One of the more prosperous Yoga studios in the state has been Centered City Yoga, who should sound familiar as they've won several Best Of Utah awards in the past. —- That's not a fluke either, while being in a city that's seen yoga appreciation grow exponentially over the past decade, CCY has made an effort to keep on some of the finest teachers available in Utah while offering some of the more unique courses for whatever skill level or taste for workout the individual may have.
Today we chat with the founder of CCY, D'ana Baptiste, about her career as a yoga teacher, forming the studio and their growth over the years into their new location they took up in the 9th & 9th area. (All pictures courtesy of CCY.)
Gavin: Hey D'ana, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
D'ana: I was born in Utah but moved to Oakland, California when I was three and somehow. Aafter living in many other cities, states, and countries, I am back here! I have three boys (21, 18, 15) and a brand new puppy! I was on the swim team for my swim club and for my high school. I'm a graduate of UC Berkeley and have tired to make my studio as Berkeley-esque as possible. I'm a die hard Oakland Raiders fan and am about to go back to Oakland to celebrate my 30th high school reunion!
Gavin: What first got you interested in Yoga and what influenced you to try it out?
D'ana: After college, I decided to take some time off before pursuing a career so I began working at a spa in Mexico. They required that I teach yoga. I hated it! But then I discovered Bikram Yoga and Ana Forrest, and I'd drive every weekend on my days off to Los Angeles to take Yoga from them. I loved how intense their classes were. I was an athlete who needed a challenge, and I also needed to learn how to stretch.
Gavin: What was it like for you attending sessions and getting better at it? And how did you see it affecting your health and body?
D'ana: The Yoga classes I was attending were so brutal because I was so stiff and immobile. I knew I needed it but I hobbled around a lot in those days because I was so sore from Yoga! I started to notice of course that I could touch my toes, that I could run without pain in my shins, that my lung capacity was increasing, and that my muscles were leaning out. My whole body type changed when I stopped lifting weights and started doing only yoga. Eventually I stopped running but noticed my endurance and strength didn't decrease. And then I did this great experiment of not doing anything but breathing exercises, while I was working as a fitness director on a cruise ship and we were doing transatlantic tours which meant that no one wanted to exercise! My fat to muscle ratio didn't change and I felt great! This convinced me that I didn't need to work out eight hours a day and also assured me that the yoga was a very good thing for me (and others) to do for fitness. I loved the way i felt "fit" from yoga – it felt like I was taking care of my body instead of slowly beating up my body. The biggest shift for me though was mental and emotional. The practice really did slow me down and chill me out.
Gavin: How was it for you learning how to teach and eventually becoming certified?
D'ana: There were no certification programs (except Iyengar Yoga) when I was practicing in the late '80s and early '90s, so I read every book I could find, attended as many different types of yoga classes as I could, and started a rigorous meditation and breathing practice. I slowly developed into a yoga teacher by sharing my love for what i knew about it at the time with my spa clientele, and then with my cruise ship folks, and then I started a yoga program for a gym in Silicon Valley when I stopped working on cruise ships, I learned how to teach yoga by teaching yoga. Luckily I had also certified in being a fitness/aerobics teacher so I understood the mechanics of movement. I kept learning after that, still am learning to this day.
Gavin: When did you first break into teaching and how was it making classes?
D'ana: I first began my own program at Reach Fitness Centers in Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Los Altos, in 1991 and it was the first time most people had experienced yoga at all – they LOVED it and classes were packed. I taught twelve classes a week and created a routine based on Astanga and Bikram with a little Forrest thrown in, all the types of Yoga I loved, integrated into what would become my unique way of teaching.
Gavin: What made you decide to start up your own studio, and where did the name come from?
D'ana: With my ex-husband, I had started studios in L.A., Philadelphia and Boston before moving to Utah. I divorced him and moved here, needed a way to support myself and my three boys, and this seemed like the obvious choice. There was definitely an untapped market here as well.
Gavin: What made you choose the 9th & 9th area to setup shop, and what was it like converting the space into your own studio?
D'ana: 9th & 9th was the closest I felt I could find to my Oakland roots. It has the feel of Berkeley as well, only cleaner! I was looking for a neighborhood that had an identity. I wanted my studio to reflect that identity. The original space we moved into basically had to be gutted. Scott Moore, (owner of Prana Yoga), Celeste Keele (his wife at the time) and I (and my little kids) tore floors and ceilings and walls out, and put new floors and ceilings and walls in. We had NO money to speak of and to this day I wonder how we succeeded. We put our heart and soul into it and it paid off.
Gavin: What was it like during the first couple of years running the studio and building up classes?
D'ana: The studio was almost immediately successful, thankfully. We ran the studio with a lot of volunteers and people willing to exchange yoga for work, so it kept our costs low. I taught way too many classes a day to keep payroll down. But people in SLC really welcomed us with open arms. A lot of those same early yogis are still with us today!
Gavin: Over the years you quickly racked up tons of awards and recognition. How was it receiving that kind of attention from the media and the community?
D'ana: The support we feel from the people who attend our classes makes this job one of the best in the city. We love what we do, and we love the people we get to hang out with. SO the awards are fantastic; it is a reflection of the community that supports us, and appreciation is always nice.
Gavin: Recently you changed studio spaces and moved into the current location. What made you want to move, and how has the new space worked out?
D'ana: Our original location became too small for us. We had two yoga studios but one of them could only fit 20 people. Now we have three yoga studios within out new building (right next door to the old one), our smallest room fits 30 and our largest room fits 80. We also felt it was time for a change of scenery, and while we miss the original home with it's bricks and it's funky floors and outdated bathrooms, we are LOVING the modernity and space and light of this new building.
Gavin: What's the process you have for hiring teachers and utilizing the space as best you can?
D'ana: I have no idea how we make that all work. I'm exhausted over trying to figure out the schedule right now, as we absorb six teachers from Prana Yoga into our family. We are going to do more soundproofing so that we can hold more concurrent classes, but basically right now I'm acquiring established teachers from Prana Yoga Trolley Square, as they close their doors. The usual process for contracting with teachers is to see them go through my teacher training program so they can get to know the culture and underlying feel of what we do at Centered City Yoga. This also gives me a long time to get to know them and for them to get to know me, so they know what they are getting into. I'm not the normal boss and certain not the normal yoga boss. A lot of the staff have been with me since the beginning. Scott Moore is coming back from Prana, so with the longevity of the teachers there's a definite feel of community between us and I feel that is the most important part of why no one wants to stop teaching here.
Gavin: You have a team of over 20 yogis ranging in style and form. What kind of classes and sessions do you offer and how important is it for you to diversify and mix it up?
D'ana: The most important part of CCY is the diversity of choices. We don't offer one way to do yoga. I was able to learn how to be a yoga teacher by attending all different types of styles and methods. I have been able to have longevity in my practice because over the years I've changed the way I practice, so I want to give our yogis that same option, of letting people try new classes when one starts to not work for them anymore. We also have many different personalities here, for the same reason. Not everyone is going to like my class; I want to give people the option of trying a different class with a different instructor so that they will stay with yoga for much longer, rather than giving up on it because they don't like my take on it. so we have classes where you will sweat and challenge your endurance and work your agility, and we have classes where you are lying on your mat for an hour relaxing, and we have everything in between. We offer over ten different styles of yoga, from Power Vinyasa to Restore to Yin to Kundalini. From Astanga to Prenatal to Yoga Nidra to Forrest. From Anusara to Pranayama (breathing). From classes taught with loud music to classes where you sit quietly and contemplate mindfulness.
Gavin: How important do you believe it is for the community to have access to this kind of exercise and activity compared to just going to a gym?
D'ana: I'm not going to bad mouth gyms, but they offer a workout full of distractions. The noise, the TV, the reading while tread milling, the mirrors, etc is part of gym culture. What a yoga studio offers is a work- IN. Yes you will still get the physical benefits of the workout, but you are practicing being completely present with the work as you are working. Present with what you are doing while you are doing it. SO it addresses more layers of who we are, rather than just the body.
Gavin: Are there any plans to expand beyond what you have now or are you comfortable in the space you have now?
D'ana: We are expanding within this studio by inviting all of Prana Yoga's clientele to join us! We've decided to accept their Prana passes at Centered City Yoga and bring their teachers to teach at Centered City Yoga so that they can still do yoga with their favorite teachers and not miss out on their pass they bought. We are looking to expand into Davis county and will keep you posted on that!
Gavin: For those interested in trying yoga for the first time, what do they need to know and what's the best way for them to get involved?
D'ana: That there's no time like the present for yoga to be a part of your life. We've got a summer challenge going on, do 66 classes in 99 days and be entered to win a years worth of yoga. It's a good time to come in and try every class on the schedule. We also are running a summer student unlimited pass, $150 for all summer! And we've got two free yoga classes (soon to add a third) so that people can come and try yoga for free and attend the free classes whenever they want to and as many times as they need to. We also run an introductory special, three classes for $20 for new people only, so that they have three times to try yoga and experience it's many benefits! Lots of ways to get into yoga and see if you like it. And summer is a fantastic time to dive in.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and CCY over the rest of the year?
D'ana: Quieter classes as we do another round of soundproofing, even more varied offerings as we bring in some more phenomenal teachers, the best teacher training academy in the state, and continued outreach of yoga volunteers into our local community.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
D'ana: Yes, just to promote the merge that is taking place as of June 15 with Prana, and the Prana + CCY = LOVE party we are having at Publik coffee house on June 16. This is a fundraiser and celebration to help Prana with the closing costs and payroll. It's also a party with live music and a team taught yoga class. There will be food and libation and a silent auction and opportunity drawing with a lot of prizes. And lots of fun!! a party to join two communities together and hopefully feel like we are one by the time the night is done.