Yoga business works to bring calm to exhausted community

February 20, 2019

MCKEES ROCKS, Pa. (AP) — On a frigid January night, Leigh Garbo-Minniefield is placing candles around the perimeter of a dance studio at the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks.

An oil diffuser fills the space with the calming aroma of frankincense. Her husband, Jacques Minniefield, adjusts a projector to throw sunny images of Caribbean beaches on the studio wall and tweaks a sound system for reggae tunes.

While others arrange their yoga mats, Mr. Minniefield ducks into the hall to tend to a spicy, Trinidad-style corn soup simmering in a crockpot.

The hot broth will provide post-workout nourishment for the nine people about to begin an hour-long session of Dub Yoga in the Tropics.

Dub — a genre of reggae music dominated by bass and drums — is also the theme the husband-wife team have adopted to differentiate their classes in a market exploding with wellness and mindfulness options. Besides breathing, stretching and downward dog poses, Dub Yoga incorporates food, scenery and meditations inspired by Mr. Minniefield’s native Trinidad and Tobago.

At pop-up gatherings held every month or so at the Ryan Arts Center along McKees Rocks’ main drag, the Minniefields bring the healing benefits of yoga to an exhausted community where many residents can’t afford private gym memberships or fitness trainers.

Ohio Valley Hospital provides some funding support for the sessions as part of a wellness initiative for the neighborhood.

Unemployment in McKees Rocks and neighboring Stowe is about 9 percent and about 25 percent of residents live below the poverty level.

“When you close your eyes and think of yoga in Pittsburgh, you think of skinny white women,” Mr. Minniefield said. “When you walk down the main street of McKees Rocks, you don’t see those people.”

The Minniefields developed their business plan as participants of Launch Sto-Rox, a year-long incubator for entrepreneurs whose ventures aim to boost the economy and provide a social mission in an Ohio River community that once hummed with retail shops, manufacturing and railroad industries.

Since March, incubator members have met monthly. They share their progress and get feedback from the incubator’s facilitator, New Sun Rising, a nonprofit that promotes economic development in underserved communities.

Scott Wolovich, executive director of New Sun Rising, said Dub Yoga’s pop-ups provide access to the type of health and wellness activities that may be lacking in Sto-Rox. Yoga can also provide relief for places with high rates of crime and drug use.

“These communities have historically high levels of distrust and trauma,” he said. “Where there’s lots of gun violence and overdoses, (yoga) can be another way for the community to heal itself.”

The Minniefields aim to open a stand-alone studio and are eyeing a space close to their home in Green Tree. Besides yoga, they want to offer wellness programs and dance workshops for other music genres, including Polynesian.

They want to continue holding pop-ups in McKees Rocks and other places around the region.

It’s not unusual for startups to target a neighborhood and then shift their location, said Wolovich, whose agency has sponsored Launch cohorts in other places including Wilkinsburg, Millvale and the North Side.

Often there’s a lack of code-ready real estate for the entrepreneurs to move into along the main street retail corridors or building owners aren’t ready to sell or lease, he said.

By continuing pop-ups at the Ryan Arts Center, Dub Yoga “is still committed to being in the Sto-Rox community and bringing culturally diverse exercise and education to different underserved neighborhoods,” Wolovich said.

“We’re here to launch businesses and sometimes you have to make those decisions,” he said.

The Minniefields landed in Launch Sto-Rox after a couple of staff members at Focus on Renewal — the social services agency that operates the Ryan Arts Center — came to a Dub Yoga pop-up Downtown and thought the venture would align well with the incubator.

At Focus on Renewal, local residents get help with food, job training and mental health issues, and have access to a library and cultural programs at the Ryan Arts Center.

For the Dub Yoga pop-up events, many of the participants who show up don’t have much money, Mr. Minniefield said. “Yoga is viewed as a luxury item,” he said. “If you can’t buy food and keep the lights on, you’re not going to a yoga studio.”

But by offering a walk-in rate of $10 an hour, the program can be accessible to people who can’t afford to — or don’t want to — spend a lot.

The Minniefields are structuring Dub Yoga as a for-profit business, but they aren’t relying on income from the venture to support their family, which includes two sons, ages 3 and 1.

Mr. Minniefield, 35, works full time as an accounting clerk at BNY Mellon’s Client Service Center, Downtown, and for years has performed as a solo vocalist and in reggae bands. He also works as a music DJ.

Mrs. Garbo-Minniefield, 37, grew up in the North Hills, studied communications at Duquesne University and “found yoga,” she said, while living in San Diego in her mid-20s.

After returning to Pittsburgh, she became a certified yoga instructor and joined a Polynesian entertainment ensemble that performs at special events.

The couple met at a Wailers concert at Stage AE and married in 2014.

To fund studio space, they have a bank loan. They’ve marketed Dub Yoga through Facebook and Instagram posts.

Wolovich said the couple faced challenges narrowing the focus of their business because they want to include tropical foods and juices along with yoga and performance. But he’s optimistic they can make it work.

“The ethnic and cultural aspect is not something you see” at other yoga studios, he said.

Food will always be integral to the concept, Mr. Minniefield said. “The organic spices make you sweat and expel the toxins.

“So it’s healing and tastes really, really good.”





Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com