The yoga and wellness space lacks serious diversity, but women of all color are changing the landscape and increasing representation in the industry. Alicia Ferguson and Paris Alexandra created BK Yoga Club; a Brooklyn-based, Black-owned body positive yoga studio on a mission to bring inclusivity to yoga. We talked with Alicia about her journey to yoga and the physical and mental benefits of the practice.
Tell us what inspired you to get into yoga?
I just always felt this calling to yoga. I moved to New York City when I was in college, and I was super stressed out. I worked a part time job and interned – and rent was still just so expensive. So I had five roommates at the time, and it just felt overwhelming. Then a new yoga studio opened up in my neighborhood and I was like ‘let me just try this out – people say it’s good to relieve stress.’ And so from the first class I took it just felt electric. It seemed like it was almost foundational; from the music to the breath work. I’d never just breathed so deep and connected with my breath in an intentional and meaningful way. If I’m holding on to things, my breath is allowing me to tell myself where I’ve been holding that stress. It was a spiritual experience for me.
And when my grandmother passed it way it really put me into overdrive and yoga and made me want to open a studio. When she passed away I went on this six-month yoga binge. I did it everyday for an hour, and it just brought me so much healing on the mat. It all led me to want to bring representation to the space, and show people that everyone can be healthy. Healthy doesn’t look a certain way, and everyone needs healing. And, healing is not only afforded to those with financial means. our breath is always with you, so you can always connect to it.
Can you talk about your entrepreneurial journey and what led you to create the BK Yoga Club?
My business partner Paris and I met in yoga teacher training, and in a class of 25 there were three women of color. Take that and put it in the larger spectrum of the wellness space and that’s what it is, we’re not represented and seen. And then there are deeper issues of being Black but also the colorism issues that exists within the field. If you do break past some of these barriers to entry, you need to look a certain way, or maybe your curl pattern has to be a certain way for people to deem you as acceptable. Then there’s a larger barrier if you’re a plus size person. I’ve been in classes with Paris and people would come up to her to adjust her or assume she’s not doing it right, and it’s like – she’s an athlete. You’re prejudging her based on her size. People always say build your own table – and we said we’re going to roll our own mat, and just have this open space for folks to really see themselves in everything they do.
How has yoga impacted your life?
At the beginning of quarantine, I went through a breakup with my boyfriend (we lived together), and yoga and other forms of exercise brought me through. It gave me these four corners of a mat that felt like it was my own. And so in a house that I was sharing with someone else, that mat and yoga was like my solitude. I cried on that mat and screamed sometimes, but it really helped me connect more intentionally with my body and where the emotional trauma was being stored. It gave me an opportunity to deal with it without being judged. So when I need deep healing, yoga has always been there for me.
During Black Lives Matter and the pandemic, it gave me a sense of grounding that I could bring into my leadership style at work. I work in marketing full time, but I was able to hold space for people in a different way and bring some of those breathing principles to team meetings.
What are some of the health benefits (mental or physical) of yoga?
We hold so much trauma and stress in our hips. Doing basic poses and being more consistent with it allows you to frame this area, because as you get older the stress in your hips only intensifies. Our laments and muscles tend to get tight and we lose mobility. So I would say yoga helps us age gracefully.
It also gets your hear rate up without having to do tons of cardio. It has some of the cardio that you would get without running or having to denigrate your knees. Your building up strength in some of these poses and building your muscles and around them if you have weak knees.
By doing any type of physical movement you’re going to build strength to your body. And yoga is in a mindful way and to build a relationship with your body as you’re growing stronger.
How have you pivoted BK Yoga Club’s business model and continued to build your community amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our whole business is built on meeting in person and building this intimate experience. So for us it was like, what does this look like and how could we be of support? We like to think of ourselves as servants in the community, so we thought about how could we best serve our folks during this time. We were hyper aware of all the things our community is going through, and so we partnered with a few therapists to host community groups. One of the things we hosted was ‘Hey Sis, You Good,’ which was a check-in for people to just be transparent and let down whatever the weight is that they’re holding up and share their feelings – and maybe find someone who was feeling the same way.
We’re a big artist community too, so we started doing virtual artist lounges on Instagram.
There’s definitely been an uptick in businesses seeing Black people and wellness in a way that they may have been blind to before. It’s been nice to get support from other companies so we can push the mission forward and provide services to our community for free.
With the civil unrest that’s happening in our world, there’s a heightened sense of curiosity to yoga now.
We’ve been able to be there and really guide people, and hold space for them. We’ve been holding corporate classes, and companies are taking more stock in supporting their employees.
In a lot of our classes we always do meditation too, because it leads people to other things they may be interested in like breath work and mindfulness activities that they can use. You may not like yoga, but you may like other aspects of it.
Your studio is centered on inclusiveness, and you also have a diverse group of yoga instructors to support this. As Black yoga teachers can you talk about why this is important to you?
We want to have a space where everyone can see their reflection, and we know that our students will identify with that too.
One of the things that we’re looking at for 2021 is that it’s not enough to have Black and Brown folks at the table. Are we diverse in these group of folks that we’re bringing to the table?
What do you hope your yogis get out of the experience?
It’s a full body experience. The more you do it, the more it seeps into other parts of your life. Our hope is that people may have just heard our music is good, but they end up with much more. We hope they hear something good, or get a creative idea on the mat, or a new chamber in their brain opens. And that it’s a place where people feels at home – whatever that means to them. When you leave a class with us, we want you to feel aligned and grounded.