African American, Daughter, Teacher, Lifetime Student, Advisor, Entrepreneur
I started practicing yoga at the gym just looking for a way to get a good workout in and not mess up my natural hair. At the time I had a press and curl, and when you sweat, it is not good. I didn’t know what yoga was, but I figured, let me try it. The next day, I was sore like I actually did a workout, so I kept going back.
I started searching for classes outside of the gym, and going to different yoga events, festivals, and any type of outdoor free yoga. At that point, I realized yoga was very white. Every time I went, I was the only black person. None of my friends were into yoga at the time so I was always practicing solo. But I loved it, so I told myself that one day, I’m going to be a yoga teacher.
Now, my boyfriend at the time, Jovan – he eventually became my fiancé – we were five months out from our wedding and it happened very suddenly. I woke up one morning, he’s on the couch, I’m talking to him, but he’s not responding. And so I go to tap him and he slumps over. I call the ambulance, they did chest compressions, and we went to the hospital. But he never woke up. He was most likely already gone that morning.
And that’s when I said, I want to try to live life a little bit more for me. I’m going to make sure that I do the things that I really want to do. It was really that fork in the road to turn the page to my life. I was really living life, just…YOLO. That was my motto for the next two years. So after putting it off for so long, two years later I finally decided to do this yoga teacher thing.
I looked into different retreats, eventually graduated, and became a yoga teacher. I did it because 1) there are not a lot of yoga teachers of color, and 2) yoga was one of the biggest things to help me get through the year that Jovan passed, just to be able to be sane. It was something that kept me grounded and helped me get through the most difficult part of my life. Yoga was my source of peace. I liked how yoga made me feel, and teaching it made me feel even better. That’s been my true mission: to make people feel comfortable taking a yoga class and help them feel good about themselves.
My family’s roots are based out of Anacostia on my mother’s side. My great-great grandparents helped to get Our Lady of Perpetual Hope Church built, and, of course, they were big pillars within the community. My father’s father was an entrepreneur – he had a filter business right in Prince George’s County.
My mother’s mother and my father’s aunt were friends, so that’s how the connection came about with my parents. It wasn’t arranged, but definitely, “you should talk to him.” My parents are still together. My mother worked at the Mortgage Bankers Association as an administrative assistant when I was growing up. Now she works for the government in HR. My dad is a mechanic. When I was growing up he worked for Goodyear, and now he’s a mechanic for Montgomery County, working on the buses.
I lived in southeast Washington, DC until I was about seven, and then my parents welcomed my brother and my sister when we moved to Prince George’s County in Maryland. Because of the age difference, I still kind of grew up like the only child for a little bit because they were closer together in age. I was more of the motherly figure role to them.
I was always an independent person from being an only child most of the time, and then just being a loner. So I would say reading was my biggest thing growing up. I love to read. Goosebumps was the thing back then. Then I graduated to the Fear Street series. Now it’s more like self-help books. And now I listen to audiobooks. I wish I had time to sit down and read. I’m actually in several book clubs. I love to stay busy – that’s probably a bad thing – but I try to multichannel.
I was in a rush to leave home and just be grown. I used to work at Six Flags, so I was used to being independent and having my own money. So being independent was one thing that I wanted to keep doing. I stayed in the dorm at Bowie State University my freshman year, so I didn’t go far.
One day, the school had a recruiting event with this retail store – Ann Taylor Loft. They had a mannequin that caught my eye, and soon after I ended up becoming the key holder for them, one of the very entry-level managers. I was already a manager and supervisor at Six Flags, so retail was something that was comfortable for me. After a few months, my store manager at Loft came to me and said, “You need to think about your career when you decide your school schedule next semester.”
At this point, I had been making money, I had already moved back home and was trying not to have too much student loan debt. When you commute, you’re disconnected from school. And when you’re working full time, you’re even more disconnected. You get away from that college experience, so then school took the back burner. And back then, there weren’t a lot of evening or online classes, so my life didn’t really lend itself to continuing with school. So I worked. I eventually got promoted to the assistant store manager and kept doing that.
I left Loft after six years and I went into banking – I call it retail in a suit. I was an assistant manager for a bank – Provident Bank at the time, which is now M&T Bank. It was in Prince George’s County, and most of the managers were Black, so that was kind of an area of comfort. I eventually become a branch manager, but I left the branches due to too many robberies. One robbery was really bad. It still affects me to this day. I got a concussion. The gun went off…just a terrible robbery. The next April, I was involved in a second robbery – it wasn’t violent, but it was like, ok, enough. So by July, I went to the back office in Baltimore and was a business analyst where I audited the lockboxes and made sure checks were the right amount and images were correct. That was really nice. It got me away from customers and doing more analytical work.
It was in that time frame that I realized I wanted to advance. I felt like I was being more technically swayed, and I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do, what my next steps were going to be. I wanted to really be intentional this time. I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself into anything. I knew I wanted to be able to work from home. I wanted to be able to wear whatever I wanted to work. I wanted to get more technical. I tried to do that in the bank, but they just never really gave me that guidance on what I was lacking.
So after six years at the bank, I decided to go to Ann Arundel Community College where I studied Business Administration. But I wanted to be able to still make good money, so technology came into play; cybersecurity was one of those things that stuck out to me. So I switched gears and studied cybersecurity. I got my CCENT [Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician certificate] – I don’t think they have that anymore, but it’s like the entry-level certification for Cisco – and then I did my Security+.
After I graduated from Ann Arundel in 2014, a woman I randomly met at my allergist’s office a few months before hired me to work at her company, SourceFire, which has just been bought out by Cisco. I never thought I would work for Cisco. I got the Cisco Certification, but there are so many people that went to school for this. I went to school for not even a full two years of cybersecurity, so there is definitely a steep learning curve. I started off as a software engineer I and moved up to software engineer IV. The woman who hired me used to be the cybersecurity tester. And then when I came on, we became a team. There were some women, mostly Indian women, but it was just me and one other Black woman there.
That opportunity turned the page on everything. When you talk about law of attraction, you talk about intention. Now I was able to work from anywhere, I could work from home. I could practice yoga. I could wear jeans or whatever I wanted. I could bring my dog to work. I felt like I really got intentional, and I was able to get what I wanted. So that was really nice.
I did go back to school to get my degree in cyber security in 2019 from the University of Maryland Global Campus. I had told myself, once I graduate I’m going to really start trying to figure out what I’m going to do. I did not want to go to graduation. I didn’t want to even go to my graduation for Ann Arundel. I just felt like I was too old. I should have had my degree already; my brother and sister both had theirs. I just felt like I’m not worthy to go. But my parents encouraged me.
And right before Christmas that year, I got two job offers that I did not apply for. I was trying to get a certification for scrum master and when one of the managers I knew ended up leaving Cisco, he recommended me for his scrum master role when he left. And then I had another offer for a tester position – which I was already doing – from a team I really wanted to work on. But even though they offered me $10k more, I really wanted to be a scrum master, so I took the leap of faith. I love being a scrum master. I remove impediments and support three teams and backup for one. So I stay very busy. I live the scrum and agile processes and practices in the framework in my day to day, and I love it. So I think I made the best decision. I’m still at Cisco now – this year will be eight years.
COVID has definitely taught many people that things are not guaranteed and that you need to have some type of savings, some type of security. Before COVID, I was making a really good living off of yoga, but then yoga shifted after COVID, and it’s not as guaranteed. So I definitely am keeping my full-time job at Cisco. If I was doing something that I didn’t really like or enjoy, I probably would have said, yeah, I’m ready to get out of this, but I actually enjoy it too.
When I started teaching yoga in 2018, I had to piece together what I could find. Now I focus primarily on corporate and private clients when I teach, because the pay equities in yoga are definitely real. Many yoga teachers get paid sometimes $35 to teach a class. I like teaching, but if I’m going to teach a class for free, then it’s going to be on my terms. I teach when I want. Corporate offerings are more stable and they’re going to give you more money. I set the hours; there’s no one moving around my schedule. That’s what spoke to me.
I started to scale and grow because more people wanted me to teach classes, but I work full time. And I wanted to travel. I worked almost every day but Sunday doing yoga and I said something has to give. So I started getting subs for my classes. And then that grew into, well, I can actually help other yoga teachers to get corporate offerings. Right before the pandemic, I started getting in-person events for other teachers. So that’s when a new business idea – Yoga Teacher CEO – came to be, to help other yoga teachers be able to do this same thing.
When the pandemic hit, I had to transition to online. I sat down like everyone else to learn and fumble my way through. I started doing classes online 1) out of demand, to keep my business open, and 2) it was something that was needed, so I just wanted to keep that going. I said, ok, I’m going to start doing a Saturday class on YouTube. That’s something that I can do. Get my name out there, be able to teach. My mom told so many people about my yoga class on YouTube, and she’s there every Saturday. She’s my biggest supporter. She’s the first reason that I even started the YouTube channel, both she and my cousin, Jackie. They have been my biggest supporters–my husband, Shaquille, as well. I’m married now.
My short-term goal is to be able to really grow Yoga Teacher CEO. Connecting with other teachers is a big thing right now. I have a Tuesday Teacher Talk, which has been nice. I eventually want to move that over to a podcast, and not just for yoga teachers. That’s the short term: to be able to help other teachers and entrepreneurs through courses, build confidence to be able to turn on the camera, or get in front of people and actually teach and share what they love.
The long-term plan is to own a retreat space before I turn 55; I’ll be 37 this year, so I have time. I want to be able to really make sure my finances are okay, that if I want to finance a retreat space that I can do it. I want to get to a place where yoga is sustaining me financially. I want to be able to create a space that people can go to, where they’ll be able to relax, that is inviting for anyone to come to. I’m going to market towards women of color the most because I’ve looked at different yoga retreats, and even when I did my teacher training, I was the only Black woman there. I have to explain everything. I have to explain my hair. I have to explain this. I have to explain that. I just want to be. I just wanna show up and just be. So trying to create those safe spaces where women of color will be comfortable going and not feel like such an outsider.
I always had an entrepreneurial spirit. My first ever entrepreneurial drive was selling Avon when I was just 18. And then I ended up doing Passion Parties – they’re no longer around – and then I did Beauty Control, which was a skincare line, back in 2009. A few years ago, I ended up buying my neighbor’s condo unit. And since I moved, now I rent both condos out, so I have that stream of income.
Yoga Teacher CEO started before the pandemic, but then it grew into not only helping yoga teachers but also other entrepreneurs. And that’s where my new business, Serial EntrepreneuHER came in. It’s always having multiple streams of income and being the serial entrepreneur. Serial EntrepreneuHER stuck out to me and I wanted to foster that. So now I do courses, I do planning workshops. I have a course on Acuity Scheduling because I love Acuity. I do vision board parties and all those things are under that umbrella.
I also started a business – Melanin Queen Creative – with my childhood friend Andrea at the start of COVID. We were inspired to create our Unleash Your Melanin Magic cards by a similar gift of mindfulness cards I had given to her. We spent a lot of time developing what each activity would be; different categories like mindfulness, fun activities, or stepping outside of your comfort zone. These cards encourage women of color in particular to practice mindfulness and have fun — all while building a stronger sisterhood with a friend, loved one, or within a social circle. Typically, I do most of my business on my own, but Andrea and I decided to do this together, and it’s really been nice to be able to have someone else where you don’t have to do all of the work.
I think my advantage as an entrepreneur is probably being able to pivot and to learn technical stuff pretty fast. I’m quick with adapting. Some people may take a second to adapt and they don’t think about the plan A, plan B, and C. They’re not equipped with that.
I’ve been doing some type of home-based business since I was 18. This isn’t something that is new and it wasn’t a hurdle for me. Having other businesses make it – or not make it – I know what success looks like and how to navigate being an entrepreneur. I’m not just saying I want to teach yoga and now I have to learn all these other things about business at the same time.
Success comes when people say, “your classes really helped me get through.” That’s success. When you have people who don’t even know you come up and hug you.
I feel like especially during COVID, there’s been so much amplification of Black Lives Matter. I feel like I’ve gotten business because I am a Black woman. That sometimes is a barrier as well because you wonder, am I getting business because I’m doing well, or am I getting it because they Googled “yoga teacher around me” and I’m the first Black person that came up? So I don’t sometimes know.
Saying no has also been a barrier. I say yes to a lot of things, but then sometimes I get overwhelmed and have periods where I can’t do what I thought I was going to do and get all of my outside things done. But you typically don’t steal the time that you have to be present for others. We steal the time that we have to be present for ourselves. So it’s been a barrier to keep those promises and maintain my boundaries.
You don’t have much of a personal life. Your business life and your private life become one. Some of my privacy is taken away. I am the brand Tianna Christine and I am not the person who has individual opinions and can just say what I want to say on social media. I definitely pick and choose things that I put on social media, and I try my best to live in the moment. I do have to think about myself as a brand, not just myself as a person. So that sometimes can be a small sacrifice of your personal life.
One of the biggest things I struggle with is asking people to spend money on my business. When you’re trying to get people in the door, you tend to do a lot of free offerings. But then, when do you make that switch to saying, I’m having this free offering to now this is paid, and getting your clients to make that leap with you? Because a lot of my clients are getting this benefit through their job, so they’re not paying to take my class. But eventually I’m going to want those people to pay to take my courses, to pay to come to my retreat, to pay to do whatever. And that’s hard, asking for someone to pay because you want to make it inclusive for everybody. But yeah, you still also have to eat.
COVID has been a barrier; it definitely changed a lot of things. Not being able to touch and see has been a huge barrier. Yoga is a very personal thing, especially doing private classes. The week before COVID stopped everything, I participated in a workshop at the Essence Wellness House event, where we had to touch a person that we never knew. Heaven forbid we do that now, but we touched hands and we saw each other…it’s just more energy-based and it was a really nice connection.
I was busy every single day, and as COVID hit, all of that went away. All of my in-person classes just went away. Even my other teachers that were teaching…that ended. So that passive income stream ended as well. It took me about a solid month or so to get myself together and figure out what I was going to do. One of the plus sides of COVID was that instead of me having to get subs for most of my classes when I travel, I’ve been able to teach and take my private clients with me along on the journey.
Since May 2020, I pretty much haven’t stopped traveling, so I didn’t really stay home at all. I love to travel. I’m virtual now, so I’m everywhere. I’ve taught classes all over the country, so, yeah, I’m a very mobile person. But now people are looking for in-person. I feel like yoga retreats and yoga experiences have now taken the place of the traditional class. So I am starting to dip my toe in the retreat offerings. I don’t feel like the yoga industry is ever going to be the same.
Wellness and mental health are a big thing for me. I love food. I love traveling around for vegan food. As a yoga teacher, there is that perception that yoga teachers are all skinny. I mean, I’m ok, but I got in shape and out of shape. But I like being able to just go and eat. I take care of myself. I go get massages. I feel like I do the same things that people do… go get your feet done, do little things, dance, play music, those things help me.
Travel is definitely something I do to take care of myself. Sometimes travel can be stressful but taking a trip like the one I’m going on to Costa Rica…I haven’t been able to take a break and just say, I’m not doing nothing. Travel is definitely an escape and a way for me to be able to just take a break, get away. I like that time. I love interacting with people but then I need that time, sometimes times two, of alone time.
I’m proud that I’m able to live my life the way I had envisioned and set out with intention. I wanted to be able to travel whenever I wanted to travel. I wanted to be able to just live life as free as I could and just enjoy my time. Be able to help other people. And that’s been a joy. I’m proud that I did the things that I said I was going to do. I’m proud that things are happening. It wasn’t the way that I thought it was going to happen. My life is nothing that I thought it was going to be, but it’s still working out. I wanted to become a yoga teacher years ago. This isn’t how I imagined that it would be, but I’m happy nonetheless.
I’ve been in a place of tremendous hurt, losing my fiancé. Losing Jovan was one of the biggest challenges of my life. I never imagined that I would ever experience that. I really learned to lean on my values. That’s when I really get to dig into this thing called wellness. I know that there are traumas in people’s lives. I know that people go through things. I’ve experienced robberies and heartache and things. People are like, How are you still standing? How are you so strong? This isn’t an overnight thing. Wellness isn’t an overnight thing. It happens day by day by day. Some people think that yoga, that wellness is this magic pill…that I’m just going to feel better. Like I’m gonna take a yoga class and I’m going to just be floating. No. No. You’ve got to do the work every single day. It’s not overnight. It’s a daily thing. It’s you being real with yourself, sometimes owning your sh*t, owning the part you played in it. And that’s a real thing. So I like to approach it from a real place. I’ve got this quote on my desk that says, “It takes ten times as long to put yourself together as it does to fall apart.” It makes a lot of sense to me.