An Indie Yoga Studio Goes GlobalCOVID-19 #SmallBizSpotlight | In the midst of a pandemic, BK Yoga Club is doubling down on its mission. Published: June 23, 2020
Programming note: This article is part of a weekly column on small businesses in New York during COVID-19. To get #SmallBizSpotlight articles straight to your inbox, sign up here. You'll receive one email every Tuesday afternoon. Thanks for reading!
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, I paused the #SmallBizSpotlight programming to make space for grief, reflection, and, hopefully, some positive change. Racial equality is not some linear task that we will one day “complete” — it is an ongoing practice that requires our perpetual care, attention, and maintenance. As I return to small business reporting, the work doesn’t stop: I’m committed to self-educating on the enduring legacy of racial discimination, taking ownership of my privilege and its entrenchment in systemic inequality, and making a conscious effort to seek out and celebrate diverse points of view. I hope you’re taking the time you need to heal, grow, and advocate for a better tomorrow.
Today’s #SmallBizSpotlight is BK Yoga Club, a body-positive yoga studio based in Williamsburg. Co-founded in 2019 by friends Alicia Ferguson and Paris Alexandra, the studio is known for integrating poetry, song, and other creative media into its yoga programming, carving a niche at the intersection of New York’s yoga and arts communities. Keep reading for my conversation with Ferguson on how the business is evolving for the constraints of this moment.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Since day one, your yoga classes have incorporated other disciplines like poetry, song, and meditation. What is the unifying thread?
We try to do things that bring the community together. We bond through movement, but there are other ways we can do that. Ideas are sparked on and off the mat, that's one of our taglines. We've hosted a lot of events at Sofar Sounds, and before [that], we would host open mic nights on our roof and have the community come through and play guitar, sing, or rap. Somebody did comedy one time.
Yoga and meditation can seem foreign, so we’re asking, how do we break down all those barriers to entry? We get people from all over New York. We do a lot of events for people of color. One time we had a “meditate and chill" [event] geared toward singles. Group meditation doesn't have to be so woo-woo all the time. It can just be cool and chill. And then afterwards, we go have a glass of wine and chat.
Without the ability to host in-person events, how are you fostering community during lockdown?
We're very prayerful. That's one of our foundations. And so when everything happened, we got together and we just prayed on it, [asking] what are the next steps? Because we can easily take action: in 2019, we had a huge fundraiser on Kickstarter and raised $30K in 30 days. We were hustling, hustling, hustling. It was a whirlwind. And so we could have continued that, or we could just be still and see what spoke to us. We asked ourselves, what does the community need? And so we created donation-based support groups. We started this group called Hey Sis, You Good? where we had a licensed therapist come and talk about a different topic each week, like how to deal with productivity. [Ed. note: They’ve launched a number of other groups including meditation practices and joy-focused therapy.]
When the lockdown kicked in, did you have existing infrastructure for virtual programming?
We were already planning on building an app, that was what the [Kickstarter] fundraiser was for. So we were figuring out different platforms to use and filming schedules, but all that got put on hold because we can't meet up [in groups]. That was a bummer, but we quickly took action. I have a digital marketing background, so I’m familiar with a lot of the technical pieces. We were really clear on not doing it just to do it, but [considering] the vision for BK Yoga Club and what makes sense.
Before, when we were in talks to build this app, smaller studios weren't thinking in that same vein, but now, the current climate has forced everyone to go digital. So it's definitely more competitive. And so many people are doing free things on Instagram Live all the time. So you have to start doubling down on the things that you think are going to work because it's super competitive and there are so many free options.
What have you decided to double down on?
Our support and community groups. People are starting with those, and then they’ll take [yoga] classes from there and invite friends. In the beginning, people were a little hesitant, especially with yoga, it's a whole atmosphere thing with being in a studio. And I get it. I miss it so much. But it’s started to pick up. And our community really wanted to show support too, so people were buying different class packages, which was nice.
I was exploring your site and came across the blog section, BYC Body Times. Did you launch that during quarantine or was it always there?
It was on our list of things to do for this year, so we had some content ideas and I had the back end built out already, but as far as populating it and promoting it, that was completely new. We were like, let's just do it. This is the perfect way to bring value to people and get in front of them in a new way.
I especially liked the piece Paris wrote on body positivity. I keep reading about how this isolation period is exacerbating people’s body dysmorphia… What are your thoughts on that and how are you addressing it within your community?
Our bodies are a manifestation of what’s going on. If you do gain weight during this time, it’s because there's literally a pandemic happening all around us. There are protests. People are dying unjustly. There's so much trauma that our brains are trying to process, and our bodies do us this amazing favor of storing it. But there has to be a point of release. And so showing your body some grace, building healthy habits, is what we focus on. One of our major pillars is that it's never about what it looks like, it’s how it feels. We're big on building mental and physical strength and using those as your markers for success, as opposed to focusing on losing weight or having [clothes] fit a certain way.
You have a virtual wellness retreat coming up: was that something you were planning to do in-person and then had to take online?
Yes, we were planning it in Costa Rica. We would have all been on the beach. We were biting off something big, but we had help from someone coaching us, it was perfect synergy. We were putting feelers out, getting people excited, locking down reservations, and then everything happened.
What we decided was to be committed to the vision: to hold a retreat for folks to play and relax, something that we don't always get to do, especially in New York. The [lockdown] was a chance for us to bring in different creative modalities. So we switched up a lot of the programming, but we're rolling with it. I’m excited to bring it to the world.
You've spoken about a lot of amazing opportunities that you’ve pursued during the pandemic. Not to be a downer, but has the business taken any hits?
Oh, absolutely. Business is totally down, about 80 percent right now. Thankfully we raised $30K at the end of last year, so there was some cushion.
I always go back to the vision: this is what we're supposed to do, this is part of our purpose. When we look at it from an abundance mindset, opportunities do come up. It doesn't always translate into dollars initially, but because of the donation-based community events that we've started putting out, people and brands are reaching out. So are things where they were? No, absolutely not. But are we able to maintain right now? We are. We applied for funding and got $2,000. That was it. We also just put out that we're always taking donations if people want to contribute to the teachers or the studio.
How has your personal definition of wellness evolved during this period of isolation?
This time has given me an opportunity to be still. I appreciate being able to hear myself and get clarity in a new way that I wasn't doing before. I would meditate before, but now I have the capacity to do a 45-minute meditation on a random Tuesday. I’m also loving up my friends and family, they are so crucial to my wellbeing. Everyone was so busy before, and now every morning my friends and I have a prayer call. It started during COVID when a couple of my friends actually got sick. So we were praying for them and their health and trying to keep them in good spirits. And it turned into this thing that we do every single morning now at 9:00 AM. It's a time for us to chit-chat and check in. And then we pray and read the scripture and reflect on our individual growth. I have a newfound appreciation for all the relationships in my life and how foundational they are.
How do you think the current climate will impact your business in the long run?
When we created it, we were like, BK Yoga Club is global. It’s a global energy, not just within our four walls in Dumbo or even the bounds of New York. And this time is a springboard for that. I taught a class on Saturday and so many people from Paris and Brazil and Sweden showed up. And then they showed up to our class on Sunday. These are the things you pray for, the things you ask for, these big dreams we all have. And sometimes it's scary: we're speaking in faith that we're a global brand, but how do we translate that? How do we make that happen? But it's happening, it's unfolding in front of our eyes. We're becoming global in the midst of all this.
How to help:
- Take a class
- Reserve a spot for the virtual wellness retreat this Saturday, June 27th
- Follow on Instagram
- Donate to support the staff and studio
- Sign up for the newsletter
- Order merch
Until next time,