Interview with Amber Stratton, Co-founder of Pure Yoga

If you’re a yogi living in the Ottawa area, chances are you’re familiar with the Pure brand, whether it’s because you practice at a Pure Yoga studio or because you regularly get together with friends over a plate of Radical Wings and a Revive Alive cocktail at Pure Kitchen. The Pure brand has become a staple of the local yoga community, having gained a die-hard band of followers and supporters in recent years. With three yoga studios and two restaurants established in Ottawa in under a decade (plus a fourth studio in Toronto), co-founders Amber Stratton and Jen Dalgleish have managed to turn their passion for yoga into a successful career that allows them to do what they love every single day.

We caught up with co-founder Amber Stratton to hear about her journey from yogi to instructor to business owner and learn more about what’s in store for the Pure brand in the future.

Ottawa Life: What originally sparked your interest in practicing yoga and why did you decide to open your own studio?

Amber Stratton: I started yoga mostly because I was curious. I had always been into all sorts of fitness and when I was 21, I heard of hot yoga and thought it sounded really cool and trendy. So I tried it out of curiosity, but for the first few classes I actually found it really hard to even get through the whole 90-minutes. Eventually, after practicing for a while, I definitely started to experience that “yoga-buzz” that everybody talks about and that’s what really made me stick with it.

Then, in 2006, I completed my yoga teaching, which was such an amazing experience. I was really lucky to study with an amazing teacher and gain a very authentic experience; but coming back to Canada, I found it really hard to relate to a lot of the traditional aspects of the practice. Even though I came back as a certified yoga teacher, I felt like I didn't really fit in. And that wasn’t because of the other yoga studios or teachers or the way people made me feel; it was completely on myself, but it sparked my interest in opening a studio that was a little bit more modern—a place where every single person would feel welcome.

I think yoga can be really intimidating at times, especially when you’re starting for the first time. It was amazing to be able to create a space where people wouldn’t feel intimidated and bring that element of customer service into the yoga world to give it more of a modern feel. I always describe Pure Yoga as an “East meets West” kind of experience, where we offer both traditional and non-traditional classes. For me, Pure is about getting everyone into yoga—even the people who would have never thought to try it in the first place.

You teach classes at all three Pure Yoga locations: Downtown, Centretown and Westboro. What is your favourite part about teaching and what is your favourite class to teach?

My favourite part about teaching is that it is, and always has been, a creative outlet for me. I’ve always loved movement and yoga, and combining the music and sequencing all together is something that really feeds the creative side of my brain and my body. It also gives me a nice opportunity to step away from the “business side” of things. When I close the door to the hot room when I’m teaching, I feel completely present. And if I do have any stresses that are happening on the business side, I’m able to really set them aside and just teach. My heart is, and always will be, in the teaching side of yoga. I never feel depleted from teaching, it always fills me up and energizes me, and that’s definitely part of why I love it so much.

My favourite class to teach really depends on the mood I’m in. It’s really hard to choose just one favourite! I’ve been teaching my Core class since the day we opened and it’s definitely one of our busiest classes. I’ve built it up and I really love it—it’s a lot of fun and also really challenging, but it finds that balance at the same time.

What has been your proudest yoga moment or achievement, either as a yogi or as a teacher?

For any yogi who has been practicing for a really long time, I think your proudest moment is always when you realize that yoga isn’t about the physical practice itself. Once you realize that, you’re able to step away from it and step beyond it, and ultimately drop the ego that can sometimes come along with it.

As an instructor, the best moments are definitely getting the feedback from students and having people come up to you just to let you know how much yoga has changed their lives. People are always so grateful to the instructor or to the studio, and I always make a point of letting them know that they did the work, we were just able to provide the space. And to be able to offer that creative, safe space for people to unfold and unwind and transform is pretty amazing. As an instructor, those are definitely stand-out moments.

Yoga has played a huge role in your professional career, but throughout this process, how has your own personal practice changed or improved? Do you still find that you have time to practice on your own?

I make it a priority to put my practice into my schedule, almost above anything else. Sometimes I do yoga, sometimes I do other forms of movement; but regardless of what the workout is, I always make it a priority because I just can’t keep filling from an empty cup. When you have teachers and staff and students relying on you, you need to show up and you need to be energized. I’ve made it convenient for myself to live a healthy life and I’m lucky that I have Pure Kitchen and that I live in Westboro, because this all makes it really easy for me to live an overall healthy lifestyle.

I also schedule myself nights in, which is something I haven’t always done. I used to be a “say-yes-to-everything” kind of person, but now I feel like I’m much more grounded. I think it’s important to schedule time at home to spend with my family and my dog to really strike a balance in my life.

Your vegetarian restaurant, Pure Kitchen, offers a wide variety of delicious and nutritious meals prepared by one of the Pure partners, chef Olivia Cruickshank. What is our favourite item on the menu and why?

My husband will make fun of me for saying this—he thinks I’m so lame because I order the same thing every time. My go-to is definitely the kale salad, but I think my favourite item always will be the Fantastic Bowl. It’s just so good!

Your team recently announced that you will be expanding Pure Kitchen and opening a third location in Kanata this year. What else can we expect to see from the Pure brand in the future?

Well, we are now officially headlining the City of Om yoga festival at Lansdowne, so you’ll definitely see a refresh and rebrand of City of Om. We’re really excited to add some new elements to it and we hope to see it grow into more than just a one-day festival—maybe expand it to two or three days in the future. We’ve always had our eye on Kanata for a yoga studio as well, but it’s always about waiting for the right space and the right time. Although it may not seem this way, all of our growths have been fairly organic, and we’re pretty open to taking risks just because we’re big believers in our own product, as a business should be.

We also have a Pure Yoga studio in Toronto, so I could definitely see us expanding Pure Kitchen into some bigger cities as well, and maybe opening another studio in Toronto and one in Kanata. We also just hosted our first official retreat in Costa Rica as part of Pure Yoga Retreat, so we’re getting more into the retreat scene and hoping to start developing the program in the coming months. Eventually we’d like to offer up to four retreats per year, so stay tuned for that.

But, other than that, you really just never know! Sometimes things come up and we’re like, “Yeah, let’s do it!” We have a really great team and really great partners, so we’re lucky in so many ways to be able to do everything we do.