Hi! I'm Allie, and I'm the founder of Good Elephant. I've always loved yoga, ever since my first class at Yoga To The People in New York City. I was studying in the big city for a summer, and my super-cool roommate in the NYU dorms invited me to yoga. It was a piping hot summer day, and we walked into a huge warehouse. The windows had lost their glass panes, so the air moved through the open space, but it was still the most sweaty I've ever been, packed in close to the other students on my little travel mat. That day changed my life. I felt a sense of belonging, like we were all in it together - the feel of the heat and the sound of everyone's breathing in the big room. The rubbery smell of my mat and the colorful people still fill my head when I think back.
But the most significant part of my experience was something I can't describe, and I hardly remember except for split-second glimpses of a powerful, dark-purple-colored depth I had never felt before. It was as if I had dipped into a deep river that runs beneath the foundations of the world I knew. Now, I understand that I was experiencing devotion for the first time in my life, but I didn't event know what I was devoted to. It's funny how devotion works that way - it is its own purpose in itself, a first step without a destination. I have experienced this pure beginning so many times in my life since then. It comes the way the best things in our world begin, as true faith - a "yes" without a "what", or a "why" without a "how".
That was the beginning of my practice. For the rest of college and graduate school, I read books on Eastern philosophy and began to build my own faith with a conglomeration of pieces of various ideologies from Yoga to Buddhism to Taoism, and I started listening to my own deep-seated knowing. I went to India to become a teacher, and I learned from a real Yogi, who really lived Yoga with a capital Y. He would start our sessions by saying "What is YO-ga", emphasizing its meaning - Union, Oneness. We combed the Yoga Sutras, examining each detail of Patanjali's instructions. There were definitely things about this Yoga that I didn't resonate with. My respect for my own inner knowing grew, along with a deep gratitude for the people who had recorded their journeys of devotion so I could build my awareness on their grand foundations. I left India feeling cleaned-out and renewed, eager to hold space for others who were ready to discover their own personal versions of deep-flowing devotion.
When I got back to America, though, I started teaching at a studio in little Carson City, NV and I started to become aware of aspects of the yoga world that didn't feel quite right to me. I realized how many people knew they could benefit from yoga and meditation practices, but were hesitant to venture into America's yoga studios. There are so many barriers to entry - they couldn't afford a membership, or they were afraid they would be judged because they knew they weren't flexible as the advanced practitioners, and, well, leggings just weren't very flattering on their real-people bodies. How had I not seen this before? Oh, right! Because I fit the usual (white, female, fit) demographic at a yoga studio. I loved my new students, but I had started to notice that the same type of people came to my classes every week, and deep down I knew these were not the people I was supposed to be reaching.
The Comma Coffee Gang
So, I started a class at a local coffee shop, Comma Coffee, on Sunday mornings when the shop was closed, and I immediately knew - these were the people I needed to be reaching! Our first class was a mix of young and old, men and women. Half the people were completely new to yoga, and I loved providing a safe, comfortable space for that delicate, all-important first experience. We had coffee together afterwards, talking in groups and standing with our bare feet on the cleared wood floors. Over the weeks, I would watch friendships form and people come and go as their lives and needs changed. I loved my students - Kelly, whose yoga practice helped her begin to feel more healthy and patient with her husband; Bruce, who came with his wife Sally and experienced a little relief from his chronic pain; Clinton, a young veteran whose practice began to soften the surface of his inner chaos; and Patty, who was able to find some relaxation from the troubling confusion of an oncoming serious illness.
I wanted to see more community like what I was experiencing, so I did a quick google search to find other teachers in town who were creating safe spaces like mine, and they were! These community classes were a little difficult to find, though, so I put up a Meetup page and a website where people could go to find all the welcoming and affordable classes in town. In my excitement about this new community-centered world, I interviewed lots of community-minded teachers about their journeys. They seemed to love providing inclusive experiences, but they usually had trouble finding host spaces and they definitely weren't able to make a living - after trying to teach full-time, most teachers seemed to end up embracing teaching as a devotional service.
So, I started connecting teachers with local spaces who wanted to host pay-what-you-can community classes. I helped the teachers with whatever they needed - marketing, professional payment processing, extra mats, etc. - and Community Yogi (Good Elephant's original name) was born! Our classes were unique and intimate, and the importance of the relationship between students and teachers was clear. I had fun watching students follow their favorite teachers around to our collection of host spaces. We expanded into Reno and then Sacramento, growing organically as people joined our movement to make mindfulness more inclusive and affordable for everyone.
Good Elephant teacher Erik Beardsley at his class in Davis, CA
Today, Good Elephant's cities are happy and strong, and our mission is the same - to cultivate community through beginner-friendly yoga, movement, and meditation classes in welcoming unused spaces. As the cliche American yogi, I probably would have tried yoga eventually if my friend hadn't brought me to that class in New York, but there are literally millions of people in America facing serious barriers around inclusivity and affordability. At Good Elephant, we whole-heartedly believe that everyone deserves to experience the transformational power of mindfulness with the support of their community. I'm just sayin' - bring a friend. :)
-Allie and the Good Elephant team: Chris, Jenna, Kelly, and Leah