Dr. Sarah Ferguson is the founder and director of Yoga Online. She has always been interested in peak performance and feeling good. This has shown up as a lifetime love of running, yoga, learning how things work, and creating healthy food with vegetables. She frequently speaks at schools and businesses on the science of resilience, habit formation and connection. Her teaching is informed by her many years as a public speaker, over 5000 hours formally teaching yoga classes, and the healthy skepticism of someone who holds a PhD in Physics.
It's an unexpected combination, but each area has so much to contribute. She has studied with many great teachers, and has been lucky enough to teach all around the world. For Sarah, yoga has always been the backbone to a clear mind and a calmer system.
Thanks for taking the time out for this interview Sarah. You're involved in so many different initiatives. Can you start by telling us about the projects you are working on at the moment?
I run two companies: Yoga Online and Breathe Repeat. Yoga Online is a New Zealand centric yoga membership site -- a bit like the Netflix of Yoga. Members can watch studio-quality classes when they want to practice at home, or when they are on vacation away from their usual teachers. I founded that almost 5 years ago, way before the current working from home situation, because I knew it could be difficult to be consistent in a yoga practice when getting to/from the studio, finding parking, changing clothes added to the time in one's day. Classes on the site start at 15 minutes, and those have been very popular.
Breathe Repeat is a professional development company with a focus on smarter habits and stress resilience. So much of our days depend on the habits we have -- for better and for worse. I read current neuroscience, psychology, and behavioural economics, and translate this into workshops and seminars for schools and businesses. It's immensely satisfying.
You’ve had considerable success in the field of Physics including a PhD in Computational Optics. What prompted the switch from a career in physics to one in yoga?
I was always interested in doing something meaningful with my career, and the study of how things work -- Physics -- provided a solid foundation for this. Along the way, I noticed that incredibly talented people didn't always last the longest in the field. Those who made it through had other qualities beyond talent or genius. My interest shifted to what makes people excel? And if one excels is that "a good life" or is there more? Yoga is a brilliant way of regulating the nervous system: something I'd previously found with distance running, but the breath component of yoga accesses things a little differently.
Who and where were you in your life when you started yoga?
I was a graduate student, working in the US on my PhD and realising I needed to find more ways to relax. I finally had the time to try yoga when I came back to NZ over a Christmas break, and recognised several of my school friend's mothers doing headstands in the middle of the room. I loved that it was all ages doing this.
Where did the idea to start Yoga Online come from?
As someone who's quite independent, the idea of being able to do yoga anywhere was highly appealing. I had a friend who happens to be a videographer, so we filmed the first 2-3 years of sessions at a studio in downtown Auckland, when I had pauses in my teaching schedule.
What have been some of the challenges of running Yoga Online during the last few years (i.e. pandemic)?
When the pandemic hit, I purchased my own camera and a wide-angle lens and taught myself how to film and edit videos. It was after the first lockdown, and I mentioned to my friend I'd bought one "just in case there were more lockdowns". I remember him saying, "oh, don't say that". One of the challenges over lockdowns was that everyone else in my household was home, too, so I couldn't film much because the sounds would pick up on camera.
What is one of the most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
My PhD. It taught me precision, work ethic, consistency, and patience. My teaching style is quite different from other yoga teachers because I come to yoga with a different way of seeing the shapes (asana).
If you could have dinner with anyone present or past, who would that be and why?
My grandmothers on both sides of the family. They both passed away when I was very young, and I would like to have known them better. Knowing our family and where we come from helps us see the interconnected nature of everyone.
What would you do differently if you were starting a business today?
Build a massive social media following first!
This changes all the time. Today, it's savasana, for sure.
Huberman Lab Podcast. I've been listening since day 1.
The Great Gatsby, The Moon and Sixpence, The Good Earth. Anything that breaks your heart a little and makes you see things from a different perspective.