New year, new you, new body-positive yoga studio opens in Memphis

Entering a new year brings new possibilities. While some people may just be starting on their 2019 resolutions, Yolandrea "Yo" Clark achieved a lifelong dream on New Year's Day when she opened her own body-positive, size-inclusive, ability-inclusive yoga studio, Any Body Yoga. The studio is located at 2881 Poplar Avenue near the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. 

Yolandrea Clark poses inside her new body-inclusive Midtown yoga studio, Any Body Yoga. (Shelby Black)The studio’s name and slogan, 'Every Body Is Somebody,' have been Clark’s driving philosophies since walking into her first yoga class more than 15 years ago. Clark has always incorporated body-inclusive yoga practices into her teachings, in part because she intimately understands that all bodies have needs that are unique. She proudly acknowledges her plus-size figure and is open about her own mobility challenges, which include a fused spine and two knee replacements. 

Over her 15-year professional career, Clark has experienced firsthand that people with physical limitations and larger figures are often discriminated against and underestimated by their peers, having herself received judgement and sideways glances. However, Clark has worked to embrace her own yoga journey and encourages others to do the same.

"Yo changed my whole attitude towards my body," said Ruby Booth, a longtime student. "You leave her classes feeling strong and capable, no matter your body type or fitness level. When I first started, I got out of breath doing the simplest pose, but Yo creates an environment where you can be kind to yourself and know that you'll be able to achieve your goals in the long term. I'm now doing moves I never thought possible."

Clark’s yoga love affair began at Midtown Yoga, which opened at Cooper Street and Peabody Avenue in the early 2000’s. She attended a Pranayama breathing class and was instantly hooked. Clark said she immediately felt taller, clearer and more present than ever before.

With a little encouragement from her mentors, Clark decided to swap her investment banking job for a full time career on the mat. She earned her license as a Registered Yoga Teacher in 2003 and worked exclusively at Midtown Yoga until they closed their doors on December 29, 2018.

Months before, Clark found out through higher ups that the studio wouldn’t be opening in 2019, which prompted her to explore other employment options. She considered moving to another existing studio, but ultimately decided this potential major challenge — losing her job of 15 years — was actually the perfect opportunity to embrace her entrepreneurial spirit.

Initially, she envisioned Any Body Yoga as a blog to share her thoughts and had only a distant dream of opening her own studio. Midtown Yoga's impending closure made her reevaluate and take the leap.

While working at Midtown Yoga, Clark gained a loyal class following that included students of different body sizes and backgrounds. Her regulars and newcomers alike can expect Clark to continue spotlighting breathing exercises and teaching her popular “Yoga For The Buddha Body” class alongside new offerings. They can also expect her trademark encouragement that reassures each student that they’re capable of any pose.

“You don’t have to be a hundred pounds soaking wet to do yoga,” Clark said. “I like helping and  working with different people to assess their ability.”

Any Body Yoga’s class schedule will also feature several familiar faces within the Memphis yoga community, like well-known instructors Shantih Smythe and Christy Washington. 

"One of my favorite things about Yo's new studio is that all kinds of people attend. Men and women. Retired folks and college kids. People of every color and background," said Booth. "Now she has a space where she and like-minded teachers can devote themselves to bringing out the best in all of us."

Beginning students unfamiliar with poses and props can enjoy classes especially catered to their needs. To encourage inclusivity for people with orthopedic conditions and mobility challenges, Clark plans to incorporate more therapeutic practices into Any Body Yoga with a focus on breathing and meditation. While some believe an injury or chronic condition means the end of setting fitness goals, Clark couldn’t disagree more.

“I wanted to make sure it felt inclusive. Not that other studios are not, but that was my determination,” Clark said. “One of the hardest things about having a joint replacement is that people are told that they can never do yoga again. I’m not sure where that came from.”

Students lengthen their limbs for the proper yoga pose at Any Body Yoga studio in Midtown Memphis. (Shelby Black)Another one of Clark’s missions for Any Body Yoga is providing a space where students can escape from the world. While her students are in class, Clark doesn’t want any outside distractions or stressors to creep in.

“We have so much pressure already just in the outside world, who wants to come and have all that pressure on the mat?” Clark said. 

Clark's philosophies have scientific merit. Yoga and meditation can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve heart health and reduce stress. Acute and chronic stress can lead to a number of serious health conditions and premature death. 

Like any new businesswoman, Clark faced obstacles and had to learn as she went. She navigated the process to obtain a business license, learned code enforcement regulations and built her website by teaching herself basic coding. She also had a strong community behind her. One student helped with the studio's design. Another purchased and gifted her the domain name for her website.

“I’ve been very fortunate in having some of the sweetest and kindest people that are in this city and have crossed my path in the last 15 years,” Clark said.

Clark plans to continue to devote a large amount of her time to private sessions but will personally be teach fewer classes to make time for her new responsibilities as owner. For Clark, ensuring students get the most out of their time and receive as much attention as possible is key in any yoga class.

“I’m not trying to overextend myself,” Clark said. “For me, you need to empty your cup and be fully present at each class. If you can’t do that then to me it’s not a yoga experience."

In addition to classes and private lessons, Any Body Yoga plans to offer workshops and seminars in the near future with increasing frequency as the year progresses. As for growing her business, Clark hasn’t ruled it out, but she's been a business owner for less than two weeks and is still learning the ropes. She's in no rush. For now, she’s just grateful for what she has.

“I’m trying to know where my own energy is so I can be present and I can show up,” Clark said. “I’m really lucky to have this opportunity and support. I’m just over the moon about the support.”

For more information about class prices, packages, and Any Body Yoga’s schedule, visit their website anybodyyoamemphis.com.
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