We met at a local Spot Coffee for a conversation about her business for this article. The place was abuzz with people chatting with each other over coffee or simply sitting alone plugged into their electronic devices. Through the din I began to learn about Soul Candy Project, a yoga business that comes to the customers, started by owner/entrepreneur Mari Irwin in 2016.
Yoga is not new—it dates back to the 11th century—but not all yoga practitioners are created equal. In fact, it became very clear to me after just several minutes with Soul Candy Project mastermind Irwin that this yoga instructor truly cares about people foremost.
That’s rare today. And it’s refreshing.
Even while Irwin is growing her business—she says if it grows, she grows—she is practicing her own mantras. She is the kind of person who lives what she loves. Most people know that a big part of yoga is breathing, centering, and building a strong core.
For Irwin, it’s always been, and always will be, about the people. She takes yoga and mindfulness into the Buffalo Public Schools, helping children learn the art of stress reduction, confidence, and creative expression. For the older set, she teaches chair yoga, where seniors can strengthen muscles, become more aware of their bodies, and improve breathing.
Soul Candy Project is aptly named. What Irwin provides, besides gentle movement for the body, is a beautiful outlook on the soul. Sure, it may sound dramatic, but she is the real deal. She has a quiet, yet energetic, grace that attracts others to her. And this, from a woman who has a fear of speaking in public.
Her job is all about others and being front and center. What helps her overcome her jitters about being at the center is that she knows she has a mission and a purpose. She has a special place in her heart for children, because she knows it’s not easy being a child and enjoys using her craft to help young people take a step back from whatever may be bothering them: peer pressure, bullying, too much busyness.(i.e. digital distractions). And she does it with creativity and humor.
As a child, she played competitive sports. As she matured, she needed a creative alternative option, as well. Through Soul Candy Project, she wants to help students create a connection and healthy relationship with themselves, as well as with others, in a safe and noncompetitive environment and to help fill their "tool kit" for life.
Whether it’s through one-on-one classes or workshops, Irwin is growing her business through word-of-mouth and referrals. Little by little, her mobile yoga classes and workshops are getting a lot of traction under them. In May, she offered yoga, relaxation, and chair yoga at Sweet Home High School in Amherst, Complete Wellness Arts & Science Center in Buffalo, the Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center in Buffalo, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Canalside, and Wegman’s (Yoga for Kids). Irwin offers donation-based Hats for the Homeless classes with the support of Complete Wellness Arts & Science Center. All proceeds/cash donations go toward purchasing warm, fair-trade hats for homeless youth in the chilly months in Buffalo.
According to her website—www.soulcandyproject.com— Irwin is a self-described “lifelong learner with a playful spirit.” She says she created her company to do for others what yoga, breath work, meditation, and creativity have done for her—help her “get unstuck.”
She’s well-traveled and educated—she holds a master’s degree in education from The Ohio State University and a diploma from Nardin Academy—and she has always been teaching in some form or another.
While the hustle and bustle of life continued around us in the coffee shop, I asked her what advice she would give to others, like herself, who want to strike out on their own.
“It’s important to ask a lot of questions,” she said. Not only to ask them of yourself, but “to seek passionate people who will have honest conversations. I appreciate being able to learn from the mistakes of others.”
Irwin also gives credit to the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State College, which offered resources and connections. Also, Irwin participated in the Allstate Minority and Women Emerging Entrepreneurs Program through the University at Buffalo School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and the UB Center for Urban Studies. Too, the support of family and friends—and good attorneys, insurance agent, and accountant, she says—has been invaluable.
As her company grows and she grows along with it, Irwin takes heart in the knowledge that she doesn’t have to be like everyone else, and that she can say yes—or no—more often as she lives out her passion and mission “to help busy youth, adults, and seniors find peace and happiness through spirited and soulful mobile (chair) yoga and mindfulness classes/workshops in a safe and welcoming environment.”