Like many young New Zealanders, Denise Ferguson went on her OE hoping to stumble upon something she was passionate about. She found what she was looking for in a yoga class in Aspen, Colorado and today she runs her own studio on Auckland’s North Shore.
Before she tried yoga for the first time, Denise Ferguson thought of it as an alternative, new age fad. Her mother was into it and that was almost enough to put her off.
“Yoga wasn't cool in back in the day,” she says, “at least not in New Zealand.”
It was a different story in the United States in the mid-2000’s. Vinyasa yoga was all the rage and Ferguson, who was working as a waitress in Aspen at the time, decided to see what all the fuss was about. She was hooked from the get-go.
“It was like falling in love for the first time,” she says. “I remember walking home after my first class thinking, ‘I’ve never felt this good before.’ It was a yoga high.”
Ferguson’s then boyfriend picked her up from a class one day and made a casual comment about how easy it would be to open a studio in New Zealand. That was a lightbulb moment.
“It felt like my calling,” she says. “Yoga tied into a lot of things I was interested in. I was really active but it also dovetailed nicely with my interest in psychology and philosophy.
“I was in my mid-20s and ready to come home and I came back to New Zealand at the perfect time. Yoga was massive in the US but it was relatively unheard of over here.”
Within a year Ferguson went from being a student of yoga to a teacher to the owner of her own studio. She bought the Yoga Sanctuary in Mairangi Bay with her life savings, money she had saved working as a waitress on her OE.
Crash and burn
Yoga quickly took off in New Zealand and after a couple of years running the Yoga Sanctuary, Ferguson was approached by a yoga loving businessman who wanted to invest in the company. Together they opened a second studio in Parnell.
“It all turned to custard quite quickly,” says Ferguson. “I knew I wasn't ready. I had grown the business slowly up until that point. I was like a mountain goat plodding up the hill, but I was getting there. My business partner had different ideas and we disagreed about lots of things.”
Around the same time Ferguson became a poster girl for the industry in Auckland. She appeared on the Paul Henry show and on the cover of Good Health magazine.
She was also working crazy hours in the studio as a teacher and when she wasn't working she was partying too hard. Something had to give.
“I completely fell apart. I had my Britney Spears moment. I remember telling people around that time that I hated yoga. I didn't but I was burnt out. I was running two studios and I was sick to death of yoga.
“I had to grow up and ask myself some hard questions. Do I really want this? It turned out that I did. I realised I loved the business side of things as much as I loved yoga, but I needed some separation between the two.”
Falling in love again
Ferguson parted ways with her investor and let him have the Parnell studio. She renovated the Mairangi Bay studio and focused her energies on marketing the business and providing a space for other teachers to teach their craft.
“I wanted the business to support me, not the other way around. I transitioned from a yoga teacher to a businesswoman, and in the process I rediscovered my passion for yoga.
“I still teach three classes a week but I’ve got seven other teachers who work for me, which means I’ve been able to get my life back. I’m able to take holidays and go out to dinner and not turn up late in my yoga pants like I used to.
“My ultimate goal is to make myself redundant whilst keeping the integrity and quality of the business.”
As part of that plan she’s created an online library of instructional videos that people can subscribe to on the Yoga Sanctuary website.
“I don't want a second studio because there is a shortage of good teachers, so I think online is the way to go.
“It will be challenging but I’m really excited about what the future holds.”