Coaching college tennis and running a yoga studio have more in common than one might think. For Kathryn Smith, owner of Yoga Off East, running a yoga studio gives her a chance to focus on what she loved most about coaching tennis at the University of Oregon and then Princeton — her team.
The Yoga Off East team consists of about fifteen teachers, including Kathryn herself, who teaches Power Flow, a rigorous, faster-paced class, and Flow + Stretch, a wind-down class. The studio, which has moved from its origins in a tiny space behind Happy + Hale to a bright, open space at the corner of Ninth and Perry Streets, offers thirty classes per week. Class offerings include $10 Lunch Flow classes every Monday thru Friday, Restorative and Yin Yoga, and a variety of flow-based Vinyasa practices.
Kathryn started doing yoga during her senior year at Duke University and became excited about both yoga and holistic living. As a collegiate tennis player, she discovered that yoga was the key to unlearning a lot of self-limiting beliefs. Over twenty years later, she’s a certified yoga teacher and owner of her own studio, but she’s still learning new lessons from yoga every day.
After graduating from Duke in 2001, Kathryn returned to her native Oregon to study Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oregon, where she also was the Assistant Women’s Tennis Coach. While the original dream for Yoga Off East may have started during her early years at Duke, the name for the studio originated in Oregon. The name’s connection to East Campus is obvious, but it is also a reference to yoga’s eastern origins. Kathryn wrote her master’s thesis on the commercialization of yoga in the United States and ultimately when she decided to open a studio, she wanted its name to both pay homage to those origins and acknowledge that, as westerners, we can’t fully replicate the practice of yoga as it was originally taught and understood in eastern cultures.
While still in Oregon, Kathryn was offered a position as the Head Women’s Tennis Coach at Princeton University. She moved all the way across the country and spent five successful years with Princeton's women’s tennis team. Kathryn loved coaching but knew it wasn’t what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. When her husband (then boyfriend) landed his dream job coaching the men’s tennis team at Duke, she left Princeton and returned to Durham. Her yoga teacher training began about a year later. In 2011, Kathryn earned her certification as a yoga teacher through Franklin Street Yoga. She then did an additional 300-hour training in Raleigh with Blue Lotus Yoga & Movement Arts. For several years, Kathryn taught yoga around town at Franklin Street Yoga, Blue Lotus, Pop-Up Workout, and Duke (where she still leads private sessions with Duke athletes).
In 2016, Kathryn began her adventure in entrepreneurship and opened Yoga Off East in a small but beautiful space behind Happy + Hale. Though the initial space was small, it was a good fit for a first-time entrepreneur with small children. Still, at the time of her opening, Kathryn wrote a vision that at the end of the studio’s three-year lease, it would move to a larger space. When the space across the street (former location of The Play House Toy Store) became available, she took a leap of faith and did a total renovation just in time for Yoga Off East’s third anniversary! Today, the space is airy and light, with spare furnishings and a welcoming, open central space. Even the bathroom is inviting, lovingly decorated with whimsical wallpaper and light fixtures.
As a neighborhood studio, classes fill up with folks who live close enough to walk, bike, or arrive via a short drive. What Kathryn envisions for this community of yoga students (and teachers) is a space away from work and home where people can reset. She’s inspired by the Durham community, its intelligence and creativity and diversity, and she is committed to supporting people in being the highest, best version of themselves. With that vision comes the understanding that yoga can and will flex in response to the pace of our lives. “We understand that lives changes and that our yoga practice changes as a result,” Kathryn says. “Sometimes you need Power Flow and sometimes you need a Restorative class. Yoga is malleable to the changes in your life.” What remains unchanged, though, is this beautiful space on Ninth Street where students, business owners, parents, and community members can go to unplug, unwind, and recharge.
Here’s a little more about Kathryn and her life in and outside of yoga:
Tools of the trade she can’t live without: Joe Van Gogh and Counter Culture Coffee, essential oils, her studio team, her water bottle, Happy + Hale Smoothies, and of course, ponytail holders.
What she’s doing when she’s not doing yoga or running her business: Running around with her husband and their two children. They enjoy the Durham Farmers’ Market (and then grilling!), adventures around the Duke campus, hanging out with relatives, and hikes on the Eno.
What she’s reading right now: About 16 books! But the one she last picked up is Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. She’s reading this in preparation for the inaugural 200-hour teacher training program which starts this fall. With her background in coaching, training yoga teachers seems like the perfect next step.
Music that inspires her: Anything without lyrics, especially electronic or classical. Right now, she loves Beautiful Chorus for playing in her classes. At home, it’s classic or alternative rock.
Merchant of the Month features written by Kate Van Dis Creative Content.