We may have had to wait but Unwind Yoga Studio in Station Parade is now OPEN!
Hurrah, and just at the right time to embrace a new New Year habit. I popped along to the studio to meet founder Sandra Vollrath, have a sneek peek behind those curtains and to get the inside info on how the idea developed.
And what a treat the studio is, warm, light and so inviting, a stark contrast to it's previous incumbent. Sandra has made every effort to ensure as much of the decor and equipment used is environmentally friendly, right down to the yoga mats which are made from sustainable natural tree rubber and with an Unwind room for an after class cup of tea, (foc, by the way) you'll come away a new you. Classes are kept small, with plenty of room for movement to ensure no embarrassing footsie takes place with your neighbour and will roll out over the next few weeks with sessions for the beginner right through to the seasoned Yogi. So keep an eye on the schedule there really will be something for everyone.
Tell me a little about you and your background?
My background is a little bit of a hodgepodge of various degrees and careers, all of which (I believe) led me to open Unwind Yoga Studio! I have Masters degrees in Education and Information Systems, Postgraduate Diplomas / Certificates in Marketing, Internal Communications and Positive Psychology, a Level 3 Diploma in Teaching Yoga and Pregnancy Yoga – and I am a KC approved breeder. I worked in IT and B2B Tech Marketing for 2 decades until I was made redundant in 2019 – the kick in the backside I needed to finally fulfil a dream.
How did the idea come about to open Unwind Yoga in Cookham?
Yoga was already a big part of my life when I went through a really difficult divorce. It provided a counteract to the changes I was going through and the responsibilities I suddenly faced on my own. The boys and I were doing really well, we re-built our lives and had a very happy period, I was balancing being a single mum to two boys with a full-time career, until 2014 – and that’s when everything changed! My then 9 year old son was diagnosed with brain cancer. As you can imagine, our worlds fell apart completely and whilst we were coming to terms with the diagnosis, the incredibly harsh and life-changing treatment needed to tackle the cancer and the limitations that became part of our new normal from the day my son was diagnosed, we slowly and resiliently rebuilt our lives. Yoga was side-lined for a while, or so I thought. What I only realised years later was that my Yoga shifted – from an almost exclusively physical practice to a far more mind and soul-oriented practice. During my son’s treatment I was always fascinated by the fact that he stayed so positive. I am a positive person myself, but it blew my mind that his life was completely derailed, and yet he found something to smile about or someone to smile at every single day, that he could be kind and grateful when fate had been so cruel to him. What was his secret, and what could I learn from it? In 2018, I went back to university to study for a Masters in Positive Psychology. Here, I engaged with topics around living your best life, I studied positive aspects of human behaviour and functioning, happiness and human potential, the pursuit of meaning, the pursuit of positive engagement with the world around us. I read hundreds of books, articles and scientific papers on aspects of Positive Psychology, and for me there was a thread connecting all of them: Yoga. As a holistic path for feeling good in body, mind and spirit, Yoga clearly is THE Positive Psychology intervention, and an intervention that was entirely accessible to a large audience. So, I decided to play a little part in making it accessible to even more people by creating Unwind Yoga Studio.
Tell me about the wonderful sessions you have in place
I have tried many Yoga styles over the years and learned what I liked and did not like. Whilst I started Yoga with a physical goal in mind (strengthening, toning, flexibility), the aspects that affected my mind and soul started happening alongside the physical exercising, and they mattered more and more. For that reason, I decided to set up Unwind Yoga Studio with a focus on Yoga that enables people to find calm. Rather than vigorous and hot, we will offer classes that are calm and grounding, with meditative and mindful elements weaved into almost every class, and a loooooooong savasana (relaxation) at the end of every class. We will offer a delicious mix of Zen Yoga, Hatha, Restorative, Yin, Nidra, Gentle and Mindful Flows, and Meditation amongst others.
What do you hope the studio will bring to the community?
My vision right from the start was that people walk into the studio and have an immediate feeling of:”Aaahhhhhhhhhhhh!”, where they can let go, where their senses are calmed through an environment that instils calm through the colour scheme, the natural products used, etc. I tried to design the whole studio in an eco-friendly and toxin free way so students know that what they touch, smell and see is safe. It’s comfortable. It is a sanctuary for them to unwind from the day to day stresses for a little while. I am hoping that people will love the studio, the teachers and classes and will want to come back again and again, because they feel well looked after when they are with us. There is nothing quite like this in Cookham, or the surrounding areas, so I am hoping that this special little studio will draw in lots of fans!
How do you balance work and family life?
Through rigorous planning, lots of lists and interminable patience :D. My partner and I have five children between us, they are aged 18 – 3, two of them have special needs and my son still has at least two hospital appointments in Oxford or Slough a month, we are both self-employed, running a number of businesses between us – it’s fairly busy most days, especially since I manage a large part of every week and three of the five kids on my own. So routine and abundant love for each other are our key ingredients to not falling apart every single day haha. All the children know their boundaries, their freedom within those boundaries and whilst the juggling is not always easy, I have never been happier than I am at the moment.
What is the dream for your business?
Right now, get established – and then see students experience the benefits our Yoga classes will bring to their lives and come back to the studio to get their “Ahhhh” moments!
What has been your biggest challenge so far and how have did you overcome it?
Whilst there were challenges in setting up the business and refitting the space, those were expected and did not stress me too much. I think the biggest challenge for me lies within myself, worrying whether this was the right thing to do for the family and such questions. But so far the kids seem fairly impressed with what I have created from nothing – so that’s enough for me right now!
What advice would you give to other mums starting their own business?
This studio started with a vision, and that vision was turned into a high-level plan and then into a “how can I get there step by step” plan. I have a notebook that shows the journey from idea to concept to actually hiring people to build the studio for me. So planning in detail, from the business plan to the financial planning, was hugely helpful. And getting a good team of people to help, whether it’s builders, accountants or teachers – take the time to have a conversation and get a feel for the person you are dealing with. I was completely surprised that many of the yoga teachers had never been “interviewed” for a teaching contract. I took the time to speak to every single one of my teachers, sometimes for over an hour. I knew many of them from having taken classes with them over the years so knew that they could all teach a class, but I also wanted to know what their passions were, why they were teaching Yoga, what they loved about it and how they benefited themselves from teaching. The experience of meeting them all off the mat was so enriching, I am glad I did it!
What is your favourite way to unwind?
Restorative Yoga – there simply is no better way to give yourself some self-love. In Germany (I am originally from Germany) we call it “die Seele baumeln lassen” and it’s really hard to translate, but basically means “let your soul sway”. Ahhhhhhh!