are a lot of little things that happen behind the scenes that are really cool. It's a good studio."
Kelli and Nicole are looking to expand that community as they continue their partnership, growing to other studios and other cities. While they are looking to open more studios in the future, the first step is moving to a bigger space -- from the west side of Ann Arbor to Downtown.
"While our space will change, our community is going to stay the same: we are the yoga studio for young -- and seasoned -- professionals," said Kelli. "We will have a lot more space, more showers, and be around restaurants coffee shops downtown. It will be an adjustment for our current clientele at first, but we truly believe the benefits will outweigh the growing pains."
Kelli is also excited to launch the studio's first teacher training at the new place, beginning January 13. The 2,000-hour commitment deepens the students' understanding of yoga and is an experience Kelli recommends to all serious yogis.
"There is nothing like teacher training," she said. "It's an opportunity to get more serious about yoga, community, and create lasting friendships."
Sign up for yoga teacher training to get started January 13.
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