From the outside, you’d think Alia Khan was happy with her job. She worked out of at New York corporate law firm’s DC office, she made a good salary, and she’d even been sent to work for six months in Paris. But in 2012, she quit to dabble in some other areas—she tried her hand at food writing and real estate—and in 2015, opened East Side Yoga.
“I was a corporate lawyer working the long hours. I was getting by—I liked the paycheck and the perks I got to buy with it, but I knew there was something better for me out there,” says Khan. “There were all these reasons where it was easier to stay and be mildly uncomfortable but mostly comfortable, but I knew that being happy would look very different for me.”
When her father suddenly passed away, Khan says it was a wake-up call. “I was just like, you know what? We have no idea how much time we have on this earth, and I refuse to spend another second of it doing anything that I’m not absolutely passionate about,” she says.
She’d practiced yoga since she’d passed the bar exam, using it to keep job stress at bay, and when she stepped into a 10th Street retail space to scope it out for one of her real estate clients, she immediately knew she was going to open a yoga studio there.
Today, Khan draws on her experience in the high-stress world of corporate law to help her connect with DC’s type-A, tightly-wound workforce. When Khan initially tried out yoga, she herself was skeptical of what she calls the “hippy-dippy stuff” and wanted a more straight-forward yoga class that was less about “fluffy imagery” but still helped her mental state as well as her physical state. Since she couldn’t find a yoga class that provided what she wanted, she decided to bring her dream studio to life.
“I think it can still be difficult for people to find a teacher or a studio that really culturally fits with who they are and what their day-to-day life looks like,” says Khan. “And frankly, I think part of that is that a lot of yoga teachers haven’t really lived the corporate lifestyle and that was one of the unique things that I brought to the table.”
Through her studio, Khan is working to teach DC’s corporate crowd how to care for themselves by offering a yoga class “that’s not going to freak them out” and also through her recently launched self-care line, Sanctuary. The line includes soy candles, bath salts, and hydrating mist sprays—all of which are designed to help DC’s tense crowd to relax.
“I remember what it was like being a corporate lawyer, billing hours and hours seven days a week. And when I was tired for sick, I didn’t stop—I drank more coffee,” says Khan. “We’re given all these tools to power through and ignore the messages that our bodies are sending us rather than being taught how to and being encouraged to listen to the messages that our bodies are sending us. This is where I think the shift is starting to happen in the corporate world and what we need to see happen, is an acknowledgement that when people take good care of themselves, they’re actually better workers.”