Meet Nina Ryner, Founder of the Atypical Yoga Studio of Your Dreams

With ChromaYoga, she's created a brand new model for wellness using colour and light therapy that's got nothing to do with yoga cliches.
All images courtesy of ChromaYoga

So, there’s essentially two camps of people when it comes to yoga. There’s the die-hard enthusiasts who basically live for doing the anatomically impossible and putting their bodies in rather uncomfortable looking yet supposedly ‘good for you’ contortions while tuning into bird sounds and whale noises; then, there’s people like us—like, theoretically we could be into it, but can’t be assed dealing with the whole cult of incense and faux new age values that tends to come with capital-Y Yoga. So it’s a welcome relief, then, that one entrepreneur has created a concept that pretty much panders to all things millennial but in a smart way. ChromaYoga is a studio in Shoreditch, London, which uses light, colour, sound and scent to create and curate yoga experiences that check off the wellness and experiential boxes at once. Offering four classes a day, each class aims to draw attention to different sensations and states of mind thanks to the use of specific colour and light meant to stimulate certain physical reactions. We spoke to Nina Ryner, the founder of ChromaYoga, about creating the first kind of yoga model like this and why aesthetics and wellness go together.

GIRLS ARE AWESOME: Hi, Nina. You’ve done tons before ChromaYoga. Can you lead us through your journey from the creative industry to yoga? 

Nina Ryner: So, I did a film degree in university but I didn’t really enjoy it: the majority of the class were boys and I was pitching these quite feminist ideas, so obviously, that didn’t really go down too well.

I finished that kind of reluctantly and in my spare time I went to a lot of festivals and basically just partied a lot. I wanted to wear cool outfits to parties and festivals, and I could never find anything I liked. So I taught myself how to sew and ended up making loads of stuff myself. That got the attention of a few bands and creative people and I ended up with my own fashion label. 

I did that for a few years, basically teaching myself to sew patterns and work with other people; it was just a slow learning curve, really.

And then I ended up getting myself a job as a backing dancer in band, so I was kind of doing fashion and dancing around the world for, like, five years. 

When that finished, I carried on with my label a little bit, but I wasn’t really making much money out of it. I mean, fashion is quite a hard industry and business to make money out of: you have to throw a lot of money at it to be able to make it work.

Does your interest in fitness stem from that time you were a backing dancer? 

Not really, because I wasn’t really a backing dancer. I was more of a hype-girl, so I wasn’t really that fit. It was a lot of touring, drinking and partying. It’s not a fitness lifestyle. I was probably my most unfit when I was dancing, but I had a lot of fun.

But yeah, in terms of my interest in fitness, I am more interested in creating alternative spaces for the industry which aren’t really available at the moment.

How have your experiences working as a ‘creative’ influenced your approach to yoga, and what do you think is the intersection between yoga and creativity?

Since I’m not a part of and never worked in the fitness or wellness industry, I’m a bit like a consumer of fitness seeing what’s around. And I usually feel dissatisfied about what I see: there’s rarely been anything that I really connected to or spoke to me.

So, I think that coming from a creative background is and advantage: I don’t know of any people who own gyms or yoga spaces or are starting anything fitness-oriented who are thinking about it creatively. Creatively in terms of ergonomics and design, the feel of the space and the experience of the whole thing, rather just focusing on the actual movement or the actual fitness routine. 

That’s what actually keeps me interested in this.

How would you describe ChromaYoga to people?

As I said I’m more interested in creating new, alternative spaces, and using ideas which haven’t ever been paired with yoga or fitness before. I think that the creative side of ChromaYoga compliments the actual yoga practice really well. It’s about using visual aid and also just colour in general, as well as sound and anything multi-sensory.

It’s about trying to reach this mental and emotional state that a lot of people miss when they go to fitness or yoga classes. In typical classes, a lot of people are concentrating on how their body looks or trying to reach that higher level where all the spiritual side comes from—which some people get put off by, it’s a cliche that can be unrelatable. So, ChromaYoga is really about getting to an emotional state which is beneficial for your well-being.

How did you build the concept?

I was working part time for a yoga event company to earn a bit of extra money, so I was spending time thinking of all of their events and kind of just came up with the idea of Chroma Yoga. After doing the research I saw that no one else was doing it, even though I thought it was really obvious – pairing colour with yoga and making it visually pleasing – so I just jumped on it.

It was also in combination with going through a bit of a bad breakup. I started to go to a lot of yoga and pilates classes just to take my mind off it. And I got a bit obsessive about it and started going like 6 times a week, really enjoying the effect it had on my mind and my body. From going to so many studios, I got rather dissatisfied with the offerings I was given, which is what pushed me to create an alternative fitness or yoga place.

So each class is categorised by a different colour. What are the benefits of curating colour to specific practice? 

Each class is grounded in colour and light therapy. Colour therapy is a psychological impact that colour has on us and light therapy is actually the physiological effect: there are many scientific studies that find that certain lightwaves, which we see as colour, can penetrate the body and have an actual physical effect on our lives.

The colours that come with more of a scientific grounding and research in terms of what they physically do to your body are red, blue and orange. And then the ones with the psychological impact are pink and the yellow.

We don’t do any blue classes or any classes that have cold blue light in them after 2PM in the afternoon, because of the impact they have on the body. Towards the end of the day we start using warmer colours because they allow the body to start preparing for sleep.

The red class, for example, has a lot of research put into it. It improves energy, circulation, metabolism and it has an impact on our skin and muscles. So we pair that with a style of yoga which is very core-focused, about strengthening and building muscle. Each aspect of each colour we pair complements the movement.

You talk about using light therapy and sound therapy. How do you decide on the best methods of implementing them into your classes—do you work with a team of experts or does it come from your personal background?

With the soundscapes that we use, I didn’t really want anything that had any vocals in it because I find actual music in yoga very distracting. It’s all down to taste. If your yoga teacher has really bad or different taste, that’s very, very off-putting if you have to listen to it for the whole class.

So, I wanted to have some soundscapes made which didn’t have any vocals and were quite subtle. It was also crucial for them to have these frequencies that our brains naturally emit as different states of consciousness, so that they can really tap into the whole concept of reaching the trance-like emotional state that is also aided by the colour.

And no, it’s just me. I do all the research and everything apart from teaching yoga. I had a sound designer make the soundscapes, a scent designer make the scents, and I consulted a yoga teacher to get a sort of yoga language to know which colour to pair with which practice. Apart from that, it’s just me although I employ various people to help me bring in anything that I want.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve come across along the way and how did you deal with them?

Because the concept is super new and hasn’t been done before, my main obstacle is working with large brands who want to work with me. I need to keep integrity and authenticity in what I want my brand to look like.

Another obstacle is making sure that no one messes with or takes the ideas away from what they’re originally supposed to be like. So yeah, that’s kind of it. And also, obviously, everything is self funded. Being a small business owner and starting off on your own is quite a lonely job. There are many times you just have to make decisions and go with them; you’ve got trust your got. You learn along the way and it’s stressful, but I enjoy it. It’s about building something I believe in.

Do you have some advice for future creatives and entrepreneurs?

Whatever budget you have in mind on starting anything up—double it, and try and protect your brand as much as you possibly can.

Whether that’s through trademarking or copyright, that should be the number one thing you do first when you’ve got something good. If you’re going to start something up, you just need to plan and be super organised. Think about everything that could possibly go wrong along the way and make sure that you’ve taken all the steps you possibly can to cover those issues.

The problem most people face is that they end up running out of money, unless you have a lot of investment behind you. That’s one of the things people struggle with if you’re trying to do something on your own.

Thanks, Nina!