When she came to the United States from France in 1992, Sophie Parienti, the future founder and editor in chief of YOGI TIMES, had never experienced yoga. But a combination of circumstances, including her arrival in the newly emerging yoga hotbed of Los Angeles, a visionary mind overflowing with ideas, a long-standing interest in natural health coupled with a nostalgic love of magazines (both instilled in her by her charismatic grandmother) all conspired to lead Parienti down the path which, ten years later, would lead to the birth of YOGI TIMES magazine. What started out as a side project with a friend was destined to become the focus of her life for the next five years and bring together dozens of people who all shared the vision of creating an inspiring and uplifting publication that brings the community together and encourages healthy sustainable living.
Keri Lassalle: When you first came to the United States, could you have ever imagined that you would create a community-based magazine like YOGI TIMES?
Sophie Parienti: When I moved to California, I never thought that I would run a magazine. But I’ve always believed that community is important and the paths I’ve chosen in my life have always been ones that have allowed me to interact with and cultivate community. When I discovered yoga and began to benefit from its practice and its principles, I wanted to share my new knowledge and my experiences with others. Creating YOGI TIMES was basically an extension of that.
KL: Before you started YOGI TIMES, you were teaching yoga for many years. How did you segue into creating a lifestyle magazine?
SP: Becoming a yoga instructor was part of the process of integrating all the knowledge and lessons I was learning and having a way to share it with others. The creation of the original YOGI TIMES, which was just a newsletter at first, happened when I met Kiko Tabuchi-Kennedy, the former art director of the magazine who started it with me. It was like a sparkling fusion of her talent for the graphic arts, her absolute work ethic and the extension of my desire to reach as many people as possible to share the benefits of yoga but also give the community an accessible, friendly means of interacting with each other that reflected the hip, urban atmosphere of the yoga scene in LA at the time.
KL: How did YOGI TIMES transition from a newsletter to a full-color magazine?
SP: Well, that did not happen overnight! We were making an eight-page newsletter with a skeleton staff in a tiny home office, with one phone, and the magazine was fully produced on a 12-inch iMac laptop! Then we added pages and distribution as the community began to ask for more, and a flow of editorial submissions started coming our way. We also had the good fortune to have started at a time when a lot of LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) industry businesses started picking up steam and were seeking new ways to get their messages out. YOGI TIMES started to become a platform for a lot of these emerging businesses, which created our first base of advertisers. But I think the most significant contributor to the growth of the magazine into what it is today is that, from early on, we attracted an amazing group of passionate, devoted and talented team members who have believed in the vision of the magazine.
KL: What is that vision and how has it changed since its inception?
SP: The original vision for the magazine is exactly the same as it’s always been: to encourage and inspire our readers to live balanced, healthy, sustainable lifestyles that enhance their creativity and access their highest self.
KL: At what point did you realize that you had tapped into what the community was looking for at the time?
SP: I realized we were onto something at the magazine’s second-anniversary party. We had planned the party for several months and our little team had put in hours and hours of work contacting sponsors, setting up the silent auction, arranging entertainment and decorations but until that night we had no idea what the response would be from the community. It turned out that over 2,500 people showed up to the party and it was a huge success. There was a moment when I looked at this crowd all gathered under one roof, dancing, eating fresh local organic food and connecting and I knew we were making the magazine’s vision into a reality.
KL: Coming from France, English not being your native language and having no experience with the publishing industry, starting a magazine was not the most obvious path for you to take.
SP: No, it certainly wasn’t an obvious path. Actually, when I started the YOGI TIMES newsletter, It never really occurred to me that I was entering an industry, publishing or otherwise. And I have definitely run into my fair share of roadblocks. I just felt so compelled to share my passion for yoga with others. But once I got started, I knew that I had to do this. Amazing synchronicities started happening once I committed and when that happens, you have to go with it. Of course, there were doubts and some sleepless nights, but I didn’t allow them to discourage me. That’s partly what I want people to know and why I’m doing this interview. I want people to realize that they can do anything if they overrule their fear and the voices that say, “You can’t do that.” We all have the power to make incredible things happen if we set an intention and commit to it.
KL: What would you say has been the strongest driving force that allowed you to manifest your dream?
SP: There is a lot to answer in that one question because as the magazine grew, so did the dream. But I think there are two main forces that kept me going. First, there was the fact YOGI TIMES became the outlet for the overflow of ideas that are constantly flying around inside my head. The opportunity to see those ideas manifested allowed me to explore sides of myself that I did not even know existed. When we first started, it was a little crazy. I was writing, editing, photographing, selling and everything in between. But it taught me that even though I had never worked in publishing, I could accomplish what I needed to by trusting my instincts and by accepting help when it was offered. It felt unbelievable to see my initial vision, ideas, thoughts and plans coming alive before my eyes.
The second thing that kept me going was the response from the community. Letters, calls, messages of support and appreciation for getting involved in the “conversation” that YOGI TIMES was becoming. I would wake up every morning and feel so enlivened by the work that lay ahead.
KL: Your husband, Jean-Christophe Gabler, known to everyone as JC, is the publisher of YOGI TIMES. What is it like to work so closely with your spouse
SP: For JC and me, being together 24/7 is a blessing. We get to work together focusing both of our energies on nurturing our first baby (YOGI TIMES) as it grows up and now we are also fully committed to being full participants in raising our second baby (our 14-month-old son Enzo) together. Communication is the key to all of it and we constantly polish our skills and keep each other in integrity with who we want to be for the other. So we wake up every morning with a fresh beginner’s mind in the relationship. Our golden rule is that we deal with any conflict or misunderstanding on the spot or within the hour. We talk it out, and it’s gone. This has supported us in focusing on the big picture versus getting lost in any kind of drama.
KL: In the editor’s word from the second anniversary issue of YOGI TIMES, you credit JC with prompting you to start the magazine. Can you talk about the effect his presence along the way has had on you since that first inspiration
SP: I know he is going to read this, so I feel a little self-conscious. I think JC has been a major component of our success. We started this company with absolutely no funds. With JC’s talent for finances he has kept us in great shape over the last five years. He is like the tranquil force; he doesn’t say much but acts a lot.
KL: Following your heart is clearly something you believe in…
SP: Vitally!!! To me, it is everything. Regardless of what we are told from an early age that we can or cannot do, there is always this innate desire that exists in every one of us. Following and acting on what fires us, the thing that would make us each so content within ourselves, is the one piece of advice that I would offer to anyone who is secretly thinking, should I go for it?
KL: Has expanding YOGI TIMES into San Francisco changed your view of the yoga community and the role or mission of the magazine?
SP: Opening an edition in SF has been an eye-opening process for us. I think I expected that the community we would reach in San Francisco would be basically similar to the one I knew and loved in LA. But what I discovered was that San Francisco has an energy and vibrancy that is all its own. Where the community of readers in LA has a very open and laid back energy about it, the community in San Francisco has a fiery, engaging spirit. The people there have a strong desire to express and be heard. They want you to know what they’re thinking and they’re not afraid to speak their minds. Where LA has a more “simpatico” kind of energy, San Francisco’s spirited response to the magazine at first seemed aggressive and more intense by comparison until we realized that it meant that they were engaged and interested in what we were doing. It meant that we were doing our job. If we hadn’t gotten a spirited response from the San Francisco community, it would have meant that we didn’t have any substance to inspire them. Once we realized that, we knew we were on the right track. There are times when we look forward to hearing how the two cities will respond differently to things we have planned in the magazine. It’s really fascinating but in general, the mission of the magazine remains the same regardless of the location.
KL: A year after creating the San Francisco edition of YOGI TIMES you also started publishing another magazine called YOGI TIMES BUSINESS. What prompted you to take on another publication and what service did you want it to provide?
SP: The idea of YTB came because we were working with a lot of businesses in the LOHAS industry and we quickly realized that there was an unfulfilled need to support this growing community of conscious entrepreneurs in their business-to-business communications, networking, legal matters, etc. The purpose of YOGI TIMES BUSINESS is to provide a vital national resource that speaks to entrepreneurs in a way that integrates business practices with the values and ethics held within a yogic lifestyle. Basically, YTB is the magazine I would have loved to have as a resource when I was starting my own business.
KL: What are some of your fondest memories of the early years when you were still getting YOGI TIMES off the ground?
SP: One of my greatest memories from those early days would be when we would finally get the publication to press. I just remember all of us being so overjoyed to be finished and half-delirious from long hours of work that we would crank up Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Outta My Head on the stereo and we would all dance in the middle of the office. Usually it was 4 or 5 a.m. Also, what I remember about those days, and it is still the case today, is how people would come and help us out of nowhere…editing, taking photos, participating in any way they could. At our first anniversary party we had over 40 volunteers and friends, all taking on the various duties to ensure the success of the evening. Yet the most magical moment of all is always when the issue comes fresh from the printer, and we get to see and touch and smell the tangible manifestation of all our hard work. There is a real deep feeling of accomplishment. It’s sort of like Christmas morning once a month.
KL: There have been times when people have raised their eyebrows at the fact that a “yoga magazine” devotes so much coverage to things like fashion, consumer products and other things that might be considered frivolous. How would you respond to that?
SP: One of the things we identified very early as a team was that our readers were really hungry for information on how to create a healthier lifestyle, and not just on the mat, but in every aspect of their lives. There are already other magazines out there that do an amazing job of covering physical and philosophical practice of yoga. We wanted to support our readers during the other 22½ hours off the mat, and provide practical information and resources for making shifts in people’s lifestyle that are in line with the principles of yoga but still let them live the kinds of lives they want to live. So eco-fashion, natural and organic cosmetics, organic and locally grown food products, natural pet products, sustainable home décor, all of it is an integral part of an urban life lived in balance. Plus, I never cease to be amazed by the people running the companies behind so many of these products. I know what they are going through in order to bring something of value to the marketplace. They are such vibrant, dedicated and passionate people. I believe that it is part of our responsibility as an independent media publication to support the businesses and individual people who are pioneers in this society and are going the extra mile to put sustainable, organic and environmentally responsible products on the market.
KL: Could you have created YOGI TIMES in France?
SP: No way! I am not sure if most Americans are conscious of how much opportunity there is in this country and particularly in California. There is this energy of possibility here that allows you to be creative and feel like you can accomplish anything. I found so much support and positive energy from unexpected places in the community. My experience has been that most Americans have this joyful attitude toward seeing others succeed. People here believe in you for what you can do, and it is a huge driving force. One of the favorite sayings in France is “C’est pas possible” (it’s not possible), which drives me crazy!
KL: What new developments are on the horizon for the magazine?
SP: There are some exciting things ahead. The main one, I would say, is that YOGI TIMES is expanding and we will soon go national. One of our biggest desires is to give other communities beyond Los Angeles and San Francisco the opportunity to engage and interact through a city magazine like ours. YOGI TIMES BUSINESS is already nationwide, and we are getting clear messages that we have to expand…you know…the synchronicities!
I can only imagine how much adding new cities will enrich the depth and vibrancy of the magazine as we bring even more amazing people from more unique and active communities into the fold. We will maintain the local character of the magazine, and create a version in each city that reflects the energy and identity of that particular city. Also, with this anniversary issue we are launching our first YT BLOG, and this is a big deal as we know there are going to be some really inspiring exchanges of ideas, thoughts and comments which will become a practical extension of the forum that YOGI TIMES already has in print. Then there is the YTTV show…but I will keep some mystery on that one for now!
KL: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
SP: Yes, I would like to take a tremendous breath of gratitude dedicated to our vibrant community for their relentless support.