EPIC Spotlight: Nee Karas

In a building near a busy intersection in the middle of Fayetteville is an oasis – one where people can free their minds and bodies with yoga.

It’s Nee Karas’ way of sharing with others a practice that serves as a template to her well-being.

“When people think of yoga, they think of postures – they think of ‘downward dog,’” Karas says, referring to a popular yoga pose.

But it’s much more. The practice of stretching and holding poses with regulated breathing can benefit practitioners both physically and mentally. For Karas, the discovery was life-changing and one she shares through Be One Yoga Studio, which she founded and owns, though any titles suggesting a hierarchy make her uncomfortable. It’s really a collective with the studio’s 15 employees, she stresses. “Really, we’re all just so important,” she says.

Be One Yoga offers classes featuring different styles of yoga, including Ashtanga, Alignment, Vinyasa, Kundalini and Yin Yoga. Angelo Yao, a master drummer and dancer from Ivory Coast in West Africa, teaches drumming and dance classes there, too.

“When you come here, it’s like traveling to Africa,” Karas says, sitting near a collection of drums. “It’s rhythmic, repetitive and meditative.”

Next door, under the umbrella of Be One, jiu-jitsu classes are offered – her husband, Rob Karas, practices martial arts, though he isn’t an instructor.

The Karases opened the studio in 2015 and have about 100 patrons who visit regularly. While it may not feel like a business, it is. Karas, a 1995 graduate of the Walton College, has used her professional background in this entrepreneurial venture. Following college graduation, she worked as a recruiter with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, was an insurance adjustor with the Progressive Group and even had a restaurant that served Vietnamese and Thai cuisine.

Karas was born in Vietnam when her country was at war. When the country fell to North Vietnamese forces, she, her parents and eight older siblings escaped on a boat they shared with others. Food and water were scarce on the boat. Her brother worked in the kitchen so that the family might get extra rice for their daily meal. When a U.S. military boat spotted them, they were taken to the Philippines, then Guam and, eventually, to Fort Chaffee near Fort Smith, where there was a camp for refugees. Karas was too young to remember any of it.

Her family settled in Lavaca, where she grew up and attended school. Her older siblings were students at the University of Arkansas, and Karas followed where she majored in general business with an emphasis on human resources. An accounting professor, who left Walton many years ago, noticed that Karas had a talent with numbers and encouraged her to become an accounting major, though she already had other plans. “It really built my confidence, and that’s something that’s really important to an entrepreneur,” Karas says.

As she embarked on different careers, she unwound by practicing yoga to a video in her living room.

“It was able to destress me,” she says. “I noticed the importance of ‘before practice’ and ‘after practice.’”

Soon, it became more than just a daily ritual. “I got to where, whoa, this is really magical, this is very helpful,” she says.

To see if she could teach yoga, Karas recruited her first student: her mother. That went so well, that Karas enrolled in a program to become a certified yoga instructor and taught at the Arkansas Yoga Center in Fayetteville for a while. When her husband, a physician, opened an office that had unused space, the timing was perfect to fulfill her dream of opening her own studio. She started with two instructors, offered 10 classes and it evolved from there.

It was a business, too – one that required marketing to get the word out, accounting and managing. In fact, she finds that recruiting instructors is very similar to when she recruited employees for Enterprise. Her accounting skills are particularly important, she says. “It was good to be good with that because, as an entrepreneur, you need to wear many hats,” Karas says.

For those who may have difficulty paying to attend classes, Be One Yoga offers work trades and scholarships. Making the classes available to all regardless of socioeconomic status is important to Karas and her husband.

She is encouraged by the number of people who have been enriched through her classes. It also works both ways. “My growth in this journey has been amazing,” Karas says.