A hidden gem located just off the greenway in Uptown on Lyndale Avenue, Minneapolis Yoga specializes in Original Hot Yoga. I caught up with owner Melissa Sargent to hear about her first year of owning the business, how her day job as an occupational therapist informs her yoga teaching philosophy, and what helps her handle the unexpected.
Reeve Klatt: Tell me a bit about your background and how you found yoga.
Melissa Sargent: My very first exposure to yoga was when I was 19 and in college. A student there offered free classes and I loved it. I went every single week. A long-distance runner then, it helped a ton with stretching. Eventually, I just practiced on my own – this was in ’95 and there were no yoga studios around. And then when I couldn’t run anymore (my knee didn’t like running), I started getting more into it because it just felt great.
RK: What about yoga spoke to you?
MS: Born with just part of my right arm, doing a ton of chaturangas, down dogs, and arm balances started to cause some wear and tear on my shoulder. I walked into what used to be Bikram Yoga Studio in Saint Paul; you use your arms [in original hot yoga], but you’re not weight bearing on your arms. I loved the heat. It just made my body feel so good and it forced me to focus. I never found anything that made me feel the way running did. When I walked out, [my body felt] that total body workout and fatigue like running.
RK: You live in Saint Paul, so how did you discover Minneapolis Yoga?
MS: I found my way to Minneapolis Yoga because the owner in Saint Paul said, “You need to do advanced classes!” I went like five days a week and was getting good at it. With just a few people [in the class], I would rearrange my work schedule so I could do it. I met the owner, Martha Williams, who owned it for 20 years. And then I ended up getting a different job after a few years, and I couldn’t go to Minneapolis anymore. Then right before COVID, the St. Paul studio closed – I missed it. I was going stir crazy! When things began to open up again, I just thought, gosh, I haven’t been to Minneapolis in forever. I’ll just see if she’s open. And she was.
January of 2021, Martha told me she was doing teacher training and I should be there. I always wanted to teach, but I have kids and a full-time job. But Martha’s training was mostly online, and I thought I could do it – I asked my husband if he would be cool to hold down the fort a little bit and he said, “Yeah, you’ve always wanted to do this!”
Then Martha told us she was planning to close or sell the studio; a short time later, her and her husband came to me and said they didn’t want to sell the studio to a chain, to somebody who doesn’t know and love the practice, or someone who didn’t know the community. They thought I should open it – and I was absolutely floored! I sat down on the couch with my husband again and said, “So…yoga…?” And he said, “Do it.” So, we figured it out and signed the papers on October 1st, 2021.
RK: And how has the first year been?
MS: It’s been the best decision we ever made – we love it. The students are amazing. Our teachers are incredible. Without them it wouldn’t work because of my very demanding full-time job.
RK: On top of yoga?! What do you do?
MS: I’m an occupational therapist. I’ve worked in all kinds of rehab settings, and now direct therapy for a home care agency as well as oversee the Midwest region. It’s a lot and I travel a couple times a month, so without the community there’s no way I could do it. I have 20 teachers and they do this because they love it, it’s their passion.
RK: And you’re also teaching yoga as well as your full-time job and managing the studio?
MS: [laughing] Yes! I teach three times a week, sometimes more. We just added hot Pilates to our schedule so now I’m teaching even more, but it’s been a great addition – every class packs the room.
RK: That is a lot to juggle all at once! What’s been the biggest challenge?
MS: Delegating and time. It taught me I need to delegate to manage all of this. I have to remember the worth of taking the time to train somebody else how to do something. I feel a responsibility to practice what we’re preaching and what we’re teaching – not just the postures, but the lifestyle as well. Balancing all of this has been very challenging – in a good way! It’s really forcing me to pause and remember what is truly important and what is worth getting stressed about. With five kids from the ages of 15 to 28, my family tops the list. Being able to take deep breaths and readjust as we go, it’s taught me a lot, just in one year.
RK: Hot yoga can be intimidating – what would you say to someone scared to give it a try?
MS: If you come prepared, meaning you’re hydrated (I can’t say that enough!), and you go in with an open mind, you listen to your body, take breaks when you need to, and focus on your breathing – you’ll be fine. So many people come in afraid, and if I’m teaching, I remind them to just sit down if you need to. Breathe when you need to. This is never a competition. People are amazed at what they’re capable of. They usually underestimate themselves and how good they feel after.
RK: You mentioned your background in OT. How has that informed the studio?
MS: OT teaches people how to adapt everyday tasks if they have an injury, surgery, a knee replacement, or a disease. The perfect fit for me, I’ve been adapting my whole life because I was born with one arm. Everything I do differs a little bit from the normal way! Old-school Bikram yoga teachers don’t believe in adapting anything, they believe the student needs to try the posture the way it’s meant to be.
I think – and this sounds egotistical, I don’t mean it this way – but with my influence as the owner, I tell the teachers I do all the postures differently! Let’s try to help people use their body the best way they can – to be successful! We want our students to have a win in our class. We hold teacher meetings, and we analyze postures and how we should teach them and find the best words to help somebody do [the posture] the best way. You need a strong anatomy background and a lot of training to do that, so being a therapist made that natural.
RK: How do you see the studio and your ownership growing in the next few years?
MS: I want to mix my OT with yoga and host either small group classes or private lessons for people with injuries so they can learn how to do these postures without exacerbating an issue. I would love to run the studio full time, even though I love my rehab position. I would love to do it all forever if I can keep it up. When I walk into the studio – I can’t explain it, I feel good there. I just feel it’s the place I’m supposed to be. And I want to do that every day, all the time. We have students that have been coming for 20 years! And they range in age from 18 to 70 – just this huge variety of backgrounds. It makes it feel like anybody can walk in the door and they’re going to be supported. I’d love to expand to a second location in St. Paul – people love a community they can feel safe and successful and healthy at, and I feel like it’s never been more important.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.