Originally from Chicago, Heather Beier opened Muddy Waters Yoga in 2017 in Winona, Minnesota. The mother of two girls, Beier also co-owns the spa Suola. I chatted with Beier about how she started the studio, her plethora of goats and chickens, and why yoga is truly for everyone.
Reeve: How did you discover yoga and come to own your own studio?
Heather: I started practicing very young; being super introverted I just gravitated towards yoga. In college at Winona State, I discovered a donation-based class and got to see the prophetic piece of yoga, too, which resonated with me. But it wasn’t until I went through a hard time in my life that I decided to go to a yoga conference in Indiana. That conference changed everything; it catalyzed real healing in my life.
I trained at Heartwork Yoga Studio in Northfield about ten years ago. I started teaching right away but never thought I’d open my own studio until 2016 when my husband [who’s from Winona] was running a restaurant and ended up tearing it down. He called me over one night, showed me the architectural plans, and asked “So, how about a yoga studio?!” I immediately thought I have no clue how to do that, plus I was a schoolteacher and a mom! But he planted the seed, and we opened in 2017. We’re in the sixth year of our 200-hour teacher training and we host a lot of retreats, too. We’ve gone to Greece, led backpacking trips, and even gone white water rafting with students!
You mentioned you’re an introvert – do you find that challenging as a business owner?
Yeah [laughter]. I need to be intentional to make time just for me, and I try to stay away from the studio on Sundays. But it’s also interesting because I can teach a class full of people and that doesn’t drain me the way public speaking would! It just feels natural. But I do work on letting go of needing to manage other’s expectations of me and just let myself be. I started out teaching ten classes a week, and now I teach four. That’s my magic number to the point where it feels like it’s something I really get to do versus something I have to do.
Tell me about the name of your studio. Where did it come from?
It comes from the quote [attributed to Buddha], “May I live like the lotus at ease in muddy waters.” Yoga teaches us how to live with less burdens. It causes us to ask how do we live at ease within our own muddy water? It really resonated with me, because most people look for a way to alleviate or turn down that valve of pressure, and all the things they’re feeling. We’re also right on the Mississippi – and there are some muddy waters there, too [laughing].
How does that mission shape your studio?
Everything comes down to connection, education, and experience. Everything we do runs through those. We believe all are welcome here and there’s connection to others in the studio, in the community. But also, a connection with self. There aren’t a lot of moments where we can just come and connect with ourselves—we try to provide that in the studio. And education is huge for us. Our retreats are never just a yoga retreat where you go and only do asana [yoga poses]. It’s really about education no matter where we are. And then experience, from the moment you walk into the studio, to how you’re greeted, to our retreats. I believe taking teacher training programs will teach you how to teach, but more so, they teach you how to dive into what’s called svadhyaya or self-study. The philosophies of yoga infiltrate everything we do. It’s so much more than movement. How can we use the practice of yoga to live an intentional life? It’s one of my callings to help people live alive, with their eyes open. I’m very grateful to be part of this studio, it’s a gift.
What would you say to someone who’s hesitant to come and try yoga?
The hardest part is getting there. It’s scary to try something new, especially a group class. A lot of students start as private clients just to get their feet wet. We’re all afraid of the unknown. There’s the stereotypical idea of who can do yoga, and who can’t, and our job is to continue to show it is for everyone. There’s a style or class for you, whether it’s meditation, breathwork, or restorative. Ask yourself what holds you back, and how can you reduce that barrier? Give yourself permission to pause the need to perform and always be producing—it’s so crucial for our nervous system to be able to turn off.
How does Muddy Waters help everyone feel welcome?
We teach each class for all levels. We aim to create an experience where people feel safe – in how and what we say. Our language matters. We want people to feel successful. We use layered teaching, where we start with the most accessible version [of a pose] and then provide opportunities to build on it without making the accessible version a “less than” version. Instead of saying “You can take a modification if you want,” we emphasize “If you want more grounding, try this pose,” or “If you want to challenge your balance, try this.” We’re not all here with the same bodies, it all looks different.
What’s your personal yoga practice look like?
I meditate each morning and move my body in whatever way feels good. My practice is also finding myself in the middle of the day when I feel my stress going up. If we believe in the yoga teachings, which I really do, then they create this map of how to live. So in those moments where I feel off kilter, it’s about coming back to the practices. Sometimes it’s simply getting out of my own way.
What do you do when you’re not at the studio?
I love being in nature. We live on the Mississippi and have a boat house. I also have 5 goats and a bunch of chickens! They keep me happy and busy. The yoga studio has also been such a gift in providing travel, giving me opportunities to see the world.
Where do you see the studio in five years?
I’d love to have our 500 hour training up and running – and it’s in the works! At one time I really wanted to add on, and now I dream of just staying in this small, intimate studio and trusting it is enough. I want to stay true to who we really are. To keep providing a space for people to move and breathe and come home to themselves again.
This interview has been edited for length & clarity.