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Columbia Inspired

A Shift in Perspective

May 22, 2022 08:38PM ● By Angela Davids

If you have never practiced yoga in a studio, you likely have preconceptions about the experience. You imagine yourself wearing fitness attire you paid too much for, surrounded by strangers, and uncomfortably challenged by the instructor to try harder. Perhaps you have, in fact, been to a yoga studio before, and you felt intimated by other students, or there was a sense of competition. A session at SHIFT Yoga couldn’t be any more different.

 After more than a decade of teaching yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, Jessie Kates kept coming back to the same thought…we need to change that negative perspective by shifting the message about what yoga is and who it is for.

“Wellness provides so much nourishment and healing for folks, yet the wellness industry has long ignored people of color, people with disabilities, larger bodies, the LGBTQ+ community, and so many others,” Kates said. The message in the media and the industry, she explains, centers around “white faces in sports bras and high ponytails.”

Kates ensures that everyone feels welcome from the moment they walk in. Teachers start by thanking students for being there. It shows each person that they are valued and seen. Students can expect to be celebrated, honored, and cared for in a way that rarely happens in most businesses today, Kates said. They can also expect a personalized experience.

Kates opened SHIFT Yoga in 2018 to bring her vision to life, where everyone can feel that they belong and their lived experiences are supported. “To be well in body, mind, and soul is a birthright, not an exclusive club,” Kates said. She was ready to leave the corporate world of yoga behind, where the focus was on class sizes and marketing plans.

At the beginning of each class, teachers open a discussion to hear what students need that day and then will shape the class to those needs, both physical and emotional. A student may seek to release anxiety, feel grounded in their body, or cultivate a sense of peace. What follows during the session goes beyond yoga poses to include breathwork, meditation practices, and philosophical concepts to take “off the mat and into their lives.”

Classes end with the studio’s signature practice of weighted blankets and heated eye pillows, which marries science with the sacred. Weighted blankets create deep pressure stimulation, increasing serotonin production to regulate mood and reduce the stress hormone cortisol. The eye pillows gently guide the eyeballs deeper into their sockets, which naturally happens when you sleep. In this case, it tells the body to shift into a deeper relaxation state so healing can occur.

Along with creating an environment where every student is welcome, Kates wants every teacher out there to have a place they feel they belong. That guides her in building a community of instructors of all ages and ethnicities. Then with an eye on the future, SHIFT Yoga sponsors scholarships for yoga teacher training for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and those who are LGBTQ+.  

“We are committed to doing our small part to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable space,” Kates said. “I get lit up talking about this because this is what makes me hungry to keep going, even through the pandemic, because I believe in sparking change in my industry.”

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