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04/19/2008, 10:26 AM

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Toronto Star: Stratus faction

By Press
Seven-time former World Wrestling Entertainment champion Trish Stratus is no longer prowling the ring in search of opponents to pin to the canvas. These days, she's just north of Toronto, in Vaughan Mills, pinning clients to a yoga mat.

"Yoga is like a power nap for the mind," says Stratus, sitting down to talk meditation, money and mid-life career changes. This is, after all, the eve of the unveiling of her aptly named Stratusphere - a 5,200-square-foot complex devoted to the practice of the eastern art - which opens on April 26. It is the big-box suburban alternative to the downtown yoga cubbyhole.

Stratusphere Yoga was designed to be anything but a generic, genteel gymnasium. Richmond Hill native Stratus envisions it as a community centre of sorts, catering to all ages and abilities. "We are trying to make Stratusphere a comfortable place where the experienced can come and advance their practice, and where someone new could come in and find something they love. My mom can go to the restorative class while I take the power class; then, we sit afterward and hang out."

What everyone will find at Stratusphere is a centre that houses three separate studios, offering different classes at any given hour. In the middle is a lounge where members can relax over a cup of tea, further enhancing the placid vibe that Stratus is so proud of. There's also a yoga library for those practitioners seeking more in-depth information on the roots and schools of thought of this ancient philosophy. "Of course, every single staff member in the facility, from the cashier to the instructors, lives yoga," says Stratus. Key to Stratus's vision is knowledgeability of the employees - all of them. The newly baptized in particular will find themselves immersed and, most importantly, welcomed.

The studio offers classes in several disciplines of yoga for varying levels of clientele, from inexperienced to expert, expectant to just plain exhausted. Yoga is for anyone, Stratus says. "There are a lot of misconceptions about it. Many people think you're chanting while your body is twisted like a pretzel." She manages to acknowledge yoga's benefits to both body and mind without waxing New Age rhapsodic.

Stratus's introduction to yoga came in 2005, after traditional physiotherapy methods failed to help a wrestling-related back injury. What impressed her about yoga at the time was its nearly-immediate rehabilitative power and, subsequently, her renewed capacity "to do more, physically, because of increased flexibility."

Certainly, enthusiasts often cite yoga's physical benefits alongside the simple fact that they can practice just about anywhere, with virtually no equipment. Add to these obvious pluses yoga's low- or no-impact nature and that it affects a soothing influence on the spirit, and it becomes a fitness, health, well-being and weight-loss regimen for today's hectic lifestyles.

Stratus is quick to credit yoga with helping her to be calmer, clearer and generally more focused. "This sounds clich�, but it really does occur. People have busy, stressful lives and don't know how to turn off. When I began, I imagined I'd be composing to-do lists in my head, but you learn to finally drop it. It's an amazing effect." In this amazing effect, Stratus also saw a potential business plan.

Opportunities to use her name commercially had been previously presented to Stratus - without success - after she retired from wrestling in 2006. "All these interesting offers came: a clothing line, an energy drink, facial care - all great opportunities," she admits, "but nothing felt real. It wasn't my idea or product." Her dream of a yoga studio offered the chance to promote something she was passionate about, on her own terms.

Stratusphere Yoga was born of turning a personal interest into a personalized business. Her partner in this venture is her friend and certified yoga instructor, Janette Lynn. The two of them had talked of the possibility of a studio countless times, recalls Stratus, and she often found herself saying, "One day I would love to open a studio." Finally, Stratus decided to "make 'one day' today." If the initial location proves successful, there is the possibility of turning Stratusphere Yoga into a national chain.

Despite stereotypical expectations over the years that she would relocate to some other internationally glamorous city befitting her celebrity, Stratus has always lived in Toronto's northern reaches. It became inevitable to introduce the studio bearing her name close to home. "Vaughan Mills is a fantastic location," Stratus gushes of the place she knows so well. "And it's in my stomping grounds. Of course, it's convenient for commuting, so you can just pop into a class on the way to work�."

Will clients of Stratusphere Yoga see Trish on the mat next to them taking classes or even conducting them? (She will complete her instructor's certification this summer.) "Absolutely," she says, to both questions. "My husband jokes that I'm doing this just so I have a place to practice."

As it turns out, the venture has been a family collaboration, too, as Stratus's husband, Ron, who's in the construction trade, built the studio. But the business element of their partnership may have ended with the opening of Stratusphere, as he has yet to become a yoga practitioner. "Well, we'll see about that," says Stratus with a laugh. "That's my next goal in life."


By Marcus Tamm

Prime Time spoke with Trish Stratus about her latest project, a yoga studio bearing her name, Stratusphere. Prime Time also asked about why she chooses to remain in Toronto, future side-projects, changing careers, and working closely with her husband and partner of 15 years - despite the fact that yoga is too much of a 'stretch' for him.

PRIME TIME: What is it about yoga that made you evangelical, that made you want to share it with others, as a business?

TRISH STRATUS: I don't want to sound preachy, but I really believe in yoga as the power of healing, on so many levels. I did it first for rehab purposes and it was fascinating to see how quickly my injury went away and how much more agile I was, how much more my body could give to what I was doing athletically. I liked it because my back was better and then, after a while, it's like a different level. It's this spiritual thing they talk about and I don't want to get too deep into the spiritual but your outlook on life changes and you let things roll off your back.

PT: Does yoga become a lifestyle?

TS: Yes, absolutely it does. There are so many trends in fitness. I've been in fitness for a long time and I've seen trends come and go but this is really sticking because it works. It's fantastic and when I see people who are stressed out, I think to myself, 'I wish they could do yoga.' When they do, they stick with it.

PT: What is it about Stratusphere that will draw someone who hasn't tried yoga yet or who has tried it a few times to decide that this is the place where to come and do it? How do you make it so that it says Trish Stratus, so that it's your place for coming to yoga?

TS: What I love about yoga is that I could be traveling all over and drop into a studio anywhere in the world and have a sense of community with people I don't even know. I've tried to make Stratusphere almost a kind of community centre for yogis. When I started running last year, I was inspired by the Running Room's fantastic program. When you walk in, the cashiers are also runners. So if you have a question, they can guide you. It's great because if you want to try running out but aren't sure, you'll see on Wednesday there's a bunch of people running and maybe you want to join them.

PT: Was a reason for starting in Toronto? So it could be close to home as well?

TS: Yeah, that's my home base, it always has been. Even with wrestling, being on the road for so many years� People are shocked, they'll say, 'You still live in Toronto?' Or, 'What are you doing here?' I'll say 'I live here!' They all think I've moved elsewhere. But Toronto is my home. I've always lived in Richmond Hill. And even though we've moved a few times, it's always north. Vaughan Mills is a fantastic location.

PT: Is there a chance there will be Trish Stratus yoga mats, gear, etc?

TS: These things are being considered, absolutely. In the WWE, we discussed doing a clothing line and the timing wasn't right or it wasn't that important, you know, top of my list �so I didn't pursue it. Now I realize I have the right platform to present something that goes along with what we're doing. It kinda ties it all in.

PT: I wanted to ask about changing careers, which is something you've done several times to this point already. Does it get easier because your name and brand is more marketable now, going into a new venture, or is it still just as daunting?

TS: I think so. The name certainly helps. But every move I've made has been almost as if I've been walking down a path and something has made me look this way and that's why I've gone this way. When I left wrestling, everything was amazing, I was doing fantastic. I had won six world championships and I had traveled all over the world but, when it came to sign for five more years, it was like, 'Sure, why not keep going?' - except, I just felt like I was done. I wanted to close that chapter because there was other stuff that I wanted to do and I didn't yet even know what it was. I remember I wanted to travel - and now a travel TV show has come my way. From being a fitness model to the wrestling to the yoga studio, I feel as though all my personal experiences are there.

PT: Part of your support system is your long-standing relationship of over 15 years already with your husband. Is there a secret to that longevity?

TS: Our relationship has a really strong foundation: a friendship. With friends, you understand what they want and what their goals are. We understand it like that and we're doing it together. But everything we did prior to getting married, we knew we wanted to be successful as separate entities. We did that and now it's neat that we understand each other's goals separately but, at the same time, we can ask ourselves, 'What else can we do together?' Hence, now, the studio.

PT: Best of both worlds? You get to inhabit the same work environment for a time and then you're forced to go apart, as I assume once the studio is built, his involvement with it will be purely personal?

TS: You can talk to him about that, as it would mean him doing a class!



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