Yirser Ra Hotep considers himself to be a Yoga Practitioner who just happens to be a teacher and an entrepreneur. Not only is he the most senior instructor of Kemetic Yoga in the U.S. but he also created a new style called YogaSkills Method (YSM), which ventures away from the traditional Indian teachings of Yoga. Both styles have roots in ancient Egypt and combine movement with breath control.
After practicing and teaching yoga for over 30 years, Hotep decided one of his life’s missions was to influence others and bring Kemetic Yoga and YSM to the mainstream. He is well on his way to achieving that goal, as he has produced various Yoga products, such as CDs, videos, and training retreats. His intention is to have an international organization with certified instructors teaching and promoting his unique brand of Yoga.
Hotep shares with BlackEnterprise.com his motivations and strategies that will make his vision come to fruition.
What was the impetus behind venturing into the health and fitness industry as an entrepreneur?
My main motivation for making health and wellness my business is [knowing] that what I have to offer is sorely needed. My business evolved from teaching daily Yoga classes to taking on private students for one-on-one stress management to owning a studio. As time went on, I decided that I wanted to travel and increase brand awareness for the style of Yoga I teach which is called Kemetic Yoga and the YogaSkills Method. Initially, I traveled giving lectures, workshops and master classes. I’ve recently added teacher training and certification to the mix, which is a major part of my business. We currently have over 300 certified instructors nationally and internationally.
How has business been going for you?
Business is going very well for YogaSkills right now. Even though we are in a recession, people are actually seeking out training and certification in Yoga as a means of enhancing their personal well-being , as well as an avenue for income. As part of the my YogaSkills Teacher Training and Certification course, we offer training in business development and innovative ways to use your Yoga Skills for the benefit your clients and as a source of income. Our teacher training courses are conducted throughout the United States in major cities such as New York, Atlanta, Washington DC metro, Chicago, Los Angeles and others. We also offer exotic trainings and retreats in Jamaica that are focused on healing. We actually take our students to out of the way locations to practice Yoga in the rainforests and then to recharge in waterfalls and mineral baths. We offer activity packages that no one else offers in order to add value to our services and to separate us from the competition.
What resources did you use to start and grow your business?
The first thing I invested was my time and effort into becoming an expert in Yoga and expanding my knowledge of anatomy, physiology, psychology, wholistic health and later, business principles. I hired a speech coach to improve my public speaking and obtained professional photos for business cards, brochures and websites. You need to look the part and also be able to articulate your message effectively and communicate with a broad spectrum of potential customers.
In order to help establish my brand, I created posters with various images of me performing Yoga postures and I had a show on cable that reached over 1 million households in Chicago. I positioned myself to be a guest on various radio shows and after a while, I was featured in Ebony Magazine and appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
The main expense I encountered was in creating my first website. I invested several thousand dollars, which was most of a modest pension I had earned while working for the state of Illinois as a child welfare administrator.
What are some of the challenges you face being an African-American Man in the Yoga space?
It is not expected that a black man would practice Yoga, let alone teach it as an expert or master. The stereotype is that petite women teach Yoga and only women are flexible enough to be good at it. So, people are surprised to see a 6 foot, 2 inch, 215 lb., bearded Black dude come up to teach a class. I’ve also found out the male Yoga teachers are expected to be gay, which I am not.
Even though I meet well-known white Yoga instructors from around the country, I have never been invited to the major Yoga conferences. Though I haven’t received a lot of play in the mainstream Yoga world, I have strong bonds in the African American community as well as the diaspora and I have requests [to teach] from people of color in South Africa, Ethiopia and New Zealand.
Read Part 2 here