Josie Schweitzer talks to us about finding her calling, letting go of her business and the transformative power of yoga
In the early 2000s, Josie Schweitzer took her first yoga class in a basement in the beautiful city of Columbus, Ohio.
She was intrigued, but scared because the practice was not approachable.
A few years later, in her 20s, she was introduced to a more challenging practice – and that’s when the art of yoga stuck.
“The fact that I could go and sweat and feel like I’ve been worked in a lot of ways, kept me coming back to it,” Schweitzer said, who is also a runner and an adrenaline junkie. Yet, she knew there was more to yoga than just the physical benefits.
“Once I started practicing, it only took a few months for me to get really, really curious as to why I was feeling and what I was feeling when I was in a certain pose,” Schweitzer said.
“After class I felt more connected to myself, I felt more in tune with my emotions and how I actually felt,” she added. “I was definitely masking my emotions and literally running away from them.”
In 2010, Schweitzer booked a flight to Costa Rica to complete a seven-day yoga training.
“I came back changed. There wasn’t anything I wanted to do but share this practice,” Schweitzer said. “Once I was there, I was like, ‘This has to be my life.’”
She found her calling. But she also decided to work through some of her internal problems.
“I realized I was resentful towards people in my family that had caused me pain in the past,” Schweitzer recalled. “There was a lot of things I was holding on to that I decided to work through when I was there. I did a lot of forgiving.”
There, it was clear to her that the physical part of yoga was “just a minute layer.” She seeked to learn as much as she could about the “other layers of practice.”
She attended workshops, trainings, traveled and constantly read to learn as much as she could.
She wanted to educate herself about the various styles like sanga, kundalini, vinyasa and even completed a 500-hour training in New York.
Schweitzer keeps continuing her education and exploring new places on her journey through this practice. Her next stop is California and then New York to practice with another teacher. “This has been a huge journey in learning, and it doesn’t stop and it’s never stopping,” she said.
Schweitzer taught at multiple studios until she had a gut feeling that she wanted to create a space of her own – a space where she could completely speak her truth.
“I also knew I had a vision that wasn’t being done yet, and it was a more fun and approachable way of teaching and just an atmosphere that would speak to people more my age,” she said.
“That’s really what I wanted, to open people’s minds like my mind has been opened to the practice, not to get people who were already practicing, but to create a safe space for people to start their practice and continue their practice.”
The Thank Yoga studio name came to her like an epiphany. She went on a run one day and passed by a crumpled up bag with the letters “THANK YO.”
Immediately, she knew.
“I was like, oh my God, ‘Thank Yoga,’” Schweitzer said. “Because every time I left practice, I was like ‘Thank God for yoga, Thank God for yoga,’ because it kept feeding me more and more.”
She got back from that run, bought the domain and soon after – Thank Yoga opened its doors on June 1, 2012.
However, after four years of running the studio, Schweitzer handed the reigns to Melissa Petty.
“I had just been through a lot of growth, my teaching had changed and evolved a lot and I was just at a place where I wanted to be a student again and also focus solely on me as a teacher,” Schweitzer said.
She listened to her intuition, which told her: “You have to let this go.”
“It was one of the hardest, if not the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life,” the founder said. Still, Schweitzer didn’t second guess her decision.
“I didn’t want to hire someone to do what I was doing and still be the owner because I felt like that wasn’t right for me,” she said. “I just felt like it was better to hand it off and let it go, and it could loosen my grip and grow in a different way.”
Schweitzer is now exploring herself, doing more one-on-one sessions, traveling, teaching workshops and training.
No longer being the owner of Thank Yoga “allows me more space to get more clear as to what I want to offer and just being the teacher that I am,” Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer loves evolving her personal practice as well as leading teacher trainings – but she says she has even more to offer.
“I’m an artist, so I’m going to be taking photos more, and I’m still figuring out how all of that stuff is coming together,” she said. “It’s been nice to have more space and time to do that, and be in a state of exploration. Isn’t that the practice? That’s all it is.”
In addition to all of her interests – playing cards at her grandma’s house on Sundays, walking her dog, a good cup of coffee and matcha, art and fashion – Schweitzer started a podcast (six months ago) out of the joy she finds in listening to people’s stories.
“I did hair for 10 years before I opened Thank… I missed that aspect of doing hair, of that connection and intimacy of getting to know someone,” Schweitzer said. “I just ask people that I think are interesting, who have influenced me in some way, to be on the podcast.”
Schweitzer says the podcast is another layer of who she is as a teacher.
Her layers continue to grow, including one of her more recent creations – Thank Studio – a place for individuals who want more intimate yoga sessions.
As Schweitzer explains it, group yoga classes can be intimidating. With dozens of bodies in a room, a teacher “can only give so many cues to an entire class that lands with each person that really needs them,” Schweitzer said.
Since a class consists of beginners to those practicing for 15, 20 years, the class is not the same experience for every person.
That’s why Schweitzer loves one-on-ones; She is able to help people understand their bodies, alignment and “getting them in a safer place for poses they’re doing over and over again that could cause injury over time,” she said.
But Schweitzer is adamant that yoga is not just about the physical. When she started yoga, she looked at like an exercise, a way for her physique to be in shape.
Yet with body struggles and eating disorders, yoga became a place to go to heal.
“Instead of punishing your body, you’re celebrating your body for what it can do,” Schweitzer said. ”All of these crazy poses are just a time to explore ‘What am I physically capable of?’ which then translates to ‘What am I capable off of this mat?’”
Schweitzer says it all about being aware of where you are in space, since often times we go through life – on our phones – half asleep.
“You’re still going to feel like shit some days, you’re still going to feel like ‘Oh my body, it could be better…’ but with the practice and with meditation, those times can be fewer and far between,” Schweitzer said. “You can be witness to them and not just pretend they’re not there.”
In other words, yoga can make good moments even better, and not let the lows hold you back “from what you actually want to do and want to offer,” this superwoman added.
Schweitzer also commented that yoga is different for everyone – it’s just something that needs to be explored on an individual level.
“It’s definitely a place where I’ve been able to heal and keep healing.” she said. “That process is never over.”
Josie’s favorite music to listen to while working out: “I’m really obsessed with music in general. Some days I’m listening to R&B, 90s R&B slow jams. If I’m going on a long run, some days it’s ‘Gold Panda’ or ‘Leatherette,’ ‘Flying Lotus.’ I’m a hip hop head, I love hip hop. I love classic rock — But, I would say I’m obsessed with Sadé. I probably listen to her at least a couple times a week, and that’s never changed since the moment I started listening to her.”
Books she is reading right now: “Bullies: A Friendship” by Alex Abramovich and “This Is How You Lose Her,” by Juno T. Diaz.
Person dead or alive Josie wants to have a one-on-one yoga session with: Anthony Bourdain
What she wishes people know about her: “Even though I’m not smiling, it doesn’t mean I’m not happy… I think I can be misunderstood as not-so-nice. Once you get to know me, I’m just a goofball and total nerd.
Best piece of advice she’s ever received: “The best piece of advice I’ve received was from my mom, and she just said, when I wanted to open the studio, ‘It’s a no-brainer.’ It gave me the last little, okay you can do this.”
Author: Deepti Hossain
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Author Bio: Deepti is an intern for Harness Magazine and a Journalism student at Ohio State. She loves french fries, feminism, pop culture, social justice and dance. Contact her if there’s a special woman, with a special story that she can write about on Harness Magazine.
Link to social media or website: Twitter @deeptih08