Yes, women of color do attend yoga retreats. But there weren’t any in the UK that catered specifically to them. This is where OYA Retreats steps in. OYA is dedicated to offering a holistic and unique retreat experience for Black women and other women of color. OYA Retreats is the first of its kind; there are no other retreats dedicated to women of color in the UK. Oftentimes, women of color feel intimidated or unwelcome in mainstream yoga settings. OYA, on the other hand, welcomes them with open arms. It attracts not only locals but also women from international destinations including from the United States. These guests are looking to explore, reflect, release and renew.
OYA was founded in February 2016 by London-based Dr. Stacie CC Graham, a certified Hatha yoga instructor as well as a certified life coach. She is a practitioner of Iyengar and Kundalini yoga. And in fact, to stay in tune with techniques, she travels to India every two years.
Dr. Graham gave TNJ.com more insight into OYA and what they offer.
TNJ.com: Why did you want to focus on women of color?
Dr. Stacie CC Graham: I believe such initiatives are much needed because the realities and lived experiences of my target audience are such, that these women deserve spaces in which they feel completely free to be who they are–unapologetically. Further, mainstream yoga and movement spaces can feel quite intimidating and alienating for a number of reasons. In participating in these retreats, attendees can be more at ease because they know more about what they can expect in reference to both teachers and other participants.
TNJ.com: How did you fund the startup?
SG: It was funded out of pocket as well as with the help of friends who want to support the cause. We are currently considering crowdfunding opportunities as well in order to attract other forms of investment.
TNJ.com: What were some startup challenges and how did you overcome them?
SG: The major challenge is getting the word out to the target audience. Through word-of-mouth, expanding our network by reaching out to other startups with similar target audiences and shared values, as well as writing articles on different aspects of what we do and well being in general, we have been successful in growing our client base. Another challenge is finding venues, which becomes easier with each successful event due to our good references.
TNJ.com: How do you market the retreat?
SG: The retreat is marketed via social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We also use some retreat websites as well as print media that caters to our target audience.
TNJ.com: What has been the most interesting question you have received from potential retreat goers?
SG: Most retreat goers are interested to know who we are and why we have founded these retreats. It’s almost like a disbelief that someone cared and had enough drive to create a space for women of color.
TNJ.com: Please explain the services.
SG: OYA Retreats organizes bespoke yoga/movement/meditation retreats for Black women and women of color. There are weekend retreats that take place at exclusive countryside estates that include yoga, movement, meditation, massage, and other treatments with catered vegan/vegetarian cuisine. We also offer urban retreats that take place in the city–currently London but there is an intention to expand. The urban retreats are an opportunity to take part in yoga/movement/meditation more regularly in a trusted environment, so as to support community members who would like to integrate these practices into their daily routine.
TNJ.com: What are your goals for 2016?
SG: Our goals for 2016 is to carry out two weekend retreats and two urban retreats.
TNJ.com: What are your long-term goals?
SG: There are several potential collaborators who have reached out because they would like to see an OYA Retreat take place in the countries in which they live. We are very open to that prospect. Eventually, I would like to build a permanent space for the retreats that becomes a communal living and retreat space. That is a goal I hope to reach within five years.
TNJ.com: What do you like the most about what you do?
SG: I founded OYA Retreats, in order to provide a safer space in which Black women and women of color feel supported and empowered to practice meditation, yoga, and other forms of movement; bring yoga to often underserved communities; pay forward” the benefits of my own practice by delivering this service to other women with similar experiences and points of departure; build, nourish and maintain a women of color community that promotes a holistic approach to self love and self care, a community in which the open exchange of wellness practices and even life strategies is made possible; create positive experiences that ground and simultaneously uplift women of color in their identities, that celebrate and honor those identities; contribute positively to the world at large, as well as to the communities that I feel most connected to and desire to give back to.