I had the opportunity to sit down with Lucia Yess, Founder of Yess Yoga, to talk about radical inclusivity in yoga and how she creates a welcoming community in her studio in Minneapolis. I have been a member of Yess Yoga since July of 2019 and have never wavered in my draw to Lucia and the community she fosters at her studio.
In my interview with Lucia, we were able to share memories of Yess’s beginnings, as well as how far it has come today in its message of inclusivity and the community that has been cultivated.
About Lucia Yess and Her Inspiration to Create Yess Yoga
Yess began her journey into yoga over 15 years ago but began teaching in 2009. She’d been living in South Korea, teaching abroad with the intention of becoming a counselor, social worker, or therapist. At the same time, she wanted to dive more deeply into her practice. She took the opportunity to learn from experts at her local studio there.
After receiving her teacher training certification, Yess continued her education, practicing and taking teacher trainings in India. After moving to Minneapolis with her partner, Yess rented a space to teach yoga in a South Minneapolis Tai Chi studio but, at the age of 25, realized her dream was to open her own space.
“I wanted to support and practice at a Minnesota-owned studio but continued to feel out of place. It was not that I didn’t fit the bill. As a young white woman, I blended right in. It was that no one seemed to care. I walked in, did class, and left without any connection to another person. Weren’t yoga studios my third space? Wasn’t I supposed to feel deeply connected to self and this community versus just going through the motions or checking off “did yoga” on my to-do list?”–Yess on why she opened Yess Yoga
On August 16, 2012, Yess signed her first ever lease for the studio at 23 E 26th Street in the Whittier Neighborhood of Minneapolis. With her background in social work and social justice, Yess created a community that is thriving 10 years later with the main purpose of giving members a place they can feel welcomed, comfortable, and safe while also investing in their community.
Yess notes that what makes Yess Yoga so powerful is that the members and teachers have a collective investment of showing up and honoring the community through action, not just empty words. This action is presented through not only the variety of yoga classes held in the space but how Yess Yoga shows up in the community to host events and amplify small businesses in the area through their social media, word-of-mouth recommendations to members who visit, and varying partnerships throughout the year.
Likewise, Yess Yoga may be a studio and wellness space, but it is also a space for visitors to get to know one another and to make varying connections.
For example, when beginning my journey with wedding planning, I was overwhelmed in my search for vendors, but through attending class, I met Colette Rochelle, a local wedding photographer. One of the reasons I feel safe trusting Colette is because of my trust in the members that Yess Yoga attracts, and as a queer bride, that comfort means a lot.
Prior to 2020, while in a vinyasa yoga class, I also ran into another Feminist Book Club member. We recognized each other from the monthly Zoom book discussions!
How the History of Yoga is Honored
Yoga is a practice that, over time, has been co-opted by people in white bodies without regard to its deep history. It is said that yoga was introduced to Hollywood as early as the 1940s and with this migration came the colonization of a practice that originated as a daily means of connecting your physical body with your mental consciousness.
Yess Yoga combats this history of colonization by honoring the history of yoga at the end of each class with intentional time and gratitude. As well, they cultivate a community of teachers and wellness offerings that come from varying viewpoints and passions, in contrast to the sterilized practice that appears in many studios across the county. For example, one of the teachers at Yess has a background in both neuroscience and off-the-mat body movement. They studied this in Argentina, using what they learned to find the balance between fluidity and stillness, and these teachings can be seen in each of their classes.
After years of attending classes at Yess Yoga, we have ended class with readings that directly relate to what we have read here at Feminist Book Club, with readings from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and the poem, “The Ocean You” by Nikita Gill.
What Are Yess Yoga’s Core Principles?
Yess Yoga was founded on the following principles:
- Community and Connection
- Equity and Social Justice
- Trauma-Informed and Conscious Teaching
According to Yess, these principles are all founded on authenticity, which allows both teachers and visitors to show up as they are whether they’re new to the studio or if they have been returning for years.
One of the ways I see Yess Yoga’s core principles in action is through their efforts with body neutrality in the studio, specifically in the way they analyze the language used in class, the signage they use in public spaces, and the offering of classes specifically for folks with larger bodies. Curvy yoga is offered throughout the week and can be attended by anyone, but is taught by a teacher who has specifically studied modifications for people with larger bodies so they can attend class without worrying about how their practice may be impacted.
These core principles and air of authenticity show up for me in my practice every time I visit Yess Yoga. To me, as a student of yoga off and on for over 10 years, it means being able to miss class for months at a time because my life is overwhelmed with teaching commitments, stressful days, and joyful memories with friends, and yet each time I show up, I am greeted with a smile and no judgment as to why I may have been gone. Even when I am wobbling my way through warrior three pose because I have little balance, or when I sit on my mat and focus on my breathing during crow pose, I feel just as valuable and seen as everyone else in class who is succeeding at every movement. I also am in a body where a lot of yoga poses are not accessible for me because my stomach gets in the way or my hips are not as flexible, but the conscious teaching with modifications given first makes me feel like I am not a second thought to this studio. Likewise, although I am white, my body type is not that seen in mainstream yoga media in the United States, yet I feel welcome and safe in my body. In other boutique group class studios I have attended, the story is completely different.
What Is Yess’s Definition of Feminism? How Is It Present?
Yess Yoga’s definition of feminism is multidimensional because just like Feminist Book Club, intersectionality is key. Feminism at Yess Yoga means amplifying marginalized voices and those who have been oppressed. It means teaching and serving with a trauma-informed approach. It is recognizing the multidimensionality of humans by understanding that the labels we so often rely on have limitations.
The trauma-informed and conscious teaching approach Yess mentions both in her core principles and in her definition of feminism refers specifically to the merging of public health with yoga practice. As a student at Yess Yoga, this approach means looking at how trauma can impact the body and what measures can be done with breathwork and movement to move toward healing. Because of their trauma-informed training, the teachers at Yess also recognize that there is intersectionality in trauma, privilege, and social justice. In leading their classes with a more informed approach, they are intentional in recognizing these systems of oppression and how they are present in yoga teaching.
Radical Inclusivity at Yess Yoga and How It Is Fostered
Radical inclusivity at Yess Yoga is nothing less than intentional. Yess specifically believes in fostering inclusivity by stepping back and out of the way in order to uplift the voices of those who have often been left out. This includes flipping the top-down approach so often taken by businesses upside down and trusting that members know what is best for them. This means that teachers are not the leaders, but members are the ones driving the classes forward. Teachers offer modifications and suggestions that are practical and tangible so everyone in the room can get what they need out of their practice.
Likewise, Yess finds that having diversity in their teachers is extremely valuable, without tokenizing any identities. Yess Yoga’s teachers and wellness providers represent a number of identities across race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and ability. For Yess, finding teachers who represent the community it serves also means seeking out those who are living mindfully with the same dedication to honoring the historical roots of yoga in their own practice.
That being said, Yess and her team of teachers and wellness providers know there is always room to improve. Yess notes that she is always seeking ways to include more people in the community at Yess, specifically those who have been historically oppressed.
Some of the ways Yess Yoga has supported its community members through inclusive measures is through a pay-what-you-can membership, which broadens the scope of who can come. Additionally, the teacher trainings at Yess Yoga are offered at discounts or with fully funded scholarships for marginalized groups such as Black and trans community members. They may not go on to teach at Yess, but she sees these initiatives as an investment in a person and their goal to share yoga with more people. Yess specifically looks to support those who have been historically marginalized due to systemic financial oppression.
Likewise, the new home to Yess Yoga is a fully ADA-accessible building that allows anyone to come to class or to use the wellness spaces no matter their body’s ability. As the daughter of a wheelchair-using parent, when I first walked into the new building that opened during the summer of 2021 and saw the wheelchair-accessible ramps, the wide hallways and door frames, the elevator, and other accessibility features, I felt a little more at ease. The intentionality evident in the design of the building makes a difference for people of all body abilities and can relieve some of the anxieties that come with visiting a new studio and not knowing what to expect.
Yess and her team of teachers and wellness providers also share a love for learning through community events, books, and more as ways to honor communities they may not be a part of. Specifically, Yess and one of the teachers on the team have been personally invited to join a pow wow being held by a local Native American organization, and Yess is taking this as an opportunity to learn from others outside of her direct experiences. Yess noted that she is continually seeking out these opportunities to let others lead in their expertise so she can learn more from others’ passions, cultures, and experiences. This is one of Yess’s action items for the future of inclusivity at the studio.
What Yess is Reading and her Favorite Books
Currently Reading: Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by Jason Nester
Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy by Sadhguru
Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World by Michelle Cassandra Johnson
Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems by Joy Harjo
Lucia loves to support Birchbark Books in Minneapolis which is owned by author Louise Erdrich.
How to Support Yess Yoga
Yess Yoga offers classes both in person and online, so people all over the world are able to benefit from the inclusive and trauma-informed approach of the Minneapolis-based studio. With this in mind, Yess offers a $10 new student deal for a week of unlimited classes, which includes access to prerecorded classes so you can practice on your own schedule.
If you are in the Twin Cities area, keep an eye out for the workshops and trainings, because as Yess describes, “there is so much soul in these workshops and ability to get to know the instructor deeply within their passions.”
If you ever decide to join in on a class at this studio, Yess is a highly impactful teacher, as are all of the other welcoming teachers. Yess’s favorite classes to teach are the vinyasa classes at 9 in the morning, Saturday morning vinyasa, and evening yin classes. That being said, she finds so much joy in all the teaching that any class brings a smile.