April 10, 2018
Bodē NYC: Creating a home for radiant health and enlightenment in New York City
Donna Rubin and Jennifer (Jen) Lobo are dynamic business women – always on the go with four studios, a rebranding in progress, and the introduction of a variety of classes and programs being rolled out literally as we spoke. Their story is a fascinating one – a partnership built on a chance meeting and cemented with a passion for hot yoga.
(Donna) “I was a dancer on tour doing Carousel. It was hard to find dance classes to stay in shape and get warmed up before a show. A lot of people in the cast had done yoga. I was intrigued but didn’t think it would be effective for increasing flexibility on a professional dance level.”
(Jen) “[I was a runner] who resisted doing yoga. I found it too boring and slow. I was into marathons and soccer.”
Donna began taking classes at a local gym and found yoga was a nice addition to her dance regimen. She initially thought all yoga was the same until she took a Bikram hot yoga class while visiting her sister in Florida.
(Donna) “I was blown away and found [Bikram] so unique; mostly because of the physicality of it. There were the obvious pluses of strengthening and stretching, and I started practicing daily. When I noticed the other benefits – calm, focus, peace of mind – I really got into my practice.”
In the meantime Jen was running marathons in San Francisco and looking into alternative fitness options to stay in shape. For her sport, cross training was crucial to prevent injuries and promote stress release.
(Jen) “I had these friends – identical twins – who were always in great shape and good moods. They talked me into my first Bikram Yoga class. I found it amazing. I didn’t know it was going to be hard and hot. Afterwards, I felt like I was walking on clouds, and started taking it 3 mornings a week at 6am.”
Eventually both women ended up in New York. They initially met at one of the few New York City venues offering a hot yoga class, although it was not a true Bikram style. At this point, Donna realized there was a great market for hot yoga in NYC – and that Bikram was still relatively new in this area. She invited Jen to lunch and by the end of the meeting, Jen was Donna’s new investment partner. Within 8 months, Donna paid Jen back on her initial investment. They both realized that they had created something special and wanted to expand before everyone else in the community understood the true value of the style and potentially oversaturated the market.
Jen had a crucial decision to make at this point. Did she want to leave her other job and join Donna full time in this venture? Or stay on as a “behind the scenes” investment partner?
(Donna) “We didn’t really know each other that well. We came from different backgrounds. I’m a dancer and have Broadway connections; Jen’s circle is within the sports athletic community as well as a large group of personal friends and acquaintances in the city. We realized we could draw in different crowds to the studio population.”
Sometimes it is a combination of good market research, passion, instincts, and being able to get in the door at the right time and in the right place.
(Jen) “We had confidence in the (Bikram yoga) practice. Donna had already seen the market in Florida; as had I in San Fransisco. The initial New York studio we created was at a spot Donna had found in the theatre district. She felt that community would love it. Next thing I knew, people were trying out the Bikram method. Then people were actually making reasons to come into the city and train at our studios. Like my friend from Greenwich, CT – a triathlete – who comes into town (NYC) just to take classes because he feels they are an important part of his training regimen.”
Although initially they opened the first studio and taught classes strictly in the Bikram style of hot yoga, their approach to the business side of things was much different than even what Bikram Choudhury himself was doing. For example, he called his style the “Bikram College of India” which Donna and Jen felt wasn’t marketable to those who didn’t have a background in yoga. Following the lead of other styles like Kripalu and Ashtanga, they shortened the name itself and noticed that Bikram and others soon followed suit. Furthermore, they added classes throughout the day in the same style – not just early morning and evening – responding to the need to serve those who did not work the traditional 9 to 5 jobs. Later the term to describe what they did became known as “boutique fitness”, but Donna and Jen proudly count themselves among the trendsetters and offer advice to those who are now opening such types of businesses in the fitness industry.
(Donna) “We really tried to create something special; staying true to what we felt was our passion about the Bikram style and yet responding to our client’s needs. It is the little things that tend to matter most. For example, most yoga mats are designed to help protect a yogi’s knees on hard floors. In hot yoga, the mats are there to capture the sweat. We had Hugger Mugger mats originally and while they were nice mats, they would get so heavy with sweat that they didn’t dry well. When we tried out the Kulae mats we found that they were still comfortable, yet thinner and designed to dry quickly. We offer the Kulae 3mm tpECOmats and Zuska Towels for rent at the studios. Our clients can also purchase these items as well as the Kulae Easymats in our retail space because we want them to have things that are perfect for the type of experience we offer. It is those small details that our clients really appreciate.”
(Jen) “Since starting the business in 1999, we have become much more open as businesswomen to what is going on in the market, and to trying new things. We have concentrated on building a brand that we can stand behind, and have expanded from our original base of offering just the Bikram style. ”
Now branded as Bodē NYC, Donna and Jen have 4 studios offering approximately 1000 classes a month. Calling their model the 360° degree experience of yoga, they have added in other classes which responded to their community’s needs – including classes in yoga nidra, yin yoga, sound baths, specialty workshops, meditation, classes of varying lengths – while still offering a core curriculum of Bikram style hot yoga. One popular addition is the signature Hot HIIT classes. These low impact, high intensity classes complement the Bikram practice while focusing on core strengthening and cardio.
Both women agree that every part of their lives have been enhanced since they started practicing yoga over two decades ago.
(Jen) “I am a better mother when I make the time for my practice. Yoga allowed me to have a calm mind and focus on the things that were really important.”
(Donna) “The business side of yoga is very different than your personal practice or being a teacher. But knowing that you are creating an environment for something you are passionate about makes all the difference. I still find that I love the Bikram series that I started with, and am guaranteed to feel good after my practice.”
When thinking about how to really respond to the community’s needs, Jen and Donna found inspiration from nature. Looking at their website, one notices that the new name – Bodē NYC has an aerial representation of the “cairns” symbol in the letter “o”. A cairns symbol is a stack of rocks on a hiking trail symbolizing that a person is on the right path. In the yoga tradition, the word “bodhi” means enlightened one. With the body traditionally being thought of as the vessel for wisdom and growth, taking time for self-care places a person on the right path to true enlightenment. Jen and Donna have truly made “Bodē NYC” the “abode” or home for their community to grow together in optimal health and wellness.
Author Bio – Samantha Eve Kennedy
Samantha Eve Kennedy is our resident traveling yogi – a Kripalu-Certified Yoga Instructor, Freelance Writer, Fitness Model, and Whole-foods Plant-based Vegan, who holds a Master of Arts Degree in Teaching. She travels the world teaching classes, leading workshops & retreats, and serving as an Ambassador for the Yogaboard by Strobel & Walter, as well as a DiploMAT for Kulae. Her passion is inspiring others to live mindfully, healthily, and with joy! The founder of SamanthaEveYoga.com, connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.