How a Yoga Studio Practices Eco & Social Sustainability

How a Yoga Studio in Oakland Practices Environmental & Social Sustainability

The best part of the work that I do is getting to meet awesome business owners and professionals who are doing really great work. In this ongoing series, I’ll be sharing some of these stories to illustrate what sustainability looks like in action.

Katrina Lashea and Jean Marie Moore of Anasa Yoga
Katrina Lashea and Jean Marie Moore of Anasa Yoga

Jean Marie Moore, instructor & co-owner of Anasa Yoga, discovered the transformative power of the yoga practice in 2004 as a means of coping with daily stress and healing injuries. As a 200-hr Registered Yoga Teacher, her continuous training includes programs completed with YogaFit, Piedmont Yoga Studio, and Off the Mat with Seane Corn & Hala Khouri. Jean Marie teaches a gentle vinyasa flow donation-based class, and emphasizes the awareness of anatomy to create a safe and beneficial practice. She is inspired by her local teachers including Baxter Bell, Kimber Simpkins, and the teachers of Anasa Yoga, which she opened in the Laurel District neighborhood of Oakland in December 2013 with co-founder Katrina Lashea.

As a UC Berkeley Architecture grad and LEED AP in the green building industry, Jean Marie used her green building skills in designing Anasa Yoga as Alameda County’s only green-certified yoga studio. She is currently on sabbatical from her construction management business to focus on her yoga practice and the studio.

  1. Why did you decide to open a yoga studio? 

My business partner Katrina Lashea and I first met in early 2011 from a mutual yogini, Crystal McCreary. Although numbers are growing, there aren’t many African Americans in your typical yoga studio, so we usually reach out to each other in public classes. That’s how we all met.

Crystal is an advanced practitioner and a yoga teacher, too. Coincidentally, all 3 of us shared the same vision of opening a yoga studio and providing yoga and other wellness classes with a focus on healing the African American community that is disproportionately plagued by stress-related diseases. We knew yoga could help our community.  We’ve always wanted our studio to be diverse and inclusive, but we knew it was more likely that people of color would come to Anasa once they saw people like themselves operating the studio. We formed our LLC in June of 2011, worked on our business plan for a year and a half, and looked at locations all over Oakland from West Oakland, to Uptown, to deep East Oakland.

Then Crystal left the company in June of 2012 for an incredible job opportunity in New York. Katrina and I regrouped and continued to search for a studio home with a focus on finding a neighborhood where no other yoga studio existed – and one that was easily accessible and centrally located in the City. We found it all in the Laurel District!

  1. What are some of the ways in which you incorporated environmental considerations into the building of your studio? Why did you choose to implement these features and/or practices?

Our green building features include: bamboo floor materials, a rapidly renewable resource; low- and no-VOC paints; low-wattage LED dimmable lighting; low-flow sinks and toilets; a water filtration system so students can refill water bottles and reduce paper & plastic use; R-31 ceiling and wall insulation (note: the higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power); formaldehyde-free, reused, and reclaimed windows and furnishings; Energy Star kitchenette appliance and printers; exterior signage made from corn products; and a bike rack at the front entry. We also note the corner AC Transit bus routes on our flyers. Our paper products are made from recycled content. Anasa Yoga cleaning products (including vinegar & water!) are eco-friendly. We use only non-aerosol containers. We sort all studio waste for recycling.

We chose these features and practices because, as a LEED AP construction manager, I’ve always wanted to design a green community center in Oakland but didn’t have the opportunity due to the priorities of my former, long-term client.  For many years I’ve had a vision of incorporating specific elements that I studied for LEED Accreditation into a real building and making it sustainable, functional, and beautiful at the same time.

green yoga studio
Anasa Yoga before renovations
Anasa Yoga after implementing sustainability renovations.
Anasa Yoga after renovations, with bamboo floors, LED lights and low-VOC paints.
  1. What has been your biggest challenge in making your business sustainable?

One of the biggest challenges has been balancing the need for warmth & comfort with energy use.  Students won’t come, and teachers won’t teach, in a cold studio.  With the heat slightly above room temperature, most students find it easier to relax mentally and be more physiologically open to building flexibility and strength.  With 23 classes per week, we’re running the unit each morning and evening for long periods.  However, a year and a half after opening our doors, the 20-year-old, 5-ton rooftop HVAC unit failed and was our responsibility to replace per the lease agreement.  What started as an economical curse turned out to be an environmental blessing because we were able to replace the unit with a much more efficient and environmentally-friendly system.

  1. How have you engaged your employees in your sustainability work?

I think the teachers are proud to work in what is currently the only green-certified yoga studio in the county and we’ve made it easy for them to educate themselves as well as their students about what this means. We have a wall of framed 5×7 pictures of each Anasa Yoga Instructor at the studio entrance. In one of the frames we’ve placed a list of the studio’s green-building features. It’s an educational piece and suggests how our green practices are integrated with the Instructors, too.

  1. Are you involved in community activities or giving back to the community? How do you see this as being part of your overall sustainability efforts?

We partner with wellness-conscious local vendors, such as the Food Mill, for supplies. And we do business with local contractors to support the economy of our community, too. We reach out to other women-owned, minority-owned businesses as often as possible. That’s the social justice component of being green that I love.

If someone is a student, or on fixed income, or earning minimum wage, yoga can be financially inaccessible.  Many people just don’t have the budget to afford a regular practice in a studio.  However, some studios offer donation-based classes.  And some are built solely on that model.  There is a lot of current dialogue around this issue – how do we reconcile the practicalities of running a business while making yoga accessible to as many people as possible?  At Anasa Yoga, we are currently offering one donation-based, pay-what-you-can class and hope to offer more in the future.  We also celebrate the anniversary of our opening and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King on MLK Day by giving back with a Day of Service and complimentary yoga classes during the Holiday. We often donate our time offsite by teaching free yoga classes at various locales including the women’s Be Still Retreat, the California Hotel residents, and at Fred Finch’s Staff Wellness Day.  And we donate class passes to various fundraising events at several local schools.

  1. Why did you choose to become a Certified Green Business? What did you learn from going through the process?

This decision was a component of our Business Plan from the beginning. The decision to pursue green certification was driven by the fact that people of color, low-income and underserved communities suffer disproportionately from asthma and other environmental-related illnesses due to poor indoor and outdoor air quality. We were convinced that a green yoga studio would protect our students, our teachers, and the environment.

In going through the process, I learned that other businesses can easily do a better job of protecting the environment in their facilities by implementing two main green building features: changing their lighting and plumbing fixtures to reduce energy and water usage.

  1. What advice would you give to others who are also working to make their businesses more sustainable?

I would advise other businesses to identify someone in the organization to take the lead in implementing changes. That person could work alone, with a committee, or with a consultant depending on their expertise, sphere of influence, commitment, and the level of effort involved to make changes toward more sustainability. I think it’s more sustainable when someone from the business is directly involved, rather than hiring a consultant to manage the whole process.

Green building criteria are the best place to start. By reviewing a set of guidelines from top to bottom, one can educate themselves and get a clear sense of the range of ways to meet sustainability goals. The sample Purchasing Policy can also be a great resource for inspiring the team to decide what’s feasible for the business.