Yoga for All (on YouTube)COVID-19 #SmallBizSpotlight | Brooklyn’s Greene Moments Studio is breaking down yoga barriers with free online classes.Published: November 17, 2020
The fast-approaching holiday season is giving me all kinds of anxiety, and judging by the preponderance of articles on how to celebrate safely, I’m guessing I’m not alone. Whatever you’re planning — or not — I hope you’re carving out space to breathe and take care of yourself. I can’t always self-care my way out of a stress spiral, but I have a pretty good success rate when I use yoga. This week, I spoke with Ngone Mbaye, co-founder of Greene Moments Studio, a yoga studio in Clinton Hill that offers meditation, tai chi, and a host of other wellness-oriented classes. Since closing the doors in March, Ngone and her husband and co-founder, Augustine Diji, have sustained their community with free online programming while selling mats and corporate classes to stay afloat. Keep reading for our conversation.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What inspired you to open Greene Moments Studio?
We opened Greene Moments in June 2017, right after coming back from India. I had already done 200-hour and 300-hour yoga teacher trainings in Manhattan, and I was still curious to learn more. Yoga comes from India, so I wanted to go and learn it in India. I said to my husband, “Let's go to India so I can do another 300-hour training and you can do a 200-hour training.” He thought I was totally crazy. We had a two-year-old at the time and he was like, What do we do with her? She came with us; I brought a friend to stay with her while we were training. It was life changing. We came back and realized that we need to bring yoga to the community. As a person of color, I didn't know that yoga was for me for a long time. So I was like, Let's bring it to Clinton Hill. And then our people will know that yoga is for them, too. So that's how Greene Moments Studio was born.
What happened with it in March?
All of us were impacted — me, my husband, the teachers. The week of March 13, I changed our policies: [students had to] bring their own props, and we only let in a few people. But my studio is small, so we already had very small classes… Most of them were six people maximum. Nobody was feeling safe coming into the studio. We had to shut down everything.
Unfortunately, my daughter got sick. She was five at the time. The next three weeks were just about surviving and making sure that she was okay. I have a 16-year-old, and we all live in the same house. I was also worried about my husband being close to her. I was very anxious. It was not about yoga; it was about taking care of my daughter. Nobody else in my family got sick, thank goodness.
When my daughter was not sick anymore, I wanted to give yoga to the community because a lot of people had lost their jobs and it was very stressful. I told Augustine, “The only way we can help right now is to offer free yoga.” And that's what we did. We created a 30-day yoga challenge, filming every day in June and posting it on YouTube [and Vimeo] so people can keep doing yoga at home. It’s both of us on the mat to show that yoga is not just for women. When I do a pose, it doesn't look like Augustine in the background doing the pose, because we don't have the same body. And the way your body's going to do it, that's the way it is. There's no wrong, there's no right, just do it. My daughter, Amina, also teaches. She’s six now. I've been doing yoga around her all her life. The minute she starts teaching, she says stuff that I say, like during Savasana she’ll cue, “Close your eyes and think about stuff that you were doing before COVID.” It’s amazing. She is so cute.
How has the community responded to your free classes?
I get a lot of emails and texts saying thank you. A lot of mothers in the neighborhood say, “This is what I do right before bed because I cannot sleep.” It's wonderful.
I want people to know that if they can’t go to a physical place to do yoga, they can still use the tools of yoga to keep on going. Keep breathing and keep moving. I'm saying that because it was hard for me to be on my mat for a little bit. It was just too much [with] my daughter being sick and the news... It was all fear. But when I stepped back onto my mat, it changed everything.
Are you charging for any virtual classes?
I did a couple of public classes [on Zoom], but all the yoga studios are doing it, and a lot of yoga teachers are offering it for free. It just didn’t get off the ground. But we also work for companies, teaching yoga online to people who cannot go into the office. During the Black Lives Matter movement, a lot of companies were looking for Black-run yoga studios to support, so the contracts we have right now came from that.
You also offer in-person pod classes — how do they work?
It's basically private yoga. A lot of people are comfortable hanging out with a small group of friends, say three or four, so we offer pods for them to do yoga together. I do that in the studio or the home [clients can choose].
When did you launch that?
Right when they opened up the gyms. I’m also starting kids’ pod yoga, because I know a lot of parents around here who are doing school online, and they need something different for the kids.
Is Amina going to teach that?
I wish! She's too shy. That'd be cute.
How are you doing from a financial standpoint?
It's a challenge. But when I teach yoga, I teach people that they cannot be upset about things they cannot control. So I'm applying that for myself. How do I make ends meet? Pod yoga, teaching yoga to companies, selling yoga mats and blocks. Every day we are looking for ways to make income. We applied for every loan that we could. We got approved for two of them, and that's been helping.
What about rent?
Well, this is actually our building. But we still have obligations — that's why the loans were helpful to pay bills and stuff.
How do you feel about the government’s crisis response on behalf of small businesses?
I feel left out. As of now, they haven’t said whether yoga studios can be open. Phase four happened, and they still didn’t give us the green light. And they're not even talking about it. We don't know what to do. I understand that I have a different business than a gym: people go to gyms to work out, people come to yoga studios to sit and try to work out whatever's going on within them. It’s almost spiritual. I also totally understand [the health precautions]: I don't know if I would be comfortable walking into a studio right now. But the information is not coming. I feel like they just don’t care. We're not priorities.
Are you surprised by that lack of consideration?
A little bit. We're in America, the country where everything is possible. It's the most powerful country and the dream and everything. So yes, I was surprised. Hurt and surprised. We invested a lot of money and time for the community and nothing came back our way.
How do you imagine this crisis will impact your business in the long run?
It's very hard to know, just for the simple reason that a lot of my teachers have moved out of New York. A lot of my regulars also went back to Mom and Dad or to a state that's cheaper. To be honest, I have no idea. And it's scary because Greene Moments Studio is my baby. I was offering wellness to the community — a community that didn't think that yoga was for them.
How to help:
- Follow on Instagram, YouTube, and Vimeo
- Make a direct donation
- Check out Ngone’s next yoga retreat slated for January 2021 in Senegal
Until next time,