Co-owner/Director | Express Hot Yoga | The Woodlands, Texas
by Kristin Todd Stires
It was 2002, and Jennifer Ballew couldn’t seem to shake a recurring upper respiratory infection. Stress from her job as a controller had compounded, and her health began to decline. However, this impasse was a blessing in disguise and led Ballew to discovering her true career passion: hot yoga.
Before entering Baylor, Ballew faced a head versus heart decision. She enjoyed art, yet she had a knack for accounting and knew it could provide a dependable career path.
“During high school, I had dabbled in art and really thought I would be an art teacher one day,” Ballew said. “However, my best class my senior year in high school was accounting. When I enrolled at Baylor, I ended up picking Accounting and Information Systems as a double major, thinking that I could always do art on the side, but this degree would give me the education I might need to work out in the ‘real world’ after college.”
After Baylor graduation, Ballew started work as an auditor at KPMG. She earned her CPA license and later worked for E*TRADE as a controller in its day-trading division. The company was undergoing a merger when Ballew’s health began to fail.
“It seemed that every six weeks I was suffering from repeated upper respiratory infections, which evolved into a bad case of pneumonia,” she said. “A good friend of mine took me to a hot yoga class, and in a very short period of time, I had a better handle on my stress and health. This transformation sparked my desire to share the gift of yoga with others.”
These days, it’s usually about 105 degrees in Ballew’s world, but she doesn’t mind it. In 2005, she opened a Bikram yoga-style studio in The Woodlands, a community north of Houston, Texas. Bikram yoga is practiced in a heated room (generally 105 °F with 40% humidity) and involves a series of poses within a 90-minute class. The heat increases flexibility and boosts the immune system by raising the internal body temperature, which stimulates production of T-cells. Ballew later adjusted the curriculum, cut classes to 50 minutes and renamed the studio Express Hot Yoga; she is currently working on opening a second location.
“We originally opened up a Bikram yoga studio, but after four years we realized and recognized that people have a huge constraint on time,” she said. “So we began the process to transition to Express Hot Yoga, a yoga concept we developed that has the same benefits but fits your schedule by offering shorter classes more often.”
Although she left the corporate world behind, Ballew’s business background has provided the foundation needed to run her studio. Along with classes, Express Hot Yoga offers on-site massage services and childcare for busy parents taking classes.
“The interesting part of finding my career passion is that I originally chose the conservative path of provision, but through life’s turns and bumps, I ended up in the arts teaching my true passion,” she said. “Although accounting was not my greatest passion, it gave me what I needed to open and run a yoga studio that can make a difference in another’s life.”
And Ballew is truly focused on taking a holistic approach to making a difference in the lives of others. You can’t see it, but written underneath the paint above the studio entrance is the statement, “This is a place where miracles happen every day.” That’s exactly what Ballew experiences and hopes for with her students, whether it’s an individual undergoing physical transformation or simply gaining self-acceptance.
“The great thing about yoga is that it draws people from many cultures, shapes, sizes, economic conditions and health issues,” she said. “There is no hierarchy in the yoga room. It is just about you looking at yourself — all the good, the bad — and finding the real beauty of who you are on the inside. We all spend so much of our money, time and effort working on things outside of us, but through the practice of yoga, we can come to some place within ourselves that recognizes what we truly seek lies within.”