[dropcap]”W[/dropcap]e believe that yoga is for everybody, even you.” That’s the motto of The Body Electric Yoga Company, the studio that Jenny Miller and Katelyn Grady opened last March in St. Petersburg, Florida. In addition to teaching yoga, Jenny and Katelyn lead yoga and rock-climbing retreats; so far, they’ve been to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, and next up they’re planning a trip to Mexico, where they’ll swim with whale sharks.
Last month we talked about the yoga philosophy they call Beerasana, the challenges of opening a studio, and the unexpected (to me) connection between practicing yoga and being able to take risks. Since Katelyn was preparing to lead a climbing trip to Chattanooga as we spoke, we also talked about her passion for climbing (and I realized how much I need to find something I love as much as Katelyn loves climbing).
Also discussed: the best beer-yoga pairing—a pilsner, for sure, but bourbon is also a good choice—and the worst excuses for not going to yoga class. Not being flexible is Jenny’s most hated excuse: “You don’t go to something because you’re already good at it. You’re not like, ‘I’m hungry, so I can’t come to dinner.’” Katelyn, however, says that all excuses are the worst excuses. Now you know.
Where did Beerasana come from?
JM: A lot of my friends are drinkers, and a lot of people’s resistance to yoga is this feeling that you have to give up everything—if you practice yoga, you can’t be yourself. So the idea isn’t, “Get drunk! Do yoga!” It’s more that anybody can practice, and everybody should practice, and yoga meets you where you’re at in your life.
KG: Yoga can be part of any lifestyle. Whatever you do, yoga will enhance it. If you’re a drinker, it’ll make your beer taste better and go further.
When did you start practicing yoga, and were you into it right away, or were you like, sweaty and angry? Either of you can start. Or you can speak simultaneously.
JM: I haven’t been practicing long—maybe five or six years—and I was definitely the sweaty, angry type. So that’s always what I’m looking for in people. I started after I moved here to St. Pete from D. C., and I was at a bad point in my life, so I started going to a hot class on a whim. It was hard, and I kind of hated it, but I noticed that for a few moments during each class, I could not think about how unhappy I was.
KG: My story’s a little different. I was just a big hippie, into all things woo-woo and spiritual, totally different than Jenny, so in college I studied Hinduism and Buddhism, and I was doing yoga the whole time, but a soft version, more spiritual, not such a physical practice. I spent some time in India, and after college, I moved to California, and I took my first Ashtanga class and started getting in shape, which grounded my practice—I held on to a lot of the spiritual stuff, but that brought it down to earth.
How did you transition into teaching?
KG: When I moved to Florida, I started teaching friends in my living room. The guy I was with at the time owns a climbing gym, and I started teaching a class there, and I was hooked, so I did a Vinyasa teacher training in Thailand—that was four years ago. I came home and started teaching right away.
JM: I wasn’t practicing very long before my teacher suggested I do this teacher training. I was flattered! I guess flattery works on me pretty well. I like to think he picked me out. Maybe he was saying that to everybody. It seemed ridiculous—I was a pretty skeptical person and not in very good shape, but I thought everything else I had tried had not worked out very well, and it was just crazy enough that maybe I should do it. And then I did, and I started teaching, and I met Katelyn, and the rest is history.
When did the conversation about running your own studio—and running it together—start?
KG: Like, when we met. We met at a dorky yoga thing in Orlando, and we just started. We started writing business plans, and the next thing you knew, we were in love, and the next thing you knew after that, we were signing a lease. It took a while—
JM: It took a couple years—
KG: Every time, something’d go wrong, and it’d be six months until we found another property. But then finally this place happened, and it’s amazing. This building is so beautiful. It’s all brick and gorgeous. The energy is good.
JM: The landlord was really helpful. We got lucky; we tried to rush into some bad plans. Luckily no one would give us a loan—
KG: We were totally prepared to borrow five hundred thousand dollars. We were like, stoked.
JM: Well, you were.
What’s surprised you most since you opened the studio this year?
KG: I can’t believe that Jenny’s already been able to quit her job. I’m surprised because I’m the optimist and even my projections were just—we’re doing now what I thought we’d be doing at the end of year two, so—it’s thrilling. And humbling.
JM: I’m shocked by everything. I can’t believe—every day I’m surprised.
Now that the studio is open, how do you balance work with everything else? If your work is something you love—and running a business is massively time-consuming—how do you not just work all the time?
JM: It’s new, and everything is really busy. There’s the teaching and taking classes and staying in shape ourselves, and then running a studio with teachers—and all the promotion—it’s good that we love it because it’s so consuming.
KG: We talk about work too much. We live together too, and we just talk shop more than we should. But it’s been pretty chill.
JM: It’s been better since I quit my job, which was only like, three weeks ago, and Katelyn has pretty much quit her job. But I recommend doing what you love to do.
KG: We got lucky because we would’ve gone for it no matter what, but it’s amazing that we have totally different strengths and interests when it comes to business. Jenny’s good at marketing, and it’s important to her, and it’s really important for the business. I’m good at handling money, and I do all the banking, the bill-paying, the tax stuff. And then we come in, and I teach and she takes my class, and she teaches and I take her class, and that’s so nice. The end!
JM: We have an accountant, so when it comes to real-talk time on our taxes, she’s got our back. She’s a student and a yogi, so she’s cheap and amazing.
KG: Eventually we’ll want more help, but now we’re just figuring it out. The retreat thing will take a long time to develop. We have our whole lives, so it’s all good.
Let’s switch gears for a second—Katelyn, tell me more about rock-climbing, how that’s been part of your life.
KG: Rock-climbing’s my number-one passion. I love yoga, but yoga is more like maintenance, and I could spend a whole day climbing. I love the culture; the community is just a bunch of hippies in the woods. I love that climbing takes you around the world. I love getting up in the morning and picking out some rocks, and I love seeing a rock for the first time and puzzling out how my body has to move to get to the top of it. You can turn anything into a good mental exercise, but I think the problem-solving element of climbing is unique. I have a favorite boulder problem—it’s a six-move problem called Toucan Sam in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The movement is really beautiful.
What’s been your favorite climbing trip?
KG: I loved Thailand for everything. The sport climbing there is world-class. It’s overhung but juggy—like, really big holds—so it’s dynamic, fun climbing. Climbers from all over gather in this one tiny town. I would just wake up, get some fifty-cent breakfast, climb all day, nap in the afternoon, eat more amazing Thai food for two dollars, and climb in the evening. Then you go to the bar at night and drink beer and slack line and play Jenga. I went by myself, so I had to meet people, and it was amazing. And you can do that anywhere. You just show up.
To me, so much of what you’ve done has a spirit of risk or adventure attached to it. Did you have to cultivate the ability to take risks, or did you always have that? You both seem to follow your gut a lot; like, you wanted to open a studio as soon as you met—
JM: I’m definitely more comfortable following my instincts and my heart than making logical decisions. And taking risks—I’m different than Katelyn; I’m not a climber or an adrenaline junkie. She got me to get in a hang-glider for her birthday, and that was terrifying for me. But I do feel like I’ve always prioritized being happy—
KG: She’s a romantic—
JM: When I lived in D. C., I was working all the time, and my life was insane. Part of why I moved away was because I recognized nothing was ever going to change. I wouldn’t have control over my time or money. I couldn’t slow things down. So I think that if people want to have adventure, if people lack something in their lives, they need to start—like you said—cultivating it. First you have to get to the place where you want to spend some time with you.
KG: Yoga’s really good for that because it makes you slow down. And a lot of yoga teachers encourage you to get to know yourself—love yourself on a deeper level—and spending time in a yoga room with that whole vibe can be transformative. Obviously it’s important to have positive, good teachers—if you have a dickhead teacher, you’re not going to get there. But yoga can foster that sort of acceptance of not just your body, but the unfolding of life in every moment.
JM: My first teacher was very loving, very accepting of everyone in the room, and without being, you know, over-the-top—he felt very sincere. And that’s what I needed at that time, to stop in the end and recognize that everything might be okay. A lot of people just come to yoga to work out, but a lot of people come when they’re at a crisis point.
KG: We’ve been with some students for long enough now that we’ve seen incredible transformations.
JM: And people tell us all the time how much it’s changed them, what happens when they stop practicing. People like to escape; people like to pretend they don’t need their bodies. Avoidance is not a good way to deal with your body! When you’ve become detached from your body, and then you have to come back in, it can be—
KG: You get defensive-feeling, like you don’t really want to.
JM: Some people get pissed at themselves, and some people get pissed at the teacher. Some people don’t get pissed. I don’t know about those people.
Is there anything else you wish people knew about yoga?
KG: I think a lot of yoga students need to hear that yoga’s not an end in and of itself. You can dedicate yourself totally to yoga and just do yoga, but if you’re acting, if you like volleyball, or whatever, you’re not necessarily going to be Queen Yoga, but who cares? Yoga is there to enrich your life. Our motto—one of our many mottoes—is, “Everything that you do is terrible for your yoga, but yoga is good for everything that you do.”
JM: You’re not trying to become a professional yoga practitioner. That’s ridiculous. You’re supposed to be living your life, breathing better, and being happier and more relaxed.
KG: We ignore the signs our bodies are telling us, but when you get to know your body better, you can take better care of it.
JM: And you’ll want to. You’re not afraid of it anymore. Yoga can be intimidating, but we like people to have fun and not feel like they’re not good enough. We want everyone in here. You are good enough for yoga.
KG: Get in here. Today.
Jessica Reese is a Tennessee native, a Davidson College graduate, and a Chicago-based freelance dramaturg. She’s also the resident dramaturg with a theatre company called The Ruckus, which is a recent development she’s stoked about. She’s quickly running out of hiking spots near Chicago that are accessible via public transit, so please advise.