Light: On Joy, Yoga and Art in Brookland
Jennie Light is the joyful force behind Bluebird Sky Yoga, a destination studio located Brookland. While putting people first Bluebird Sky Yoga strengthens the fibers of our community by weaving yoga and art into human centric experiences. The studio offers a wide range of opportunities to engage with yoga, art and your community. Offerings include opportunities to spend time with local artists in a unique environment; yoga excursions in nature; immersive workshops and a variety of daily group classes.
Each quarter Bluebird Sky Yoga features micro-shows from three local artists. Seasonally the exhibitions bring forth an exciting evening wine paired with art. Imagine a multi-sensory art viewing experience with good company. The next Art Show + Wine Tasting is coming up on September 6th. Featured artists are Jenna North, Katherine Rodgers and Emily Cucalon. ++ As an added benefit, the art available for purchase is sized appropriately for your DMV abode.++
Bluebird Sky Yoga is accessible from Union Station, only a 15 minute total transit including a pleasant neighborhood walk. Seriously, FFDC did a test run!
Q + A
A CONVERSATION WITH owner of Bluebird Sky Yoga, Jennie Light + Femme Fatale’S Briget Heidmous
We dive right in.
Bluebird Sky Yoga is not your first yoga and art centered enterprise: Before opening BSY in 2016 you hosted yoga and art pop-up events in DC called “Artful Saturday”. How did you bring “Artful Saturday” to life?
I started Artful Saturday in 2015 as a way to promote creative small businesses, designers, and artists with interesting design aesthetics I did not see around DC. At the time, two of my friends were launching a yoga clothing brand, another was selling eco-friendly hats, one just published a book, and another made really beautiful metal jewelry. For the first event, I rented space in Dupont Circle and hosted yoga classes to cover the cost of the space rental. I didn’t take a cut of the profits; I just wanted to support my friends’ businesses and encourage more creativity in DC. All of the businesses exemplified ethical business practices, from sourcing in environmentally and socially conscious ways.
As Artful Saturday grew, I expanded the yoga element to include live music and live painting – bringing more of the artistic practices I saw living in Colorado to DC – and to generate money for my time.
It must have been a real push to transition your efforts from a pop-up model to a “store-front” in one of DC’s most creative areas, Brookland. This is a two part question: How did you accomplish the feat? In the perfect glow of hindsight: What is/are the question(s) you wish you asked (more of) in the process?
Before opening the studio, I wrote a 75-page business plan and 9 Excel tab pro forma model. I have a background in economics and business and started my career in Consulting, but it was my first venture into a bricks and mortar space and putting my own savings on the line. Opening the studio took a year and included securing additional funding from a bank, seeing spaces, negotiating a lease, working with an architect and mechanical engineers, demolition, construction, permitting, inspections, marketing, and hiring and onboarding a team.
At the end of the Construction, my general Contractor told me he thought I must have good karma because I relied on my network to help me with many projects: from building my front desk and benches to painting the walls and ceilings to putting together bookshelves. (Bribing friends with Menomale pizza helped too.)
As I’ve grown in my role as a business owner, I’ve strengthened my ability to negotiate and learned the value of contracts to protect myself. As women, we’re often taught to be polite. In the early years, I subconsciously or consciously thought more about protecting relationships and being polite than standing up for myself, my team, and my business. I also expected others to all act ethically around me. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Read and question every bill that does not look accurate. Keep meticulous records. And if a business relationship is not mutually beneficially, work to change the relationship or walk away from it.
To the second question: Starting out I asked tons of questions and sought advice from my network of mentors and professionals. When I look back, it's less about whether I missed asking certain questions: It is more about whether or not I was getting accurate information especially in regards to the construction. It would have benefited me to get second opinions about the extent of the work and estimated costs of building out what is now Bluebird Sky Yoga.
Bluebird Sky Yoga is an uncommon place: On top of daily yoga classes you offer a visual arts program featuring DMV artists and a hand-full of other innovative programs. What’s the next big thing for you and for Bluebird Sky Yoga?
The project I’m most excited about right now is launching a 5-day Yoga Immersion. The program allows students to get much deeper into the practice than a typical 60-75 minute class allows. The week is packed with yoga practices, breath work (pranayama), meditation, yoga philosophy lectures, anatomy lessons, posture clinics, discussion, and journaling. Writing the curriculum, re-reading powerful texts, and designing the discussions reconnects me with why I love the practice so much. We have a fantastic group signed up so far and I can’t wait to see what unfolds in October when it starts.
Femme Fatale DC wants to see women social entrepreneurs do their best and shape the world: What thoughts/advice do you have to offer our community?
On starting. I remember reading a statistic about how women often only apply for jobs when they feel they totally qualified already whereas men only need to feel partially qualified. If you have an idea about how to do something differently, no one is going to be able to teach you exactly that. When I decided I wanted to open a yoga studio, the first thing my parents asked me is “Why don’t you go to business school?” For better or worse, opening the studio taught me – and continues to teach me – many of the lessons of business school through first-hand experience. When I listen to “How I Built This,” many of the entrepreneurs started with a small idea and no formal training. My advice is not “jump into anything without experience.” Rather, it’s don’t underestimate your skills, experience, and determination to propel you forward.
On Burnout. As economies of scale create more specialization, it’s too easy to spend your time doing the same thing over and over. For example, I see many yoga teachers adding so many classes to their schedule, they don’t have time for creative projects and end up burning out. I encourage social entrepreneurs to create projects and goals that act as markers of time, help you track your own personal growth, and give you chances to innovate (and even fail as part of the evolution process).
On Stress. On the stressful days, it always helps me to call fellow entrepreneurs to vent, share best practices, and grapple with big topics. Even business owners in completely different sectors often go through the same struggles. I also find it cathartic to listen to podcasts featuring other business founders or podcasts that connect me to the broader world. This both reminds me of how small my problems often are, and how much possibility there is in the world.