Studio Spotlight: The Collective STL

The Collective STL is a yoga studio in the heart of the city that has been serving the community for over 10 years. The studio offers a wide range of classes for all levels and budgets, and prides itself on being a community space that offers yoga instruction, mentoring, workshops, and spiritual guidance.

St. Louis has long been considered a haven for yoga, but a lot of times, yoga studios are just a place to practice while you wait for your next yoga class. The Collective STL is a studio that offers a full herb-infused yoga practice, complete with a tempting menu of options to choose from. Whether you’ve been on the mat all your life and are looking to take your practice to the next level, or you’re a novice venturing into yoga for the first time, The Collective will not only give you a quality yoga experience, but will also guide you along the way.

Studio Spotlight: The Collective STL

The Collective STL is a 501(c)3 non-profit yoga and wellness space in the heart of Old North St. Louis. St. Louis, Missouri. As of 2018, this space offers mental wellness through culturally sensitive and trauma-informed healing programs. To listen to the full interview with Dr. Terry Harris – yoga teacher, educator, storyteller and co-founder of The Collective STL – tune into the Home Practice Channel with Halle : Yoga tools for every body on your favorite podcast platform. Follow The Collective STL on social media at @thecollectivestl and or watch The Collective STL on YouTube. Hall : Hey, guys. Today I am joined by Dr. Terry Harris, yoga teacher, educator, storyteller and entrepreneur, of The Collective in St. John’s. Louis. Terry, thank you so much for being here today. Tell us a little about your story and how you came to practice yoga. Terry: Absolutely. I’m a storyteller, so you’ll probably have to interrupt me [laughs].  I’m from St. John’s originally. St. Louis, Missouri. I graduated from college, studied history and went into teaching. I really fell in love with the kids and teaching, learning, listening to the kids and understanding that they all bring unique things that are so much fun to work with. At the same time, you see that young people are under a lot of stress. You also see teachers who are under a lot of stress. My path to yoga has been unhappy. The first student I met in the summer program, the student who got me started teaching, has passed away. And with that level of stress, with that feeling of wow, that’s not normal, someone took me to yoga. I took a class at the Jewish Community Center. Since then I have continued to play with and evolve through different styles of yoga. And I thought: How can I become a yoga teacher to bring yoga to youth and schools in the St. John’s area? Louis? Eventually, it became: How can I introduce this practice to the blacks of St. John’s? Louis? That’s how I got here. We founded the collective three years ago. H : Collective is a 501(c)(3), which means it is a non-profit, donation-based yoga and wellness space in St. Louis. It is the only such space in the state of Missouri. Can you tell us a little bit more about the concept of this studio, and was there a decision about whether it was going to be a commercial or non-commercial studio? T : Thank you for reminding me. Yes, we are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. We saw it clearly: St. John’s St. Louis, like many other places, is very segregated. There are different levels of segregation. In North St. Louis, nearly 90 percent of the people who live there are black. They also have a high poverty level. So we made sure these people had access to yoga, knowing they couldn’t pay $25 for a class. If you really sit down and think about the money, ….. There are very few grocery stores in North St. John’s. We have a lot of people in St. Louis, and they’re filling up at the gas stations. Given that there are no healthy food options here, the air is very polluted and there are construction ruins….. When you think of what poverty looks like, it’s the neighborhood. And then you want to ask these people to pay $25 for a practice they know nothing about? No. So the decision to go nonprofit was the easiest part of the business model. We wanted to make sure it was a donation system, because we wanted to bring people closer to their breath. We wanted people to reclaim their bodies. We wanted to create a space where people could relax, where they didn’t have to worry about anything. The model worked. We’ve been here three years. We try to get a lot of grants, we have organizations that donate because they like what we do, and the people who practice with us make sure we have the money to pay the bills. H : Other than the fact that income is not a barrier to wellness, what do you see as the purpose or mission of the collective? T : The mission of the collective is to bring health and wellness to the black community in St. John’s. Louis – on a regular basis. What does it look like? The three legs of the collective, the three pillars on which we stand, are space, community and yoga. When we talk about The Collective, we always tell people that it’s a love story in the making. It is a story of love for yourself, a story of love for the community, a story of love for the city. It is a true love story in the field of health and well-being. Every time I think about it, I smile – my heart rejoices when I say it’s collectively a love story, because I know it is. Our people know this to be true. If we go out and talk to people about the collective, they might say: I don’t know how to do yoga. I’ve never tried yoga. It’s all about yoga! But then we’ll just ask: Do you like a welcoming space, a warm space? A room where you feel good? Oh yeah, I like that. Do you like interacting with people, spending time with your friends and having fun? Oh, yeah. And the food? Do you like food? Oh yeah, I like that. Cool, come to the collective because we do both those things and then yoga. Consciously, yoga is the last thing. Because we’re trying to appeal to a group that might have certain ideas about yoga, and so it takes away all those fears and focuses on what we know all people enjoy and need: Relationships. We’ll focus on the first two legs – space and community – and then you can try yoga. word-image-5665 The STL team presents its recently completed Manduka custom project as part of its commitment to provide high quality, sustainable yoga equipment to its community. H : Let’s talk about the role of food in the studio. T : We always have fresh fruits and vegetables at the end of each yoga class. We work with a local farm that supplies fresh produce. We hand them out to our students at the end of class and everyone can take what they need. It’s a real community, and it’s amazing to see everyone trying vegetables that even I’ve never heard of. People cut it, taste it, come back and share recipes. We do our best – there are so many layers to the Collective. There is no access to healthy food in the area we are in. They just can’t. One of our interns is a farmer and the farm is around the corner from the studio. He introduced us to the right person, and that was it: That’s it! Come to the farm and help out. So there are a few members of the collective who help with the work on the farm, and that’s about it. H : They also include restorative justice and circles within the healing space. Can you clarify what this practice entails? T : Yes. Restorative justice is essentially about two things: building relationships and repairing the damage done. What does this look like in terms of yoga? I took a lot of yoga classes, I paid, but no one would talk to me. There wasn’t even a doorman. I took my money and went to my seat. And then you end up with these assumptions: Shouldn’t I be here? Is this a course just for women? Is this course only for advanced students? This is not relationship building, and I’m starting my practice with some damage. How do I feel it in my movements, in my body? Sometimes we start a lesson in a circle, pass out talking points and share an emotional weather report. We can hear all the voices in the room.  You really get to know people. We are careful not to allow the damage to the community we are trying to heal to continue. There are spaces and organizations that say they are healing organizations, but their whole model and interaction is very hurtful. We don’t want to do that. The very first concept we teach is called Ubuntu, an African philosophy that means : I am because you are. It’s you because it’s me. That’s a basic level of restorative justice, if you ask me. It means that we are the same, that we are connected. There is no stronger relationship than this philosophy. word-image-5666 The STL Collective is a story of health and wellness, but also a story of love for yourself, love for the community, and love for the city. H : Talk about the role of storytelling in your teaching style. T : Maya Angelou said there is no greater torment than an untold story. Each of us comes to a yoga class with a different story. We see by your movement that the story is coming out. I insert historical things, quotes, or someone may tell me something that I then pass on. Or I might ask other people to tell stories, maybe end the lesson five minutes early and ask if anyone has anything else to say. We tell stories because they are important. We tell stories to honor our ancestors. We tell stories because stories are a way to honor the people in the room. Stories are a way to enlighten people. Stories are a way to remember that people have always existed. It reminds us of who we are, and it carries us wherever we go. Moreover, the stories are very easy to remember and memorize. word-image-5667 Dr. Terry Harris is a yoga teacher, lecturer, storyteller and co-founder of The Collective STL. H : You are also an educator – you run your district’s pupil services department, which includes counselors, social workers, educational equity specialists, pupil services specialists, etc. How do you integrate mindfulness techniques into your teaching program? T : Thank you very much for that question – I think I’ve been working on it for the last few years, and now we’re finally at the point where it’s part of the culture. Yesterday was Monday. In my school district, we do Mindfulness Mondays. Through COVID, we do e-learning, and I wanted to make sure that students wouldn’t spend 50 minutes on the computer, take a three-minute break, and then turn Zoom back on for another 50 minutes. How can we use this time to create a space of awareness? So there are options: Children can participate in online yoga classes. Teachers can participate in online yoga classes. You can participate in keeping a journal. You can participate in the Introduction to Mindfulness program. It’s a whole list of mental activities….. Children need to be able to breathe and concentrate on their breathing. We need to specifically teach children how to deal with this. Because if we teach children to cope in school, they will have coping mechanisms in college and in the business world as well. And then they have a mechanism when they have children and start a family. It’s a circle. It all starts with us. H : What is your view of the world of wellness in general? T : I want to remind people that yoga is a social justice practice. I think we forget that sometimes. We cannot erase or obliterate this aspect. We need to be very aware and deal with people being abused, people not doing well. What can we do on and off the mat to ensure that this practice respects true principles? This is my call to action. Dr. Terry Harris leads a yoga class at The Collective STL. word-image-5668 Author: Miroglotta Hall.

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