On 15 Years… – Blaze Yoga and Pilates

Fifteen years ago today, the first hot, therapeutic, 26/2 class opened in Portsmouth at 9 am. Over 20,000 classes and tens of thousands of students later, the greatest compliment is that many of the students who practiced that first week in 2002 are still with the studio today.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had an out-pouring of thanks and gratitude in cards and emails from students. You’ve shared your stories and your thanks for our time, our teachers, and our community. When the first card came in, I told Nel I didn’t know if I could survive two whole weeks with my heart on the outside every day.

Years ago, Ariel and Laura and I sat together in a teachers’ meeting and talked about creating community. In what type of place did we want to work and practice? What were the qualities of a yoga community that we admired? What kind of teachers did we want to make of ourselves?

At that meeting, all of the dreams and hopes and intentions we set were YOU. When I look around the studio before, after, and during class, all I see is everything we ever dreamed we could create together. You are my dreams come true.

We wanted to create a place where everyone felt safe to be themselves. A place where you were met each day with a smiling face. A place where you could come on your best day and your worst. Where you could practice the morning of your wedding and the day after your sister died. A place where sweat, tears, and laughter all belonged in the same room. A place where you could quietly do your practice or share your stories with others. A place where we lift each other up. A place we learn over and over again that we are all the same on the inside.

I had one of my most profound experiences of that unity, that Namaste, in a music class a few months ago during the chorus of Guns ‘n Roses, Livin’ on a Prayer. In the class were students from age 16 to 71, of all different political affiliations and religions, with massive income disparity and differing gender expressions and identities, of all different phases of health and wellness. In that room was everything that could divide us outside these hot room walls, but instead, 53 voices swelled in song together, “Oh! We’re halfway there. Oh-oh! Livin’ on a prayer. Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear.” G-N-F-N-R. Bringing people together since 1986.

In the beginning, Laura and Ariel and I had to do the work of establishing that community ourselves. With each new student, we made sure they were okay. Gave them the low-down on acclimating to the heat and where to buy a cheap yoga mat. We talked to them about hydration and emotions coming up during camel.

One day, as I sat at the front desk at the old studio, I heard Dede’s voice over the top of the ceiling-less women’s room walls talking a new student through what she’d just experienced in class. “I felt like that, too, my first class! What you’ll need to do today is be sure to hydrate and if you wake up sore tomorrow, come to class. Don’t take a day off. You’ll feel so much better…” Holy crap. Our community was starting to wrap new students in welcome like we’d done for them. When you treat people with kindness and compassion, it ripples far beyond the initial contact.

Jaylon and I are overwhelmed by the out-pouring of love and gratitude from everyone this month, each week, last night. We want to be sure that we are clear on one point. We work our asses off. We love this community. It is our studio, our home, our life’s work, our passion. We give a lot of ourselves so that we can make this community a place you want to return to day after day, but none of that would matter if it weren’t for every single face that walks through that door. Every single person in this community is what makes it special. We are not the only ones working our asses off. Our effort is a reflection of yours.

I made me so proud to see the reception for each of our teachers at the celebration class when they stood to speak. In case you weren’t sure, they love their jobs and they love you guys. They think about you after class and do research on your weird knee problem and they notice when you’re having a rough day. They take their commitment to their work far beyond expectations. Of the dozens of teachers who have graced this podium, I am proud to call each one my colleague, my teacher, my peer, and my friend. From long-lost faces like Amy, Glenn, and Kirk to our newest additions of Lunny, Kat, and Todd.

We’ve reminisced a lot lately about the old days and the first students to practice here. My first class at BYP, I remember Nicole calling out, “Glicka, lock your knee!” Jonny P steaming carpets. Jamie taking pictures. Standing on Heather’s hips during camel. Taking class with Molly, Kristen, Monique, Amy, Cory, Teri, Jenn, Tim, Bill, Lolo, Spidey, Michelle, Maeghan, Julie, Norm, and Weezie. It’s amazing to have Wanda back after 12 years and that Chris came back after leaving for back surgery. We have spent so much time together through sweat, tears, middle fingers, and laughs. We have built a history that has bonded us as a community. We have lost members of our community and we have mourned together.

Those veteran yogis have built the foundation and the web that welcomes every new face into the family. I can’t list all of your names because there are literally thousands of people who have made an impact on this community. From Dick, Glenn, and Jack-in-the-back to Rachel, Jes, and Ainsley.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I thought, “How can I love this child as much as I love Bella?” My heart was already full of that sweet, little girl. When Judah was born (the day after that headstand picture), I realized how as my heart grew bigger to wrap him inside.

That’s how our community works. As each new student joins us, the community grows bigger to wrap them inside. We send each new student a postcard that says, “Welcome to the family!” and we mean it. Like it or lump it, you’re a part of our yoga family now. Life and years may carry you to and from the hot room, but we’ll always be here for you, whatever state you return in, to welcome you with sweaty arms.

Last night, as we celebrated with Nel’s Greatest Party Ever, we did all of the things. We laughed. We cried. We danced. We reminisced. We supported each other. We did the ultimate act of public intimacy: sweat-soaked, half-naked hugging.

As Elissa started to sing, and then Stef, and then Chris, my heart grew three sizes like the Grinch. If we can sing together. If we can cry together. If we can sweat together, then goddamn it, we can change the world together.

I have one request for you this week. As you go about your day and your week, is there any time you can bring a piece of this feeling to someone outside the studio? That your presence in their day made it the tiniest bit better? That they aren’t alone in this struggle called life?

I promise to do my part.

This content was originally published here.