The Pandemic Pivot: How the Women of BK Yoga Club are Adapting to Change

In a series of interviews, Carla Thomas is talking to business owners about the challenges and victories of the “pandemic pivot.” Laded with challenges from the pandemic, what choices and changes did businesses make to keep them afloat? And as the country is recovering and reopening- how are businesses operating now?

The pandemic disrupted so many lives, there was no getting around it. Hide your relationship, hide your situationship, COVID-19 is going after everyone. While in the US it may seem like we are at the “tail-end” of this pandemic, in many parts of the world the virus is still raging.

The pandemic showcased how fragile our economy really is. Your favorite coffee shop may not have make it. Hell, some big business didn’t even make it. Covid especially wasn’t kind to small businesses. So, how did small businesses survive lockdown and the ever changing restrictions that states in the US mandated?

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I assume that those who work in wellness are always full of zen. Yoga instructors just have to be the most peaceful people ever. But how do you find joy when your new business that is based on community is shuttered because of a global crisis?

Paris Alexandra from Minnesota and Alicia Ferguson from New Jersey are the owners of BK Yoga Club, a body-positive yoga studio run by two women of color. They had a location in Dumbo, Brooklyn that was open for a little over a year before the lockdown. They are self-funded entrepreneurs who met while training to become yoga instructors. It was the alignment of their spiritual beliefs and ideas that led them to join together and create the BK Yoga Club. A year after lockdown, they have moved their yoga studio to Bed-Stuy and are opening On DeKalb By BK Yoga Club, a wellness coffee shop mid-summer.

Paris quickly let me know that yoga instructors are not always full of zen, but they do have the tools that connect them to mind and body. And it’s that connection of mind and body, as well as spirituality, that has sustained the BK Yoga Club.

Here’s their story.

Alicia: How did it get started? A wing and a prayer is how we got started.

We met in our yoga teacher training and about midway through, we kinda shared a collective vision of wanting to have a studio that was really centered on people seeing themselves represented. Just a space for Black and brown folks in larger bodies to really be active and move and also bring in the level of creativity that we both have. Bringing all of those things together into one space was the vision for the studio.

We taught one class together as a joint class; it was my birthday and it went really well. My people came out and Paris’ people came out and we were like, “Oh we have something here. I think we can make this something that’s more continual.” And so we started renting a space from this woman who was initially supporting our vision. From there it grew into weekend classes and then we had the demand to create classes all throughout the week days.

I guess you could say that once people came and saw what we were creating, they really felt like a part of the community. So really the community’s demand for what we were doing spearheaded the business. People just weren’t used to seeing Black women doing yoga. And people are also not used to seeing someone of plus size doing yoga. A lot of the things that we did, we brought our own personality to it-like the style of music that we use. It’s us pulling more from our lineage in our culture and bringing that to create this form of yoga.

We kind of outgrew the space and we were operating a full studio without essentially knowing it. So we decided to get our own physical space that we could have dedicated to the BK Yoga Club.

Paris: We started BK Yoga Club in 2019 in Dumbo. We opened officially in February 2019 and then the following March 2020 we had to close our doors, so it was literally a year and a month. Because we are so much in the space of prayer, it was immediately about letting go of control and really trusting the process. Fear came up, but it was just like, “Hey, we don’t know what’s going to happen.” Whatever was going to happen with BK Yoga Club, it was gonna happen.

It was also knowing that our vision existed beyond the four walls. The vision could continue to live outside of whatever space we were in. That gave us confidence to really trust the process and move in alignment to where we were. A lot of people were trying to figure things out and jump on different trends and we just really stayed focused with our vision and our purpose.

When lockdown hit, the first thing we did was check in with our communities. We asked how they were doing, what they needed, and how we could serve them. From there we started going on Instagram live and talking to people, connecting with people, and sending them emails. We initially started a group with a therapist so we could provide a space for us to have increasingly supportive structures that could support whatever anybody was navigating through these times.

We transitioned over to Zoom but the virtual space was something that Alicia was already very much in tune with. That was something that we were already building in a different way. So jumping into Zoom was new, but it was also something that we were already getting ourselves accustomed to.

Alicia: I’m a business marketing girl. I’m all about the numbers and finding that balance of using that but then also being heart-centered and moving intuitively. We’re both faith-based and that’s a big piece of what brings us together, brought us together, and how we actually make decisions a lot of the time. So for us, we use the data but also that mind-body connection, that spiritual connection.

Paris: We had two spaces in between that time period (Dumbo and now Bed-Stuy), we’ve done a lot of virtual offerings, and now we’re offering yoga in the park three times a week. That’s been a way for us to really re-engage our community. And we’re launching a wellness and coffee shop, On DeKalb By BK Yoga Club in a couple of weeks.

So we have definitely transitioned. But we feel like, you know, with covid there came a lot of clarity. There was a lot of revisioning, repurposing.

Alicia: When developing BK Yoga Club and what that really meant to us, we were always looking at the full wellness journey that a person has. BK Yoga Club wasn’t restricted to a space, right? The space contained the vision, but that wasn’t the vision in itself. So as long as the commitment to the core principles, the core values of what we were trying to bring to this space, regardless of it being online, if it was a brick and mortar, I don’t know, if we took it to outer space, as long as the vision is still there.

We moved with that energy and again were just open to how that manifested and what physical form that took. We have teachers and staff that we have to pay, so during the pandemic we were really looking outside of just us that we’re supporting. What are the changes, the pivots, and the decisions that we need to make for our internal community and our team, that work for us? It was challenging. But again, we hold onto the vision and we always try to make sure we’re aligned before we make decisions.

Paris: We are incredibly excited about On DeKalb By BK Yoga Club opening in a few weeks. What Alicia is saying about the vision, it’s expanding and growing and we’re super excited to be back in Bed-Stuy rooted in a community that really represents and reflects us- it’s awesome.

Carla Thomas

Stylist, writer, and creator of The Fly Girl Guide from Baltimore, Maryland.

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