Pioneering your dharma: The inspiring story of Maryam Sharifzadeh and Office Yoga.
You have a passion and you’re ready to share it with people. How should you brand yourself? Saying, “I love yoga” doesn’t exactly communicate why YOU love it, nor does it distinguish you from other teachers or convince students why they should choose you as their teacher. How can you communicate your passion in your own words? What would it look like to create a business out of your passion? For inspiration and to hear from someone who’s been there and done that, I spoke with instructor, teacher trainer and business owner, Maryam Sharifzadeh. Maryam is also the founder of "Office Yoga", a corporate yoga and meditation program headquartered in San Francisco but quickly expanding nationwide. Maryam articulated her unique story about discovering her passion for yoga, including her Office Yoga (OYO) brand and what it’s like to create a business out of what you love. It was so inspiring! Here is Maryam in her own words…
Where did your passion for yoga start? Why did you get into it?
I was teaching swim classes in college so i was taking a mix of pilates and yoga for core strength and the yoga part just began to sink in over time. Eventually, yoga grew on me and when i moved to San Francisco, a mecca for yoga in, my passion for it really grew. For me, yoga has the mental depth beyond just the physical so there’s really no bottom to it.
What does yoga mean to you? What’s your unique brand?
My brand is Office Yoga (OYO for short) and what makes it unique is that there used to be no main hub for companies to bring yoga into the office. When i started, health and wellness practitioners were only coming into offices as a one-time offshoot of say, 10 classes. I saw a gap in the industry and realized that there was no standardized methodology or programming for this kind of a practice in an office setting. What we have in traditional yoga studios doesn’t translate into the office at all.
Traditional yoga studios have a different structure involving different needs, demographics and environments that don’t exactly translate to an office setting. For example, Ashtanga yoga involves complex poses that just don’t work for an office environment. I realized when i was auditioning teachers that many didn’t know how to modify their teachings for an office environment and that’s when i started the Office Yoga Teacher Training program.
What unique benefits would you like students of yoga to come away with?
I hope yoga can empower people and get them to a sound place where they see things clearly because we have so many filters that our life experiences are coming out through. Part of yoga is having dharma, which is your purpose in life and we often express that in our career paths so i want people to be in alignment with their strengths and their profession
What led you to create this as a business?
Well, it happened very organically, i wasn’t thinking i was going to start a nationwide business and it still kinda frightens me a little, haha, but I’m in it, now!
I was working with just 1 client for 2 years who is still my anchor client to this day while I was working at Cal Berkeley coordinating a wellness program for faculty and staff. In working with my 1 client, i realized there was potential and I created the Office Yoga brand. I started by just walking into people’s offices and soliciting, just hustling. I’m a self-starter so it was fun. I didn’t even realize I was officially “soliciting” until I once had the building police called on me and I got escorted out! Needless to say, It’s fun and scary to pioneer something.
Well that’s still the entrepreneurial bible: break the rules!
Yeah, it absolutely is. When you’re excited because you have something and want to share it, it will come out in all its facets. My advice to anyone who really wants to start a business is if they’re excited about it and want to share it, they’re on the right path.
Yeah, i think if you’ve got the motivation, then go for it!
Yeah, the motivation is that you have to wholeheartedly be behind what you’re promoting. I wholeheartedly believe in Office Yoga and bringing it into the corporate environment in its many facets.
It doesn’t mean that there aren’t obstacles along the way. If you can’t fall back into your bigger purpose when you hit a roadbump, it's going to be a tough road along the way, and means you may not be in direct alignment with your strengths and passion.
What have some of those raodbumps been for you?
Partnering and delegating while growing the business. I’m not a “business” person, i’m a self-starter so I often do things myself and you can move quickly by yourself but you’re not going to go very far. You really do need to have support and build a team. I had a misaligned partnership early on, i was just naive and didn’t know what to look for. So i think you need to be really smart and skillful if you’re planning to go far. For example, be smart about who you bring in. Bring in people you admire, enjoy being with and value. I’m realizing that even if people are great teachers, their personalities or values may not be the right fit. For me that was a hard one so learning that lesson was difficult.
One other road bump I constantly run into is around having patience and really understanding that things take time. A LOT more time and effort than you may think them through to be.
Part of your growth involved training teachers, how did you scale up this program?
I had many yoga instructor friends, i taught people i could really trust. I also created an attractive brand to find business partners. I’ve worked with friends in the past, it's a fine line and can be tricky. It’s almost more intimate than living with a friend. People say business partnerships are more intimate than marriages which is why i think trust is so important. It’s important to be mindful about who you’re working with. For example, if there’s someone you really look up to, admire and want to emulate, talk to that person and reach out to them for advice. If it’s time for you to partner up, the Universe will lead you there.
One of my early teachers is from Austin and we joked about starting OYO in Austin. I had looked into a franchise model but was unsure how to adapt it. It fell flat on its face. I started to think I couldn’t go nationwide but in my next opportunity, i met someone who had worked in the franchise industry for 25 years! She said to give it another chance and now we have plans to expand nationwide.
What is the next step in pursuing your dreams?
I do think there’s a lot more potential for Office Yoga. I think the route now is that OYO should be global program and service. There’s definitely an audience for it because they’re requesting it. There’s a whole conscious company movement trying to expand the metrics of success beyond just profit to include social impact and employee wellbeing. In other words, employees are healthy and thinking clearly, now what’s our impact in the world?
Small steps, just go global, ha!
Haha, yeah, think big!
Best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Less is more. When you’re new at something, you want to do everything but you can overdo it.
Also, stay connected to the bigger vision. Specialize in one thing and be really good at that thing!
Find out more about Maryam and Office Yoga below!