Interview conducted by Chanèle McFarlane
Photography by Keidi Janz

We’re all guilty of it. We spend hours sitting at our desks, working away at our to-do lists. If we’re on a tight timeline, we may not even get up for a brief break, let alone take an hour to step away and have lunch. Before we know it, our sedentary lifestyle gets the best of us. Just ask Inna Miretski.

As a result of her sedentary 9-5 job, she suffered a painful lower back injury that left her unable to sit for several months. After recovering, she was determined to ensure she didn’t cause any further damage and began to practice yoga in her office chair. Little did she know, she had sat upon (pun absolutely intended) a brilliant idea.

Now, she’s the Founder of UTKATA Yoga, Toronto and Canada’s first and only 30-minute office chair yoga service that requires nothing but a chair. She has successfully redefined corporate wellness by designing a plan that fits right into the busy work environment. Isn’t it amazing how our toughest experiences can lead to our best ideas?

Keep reading to soak up Inna’s wisdom as she shares the value of growing your team, the importance of putting things in perspective and why we shouldn’t fear the potential of failure:

Tell us about a time that life handed you lemons. Did you make lemonade? 

The biggest lemon batch that life had ever handed me was in 2012. I suffered a lower back disc injury that  caused me to spend 6 months in my bed not being able to sit at all (think eating at a table, driving, going to the washroom, etc.) and barely being able to walk. Then, for another year and a half I was able to sit only for about 30 minutes before my legs would start going numb. The injury was likely caused by a sedentary lifestyle.

Only after 2 years of unsuccessful rehab I finally met the physiotherapist who literally restarted me. I consider the day I met him to be my second birthday. He worked with me every day and convinced me to re-introduce gentle yoga poses back into my daily routine. Within a couple of months I was almost back to normal. I couldn't believe it.

When I recovered and started working again, I knew I had to do something to get myself through the sedentary 9-5 without further damaging my back. So I started practicing chair yoga right in my office chair throughout the day to keep by back in check. It wasn't long before others started expressing interest too.

It was there and then when the idea of UTKATA Yoga - my company, my lemonade - was born. A 30-minute Office Chair Yoga service that requires nothing but a chair. Any chair.

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After that first year, how did you scale your business and continue to grow?

There are so many scaling tactics and advice out there, but if I had to choose a single most important one that helped me scale UTKATA Yoga, it would be growing my team.

If you want to grow your business, you absolutely have to grow your team in order to be able to deal with the growing amount of work. You can’t do everything on your own, and you shouldn’t.

Expanding your team obviously has its challenges. First of all, you need to come up with funds to pay salaries when your business is barely generating revenue if at all. You need to find the right people for the job; not only qualified and talented, but people who truly share your vision. And then, even when you do find them, letting go and let someone else handle tasks is not easy, especially if you’re a control freak like me. But it’s necessary. So if you can add even one person to your team, do it. Two people can get more sh*t done than one.

How do you measure success in your career?

To me, there are 2 major components to success and both are equally important.

The first one is feedback from clients. When people come up to me and my team after class and thank us for helping them, for making them feel better, for improving their day, for making their back pain or headache disappear, it means everything to us. It means that we're making a difference not only in these people's lives but hopefully in their offices' culture as well. It means that we're succeeding in our mission of making the workplace a healthier space both physically and mentally.

The second success component, for some reason, is rarely being mentioned. Maybe it's because people don't want to come across as too materialistic, but it's an important and inevitable one. I'm talking about revenue. The reality is that good karma doesn't pay my team's salaries or my business operations costs and it doesn't put food on my family's table. And if I want my business to exist and be able to help others, It must be profitable.

The two components go hand in hand and depend on each other. If I want my business to make money, I must deliver great, high-quality and meaningful service to people. And if I want to be able to deliver great, high-quality and meaningful service to people, I need money to support this mission.

"Entrepreneurship is anything but safe and secure, but then, what in life is?"   

How much of your success as an entrepreneur has come from taking risks versus playing it safe?

Hands down, taking risks accounts for most of my success. And by “taking risks” I mostly mean “listening to your gut.” It might not be the right thing to do on paper, but if, for some reason it feels right, I just go for it.

If in doubt, I ask myself 2 questions that I learned from Tim Ferriss. The first one is: “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I fail?” I imagine the worst case scenario and then ask myself the next question:“Is it fixable?” In most cases the answer is yes. And knowing that you can handle a potential failure makes the risk-taking feel safer.

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Was there ever a moment that you questioned your decision to become an entrepreneur? How did you overcome it?

Yes, there was. When I gave birth to my son and became a mother. When I was holding him in my arms for the first time, the powerful emotions I was experiencing were absolutely indescribable. It was magnificent and unlike anything I've ever felt before. And within this mix of intense love and joy that completely took over me, I was also experiencing feelings of worry for the future and thoughts of how will I be able to provide him with a safe and secure future.

Entrepreneurship is anything but "safe and secure," but then, what in life is? Nothing is certain but death and taxes, as Benjamin Franklin famously wrote. So I decided that if there's anything truly valuable that I can do for my son, it is to teach him how to be brave and follow his dreams, how to be resilient in the face of failure, and how to embrace change with open arms and a smile on his face. The best way to teach, I believe, is by example. And that was how I overcame my doubts. Two hours later I was already replying to work emails, while still recovering from Epidural :)

Who is a fellow Toronto-based female entrepreneur that inspires you and why?

Michele Romanow is definitely a source of inspiration, mainly for 2 reasons. First of all, it feels like she has this positive energy about her. It seems as if she's always smiling, even when she isn't! She has the best attitude about everything and I suspect that it plays an important role in her success. Secondly, despite being so busy she always makes time for a fitness break. I know because I follow her on Instagram :) And if someone as busy as Michele can find the time to work out and take care of her physical and mental health, anyone can and should!

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What would you say has been the biggest mistake you've made and how did you rectify it?

My biggest mistake was not becoming an entrepreneur earlier in life. The decision to do your own thing and be your own boss is a risky one. But as I mentioned before, you should ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen if you fail?

You’ll lose money? You can earn it back. You’ll put your career on hold? You can restart it. What are your friends and family going to think if you fail? Who cares?!

The only thing you can never get back is lost time. So if you want to give entrepreneurship a try, do it NOW. There will never be a better or perfect timing.

What is your best negotiation tip?

When going into a negotiation, know exactly how much you’re willing to compromise. Know your red line and never cross it.

A successful negotiation to me is when both sides are happy with the outcome. It's important for the future of the relationship that you're building with the other party. If you’re leaving the negotiation realizing that you’ve given up way more than you wanted to or could afford to, you’ll feel defeated and even resentful towards the other side. Such feelings will prevent you from building a successful, long lasting relationship with them and your business will suffer as a result.

Make sure that anything that you're agreeing to during a negotiation, be it a free service or product, or a reduced price, you'll be happy with and willing to commit wholeheartedly. I believe that people can feel your energy when you're doing business with them. And it's your choice whether the energy you're exuding is negative or positive. So before negotiation, try imagining all scenarios and decide what's the maximum you're willing to give up and still be happy with the final deal.

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What is a personal or professional challenge that you're faced with right now?

My current challenge is establishing a new work-life balance. Becoming a mom and having a very active and curious 6 month old at home is definitely a game changer. Mine and my husband's families don't live in Canada so we don't have that help available to us and have to rely solely on ourselves. So I'm figuring out how to balance being a mom, an entrepreneur, and still have some personal time.

I think there's no right answer here. I always keep in mind the fact that, just like in yoga, balance is a dynamic, ever changing, ever evolving concept. Even in a seemingly static pose, like Tree Pose for example, if you look down at the foot you're balancing on, you'll notice movement. You'll also notice that on a certain day, balancing in a Tree Pose will feel effortless and natural, but on another, it might feel difficult and exhausting. And it's okay. So I just go with the flow and take it one day at a time.

What is one thing you wish you knew before becoming your own boss?

I wish I knew how important and hard it is to take breaks for rest and to celebrate even the smallest wins. What I mean is, being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 gig. The work doesn't suddenly stop after 5PM, on weekends or on statutory holidays. Nobody is going to tell you "Go home! Get some rest!" So being your own boss, you have to do it yourself. And it's hard because the work never ends, and nobody is going to get sh*t done for you, and if you're passionate and determined you just want to keep going.

But you have to remember that proper rest is crucial for having enough energy to keep building your business. And obviously for maintaining good physical as well as mental health. Taking the time to celebrate even the smallest wins is super important too because it helps you feel and acknowledge that things are actually moving in the right direction. Maybe not quite as fast as you wish them to, but you’re getting there. View it as a necessary motivation fuel.

So make sure that every once in a while you take the time to sit back, relax, and take a few sips of that amazing lemonade that you’re making. At the least you’ll feel refreshed. And who knows, maybe you’ll realize how to make it taste even better.


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