April 5, 2021

Not Just a Studio, a Community at Soul City Yoga

by joeyphoenix

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by Joey Phoenix

Lynn-native Shanel Anderson (she/her/hers) is a business woman, yoga instructor, and the co-founder of Soul City Yoga. She and her business partner Sarah Bailey (she/her/hers) have carried the studio, which has locations in both Lynn (271 Western Ave.) and Malden (210 Pleasant Street.), through the pandemic with sheer determination and the support of their community. 

“It has really been a test of patience, imagination, and grit,” Anderson said. “But it’s been great to see the way people have rallied to support us. We really found out how strong our community was this year.”

Soul City, One Year Later

One of the biggest challenges that Soul City Yoga, a Black and woman owned studio, faced in Spring of 2020 was figuring out how to go from in-person yoga classes to virtual sessions when COVID-19 restrictions were put in place. Faced with the prospect of losing all of their revenue almost overnight, Anderson and Bailey did what they and so many others had to do – they consulted their mentors and faced challenges head on. 

“We were back up and running within three days of the shutdown. It was quick and dirty and we were figuring it out as we went. But it worked. And people kept showing up for class consistently,” Anderson said. 

Now, just over a year later, they are continually working on safely increasing capacity. They’ve implemented temperature checks upon entry, signage and markers which prompt social distancing. They also require masks for all in-person classes. 

And, for those who are still not quite comfortable coming to the studio in person, they offer virtual streaming of their in-person classes as well. 

“It’s a very exciting time for us right now looking at the light at the end of the tunnel. Everything got flipped upside down and we’re looking forward to being able to just get back into a comfortable routine at the studio,” she said. 

Bringing Soul City to Lynn 

Anderson and Bailey set up their first yoga studio into the Lydia Pinkham Building in Lynn in Fall of 2016. What was, as Anderson describes, “a skeleton crew of instructors and friends,” quickly grew into a full-scale operation as word got out – which happened in a number of ways. 

While Soul City Yoga is the first physical yoga studio in Lynn, it’s important to point out that yoga as a practice was important to Lynn residents before that, there was just nowhere in Lynn that they could regularly go. Anderson credits former Lynn resident Elaine Theodore, founder of City of Zen Yoga, with helping foster the Lynn yoga movement with her outdoor sessions in Lynn’s Red Rock Park and helping to grow the studio. 

“Elaine and I would collaborate on these outdoor events and then she would bring her following into the studio on Saturday mornings,” Anderson explained. “It was really so helpful at the start of our business.” 

The mother of two boys, aged 6 and 9,  Anderson’s personal yoga journey first started with prenatal yoga during pregnancy with her second son in 2014. 

“My first delivery was not ideal, I did not move at all, and it was really tough,” she said. “When I got pregnant a second time, I decided the story would be different this time. So I started going prenatal yoga, and I loved it,” Anderson said. “The difference was night and day for me.” 

From there, her love of the practice steadily grew and she eventually signed up for teacher training in 2016 with a goal of bringing accessible yoga to her hometown in Lynn. 

“[Lynn] has been on an upward trajectory and things are changing. Conversations about growth and change and wanting to bring different things to Lynn have been going on my whole life, but in 2016 the time was right. All sorts of people were coming together to open new businesses and promote community, and yoga fit right into that,” she said. 

Image by Monica Justesen Photography

Soul City Malden

This past year, Soul City opened a second location in Malden, spreading the love of Yoga into that community as well. Unfortunately, before the studio had the chance to properly open and connect with the community, lockdown happened. 

“We had finally signed the lease, got everything ready, and COVID shut us down. They gave us the keys on April 9th,” Anderson recalled. 

Discouraged but determined, Anderson and Bailey spent the summer building out the space with a plan to open in the fall, which they were able to do. Anderson credits some of the success of this venture to the small business forward minded community in Malden. 

“The Malden community could not be nicer or more supportive and welcoming. While it’s not gone quite how we expected, we’ve been able to slowly build our community. We’re hoping that as word gets out and people start to feel more comfortable, they’ll come take classes.” she added. 

One of the greatest attributes the space offers is that, because they’re located in a luxury apartment complex, the Malden studio has access to some of their amenities including an outdoor space and a roof deck, something that Soul City will make use of as the weather gets warmer. 

In addition to outdoor yoga in Malden, they will be continuing their outdoor yoga series at Red Rock Park in Lynn as weather becomes more cooperative. 

“We would love to be out there three times a week if we can get away with it,” said Anderson. 

A Safe Space for Everyone to Practice Yoga 

Inclusivity and accessibility have been at the forefront of everything Anderson and Bailey have created in Soul City Yoga because, for them, yoga isn’t just for a certain kind of person. It’s for everyone. 

“Community is the cornerstone of our entire operation, and I believe that we’ve created a space that is welcoming to all,” Anderson said, pointing out that traditional yoga and boutique fitness spaces haven’t always been welcoming to people who aren’t white and experienced in the practice. It’s also even rarer for these spaces to be Black owned. 

“I’ve had many experiences where I’ve been really intimidated in a place. First because no one looks like me. And then second of all, the classes are filled with these fit people and super flexible people and I just know within the first 10 minutes that I would not go back,” she explained. “I never want anyone who comes to Soul City to feel that way.” 

Because of this, Soul City strives to create opportunities for anyone who is curious about yoga to come and take a class in a non-threatening environment. Anderson recommends a deep stretch or meditation class for those who are just starting out, because this will allow them to be in a class with other people and props while still having the chance to hang back and observe before diving in. 

“The greatest joy for me is seeing people grow in their practice and understand the role that yoga and mental health and wellness play in their lives and, and how useful it can be to get you through these situations,” Anderson said. “And the best way for them to flourish is an environment where they feel safe and comfortable enough to be seen trying, to be seen in their process.”  

You can find out more about Soul City Yoga from their website at https://www.soulcityom.com/ or by following them on Instagram and Facebook. You can also go directly to the weekly schedule to sign up for in-person or virtual classes. 

Joey Phoenix (they/them) is the Director of Brand Strategy and Innovation at Creative Collective. As the resident storyteller and town crier, they encourage you to send story ideas, inspiration, or pictures of adorable critters to joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com.

Creative Collective is celebrating the ways we can get outside this Spring with their #SpringOnTheNorthShore campaign, an initiative created to highlight the best that springtime North of Boston has to offer on the longer, warmer days. 

Area businesses can participate in the event by using the hashtag #SpringOnTheNorthShore and tagging @creativecollectivema and @creativenorthshore in posts on social media highlighting ways their businesses are encouraging people to get out and explore the best of the region this Spring.