nicole duke


Nov 27

I’M A Survivor

I can hardly believe it has been over 7 years since the grand opening of my studio! I truly believe that when you do what you love, you never work a day in your life, such has been the journey of Hot Yoga Aptos for me. When one considers that only 10% of businesses survive the first 5 years and beyond that only 10% of those survive the next 5 years. I am left with pure gratitude that we are still here and yes, actually going strong!

Why I left the Bikram yoga brand…

Personally, I entered into this huge role as studio owner with boundless amounts of energy, drive, and a passion like no other for Bikram Yoga. I wanted almost nothing more than to share my vision of providing a top notch experience like nowhere else here in my sweet little hometown of Aptos. When designing, building and supplying the space with everything from the best heat and fresh air system to the stylish decor almost immediately  

I was challenged by Bikrams very specific requirements for the layout of any studio who was to have his approval.

In his opinion, (believe me there are millions of those!) every Bikram Yoga  studio nationwide should be a minimum of  3000 s.f with a 1,500 s.f  yoga room and provide everything from multiple showers to bright lights and mirrored walls.  He will only approve regular household carpet in the yoga room and has a long list of rules and regulations for his approved studios.  As I embarked upon the journey to win his approval at the time these things seemed achievable and yet deep down I always found it hard to swallow that a small beach town like Aptos should have the same exact requirements as places such as New York City or San Francisco!

He believes and preaches that his approved studios should literally all be constructed the same way, with no regard to location or population.

Almost as if these yoga studios nationwide (which are all individually owned, managed and operated) should be similar to visiting a McDonalds or a Starbucks, where your experience as a customer is nearly the same with each visit to each location.  Nothing too unique or different. We were to offer only his 90 minute class with absolutely nothing else offered on the schedule. I spent years living by this creed.

As the years past and the strictness and rigidity of his methods became harder and harder to sell to the public, the studio began to sink.

Faced with exorbitant overhead costs as a direct result of the sheer magnitude of my space, I often times wondered what the future would hold for us. More and more money was having to be put into the business just to keep my doors open. I spent years not paying myself and struggling to pay the bills. It was hard times, very hard.

I began to feel the heat and intense pressure of Bikram and his personal opinions and  choices. As a passionate and very positive person myself,  I always choose to see the good in people.  I believe that truly we are all one.  The universe dwells inside of us.  I also know that there are times in your life when you have to protect yourself from darkness. When an individual, relationship, experience or situation is so toxic that you must make a choice to protect yourself, your light and your world. My loving community and world was beginning to realize who he is, they were asking questions about Bikram the man and how I could stand behind him? I was asking myself the very same thing.

I had spent endless hours over my 10 years dedicating time at his twice yearly teacher trainings as I believed that this act of service was a vital piece of the success of the Bikram empire as a whole and that somehow if we continued to create and inspire passionate new teachers and students that certainly we would change the world! I also believed at the time that we could separate the yoga itself and its amazing benefits from the man himself. I had held onto that feeling for nearly 5 years.

It was time to be honest with myself, my family and my community.

To be vulnerable and deeply honest is the Nicole I have become and whom most of you have come to respect and admire. I also value forgiveness and humility. I prayed that Bikram would humbly apologize or ask for forgiveness…

It was during one of my last and final visits to his teacher training several years ago when the news of hundreds of his  accusers filing huge lawsuits and threatening to take down his empire that I believed somehow he would be different.

Perhaps more humble, gracious, or apologetic for his mistakes. Instead I found him to be even more grossly egotistical, overtly sexual and demeaning. I will never forget the sick feeling in my stomach when I began the drive back home that day. How could I continue to stand behind him? How could I, how could I in good conscious keep his name on my building?  How could I face my family and my community with this dirty feeling inside? I was both ashamed and angry. It was that very day that I truly began thinking outside of the box I had been living in.  I had to make a really serious change.  It was time for a leap of faith. It was within weeks that I launched our new program Hot Pilates and I will never forget or stop being immensely grateful for the instant and dramatic results.

Within weeks the studio had a new life and wow was the energy palatable. My attendance sky rocketed and the finances of the studio took a huge turn for the better!  Hot Yoga Aptos was born.

With each passing month I found myself becoming more and more empowered by the feelings of freedom and independence. I was finally doing it my way and it felt so damn good. I had taken a huge leap of faith and I have never once looked back. It makes me smile so big to think  how there is so much I would have done differently and yet somehow, truly,  I wouldn’t change a thing.

HYA is a place that now represents freedom, compassion, unconditional love, and pure support for every student regardless of who you are.

I am so proud of our evolution and the magic of the space. We have no more rules or restrictions. Our classes now are all unique and different while continuing to preserve the best aspects of the practice. No more dirty looks or no’s when you make choices during your class. I can’t possibly explain the freedom I feel when I can say these things to you and guide you on your own journey of self love and discovery during your yoga practice, it’s nothing short of liberating. With this new brand and culture of HYA I can promise you that the studio will always continue to evolve and yet somethings will never change. I promise you that every single time you walk through my doors I  will greet you with a huge smile and an open heart.  You will always be welcome here and every time you are courageous enough to share your time with us at HYA you will emerge a better version of yourself. To all of you who have been on this crazy journey with me thank you for always having faith in me and trusting my direction. I love all of you more than you can imagine and your happiness continues to be vital to mine.  Together we are stronger than ever and most certainly will continue to change the world.

Here’s to the best years to come!

Xo, Nicole

comments +

  1. Showit Team

    November 27th, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    Here is an example of a comment on a post. Looking great!

  2. Claire Crawley

    December 6th, 2017 at 1:47 am

    Amazing post Nicole! It’s been quite the journey over the past five years since our paths met at HYA. Your teaching has always been incredibly inspiring to me and it’s been amazing to watch the studio grow and blossom. I have never felt more excited about my yoga practice and teaching as I do today, and the future is looking exceptionally bright!

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