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my story: "the only thing that helped my pain was yoga"


In seven years, Debbie Fung went from operating a start-up to owning one of the most successful yoga studios in Toronto, and she has a nagging pain to thank for kick-starting her dream.

“I have scoliosis, a curvature in the [spine],” she explains. “A lot of times I can’t sleep, even with a body pillow. I went to chiropractors and massage therapists. The only thing that helped was the practice of yoga.” Fung convinced her boyfriend, Jason Lu, now her husband and business partner, to try it. A skeptic at first, Lu soon felt the rush, especially with hot and ashtanga yoga.

After graduating from the University of Waterloo, Fung and Lu decided to transform their asanas into a success story and ditch the corporate grind. (Fung was a corporate buyer, while Lu left a high-paying job at an internet company.) They lived an eat-pray-love existence in India, where Lu studied ashtanga and Fung became certified in Ayurvedic medicine. On ancient yogic ground, they discovered a rigorous discipline that prepared them for entrepreneurship.

“In India, the first hour, not just five minutes, is dedicated to meditation,” Fung says. Six months later, they came home with an energetic afterglow and opened their first Yoga Tree studio in 2007 just north of the city. At the time, authentic yoga centres were rare, and their studio quickly filled a void for nearby devotees.

Today, they own five locations and have over 20,000 members.

Fung says the core yogic principle of “letting go” fuelled the company’s growth. As Yoga Tree continued to evolve, she realized they had to stop micromanaging, trust their employees and truly share their experience in order to thrive. “That was challenging for Jason and me, but when we expanded, we also grew our management team, delegated tasks and now have a solid organization.”

To deal with the day-to-day business, Fung and Lu bring a meditative quality to problem solving by staying in the present and recognizing the issues before them, instead of letting future worries or heightened emotions get in the way. They developed a habit of making mindful decisions—and not only for themselves. “It began with opening a space to practise yoga,” Fung says, “but it’s amazing to see everyone connect and recover with yoga.”

Juliette Lie Baxter


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