Rebecca Weible was enduring at a corporate job, slugging the days away while she realized the job wasn't for her - but after numerous interviews, it dawned on her that it wasn't just the job, but the corporate world that wasn't for her.
In the Yo Yoga! founder's story there lies an uplifting break from the Wall St-esque trundle of the corporate world to a calm, eloquent New York City rooftop that now houses the Yo Yoga! classes everyday. It is here that Weible created a mid-city sanctuary for the masses in the demanding heights of the Big Apple and has profited from the hyper-stressed and under active atmosphere of an office-laden Manhattan. We sat down with the flexible (in more ways than one) entrepreneur to find out more about her uniquely-positioned fitness-meets-meditation business.
Why did you get interested in Yoga? How did it start?
I had taken dance classes since I was about 3 years old and loved it but never quite excelled past an intermediate level. I grew up in South Carolina in the 80s and yoga wasn't prevalent at the time but I knew it about it from books and media and the calming, stress-reducing aspect of it interested me as much as the physical aspect, which seemed similar to dance. My mom bought me a book about yoga - it was one of those 'Eyewitness' brand informative books - and I poured through it learning more and teaching myself some of the poses including crow pose. There weren't many opportunities for me to take regular yoga classes but I took one at any chance. I began to practice regularly during college at a studio in Charleston, SC. The spiritual and peaceful part of the practice hooked me and, for me, the alignment and the more precise body instruction and mindful movement seemed to be what was missing from the practice of dance.
"There weren't many opportunities for me to take regular yoga classes but I took one at any chance."
Why did you decide to open Yo Yoga? What was your main point of difference?
From the first time I stepped into a yoga studio, I knew that I wanted to run a studio of my own one day. I was interested in creating a peaceful, sacred space to spend time in and share with others. After working for a handful of years in the corporate world, I wanted a career where I could see the impact I was making on people's lives. Opening Yo Yoga! was a way to offer something meaningful to anyone who was interested.
For those of us who can't be there can you briefly describe the space and the programs on offer?
Our space is clean and white with lots of windows to let in natural light. We keep the space relatively bare with minimal decor to prevent distraction, provide room to breathe and so anyone practicing can find their own version of zen during their time in our space. ur large, rectangular roof deck is accessed by sliding doors located in our lobby. This third floor roof top space is covered with green tiles that are firm and supportive yet yielding for knees and joints. We plant flowers every year and hang simple string lights. We also set up the mats so students can face the tree whose branches and leaves extend over the deck adding a touch of nature in the middle of the city.
Our main offerings are Open level classes and Basic level classes. Open level classes are vinyasa-based classes where we offer options for every level of yogi in the room so you can choose to make the practice more or less challenging as needed. These classes break down more challenging poses and offer the chance to remain in the most basic expression of a pose or take it deeper. Our Basic level classes are our beginner-level classes that break down the most common poses and move at a slower pace so you can learn how to do each pose correctly for your body.
Can you talk about the partnership with Sound Off? What does that entail?
Yo Yoga! is the first studio in NYC to offer Sound Off yoga classes as a regular part of our weekly schedule.
In these classes, students wear Sound Off Experience's Bluetooth, noise-cancelling headphones throughout class in which they hear curated playlists and the sound of the instructor's voice. This allows total focus throughout class and almost feels like getting a private lesson.
Students will wear the headphones throughout a 30 minute listening to ambient sounds and binaural beats along with guidance from the instructor. This allows space for the energy of a group meditation without the distraction of city sounds or sounds from your neighboring meditator.
Can you briefly discuss your transition from corporate to Yoga? Was it Zen or was it more difficult than you anticipated?
Strangely, I always felt more excited than nervous about leaving my corporate job and opening Yo Yoga!. When I began to feel restless and annoyed at my last corporate job, I began a half-hearted attempt to search for a new job. After a couple interviews it hit me that if I took any of these new jobs, I was going to find myself restless and annoyed once more after the initial challenge of being new wore off. I decided it was time to open my own business and the prospect of pursuing something I was passionate about gave me a sense of relief and happiness that overshadowed the fear of failure.
Walking out of the office building on the last day felt like I could finally stop pretending to be someone I wasn't whether Yo Yoga! was successful or not.
What was your first step to creating your own business? How did you get funding? How did you pick a location?
For me, the first step came in setting my mind to making this happen. From there, my business partner (my older brother who helped me open the studio and is now my silent partner) and I put together a business plan to get organized and solidify our vision. Our funding came from our savings and a small loan.
We worked with a commercial real estate broker to find the space. Initially, we wanted a space on an avenue and close to the subway but when we saw the outdoor space, we knew we needed to take it. Although at the time the roof did not look like anything special, my brother and I knew we could make it into something worthwhile and beautiful.
People tend to be afraid of Yoga. Can you tell us why they shouldn't be? What are the benefits?
Yoga's popularity has made room for lots of studios and different styles of yoga. This means that no matter what you're looking for from yoga, you'll be able to find it. From conversations I've had with those new to yoga, a big fear seems to be the unfamiliar and not knowing what you're doing. I always tell people to start with the beginner's classes which will break down the basic poses and move at a slower pace. These classes are designed for people that 'don't know what they're doing' when it comes to yoga and are the best option for learning your way around the mat.
The benefits of yoga are increased flexibility and agility, strength building and stress reduction. Flexibility helps prevent injury and keeps our bodies supple and mobile, especially as we age. Leveraging your own body weight builds strength without adding bulk. Stress is the number one cause of disease and illness and yoga gives us tools to handle stress as well as get rid of it.
What is your growth plan? Where would you hope to be in 5 years?
Currently, we're working on catering to our growing community at our current location by adding more classes to the schedule along with more workshops and innovative offerings such as Sound Off yoga and meditation. We led our first retreat in Fall of 2016 and have a Costa Rica retreat scheduled for the end of January as part of our plan to offer retreats on a regular basis. From here, the hope is to franchise to another location(s) around the tri-state area.
What is the biggest learning lesson you would tell to young entrepreneurs hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Get yourself a good accountant, one who specializes in small businesses, who can go over your business plan with you and answer your questions along the way. No matter how hard you work or how creative your vision is, numbers don't lie so make sure you have a handle on them.
What is your business and life philosophy?
Im a huge believer in work/life balance. Opening a small business certainly sways your life towards work but it can still feel balanced if you love what you do and recognize when you need to take a break. Life is too short to spend 40 hours a week wishing you were somewhere else or clock-watching the day away.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.