When you walk into Anasa Yoga in Oakland, California, you are greeted by a wall covered with 5×7 photos.
The smiling faces of the studio’s 20-plus teachers are diverse and reflect the tribe of yogis who walk into the business’ doors. Beneath each of their pictures is a quote on what the practice means to them. From teachers of color to members of the LGBTQ community, Anasa’s staff reflects the core identities of diversity and inclusion of the studio.
In fact, Jean Marie Moore and Katrina Lashea, the founders of Anasa, explained they wanted to create an environment where people wouldn’t feel excluded, where common hospitality was just that — common and part of their business. And how that happens is having a representation of teachers that reflects the surrounding community. “The representation piece is very key,” said Lashea. “When people see people who look like them, that’s very important. It’s like, ‘I can do that, too.’”
Located in a neighborhood that has a high priority on supporting small businesses, but is currently facing gentrification, Anasa is a proudly labeled black-owned business. The studio opened in December 2013, but both Lashea and Moore said they’ve been practicing for years. Being black-owned and identifying themselves as such, Moore said many people of color and a diverse community have been drawn to the studio. In fact, 13 of 14 workshops held at the studio this past summer were presented by people of color and from the LGBTQ community.
But, diversity doesn’t just stop with the staff. Anasa’s work-exchange program is specifically designed with local residents in mind. The three-month commitment in the program brings in those who have never tried yoga, and would never have had the chance to without the exchange. Plus, with a means-based drop in rate and Yoga of 12-Step Recovery, this opens Anasa’s doors even further. In fact, Lashea said one of her favorite events happens on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “It is a time where we open up the studio and offer free classes and refreshments in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. to really honor our beloved community,” she shared.
The community was something Annabelle Teleki, the founder of Satya Yoga Retreats and a teacher at Anasa, said she loves about the studio. “When I tell people about Anasa, I describe it more as a community center, even though it’s a yoga studio,” she said. “It’s really unlike any other studio I’ve been to or worked at.”
In exchange for office space, Teleki helps out at the studio three days a week, and she will teach occasional workshops. With 30 minutes between classes, Teleki said it leaves time for people to connect. There is a tea bar in the back of the class, giving space for students and teachers to hang out.
In fact, that’s been an important thing for Anasa as a whole: connection. And it comes back to the teachers. When someone walks in interested in teaching, they are asked to come and experience a class at the studio first. This stands true even for the newer teacher. Teleki said something she really loves about Anasa is that the studio is inclusive in the fact its owners are willing to hire newer teachers.
Often, a new yoga teacher needs that first foot in the door, and if Anasa sees them having great potential, experience doesn’t hold the business back. For Moore and Lashea, potential is often found in how the teacher fits into the studio community. “They want the person who wants to teach here, the person who is applying as a teacher, to become part of the community,” said Teleki. “How do we as teachers get the experience if we’re not given the chance?”
During the onboarding process of teachers, they go over the studio’s mission, vision and values. In terms of logistics, Moore said they do six-month contracts with teachers — January to June, and July to December. As independent contractors, she said the contract is renewed by mutual agreement.
One thing Moore did learn since opening the studio is about teacher pay. Anasa didn’t start making a profit until the third year of business. As such, Moore had to cut expenses a couple of different times as she was paying teachers more than what it was costing to run the studio. That meant adjusting the percentage teachers got paid per head while simultaneously changing the price of membership so staff wouldn’t see a pay cut. “But I had to do that strategically,” she said. “I would recommend studios really look at a flat fee as an option, especially in the beginning.”
In fact, Lashea said during the first two years of Anasa, finances were hard. “I had only a year’s worth of finances I could live off of and a small cushion I held on to for any unexpected studio emergencies,” she said. “My plan was to dedicate a solid full year to managing and operating the studio.”
But the studio took longer than expected to see a profit, so Lashea got her master’s and pursued a career while Moore ran the studio from the front lines. If Lashea learned anything from those first two years of business, it was stick to a plan that is doable. And always remember your mission. “My business decisions are based on sustainability, building community and supporting our talented teachers,” she said.
Despite the hardships that come with business, there are moments of impact that often remind owners why they are doing what they are doing.
One moment of impact for Anasa occurred in January 2016. There was a car accident one night right in front of the studio and a young man died. Friends and family showed up to grieve for months, mourning at the studio’s door. “It just broke my heart to see the pain they were in,” said Moore. “We don’t have any services around us, places they could go to grieve or even just to use the restroom … so I invited them in and participated with them when they were having certain rituals around his passing.”
Whether it was lighting candles and praying with the mourners, or helping install a plaque around the scene of the accident, Moore and Lashea took the ideals of their business and connected with the community in a vivid way. “It became part of our world at that time, and still is,” said Moore.
In the end, Anasa is a place of diversity, hospitality and inclusion. And at its core, Moore said she plans to live up to the mural painted inside the studio. It’s one word, “love,” but it stands for the heart of Anasa. Its future is in a local community that has been positively impacted by the studio, all because the owners understand that simple, yet deep and complex, four-letter word. “Whatever I put [on the wall] I wanted to be able to honor what it really meant,” said Moore. “I know what the word love means.”