Meaghan Townsend of Updog Fitness talks Yoga and Business
(All Photos via Jacquelyn Drayton)
We spoke with yoga guru, Meaghan Townsend, a popular yoga teacher at Updog Fitness and Cycling, her new West Hollywood yoga and spinning studio, about yoga, fitness, and going for what you want in life. Check out the interview:
Meaghan, you’re not from LA, are you? And how did you get started teaching yoga??
Well, I’m from up on the Massachusetts, and grew up playing a bunch of sports from lacrosse, tennis, softball,basketball, and sailing. I’m also a runner and have always had good endurance. I went to undergrad at Harvard and was visiting my cousin in California which is where I went to my first yoga class. All I remember was how good I felt afterward, and then I went back to Cambridge and did yoga there. Soon after graduating, I became a Business Analyst and it didn’t feel right. So, I started taking yoga teacher training, and it felt organic because every time I practiced, I loved it. I knew what I wanted to do.
Was your family supportive of your decision to be a yoga teacher?
My grandfather was Robert Kennedy and I obviously come from a very political, blue-blooded family, so I thought I had to be a doctor, lawyer, or business analyst. In the beginning, the fact that I was teaching yoga wasn’t really accepted by my family. But I just kept teaching classes and people asked me to sub classes. One thing lead to another, and I realized I loved teaching. My parents were like, “When are you going to business school?”
So, what inspires you in your work?
1) The fact that I’m doing something that is healthy and good for my body
2) Helping people and teaching them. When you help someone get over a fear, you’re helping them connect with their weaknesses. I’ve met so many people that tell me, “You changed my life. You bring me peace. You’ve helped me find joy.” It was such a change in my life from being sad at work to being joyful all the time. 98% of my life is happy and I didn’t ever think this would occur. I feel really lucky that I love my job, because I know 80% of America hates their job.
You have a big following with yoga classes here in LA. How do you keep it fresh for each class?
I take classes myself and have always hated when people did the same thing again. For me, as a teacher, I don’t want to be a robot. I need to shake it up which reflects in my classes, so I always want to keep students challenged and thinking of new things. Its important because your body gets used to certain yoga positions, so its also about getting into the same pose from a different angle. It changes your perspective. It reflects life… A lot of students tell me that their focus increases from regular yoga practice and affects how they are in daily life. So, how you are on your mat is how you are in life. For example, if you’re holding warrior 2 (a yoga pose) for a minute, then you can do it in life. Its funny that there are people who don’t use their bodies all day long but in yoga, you’re doing hundreds of things at one time. Your attitude toward yourself will change because of how you approach your practice.
You teach a tough class, but the music mixes that you make are pretty awesome and really add to the challenging classes. Hip-hop, classic rock, contemporary and the latest pop. How do you come up with the mixes?
I DJ during class with my ipod. I don’t know what I’m going to play in class because my class is based on whose in class. I have a hundred different playlists on my ipod for class. I spend five hours a day reading online about music because I have poor hearing and can’t really make out the music. So I created a system for understanding it with websites, charts, creating a matrix. Twenty different categories of music for each pose. I group songs based on the poses and the flow. Also, if I know some of my regular students like a certain type of song, I make sure its in my playlist. Its so complicated and crazy. People work really hard, have stressful lives, and this is an hour when they can learn and feel good in their bodies, and have a good time. I don’t want you to feel bad after practice. Music has an amazing effect on your practice itself and I try to make it as dynamic as possible.
Love it. So, how do you keep a healthy mindset about mind/body?
Yoga is the key for me. I was a girl who didn’t think she was pretty growing up and in my family, there was pressure to be amazing. I never felt like I could live up to it. Yoga took that out of me. I just wanted to do crow. Whatever. In the end, it has totally made me think of the positives about myself. It’s totally flip-flopped. I don’t think about that stuff because yoga takes the focus away from what you look like. I feel so good in my body doing yoga and it never accomplishes anything by being negative to yourself. It’s like… its pointless. When you become happier, your inner being becomes happier. There is something about feeling good within your body that makes you look better. The best beauty secret is doing yoga.
You recently fulfilled a dream to open Updog Fitness Yoga/Cycling studio here in West Hollywood. What’s it like to accomplish a dream?
Absolutely. I never knew that I’d open my own studio, let alone that it would be this beautiful. It has amazing energy and when people come in here, they always say the studio is beautiful. We have amazing teachers, great location, amazing students and we’re really lucky. This was my dream. I’ve always wanted to run my own business that helps people and makes people happier. When I was a business analyst, I loved going to yoga and the times I was most happy was during those times I was in class. Now, if people want to practice yoga during the day, they can come here and not just on the weekends. Accessibility.
You taught the aspiring stars in Hulu’s “If I Can Dream,” series. What was that like?
A student of a friend of mine got me connected with them. I taught them and they haven’t done yoga before. I was like their 1st or 2nd teacher and its great to watch beginners because the rate of growth is so quick. Its less translating what the teacher says to what their bodies feel. For an hour, you can teach them something that affect their sleep in a good way and that’s pretty impressive.
What else inspires you in life and how do you stay motivated and positive?
I think its rare that I found a job I love to do. I LOVE my job and am excited to go to work. That won’t happen for everybody. Some people teach and they don’t like it. For me, it works. In anything, you can be in a yoga pose and think, this pose sucks, why is she making me hold my arms like this. I’m tired. Then, you go into pigeon pose and you’re not happy. So understand that it’s your choice to be happy. It’s what’s going on inside. Your mindset. Choose to be happy and find one thing to be happy about.