If you’ve been to Yoga Center Amherst, chances are you’ve encountered Matthew Andrews, its co-director. On any given day, Matthew can be found checking in students, teaching, practicing, and chatting with folks once class gets out.
Matthew and his wife Corinne bought YCA from its founder, Patty Townsend, in the fall of 2014. In the time that’s transpired since, YCA’s yoga practitioners have seen some changes to the center’s look and feel, including the warm presence of its new owners. Matthew was kind enough to answer some questions before heading off to lead an Embodyoga trip to Auroville in South India with Patty.
Yoga Center Amherst: As yoga instructors, class members, and YCA’s co-directors, you and Corinne can often be found at the studio. Do you have time to do anything besides the work of running YCA?
Matthew Andrews: I think we probably give the illusion of being there more than we actually are. We’ve both got side projects that we’re doing. I am working with Shalini Bahl, who runs Downtown Mindfulness, to develop a team mindfulness program for corporate clients. We are finishing up a project with the board of directors of Craig’s Doors, the local homeless shelter, and we are running a retreat for the UMass Teaching and Faculty Development department next week. And I also have been teaching yoga to some guys who are incarcerated in the Franklin County Jail. Corinne is working to get Birthing Mama out there.
YCA: You’re busy! How do you balance all you are doing at YCA and beyond with your family life?
MA: Well, before buying YCA, I worked for 10 years for an international nonprofit called Best Buddies. Most recently I oversaw half of the U.S. operation, which involved recruiting, hiring, training, and managing state directors in 11 different states. I traveled a lot, I fired a lot of people, and was under pressure to transform a large disparate operation – but not given much leeway as far as management style and approach. It was suffocating. So, there are obvious benefits to not having a boss and not having to travel. Owning my own schedule, having creative license over all business decisions, working for a vision that I believe in… all that is totally worth the challenges inherent to a family-owned business. I’m home almost every day when the kids get off the bus, and I take them out to the bus almost every morning. Sometimes Corinne or I misses dinner because we need to teach or sign in a class, but I’m definitely more present now for my kids than I was with my old job.
YCA: What was your relationship to YCA before taking over the business? How did that come to pass?
MA: Corinne met Patty in 2003 and took the 200- and 500-hour trainings, and got a job teaching at YCA soon after. She actually worked in the office at one point too – she and Patty have been close for a long time. At one point I did some editing for Patty, short articles and applications for Kripalu and Omega. It was very easeful; I felt like I knew what she was trying to convey in a very natural way and I could smooth out her language and refine it. I hadn’t really even taken many classes with her, but the understanding of the work was just in me somehow. With Best Buddies, I was promoted a number of times and kept getting more responsibilities and was learning interesting things, but at a certain point things plateaued, and I started getting restless. I wanted to leave but wasn’t sure where to go; I didn’t want to just go work for another big company. Then in 2013, Corinne and I went to Auroville. I had been there for four months in 2000 with a college program and loved it, but we felt an inner calling to go back, and it transformed everything. It brought us together in a huge way, aligned our interests and feeling of life purpose. For about a year after that, we integrated the experience, and then in January of 2014 I heard an inner voice that has since become quite familiar tell me that we should buy the yoga center. I went to meet with Patty about it and the ball began to roll. I took the 200-hour training, and the ball kept rolling, and by the end of that summer it was clear that we were going to make the leap. At first I thought I was going to need to continue to work full time for Best Buddies and run the yoga center simultaneously, and I did at first but it was way too much. So I met with my boss and we worked out a way for me to go part time. I did that for a few months, and then it became clear that it was safe for me to devote myself fully to this endeavor, and that was the way the energy was flowing. So in May of 2015, I quit the Best Buddies job, and I’ve been full time here since.
YCA: What has it been like to run YCA for over a year? What have you learned in that time, what changes have you made?
MA: We didn’t just buy a business, we bought the responsibility of stewarding an already developed and thriving community of practitioners. We didn’t have the huge risk of needing to build that community ourselves, but we also faced the challenge of bringing our vision forward without alienating people or shaking things up too much. We have been in a dance with that all along, trying to discern what needs to be pushed forward and what needs to wait. Our relationship with Auroville is an example of that; it’s super meaningful to us, but all of the YCA folks who have been coming here for years didn’t sign up for that – so how to offer it without pushing or being dogmatic? Our approach with this, as with all things, has been to keep open the lines of communication with the spiritual guidance that brought us into this in the first place. We are trying to find a way to run a business completely through an inquisitive, active surrender to the Divine. We ask for guidance, we spend time listening, and when we feel movement in a certain direction we go for it. We try to not let our egoistic, willful, fearful, clinging tendencies drive the ship and really just take one step at a time, often not knowing exactly where we are headed, just that God is leading us and that’s enough.
YCA: What have been the fruits of that approach so far?
MA: In January 2015 we had 1250 people take classes throughout the month. For January 2016 we are on track to hit 1750. So things are going really well. We’ve made technical changes – accepting credit cards, online registration process and database, taking down the wall in the office – but honestly we haven’t done anything super drastic. The $35 intro offer is new, and to date 645 people have bought it. I think that’s been a big help as far as bringing in new students. Yoga has increased in popularity. We’re on some level just riding that wave.
Matthew teaches Embodyoga® and Live Music Flow at YCA on Mondays and Wednesdays, 5:30-6:45pm. He also offers Meditating with Savitri for free on Mondays, 12:15-1:00pm.