It’s easy to say that intentional rituals of self-care are important, but it’s more difficult to find a ritual that is actually effective. Self-care can often feel selfish, lazy, or sporadic. As a result, it can be difficult to nail down a ritual that is really a healthy one.
Enter a ballroom turned temporarily into a yoga studio in Courthouse Square — chandeliers giving off warm yellow light and a voice reminding you to be gentle with your body and your mind — and you might realize you have stumbled upon a ritual that checks the boxes for healthy self-care and then some.
This drop-in class in downtown Tacoma is one of many offered by Yoga Wild, a Tacoma company that launched in the spring of 2018. Two seasoned yogis, local activists, and moms to small kids, Casey Hubbell and Kelsey Alshememry, dreamed of starting a yoga company that could help break down the barriers that prevent people from practicing yoga — both on and off the mat — while also encouraging community-building, altruism, and empathy. Since March, the company has grown and become a full-time job.
“Whether it’s cost, location, schedule, or child care, we try to help you get yourself here,” said Hubbell.
People can sign up for drop-in classes online through a platform that allows them to choose from a tiered pay scale: A supporter pays $10, a sustainer pays $5, or a community member pays in “good vibes” only. Typically, drop-in classes at a studio range anywhere from $17 to $25, Hubbell said, and monthly memberships range from $100 to $140, depending on the space.
“Of the classes we’ve offered between March and September, 35 percent of people who came to classes chose to be supporters, 50 percent took advantage of sustainer, and 15 percent did community vibes,” Hubbell said. “That breakout is perfectly sustainable to continue to grow. People know if they pay a little more then they’re benefitting the collective.”
Yoga Wild’s system offers an opportunity to practice self-care without the stress of money, which can prevent many people from being able to participate. They don’t even need to have a mat. Staff set up each space before people arrive with simple, black mats laid in neat rows.
These spaces, which Hubbell described as “quirky,” differ depending on the day. The company doesn’t have a fixed studio space, but instead chooses to offer classes in the very places that make up the community, from the Tacoma Nature Center and Courthouse Square to the Tacoma Arts Community Center in Hilltop and the Foss Waterway Seaport Museum. These makeshift studios are scattered throughout Tacoma, making classes more easily accessible to a larger population, while also getting people out into the community to discover hidden gems in their own backyard.
“We look for spaces that people just drive by and don’t take the time to stop and explore,” Hubbell said. “It feels really good to see people realize that all of these great spaces are here in Tacoma.”
These discoveries can take place during a lunch break, in the evenings, and on weekend mornings — a wide variety of class times reflects the company’s mindfulness that everyone from students to stay-at-home-moms to full-time employees needs to find spaces and times to devote to self-care. Both co-founders of the company are themselves mothers, so certain classes in the summer even offer the option for parents to bring their kids, who play in the park under the supervision of co-founder Alshememry while Hubbell or another of the company’s five teachers leads the adults through a flow.
All of these elements are designed with accessibility in mind, hoping to get people out into the community to devote time to themselves, to become better acquainted with their bodies, and to learn to appreciate themselves as imperfect and always-improving beings.
But the philosophy behind the company extends beyond this focus on the self.
“Instead of just focusing on self-care, getting healthy, being fit, this more inward focus — which is absolutely necessary — we also think that the responsibility to take care of yourself should reflect in caring for your community and caring for the environment,” said Hubbell.
As a business, Yoga Wild practices this community care by donating 10 percent of proceeds to a local charity until donations reach $1,000 and by teaching free classes at Baker Middle School, The Rainbow Center, and Carson Home. The company also has “off the mat” community events called “Projects with Purpose.”
Projects have a wide range, from gathering to write letters of gratitude to loved ones to making Care Kits for the Tacoma Rescue Mission.
“When you have to figure out where to help, and what to give, and what to do, you get into a state of inaction,” said Hubbell. “We’re trying to make (activism) more accessible, too. People want to participate but often just don’t know where to start.”
Purposefully offering opportunities for people to extend yoga beyond the mat makes the mentality people achieve during their practice all the more impactful. In class, people hone their ability to be understanding, patient, and compassionate toward themselves; they then are encouraged to carry that attitude off the mat and spread it to others. While Hubbell noted that there are many physical benefits of yoga, one of the most important in her eyes is the ability to stay calm and patient even in stressful situations, and to spread that patience to others by treating them kindly.
And the connections that people make within their communities through structured “off the mat” practice simply feed into a better ability to practice intentional self-care.
“I think we tend to withdraw; we’re disconnected so much now,” Hubbell said. “Practicing yoga with others, volunteering with others, and getting to know the rhythm of the town by practicing in regular, imperfect spaces — where ice buckets at the café next door are always loudly refilled 10 minutes into class — makes people feel like they are a part of something bigger and prevents disconnection and isolation.”
As for yoga studios that already exist and offer community spaces, Hubbell said that Yoga Wild’s intention is not to compete with them. Rather, she said, she wants to stand in a place of abundance, understanding that there are enough people in need of yoga who can afford to go to regular yoga studios and also plenty of people who cannot. For those who cannot, Hubbell simply wants to make the option available to them, to welcome them into the fold, and to be a hand in helping them have access to services that will improve their quality of life.
“I think that having something like yoga that can be used as an outlet is a necessity,” she said. “It shouldn’t have to be a privilege.”