Breathe in. Hold at the top.
While the former teachers of Yoga One feel a loss — a loss that none of them saw coming — they hold onto that “special magic of Yoga One.”
Yet, even if they aren’t ready — they breathe out and let it all go. That’s what yogis do.
“In that letting go, there is this creation of space, space for something new,” said yoga teacher Lauren Alexander. “Space for possibility, community, connection — and so much love and magic.”
In that space of creation, the former teachers came together, and dreamed up a new structure to practice yoga.
A sudden ending for a popular Charlotte yoga studio
On the morning of June 23, Rebby Kern taught their regularly scheduled yoga class over Zoom. They promoted their upcoming classes. All seemed normal.
Because of COVID-19, Yoga One had transitioned to digital classes, temporarily closing its two physical spaces on Central Ave. and Dilworth and. Online classes were going well, and plans for outdoor classes were in the works, Kern told CharlotteFive.
As far as the teachers knew, the location on Central Ave. was in the process of relocating due to redevelopment, but the leadership team was planning on finding a new space. “We potentially knew that we would never physically practice in [the Central Ave. location] again, and we also thought that we would just be going to a new location,” said teacher Niche Faulkner.
But in one email sent on the afternoon of June 23, the teachers, members and studio staff were informed that after 14 years in Charlotte, Yoga One would permanently close at the end of classes that evening.
The subject line of the email was “Yoga One To Close,” Kern said. “And I opened it, and I read it — and I remember my stomach fell to the floor.”
Kern then turned to social media and saw a similar message announcing to the public the closing of Yoga One. The decision to close was made by owner Sally Gambrell Bridgford. Aside from an email announcement to CharlotteFive on June 23, Bridgford was not available for additional requests for comment.
After the closure, Kern said their phone alerts were nonstop for two days.“It was like when you step on an anthill, and everyone moves without direction,” Kern said.
“The best way I could sum up the closing of Yoga One — it’s like if all in the same day my therapist, my spiritual advisor, my adult camp, my community center, all of my best friends, everything just called and was like, ‘Yeah we’re going to have to go, forever,’” said teacher Kate Dullaghan.
The email was unexpected, Kern said. “It was unthought, it was unplanned, it was inconsiderate, and it left us in question,” Kern said.
The closing of Yoga One left hundreds of people in limbo. From teachers who relied on Yoga One as their sole source of income to students who had committed to the practice.
“Yoga One — that was everything, it was my life. It was how I supported myself and my daughter,” said teacher Alyce Vallejo.
“The closing of Yoga One felt like a microcosm of how the world had been pulled out from underneath us,” said teacher Ian Grosh.
One of Kern’s students had been a member for 11 years. He had attended thousands of classes there, driving 30 minutes to and from the studio each time.
There was no closure, no sense of goodbye. “This whole thing could be very different if we were given a week and planned a final practice, and had an opportunity to communicate with our members,” Kern said.
There were three final classes that evening, and with little notice that it would be the last day, dozens of students and teachers logged on. One class held over 120 members.
At 7 p.m. on June 23, it was Niche Faulker who taught Yoga One’s final class. “I said, ‘You know we are not going to cry and mourn what seems like the end of us, we’re going to really make this class about just walking into and embracing a new beginning,’” Faulker said.
Mourning a community
In the wake of Yoga One’s closing, Kern described a “collective mourning” experienced by former teachers, students and staff.
Kern will miss the physical space. “The smell of the yoga mat, the smell of the incense, the smell of the hot sweat … our members were already missing that (due to the coronavirus-related closure), and they were ready to go back.”
But Kern said their time at the studio also represented growth — it was where they learned how to teach accessible yoga, how to teach those who were grieving and how to call out white supremacy within fitness.
“Those walls were where I learned the kind of teacher I want to be,” Kern said.
Faulkner said many students at Yoga One attended for therapy, recovery and overall healing. Many members found a family in the yoga community.
“Think about the long-term impact on those students, not having that space to go to where you’ve already built up trust,” Faulkner said. “To finally open yourself, open your heart to a people, to this practice, and then just have it snatched away — it’s unkind,” Faulkner said.
Something that lives past Yoga One is the community created among teachers. “That sense of like, ‘We’re in this together’ is something that Yoga One cultivated and held a space for and we each carry that now,” Grosh said.
‘The future of studios is absolutely changing’
If the sudden closing of Yoga One taught Kern anything, it’s that this can never happen again.
“It brings me question on whether or not I want to be aligned with a studio, if there’s one person in power that can make a decision like this that ripples through this many lives,” Kern said.
Over the past few years, Kern has developed an actively anti-racist approach to yoga. During quarantine, they worked towards putting this programming online. Within a few days after opening registration for their online Race, Gender & Bias Workshop, George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.
Now, Kern said people are re-envisioning yoga and fitness spaces in which BIPOC individuals are centered. “Not only included, but centered.”
Kern emphasized that to re-empower teachers and students, people have to be prioritized over profit, which means breaking down the traditional structure of a yoga studio.
“The future of studios is absolutely changing,” Kern said “The word ‘autonomous’ is really landing for me in this moment, that we get to be the teachers we’ve always wanted to be and hold space for students in that way and really break through the capitalistic structures of what studio life has been like.”