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Durham’s VYB Studio is supporting the community through (virtual) yoga

<p>VYB Studio was initially scheduled to open March 23, but now the opening date is up in the air.</p>

VYB Studio was initially scheduled to open March 23, but now the opening date is up in the air.

Owner Allie Labate always intended to use VYB Studio as a space that helped and supported the Durham community — she just didn’t anticipate doing it amid a global pandemic.

The studio eschews norms by using loud, “bass-bumpin’” music to accompany hot power yoga classes, a practice largely inspired by Labate’s eight-year background in bodybuilding and “hardcore” workouts.

“Most yogis, they only want ambient music in their classes, and they don’t like loud music, and they don’t use cuss words … but I’m a little bit nitty-gritty,” Labate said. “My vision for VYB is a place where people can go who may not feel comfortable in a traditional yoga studio. I want the people that want to get down, want to grind — it’s really a place that’s just welcoming to everyone, and a lot of energy, a lot of love.”

Alongside the workout, Labate envisions VYB providing a way for people to make friends and “have a family” in Durham, citing the large population of residents who move to the city for professional or educational opportunities, away from their own homes and families.

”I think Durham is really unique. If you think about the art, the music … that’s why I created VYB. I was thinking that I don’t feel like I fit in at all these really nice, cute yoga studios, there’s got to be other people just like me thinking ‘Hey, I want some place that’s going to play some loud, bass, bumping music,’” Labate said. “Like, I’ve got Tupac up on the wall.”

The space VYB inhabits was previously home to Community Power Yoga, where Labate formerly offered pop-up classes before purchasing and rebranding the studio. According to instructor Kelly McGee, who completed her yoga teacher training at Community Power Yoga, she was “thrilled” for Labate to take over and wanted in on VYB “from the beginning.”

“The vision [Labate] has for this space truly came to life in just a few days and totally expresses her badass practice and self,” McGee wrote in an email. “It is the studio Durham needs [in order] to welcome everybody into the practice in a safe and non-stuffy way.  VYB … blasts the doors wide open to a larger community who may not see themselves as the type of person who practices yoga.”

The studio was initially scheduled to open March 23, but due to Wake County restrictions closing all fitness studios through April 30 — which Labate anticipates Durham County implementing soon — opening day is up in the air until further notice.

“I spent my life’s savings to get this place ready to open, thinking that I would have an income so I could pay my April rent, but [then] I had to make the responsible decision of waiting, which was hard,” Labate said. “But it’s the right thing to do. Everyone was trying to stay open as long as they could, and then I think they finally realized this thing is serious and we need to think about what’s the right thing to do for the general public.”

Despite being, according to Labate, “a brand-new studio that isn’t even really a business yet,” VYB’s team is seeking out ways to balance their needs as well as supporting other community members impacted by shutdowns.  

“I feel like it’s going to take people in Durham, all of us as a community, to work together in order to get this thing to go away sooner rather than later,” Labate said. “I’m friends with a lot of other small business owners in Durham, and we’ve all been texting back and forth, trying to figure out a way that we can help each other and also help our community, because even though we’re all socially distant, there’s this sense of connectedness, togetherness now.”

In light of the shifting conditions, tourist information center Discover Durham is keeping a running list of community relief efforts, including a spreadsheet of local businesses and ways to support them. For VYB, that entails attending virtual classes taught by Labate and McGee and purchasing gift cards, memberships and merchandise — a portion of proceeds from which will go to local charities.   

“The best thing to do is put your money into businesses you value and care about and help spread the word about all businesses are doing in this time to support the community and stay afloat,” McGee wrote.

At this point, the VYB team is taking things day-by-day. In addition to their virtual class offerings, the studio initiated a seven-day “NamaSTAY AT HOME” yoga challenge to promote safe social distancing practices, offering participants a chance to win a free VYB shirt and sticker for posting photos of themselves practicing yoga at home.

“You can’t really plan for anything right now. [It’s] actually a really good exercise in mindfulness, because you literally cannot think about what’s going to happen next week or the week after,” Labate said. “You really have to live in the moment, which is ultimately what yoga is all about.” 

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