For Westchester residents Kim and Chris Ohno, their vision for a neighborhood yoga studio came into focus unexpectedly. But their thriving partnership has never been without opportunity or foresight. They simply needed to get the timing just right.
In 2013, Chris and Kim met in a yoga class at the now defunct Yoga Collective in Venice with renowned teacher Tamal Dodge. With mats parked next to each other, it was a tiny touch that brought about Kim and Chris’ union.
“At the end of every practice, the last pose is Savasana–a resting pose,” says Chris. “You lay out and you go into this almost dream-like state where you’re fully relaxed and glad the class is over. You just soak up that moment. Kim and I were practicing next to each other during the whole class and in Savasana, our hands touched. Generally, when that happens, you kind of move your hand away from that person. You’re like, ‘Oops, excuse me,’ and you move your hand. So I said, ‘Oh, sorry,’ and she said, ‘Oh, you’re good.’ So I just left my hand there.”
That moment sparked a conversation after class where they set up a first date that included yoga (of course!) then a bite to eat at Cafe Gratitude. That’s when they learned their paths had actually crossed many years before.
“We discovered on our first date that we went to high school together but didn’t know each other,” says Chris.
Surprisingly, they both attended the same small, private high school in La Puente. He graduated a year before her, unaware they would eventually connect through their love of yoga decades later. Funny how the universe works.
The couple eventually married and both underwent yoga teacher training with their mentor Tamal Dodge. With a shared vision for opening their own studio in 2019, they set their sights on a spot slightly to the east, in the Hilltop neighborhood near Slauson and Fairfax Avenues. Then Covid hit.
“We were literally about to drop a lot of money to build out the studio and then the shutdown happened. We kind of lost that dream,” says Chris.
Despite all their best intentions, the timing just wasn’t right.
During the pandemic, Kim remained active on the “Moms of Westchester and Playa del Rey” Facebook page, enjoying the powerful online kinship and loyalty members share. When someone posted that the space that used to be The Good Pizza, near little Vons on Emerson Ave., was available for rent, Kim became intrigued.
“I went to look at it, and we called the leasing agent and everything just kind of fell into place really easily,” says Kim. “The other places we looked at back in 2019 seemed to have a lot of challenges, but this one fell into place, and it’s in our neighborhood, which is a huge plus. We just hadn’t thought about this area.”
But Chris needed some convincing.
“When Kim first showed me the space, I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand how we were going to get people from all over to come into our neighborhood to take a yoga class,” says Chris. “And she said, ‘No, it’s just going to be a small neighborhood studio. Our main customers will be the moms in the neighborhood.’ Then I had a lightbulb. ‘Oh! We’ll just provide a service to the neighborhood. That’s cool!’”
Pretty quickly, Chris saw the benefits to having a location that’s nestled between several small businesses that have been thriving for decades.
“There’s this really nice community of businesses right there that feel like we’re all here for each other. Because of Vons and all the schools, it’s a wonderful hub of activity for Westchester,” says Chris.
With the mission to cater to local families, Sunstone Yoga opened in September and the response has been wonderful.
“When we opened, we wanted to do something special for the moms, knowing how big of a community they are. The first week we offered them free classes,” says Kim. “What we hadn’t expected–and were pleasantly surprised by–were the people who got to meet for the first time in person. They had seen each other online or commented on each other’s posts but had never met in person. We were creating a community and that was surprising and really rewarding!”
Coming out of the pandemic, it turns out that people are more than ready to return to group exercise classes, only in a different way.
“A lot of people are coming back into this physical fitness realm that they’ve lost because of Covid,” said Chris, who can relate. “A lot of people come into the room and say, ‘Gosh, I haven’t done anything in two years!’ And I say, ‘Join the club. Come in, get started, and it’s going to get better day by day.’”
Kim adds that it was also important to create a safe place for people who are out of practice or simply just getting started.
“These days, people are looking for something less of a cardio workout and more mindful,” says Kim.
The lunchtime yoga classes all have a 15-minute sound bath at the end where the teacher plays the crystal bowls to help your mind shift from an active state to a more tranquil one.
“The vibrations help your body heal, and it’s very relaxing. People have really gravitated to those classes. You still get a workout, but it’s a gentler way of working out and dealing with all the stress and tension Covid brought,” says Kim.
So far, the people attending the classes couldn’t be more grateful to have a studio close by that was created just for the neighborhood, she says. Chris recalls a powerful moment he overheard between one mom talking to another after class.
“She said, ‘I haven’t had an hour to myself in so long!’ That was intense to hear someone say that and almost a relief to hear,” says Chris.
Clearly, Sunstone Yoga has found a place and a purpose in this community at just the right time.
Sunstone Yoga is located at 7929 Emerson Ave. in Westchester. Learn more at sunstoneyogastudio.com.
Story by Shanee Edwards. Photos by Zsuzsi Steiner.