Yogi योगी Insight (part 14 in a series)

If you are coming here for the first time, you have entered part 14 in an interview series with aspiring and experienced yogis called Yogi Insight. I hope that you enjoy each person’s shared journey. Namaste!

I first learned about OV Power Yoga when my boyfriend mentioned that he saw a sign for the studio during a visit to see his family in Wheeling, WV. I was in town for a few days and needed re-grounding, so I borrowed his bike and peddled off to a 60-minute power flow class led by Lauren Newton. I instantly felt a connection to the OVPY community and a sense of peace in the space. So strongly, that I returned every day for two more days during my stay.

While I was there I had an opportunity to meet Laura Hitchman, the owner. I found her lively personality invigorating as you will learn from her interview below. She has a playful attitude, but make no mistake, she respects the practice of yoga. Her power flows are on-point and challenging, and her business plans are ambitious.

Laura and I vibed so well, that she extended an invitation for me to return as a guest instructor whenever I’m in town and teach sculpt! I cannot wait to reunite with the OVPY community in July (dates TBD)!

Yogi: Laura Hitchman, founder and teacher
Studio: OV Power Yoga (OVPY)

Laura Hitchman

Q: Who or what influenced you to start practicing yoga?
A: Actually, it was my Dad — he doesn’t even do yoga! In 2011, (time in my life when I was very unhealthy and living the party girl life), he offered to hire a personal trainer to help me lose weight and create wellness goals. I didn’t take it lightly. I got mad at him. It wasn’t exactly the type of thing you want to hear from your father, but part of it rang true and deep down I knew there was a need for change.

Q: How long have you been practicing yoga?
A: I attended my first yoga class in 2007 at WVU. I took a class for a semester but didn’t practice regularly until 2012. That’s when yoga started to make an impact on me. It’s been seven years. I practice roughly three to five times per week. I’d love to tell you that I practice every day, but it just isn’t true. Sometimes I want to go for a walk or watch Netflix for six hours instead. 😉

Q: What do you like the most about practicing yoga?
A: There are so many things I love about it, but if I had to pick one I’d say laughter. Yoga, especially teaching yoga taught me to laugh at myself, to be myself regardless of the opinions of others. I crack jokes in class; some of them are a hit and the rest well… Yoga is continually teaching me to grow through the uncomfortable times, you know, that awkward silence when no one “gets” your joke? I’ve learned to love that awkward time; I no longer want to hide when I find my edge. I say, “OK, Laura here is an area where you can do a little work and grow; not get better, but grow and develop.”

One Saturday evening at the end of a very long day during my yoga teacher training, my friend, yoga teacher and life coach stopped me in my tracks and made me tell a joke. I got so nervous and embarrassed that I froze. All of a sudden these friends of mine became (in my mind) a sea of judgmental people. But, that wasn’t the case at all! I don’t quit easily, so I stood there shaking, beat red and I told a joke. Everyone laughed, and I returned to my mat. Life went on. I’m likely the only person that remembers that experience out of the 17 people in my YTT class. I work hard to teach people to show up as they are and to not worry that others are paying much attention to them — they’re busy thinking about their own lives.

Q: What is your favorite pose and why?
A: It changes all the time… it used to be half moon, then garudasana (Eagle), wheel. Right now it’s plank. You know this if you attend my class. I love plank because for years I would opt out of doing it because my internal dialogue was you’re not strong enough, you’re too tall to do a pushup, etc. so I would never try. Then, one day I decided to do all the planks offered in the sequence of a 60-minute class. I built the strength (mostly mentally) to plank and now I want to do them all of the time!

Q: Who or what influenced you to open up a hot yoga studio? Is there any significance of why you chose that location?
A: I moved back home to Wheeling, WV, after living in Charleston, SC, for 10 years. I wanted to be closer to my family, get a handle on my health (I have autoimmune diseases.) and casually teach yoga a few times a week. I didn’t have a lot of time to teach yoga in South Carolina due to illness and working a full-time job. Also, I didn’t have the energy to teach night classes like the rest of my friends.

Much to my surprise, upon moving home, I found a budding yoga community in Wheeling that was craving the practice as much as me! Not to mention it’s a town that’s currently ripe for new business and fun, healthy things to do. I worked hard in 2018 to bring the community together even more — hosting local events and supporting other businesses. I was inspired by the people who live in the Valley and their desire/dedication to shift the perspective for the whole, to bring healthy options to our town and support one another. I’ve worked in business and hospitality my entire career. The combination of majoring in those fields in college, my YTT 200, Life Coach certification and community support, made starting a business in Wheeling make sense. It finally felt like all of my skills, passions and education were pulling me in the same direction and I could no longer ignore it. I’ve had a lot of mentors over the years — yoga teachers, coaches, business owners who have influenced me, but also crappy jobs, relationships that didn’t end well and chronic illness all that have shaped me. I grew into who I am today from walking my ass through the fire and choosing to shift my perspective and change accordingly.

Q: Your talented sister, Hannah Wagner, painted the chakras mural on the wall, how did that come about?
A: How much time to do you have? Just kidding. We sat down and talked through the concepts behind the chakras, the elements that each encompasses and how we could interpret the chakras through art. It’s personal. We worked to portray the meanings through the imagery of relatively ethereal concepts. It was challenging and got us thinking about how art is left to interpretation and so is yoga; they flowed together!

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of owning/running a yoga studio?
A: There are so many, but I love hearing stories from my clients when they start a practice, develop a passion for it and return to tell me how yoga is starting to impact all the areas of their lives in ways that feel light and lifted. One client recently told me that her co-workers mentioned to her that she spends a fair amount of time at work these days taking deep breaths and letting the air out through her mouth. We teach breathing techniques at OV Power Yoga because they’re a tool you can use everywhere you go at any time.

Q: What is your mission as a yoga owner?
A: To get more people on mats!!! At home, in nature or in the studio. It doesn’t matter where you start; just start. The rest will unfold the way it’s meant to be. Yoga makes us friendlier, happier and more accepting of ourselves. It’s an introspective practice at best and through breath, movement and sweat we release endorphins and build serotonin and calm our nervous system. For me, it’s about COMMUNITY. We need it for our health; it’s a major part of sustaining us well into our 90s. My mission for the Valley is to bring The Blue Zone Project to town. Check it out! (Blogger’s Note: I looked into The Blue Zone Project, and it’s intriguing!)

Q: What is the biggest challenge for you as a studio owner?
A: Patience. As I said earlier, I don’t quit easily. I’m learning that it takes time for people to realize you even exist as a business. It’s slow, but picking up every day. I’m very pleased with our success so far. On average we have nine people per class and 14 classes per week. To me, that’s impressive for only having been open for five months so far.

Q: What is your short- and long-term plan for your studio?
A: We will be doing it ALL! My vision for the studio is grand! YTT is coming this year. I’m getting ready to submit materials to the Yoga Alliance for curriculum approval. We will host an assistant training (my first love), and next winter we will go on our first retreat. It’s all in the works! I spend a lot of time developing the business when I’m not at the studio. In June we will hold a co-lead workshop with myself and Jim Weekly called My Husband Does Down Dog. It’s designed to get more men on the mat with their wives to enjoy the practice together. We will also be around town doing events at places like Nikki’s Garden Center (Yoga in the Hot House) and Generations Pub (Hot Yoga on the Deck). Keep checking the OVPY website and our Instagram (@ovpoweryoga) account for updates.

Q: How long have you been teaching yoga?
A: Actively, for three years. I say yes before I say no. Humans tend to back out of things that they overthink. I’m no different, so I say yes and there is less anxiety. I find a new edge!

Q: What do you like most about teaching yoga?
A: That light-bulb moment in class when I notice the look of excitement on a student’s face when the person lands a pose for the first time. It’s not about doing the pose flawlessly, but rather falling so many times that when you finally achieve what you have been working on, it feels good.

Q: How do you come up with your sequences?
A: I wing it. I don’t plan; I don’t write them out. That gives me anxiety. I prefer to look at the bodies in the room and to teach to who is there. I’ve found that if I write out my sequences, I back myself into a corner and get attached to what I planned and then I’m not as present to the needs of the people in the room. I’ve taught my instructors to do the same. We know what we need to do; we have the knowledge, we need to have faith in ourselves. If we screw up, well, the next time will be different. It’s forgiveness, courage, trust and a smile.

Q: What is one piece of advice that you would give to a new yoga teacher?
A: Put your notes away, trust yourself and say YES before you can say no. Also, if something feels off, talk with your studio owner — voice how you feel. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. Value yourself and everyone else will.