While many small businesses in the area faced challenges during the pandemic year, some entrepreneurs saw opportunities to adapt, survive and even thrive. Such is the case for Angie Toman, owner of Living Balance Studios, a local wellness and fitness boutique.
Living Balance opened its store front as a private-instruction only studio in Fayetteville in 2013, but Toman had been offering lessons since 2001. When the pandemic hit, Toman was able to host online classes.
Due to her ingenuity and dedication to serving her clients, Toman not only adapted her business to survive COVID-19 restrictions, but is now able to expand her business.
On May 15, Living Balance Studios will host a grand re-opening of sorts, with additional space to meet customer needs. The public is invited to the free event scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at 201 S McPherson Church Road, to enjoy a sampling of classes offered at the studio. There will be raffle prizes, nutrition and wellness consultations, and more.
Hobby to Career
Toman is a former trial lawyer turned health and wellness teacher who began her journey in yoga and Pilates back in the early 90’s to help with her migraines, a result of her stressful work life.
“At the time, no one in town was teaching yoga in my part of Florida, so I basically started watching videos and training myself, and it wasn’t too hard given that I had a dance background,” Toman said. “It was fun, a hobby on the side.”
After moving to Fayetteville in August of 2000, she became a stay-at-home mom.
“I wasn’t good at just staying home and I started getting very antsy,” she recalls. “I was looking for something to do and a local gym started offering yoga classes, so a friend of mine recommended me to teach yoga and Pilates.”
After teaching for a while, her students requested private lessons, which led her to offering lessons out of her home or client’s homes.
“I started doing that and from then it was kind of word of mouth,” Toman said.
“A student told a friend, and a friend told a friend and in a year or two I was basically this travelling yoga show.”
Toman moved to D.C. and continued her business there before returning to Fayetteville in 2010. After divorce, she had to figure out if she was going to make this hobby her career. Her family and friends thought she was crazy not to go back to practicing law where she could make a lot more money, she said.
“I liked being a lawyer, being a trial attorney, I liked the energy of that, I enjoyed the adrenaline rush, but I knew it wasn't the type of job for me if I wanted to be present with my kids and create my own schedule,” Toman said.
“So, I decided I was going to give it a shot. I told my family I was going to give it five years, and if I can’t support my family then I’ll go back to being a lawyer.”
Thriving during a pandemic
Living Balance began in 2013 with five to seven instructors who taught private lessons. Class space increased from one studio to two within two years after opening, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that Toman really considered expanding the business.
During the pandemic, most of their clients continued lessons online when the studio was closed, so the business survived the financial pinch many small businesses in the area felt.
“About 75 percent of our clientele stayed with us,” Toman said. “Some bought two to three packages ahead of time to help us keep the cash flow, so I was able to pay rent, pay my instructors.”
Hosting online classes during the last year also allowed her to continue classes with clients who were out of town or on vacation,
Toman decided to open a bigger space and offer group classes. With some local yoga studios permanently closing their doors during the pandemic year, she had the opportunity to ask those owners for their top yoga instructors.
“Because there were so many instructors who were suddenly out of work, I was able to really pick the best ones for my team,” she said.
Toman looked for instructors with more in-depth training than basic yoga certification, those working therapeutically with clients who had injuries, health concerns and those who didn’t feel comfortable for any reason mentally or physically.
“I was specific about who I hired, how they were trained, and spent time observing private classes to understand the attention to detail that comes with a private class,” Toman said.
With expansion, Toman was worried that she wouldn’t have time to teach and would become more of an administrator, which led her to making her two lead instructors managers.
Jessica Laird runs social media and marketing, while Vicky Greene runs all the administrative day-to-day things that come up, allowing Toman time to lead some classes.
“I know what my passion is, it’s teaching and watching people grow in their practice, and watching it change their life, whether it's physically, mental or spiritually,” Toman said.
“Pilates is all about core strength, your abdominal strength, your back strength,” Toman said. “So many people have back issues - as opposed to taking a pill for the pain, Pilates is a great place to strengthen all those muscles, it gives you support,” she said.
Most clients who do Pilates find that it’s a strong workout, it’s a hard workout, but they feel good afterwards and it’s low impact, she mentioned.
A yogi of 27 years, Toman likes to run, life weights and do aerobics as well, but yoga is the main thing that keeps her body moving and
“It’s so good for your joints, your muscles, it allows you to keep moving,” she said.
Toman emphasized the benefits of yoga and centering yourself in the stressful environment of the pandemic.
“I find myself in the morning just doing five or 10 minutes of yoga, it gets me mentally ready for the day, it’s such a stress reliever,”
Dream Come True
“A year ago in March, this was not even on my radar,” she said. “It's been a whirlwind of a year, it's been wonderful, people ask me if I am stressed but I am not stressed, I am busy.”
The pandemic and lockdown worked in favor of the studio, giving them the chance to focus and get construction done and conduct a soft open on March 22.
“Everything has fallen into place, like I am doing what I was supposed to be doing,” she said.
“My kids say ‘you’re so lucky to love what you’re doing every day,’ but I say the idea behind this started in 2001 and we are in 2021 — it’s been a 20-year process, it didn’t happen overnight,” Toman said.
The mission behind the launch of Living Balance Studios was to have the place become a sanctuary for everyone that entered, she said. “I want this place to be where people can let go of their world and be taken care of,” she said.
Grand Opening and Beyond
Living Balance Studios will be expanding in the same building but will now see larger studio spaces, going from 1500 to 4,300 square feet in the building, which was formerly Morgan’s Chop House. They will now have 26 coaches on their team.
The Grand Opening will offer free classes in four studios. Classes are expected to fill up quickly, so get there early to sign up for slots. For a detailed schedule of classes, visit www.livingbalancestudiosnc.com/grand-opening
“We will be offering lectures and discussions on health, wellness and all our services, where people can be educated about them,” Toman said. Hayat from Hayat Yoga Shala (one of the yoga businesses that closed last year) will be a keynote instructor.
Raffle tickets will be available for purchase to bid on different items like a 25-class-pass, an Apple Crate Basket, massage therapy gift certificates, wellness coaching gift certificates and more. Classes will be free, but donations will be accepted to benefit The Better Health Organization of Cumberland County and The Children’s Advocacy Center.
The Grand Opening will highlight a sampling of what Living Balance Studios will offer: yoga, Pilates, life and wellness, nutrition, counselling, yoga assist massage, reiki and more.
“The nutrition coach will help guide your grocery shopping, go through your pantry, the life and wellness training focuses on lifestyle and living healthier, yoga assist massage, a form of Thai massage, where the client lies on the floor and I passively put them in different yoga poses. While they are in that pose, I am doing pressure points and massage on their body. We have got reiki services which are energy healing,” Toman said.
The studio will be offering workshops this summer on meditation workshops, chakra, hula hoop. Information will be listed on their website.
Living Balance also offers free Karma Yoga workshops every Thursday for the community at 6 p.m.
“One thing we are known for is being very detail oriented, we have a great reputation, trying to take care of the clients,” Toman said. “Even though we have a lot more people now I want it to be that experience.”
Pictured Above: Living Balance Studios was able to expand their space in the last year and hire additional instructors (above). Their grand opening on May 15 will hilight available classes to include restorative yoga & riki, hot yoga, pilates, as well as forums such as healthy eating and Chakras 101.