Nancy Nguyen

Jessie Lipkowitz

Nancy Nguyen
Jessie Lipkowitz

WHO // Jessie

WHERE // Ann Arbor, MI

WHAT'S SHE DO // Superwoman, Founder of aUM Yoga studio & Polarity studio

Voted "Best Yoga Studio in Ann Arbor" last year, aUM Yoga's mission is to demystify yoga and now its sister studio Polarity, aims to demystify pole dancing. The woman behind the madness and responsible for crazy classes unconventionally named "F***, This is Hard,” "Help, I'm New,” and "Damn, This is Sexy and Slow" is Jessie. Graduating from UofM with a 4.0 and completing her masters at Cambridge, Jessie without a doubt excelled in academics. However, due to timing and a few mishaps of unfortunate events, she became disillusioned with academia. In 2013, she found herself sitting in the chair of Nola’s Underground Salon and blurted, “I want to open a yoga studio”, and everything else fell into place…very fortuitously. Immediately after opening her studio in the fall of 2013, Jessie and her team of instructors outgrew the basement space on North University. She would reopen the doors of aUM yoga two years later in a much bigger and loftier space on South U. Since the start of it all, Jessie has certified over 60 yoga instructors and has had over 10,000 people walk through aUM’s doors. Unwilling to stop there, she bought the space next to aUM and with the help of Sylvia Chen, began Polarity, a pole studio set to officially open this January. Amidst the whirlwind of success Jessie has been in for the past few years, I was fortunate enough to put time in her schedule and ask her about her experiences and how she became an entrepreneur after studying art history & archeology. Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


A little about Jessie:

So if you were to ask me before the day I decided to open a yoga studio what I was going to do with my life, that was not in the top 10 things. I was always an academic, and I had a lust for learning and school and saw a huge future in higher education. Although I was a competitive dancer for 10 years in Las Vegas, I quit dance in high school for debate which is another really hyper competitive sport. The sort of grand plan I had for myself was that I wanted to use debate as a tool toward a very directed career path into college and then go on to law school. I was recruited to debate at the University of Michigan but when I got here I chose not to be a part of the team. It was another massive time commitment and I wanted other things out of my college experience. So all throughout college I always worked full time while always enrolled in 17 credits minimum.

In undergrad I studied classical art, archeology and art history. I always had this passion for Greek and Roman mythology since I was a little kid, and amongst my load of political science classes I took a course on Roman law and Roman archeology and ended up falling in love with a certain professor - not literally in love with - but in love with his classes. He was awesome. I started going to his office hours and he became a really great mentor to me throughout college. I took probably 8 or 9 of his classes and I went to some of his dig sites in Rome and was a part of the inaugural excavation for his site. From then I decided to do archeology because I had a lust for learning those things and found it a lot more fun, and at a certain point I figured it was more important to enjoy what I was studying and I would perform that much better if I enjoyed it. So I decided to follow that path and I wanted to go into art trade and illicit property law. I then had these high hopes of getting my PhD in classical art and archeology while jointly getting a law degree to blend those things together.

So I got a 4.0 at UofM, worked full time, had a few papers published, worked in several different labs and in some of the affiliated museums at the university... and I had a really obsessive compulsive academic resume. It was silly, actually, how seriously I took myself, my school, and the educational process. There was a point where I think I took myself too seriously and didn't prioritize other things. During this time I completely de-prioritized fitness.

I went into junior year and fell into a mid semester crisis while studying to take the LSAT. I did in fact take the LSAT, but on the back page of the exam there was a “call this number if you want to cancel your score.” I had this gut feeling walking out of the exam and I called the number. Even though I got near perfect scores on practice tests and in taking the exam was the most confident I had been, I had this physical reaction like, “wow this really isn’t what I want to do right now.” I realized I had let society, my parents, and other people push me in this direction, and I knew that the only way to get out of applying to law school was to literally not get into law school because I didn't have a LSAT score.


How did you get into yoga?

Once I had come back from doing my masters in heritage & museum management at Cambridge, I was at such a point where I became disillusioned with academia. I had spent a lot of money, $250,000, on education. That was a very high ticket item and I performed very well. There was nothing lacking in my resume that wouldn’t help catapult me into the world and get some kind of job. I didn’t really know what to do, and paying more money or even dedicating more time to school felt like a really large investment.

Once I left the world of dance I dabbled in yoga. However, coming from a very competitive background, I didn’t get it. I didn’t get the whole mindfulness or peacefulness aspects of yoga. That being said, it was the next closest thing (since leaving the world of dance) that I chose to do in terms of fitness and it did fill that void a little bit.

I got my first office job, and I think that office culture is one of the most parasitic things I had ever experienced. It was extremely unhealthy how I was sitting at a desk stagnant for 9 hours, straining my eyes, and ergonomically it was horrible. People would bring in cakes and cookies and as soon as it hit five o'clock everyone was going to to bars and getting drunk - rinse and repeat. I found myself in this job that wasn’t my dream job, it wasn’t what I worked so hard for 5 years; this job was accepted out of desperation. I thought, "What am I doing?” and I found myself looking back to yoga. I ended up taking Center for Yoga's teacher training and I didn’t know why.

By the time I heard “I want to open a yoga studio” come out of my mouth, I think I had realized that opening up a business was a far less investment than going back to school. If I fail at a business that costs me $7000 to open, that would be the equivalent of failing one class in a program. From there, everything just fortuitously happened. It was crazy how much the stars aligned once I put out into the universe that I wanted to open this yoga studio and a week later I had the key.


And that was my yoga journey. At this moment I can't imagine doing anything else, although my parents still ask. The quality of my life is amazing. I wish someone had told me: “You can have these big ideas about what you want to do and who you want to be, but at the end of the day, if you're not happy and the quality of your life isn’t want you want it to be, then what's the point?” My quality of life is fantastic - I’m surrounded by happy people all the time and anyone who comes to the yoga studio genuinely wants to be there. It has been amazing watching this community grow.

Sometimes I think, "wow a $300 yoga certification got me farther than a $250,000 education" and that is hard to let sink in. However, without that education I wouldn’t have understood the market of U of M and I think it gave me a huge competitive edge because I understood the psychology of students having been a student myself.

These paths that we define for ourselves aren't always the paths we were meant to take.

Success, I think, is finding something that makes you genuinely happy and that's easier said than done. It definitely takes experimentation to find out what makes you happy. My background of trying a lot of different things and working in a lot of different places gave me this lens of what I truly liked or disliked about a workplace, and I’m not a person to find complacency. Being willing to take risks like, "you know what? I don’t like this, and I know I worked 4 years to be an engineer, but I really don’t like it." I think that it's hard for a lot of people to do you and move away from that path that you etched for yourself especially if you’ve been planning. Any kind of pot hole or glitch in that path seems very overwhelming.

So... try not to have complacency, or try not to take that traditional path. Give yourself that time and space to truly identify what you don't like because if you don't like something that probably means you shouldn’t be spending a lot of time doing it.

And... in terms of your undergraduate degree, I think in this day and age people think of it as a means to an end. There are certain professional degrees like engineering or nursing that do feed directly in the workplace, but if you're doing something more abstract, your history degree can be applied in so many ways. People have asked me if my education ties in, and I think it still does. There are a lot of things you can do in collaborative ways to make your education fit other hobbies or aspects of your life.

Sometimes you have to let yourself hit rock bottom to figure out how you're going to rebuild back up.

That's not to say rock bottom has to be this completely ugly place, but sometimes you have to allow yourself to fail or else you're not going to find success. Learning from those failures is what's really, really important. There are a lot of things that I’ve done that you can think are very impressive, but behind the scenes I’ve also made other impulsive decisions and business decisions that cost me a lot of money or didn’t pan out. A lot of times when you're talking to someone who you perceive to be successful, you’ll never hear about their pitfalls and their ups and downs. I think it's important to realize that everyone is human and everyone fails. You have to allow yourself that space to fail or you’ll never allow yourself to grow.

For more information on aUM Yoga & Polarity, please check out the links below. Right now there are many New Years discounts as well as a fully stacked weekend of free classes so be sure to check them out! Your first pole class is free too!

Hoping everyone has a fantastic 2017 :)