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Can yoga be affordable and accessible?
Yup, Abi Nolan, Founder of Supply Yoga tells us how she does it.
Living in big cities can be lonely and isolating. Finding pocket communities is important for urban-dwellers. I know this from experience, having lived in a number of big cities from Singapore to New York to London. Everywhere I lived, I have always found yoga studios to be the perfect antidote to the bustle of city living: welcoming and kind and peaceful.
Before I moved to London I spent a lot of time in a yoga studio in Glebe, Sydney. It was a converted dance hall with hardwood floors and two huge doors that opened out onto the tops of palm trees from the garden below.
In the winter they lit candles for a cosy ambiance and in the summertime the doors were flung open regardless of the weather – rain, shine, or just a bit breezy. It’s difficult to not feel ~grounded~ while practicing yoga as the breeze of a rainstorm keeps you cool. Aesthetics and location aside, the studio was a hub for all different kinds of people. Every week newcomers arrived and loyal followers returned from every walk of life, age, and background. We all left our Birkenstocks at the front door and smiled stupidly at each other when we left, high on endorphins and a feeling of togetherness.
Needless to say, when I arrived in London I was on the hunt for a similar space to connect with like-minded people. After some searching, a friend recommended I try Supply Yoga. The studio was walkable from my flatshare at the time and had French doors that opened out onto a small courtyard garden. The classes were affordable and my hard-earned cash wasn’t just purchasing me yoga, it was helping others, too.
I’ve been a fan ever since and have joyfully tethered myself to my membership for most of the pandemic. Supply teachers consistently curate juicy yoga practices that keep inviting me back to my mat and I like knowing that my purchase is helping my wider community, too.
The work Supply does to support both individuals and wider communities is seemingly unique in the wellness realm. So, I asked Abi Nolan, the Founder of Supply Yoga some questions to trace the journey of Supply. We chatted about how the concept came into being and the ways in which the studio has evolved during the pandemic.
I am curious to hear about your path to yoga and your journey to opening Supply Yoga. Can you tell us a bit about how you arrived here?
I have been fascinated by movement for as long as I can remember. I studied choreography as an undergrad which was where I was introduced to yoga for the first time by a very physically strong, wildly eccentric, and very motivating dance lecturer.
It was during my yoga teacher training in New York in 2011 that I began to feel discomfort with the inaccessibility of yoga and the narrow band of folks that were represented in and served by the industry as it was then.
Through conversation and research, I wound up finding a project in central Africa that was, at the time, using yoga as a therapeutic intervention for women and children living with HIV. Discovering the use of yoga as a non-clinical intervention to tackle the social determinants of health for a marginalized community was a transformative moment for me.
When I returned to London I immersed myself in a new job working for an extraordinary HIV support service. Yoga took a back seat for a while whilst I navigated third sector operations and the complex web that is the health and social justice space. When I felt ready to, in 2015, I took a leap of faith and amalgamated all of my experiences to create Supply, an impact organisation of my own.
Supply Yoga sets itself apart from other studios thanks to its commitment to fostering tangible social change in the wider community. How important was it to include social impact in Supply's business model?
Supply was designed to fulfil a social purpose from the very beginning. I set out to shift the intimidating misconceptions around who should feel comfortable in a yoga studio and also democratise access to wellness where it is limited. I knew that keeping sight of these intentions was key to sustainability. The more we could engage diverse, socially conscious customers to our classes, the more support we'd have to maintain our positive impact on the wider community.
The cyclical model is unusual and it provides me with the perpetual challenge of balancing commercial success and maximum impact. It's driven by the idea that whole community wellness requires a whole community effort.
Modern wellness frequently comes under fire for being self-serving with a focus on individualism and profit. Supply's social purpose model turns that on its head. How does Supply select and manage which charities and partnerships to work with?
We're really proud to partner with support services like Hackney Migrant Centre, East London Cares, The Boundary Women's Project and East London Foundation Trust. These extraordinary organisations share our aspiration for whole community wellness and we're grateful for the opportunity to contribute to achieving that.
Whilst yoga is a powerful tool for improved physical health and mobility, it is the power of a shared social experience to nourish psychosocial health that we focus on. There is a compelling sense of togetherness and belonging that transpires when folks who are navigating similar life experiences can gather together. Inclusive but not limited to long term health conditions, a stressful immigration case, living at risk of mental health challenges or experiencing chronic social isolation.
Whatever your situation, access to a safe space in which to take a deep breath, to take a break from ruminating on the past or the future and take ownership of your own wellbeing in some small way is universally valuable.
When lockdown hit and life changed in 2020, Supply seamlessly pivoted toward digital offerings. Members have the option of Live Zoom classes or On Demand videos — or both! How has pivoting from a physical space to an online community diversified the work Supply does?
I'm grateful that we've managed to keep moving forward in spite of the whirlwind of extremely difficult circumstances that all small businesses have faced this past couple of years. In some ways, our offering is broader and wider than ever before now that the barriers of location and time have been lifted.
Our content is carefully produced and curated. Our community – now nationwide – can choose classes that meet them where they're at, in the safety of their home, whenever they like. The sustainable subscription model we've built represents the most effective, economical and wholly relevant way to share yoga with our community amidst the unpredictable, evolving 'new normal' that we're all getting used to.
We've adjusted to deliver our social impact services online too, we've maintained some of our pre-pandemic partnerships and have even developed new ones that may not have been possible before. For example, our 'Mindful Mobility' programme in collaboration with East London Foundation Trust is delivered online to all Tower Hamlets care homes via Zoom!
The vibe between Supply Yoga teachers, students, and the wider community is always warm and friendly. Did you have a vision or inspiration for the safe and supportive community you have fostered?
Inclusivity and accessibility are embedded into the spirit of Supply, from the way the physical space was organised in the least intimidating way possible and our as-accessible-as-possible prices to the meticulous recruitment of teachers that are fully invested in our social impact ethos.
A culture of safety and support has been weaved into our offering since the very beginning both in house and out in the community. We've always tried to keep our programming responsive and informed by the needs we can see around us — from Queer Yoga classes and practice-by-donation schemes to Yoga for Anxiety workshops.
Our experimental mental health focus has attracted a uniquely warm, friendly, like-minded community whom without we'd be nothing at all. That vibe you can feel comes naturally somehow and it has evolved beyond any vision I could have storyboarded back in 2015.
Finally, when it comes to running Supply Yoga, what brings you the most joy?
It is a joy for me to change people's minds about what yoga is and to show them that it belongs to everybody regardless of shape, size, ability, wealth or health. I'll never get tired of seeing the weight lift off somebody's shoulders when I give them agency to participate in a way that feels right for them, wherever they happen to be at in their bodies, energy or motivation.
I enjoy telling newcomers that just by being in class their work is done: they've made a positive decision for themselves to be there. Any movement or breathwork from there on out is a bonus. Yoga is yoga whether you're mindfully resting or moving your body for strength and warmth. It is the decision to take time for yourself that matters. ■
Fancy a discount?
Until the end of January, Supply Yoga is offering 22% off the first 3 months of membership for new members.
You can subscribe to any of the membership tiers above using discount code HNY22 to receive a discount on your first 3 months of social purpose yoga.
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