YuMee Chung – Yoga for Everyone
Yoga is big business, one that is largely considered to be a luxury. To Passport to Prana founder YuMee Chung, this didn’t seem right. Chung, a Canadian lawyer who entered the legal profession with the hope of bringing about social change, took her first yoga class on the recommendation of a friend because she was experiencing back pain and numbness in her arms from too many hours in front of the computer. She had been running from doctor to doctor and from body worker to body worker looking for a way to alleviate the work-induced discomfort. Lasting physical relief did not come until she found yoga. After working for a few years as a lawyer and taking yoga classes, Chung realized that her yoga teachers were doing a better job of touching people and changing lives than she was as a paper pusher. So, she decided to open a yoga studio. She juggled that career and law practice until she became too busy to do both. In the end, yoga was the obvious choice.
The transition from lawyer to yogi was a huge personal and professional decision. Chung had to face losing the security of a six-figure income and a robust benefits package in lieu of an uncertain future. However, she realized that it was more important to live a healthier, more engaged life in the present moment.
After making the jump to yoga instructor, Chung came to the realization that there had to be a way to remove the barriers to entry and make yoga more accessible to the average North American while bringing the yoga community together around a common project. In 2005, she started Passport to Prana as an experimental, collective marketing idea designed to introduce people to the practices of yoga by acquainting them with the yoga studios and teachers in their cities. Knowing that many yoga studios offer a discounted or free first class, and that all yoga studios are keen to meet new students, Chung simply formalized the idea and created structure around the idea of a yoga crawl.
Her business concept was (and still is) simple: sell a multi-studio yoga pass that offers customers one free class at each of the participating studios in a given market at a too good to be true price. In the United States, each card costs a maximum of $30 per city, making the cost of each class about a $1 depending on the region, versus the average big-city yoga class, which can cost upwards of $18. The benefits are clear: consumers get a smorgasbord of studio options to try and studios get exposure to a broader customer base than they could develop on their own. Says Chung, “Passport to Prana gives everyone, including absolute beginners, a great way to try out the yoga studios where they live, work and play, no matter what their income level, age, or level of fitness.”
In seven years, this relatively straightforward idea has grown to include multiple cities throughout Canada and America. The engine behind Passport to Prana’s growth remained Chung, joined by her business partner Rajen Gandhi, with their singular strategic vision. Approaching the entire venture from a ‘collaborative, not competitive’ perspective, Chung and Gandhi continue to encourage growth through ethical practices and a win-win mentality. Most of the profits from the sale of the actual passports get funneled back into the studios offering the free classes, and despite the popularity of the program, passport prices have remained reasonable.
An online yoga portal is also part of their program. Anyone who purchases a Passport to Prana will receive an electronic card that is processed by the yoga studio just before class.
The yogi can log onto their Passport to Prana profile at www.passporttoprana.com to track everything from class attendance to passport information in real time. Studio listings, maps, contact information, up-to-date class schedules, special discounts, and fun contests are also available, making it a must-stop spot for any yoga lover in their city.
By Zack Tanck
Photography by Cylla von Tiedmann