If there was ever a time for us to squeeze in a few stretches, it would be now, after a long, hot summer… and to celebrate the fact that September is National Yoga Month. Need a little motivation to get yourself to the mat? We’ve got you. Meet Kate Davies—founder of yoga studio YO BK, our partners at Arlo Wynwood, and—soon!—Arlo Williamsburg.
YO BK instructors host HIIT Pilates classes at Arlo Wynwood every Saturday at 11am, with Restorative Yoga sessions every Sunday at 11am (i.e. the perfect time to chill). When Arlo Williamsburg opens on September 12, YO BK will be there hosting classes every Friday at 9am.
Here, Kate shares her story, providing both yogic inspiration and a healthy dose of business-success motivation to boot.
First things first! Take us through your yoga journey. When did it start for you?
I’m proud to say that I’ve been practicing yoga since before high-waisted leggings and Instagram! I started dabbling in yoga over 20 years ago as a NYC high-school athlete, and became serious in college in Texas. Every day I would bike, hitchhike, and bribe my friends to drive me to the local yoga studio, a truly booming community of all ages, shapes and walks of life. Yoga became part of my daily routine that helped me get through the stress of studying and detoxify from partying. I’d come back to the dorms drenched in sweat and my friends would ask if I’d been swimming. Not many people knew what yoga was back then. I’ve since lived in Rome, Beijing, Bangkok, Miami, and back to New York. Yoga has been the most consistent and grounding force in my life.
When did you decide you wanted to start your own yoga business?
I knew pretty soon I wanted to teach and open a space that would be the best part of people’s day, just like it was for me. After college, I spent three years teaching abroad, and I lived as close as possible to local yoga studios. I signed up for Teacher Training in 2011 and moved back to Texas to teach at the studio I fell in love with. For three years, I literally followed my mentors around. I learned as much as I could about teaching and running a studio. I read business books voraciously, researched studios, wrote business plans. I narrowed down locations to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Wynwood, Miami.
I’m sure many people have wondered during savasana: what exactly is involved in opening your own studio?
For me, the first step was tons of research. I spent six months in Miami (more on that later) and one year in New York, teaching anywhere that would have me and getting to know the local community. Both cities are very different markets from Texas and I’m glad I took this time. Once I landed in New York, I looked at hundreds of spaces and was even in talks to purchase existing studios. When I walked into our first space at 20 Broadway, I fell in love with the view of the Williamsburg Bridge and the sweet, sunny space that became our first home. I signed the lease on September 11, 2015, from my friend’s Alo Yoga showroom (before they had stores!). I was literally shaking. I hired a terrible contractor (also more on that later) and had to do a lot of the buildout myself. We opened without a working heating system on Halloween. That first year, I taught up to 18 classes per week, paid everyone but myself, and often spent the night at the studio. Operating a small business is the least glamorous and most gratifying work in the world.
When did you start feeling the success?
Success came when we expanded from Traditional Hot Yoga (Bikram) to Hot Pilates and Power Yoga. Students can cross-train here, which really builds community and consistency. We now offer over 100 classes weekly in New York and employ 45 staff members, including five full-time employees. One of the biggest struggles for yoga teachers is fitting the pieces together so you can afford the cost of living in big cities, and it feels really good to provide security, benefits, and a livable wage to those seeking it. Where I am now only came from lots of work, minding my own business, and taking care of our teachers and students. We are in the business of people and while students may not remember the class they took, they remember how it made them feel.
When did you start considering Wynwood and why?
I am a sole owner in Brooklyn; the risk and responsibility is mine alone. When I chose to expand to Greenpoint, I became close friends with Arnon Magal, a local business owner and yoga student. His perspective on running a business and a team has always made me feel supported. Arnon loves buildouts (I don’t!) and introduced me to a handsome contractor named Luis, to whom I am now happily married. Arnon and his family relocated to Miami before the pandemic and he begged me to open a YO BK there so he could continue his practice. Arnon looked at thousands of spaces and the concept evolved into a yoga studio and all-day cafe under one roof. We are partners in YO BK Wynwood and Novela Cafe Social, a shared space that encourages community, health, and collaboration. I’m really proud of what we’ve built. Owning a business where I do not live full-time is heartbreaking because our team and students are incredible. I peel away from my family every couple of weeks to head south.
It’s amazing to get to have you as a partner in Wynwood first and then have you join us in Williamsburg, your first yoga home. What are the biggest differences, if any, between teaching in the two cities?
Cell phones in class! JK, but not. New York is where people go to work, compete, challenge themselves, grow, and tolerate unreasonable levels of stress. Our NY students are serious and driven; they show up to work hard and leave pretty quickly after class. Miami is where people go to have fun and to celebrate life in all its forms. I get the feeling that most people in Miami feel pretty lucky to be there, which is so beautiful! Our Miami students show up with a big smile and are more likely to make friends at the studio. We’re still trying to get them to leave their cell phones outside the room though.
Do you think there are any misconceptions about the practice of yoga? What are some fears people come into class with and how do you help guide them through that?
The biggest misconception is that you have to be ready before you start. I hear, “I’m not flexible enough,” or, “I’m not in good enough shape,” the most. That puts the cart before the horse. Yoga is for everyone and we’ve been very intentional in creating spaces that are not just for models, contortionists or athletes—though they are welcome too! Everyone had a first class and our goal is for that to turn into a second and a third. We facilitate this by providing truly multi-level classes where everyone can feel welcome. Our teachers are well-versed in offering modifications to meet students where they are on any given day.
What are your most valued benefits of yoga?
We come for the physical, we stay for the mental and emotional. A group yoga class provides 45–90 minutes of your day that are just about you: your breath, your movement. It’s powerful to take a break from responsibilities to focus inwards and we are all better for it. When we take the time to observe ourselves on the mat—our glories and frustrations—we live with more awareness off the mat. That’s the real point of it all. If we enjoy improved posture, better sleep and more confidence in our bodies too, all the better!
*YO BK is a female-owned and operated yoga and Pilates studio with locations at 20 Broadway in Williamsburg, 607 Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint, and 2319 N Miami Ave in Wynwood, Miami.