Yogabrielle Helps Yoga Practitioners "Snatch their Souls on the Mat"
By Ramla Bile
With more than 20 million practitioners and a value of $27 billion, the yoga industry is booming. But in a space popularly occupied by petite white women clad in Lululemons, yogis of color struggle to bring – or find – inclusion on the mat. In Minnesota, one yoga instructor is changing the face of one of the whitest practices in the United States – reclaiming this space for brown and black people worldwide.
Gabrielle Roberts (pictured above), better known as Yogabrielle, is a certified yogi (RYT-200) who helps practitioners "snatch their souls on the mat" through Trap Yoga, and now, 612 Jungle, her latest endeavor. 612 Jungle is the first and only hip-hop yoga studio in Minnesota.
The Beginning of a Mat Movement
“I was already a group fitness yoga instructor at Life Time Fitness and decided to take a yoga class. I wasn’t about it at first. I couldn’t remember the names of the poses and I was so exhausted after the first session. When I finally started breathing correctly, I had an ‘aha’ moment and realized ‘this is what I’ve been missing out on.’”
She recalls, “Still, I remember feeling frustrated about not seeing people of color in the class. I saw so many blonde ponytails and Lululemon pants. It was then that I set out to get my people in the studio. And I said, I’ll only do hip hop or I won’t do it at all.”
After becoming a certified yoga instructor, she began teaching at New Rules and Life Time in Saint Louis Park. New Rules is a communal marketplace and event space in the Northside, and this venue gave her an opportunity to make her classes more geographically accessible.
When I first attended Gabrielle’s class at New Rules, it was a demystifying experience. The room was intergenerational – with elders going deep into poses alongside young and middle-aged people, and practitioners representing varying levels of physical capacity (experienced yogis and beginners, professional athletes, etc.). Most importantly, nearly all the participants were black, and it profoundly put my mind to rest. For once, I wasn’t insecure about the width of my hips, didn’t feel out of place, and no one pointed to the hijab tucked into my shirt and asked if I was hot. I was able to focus on the poses.
Gabrielle’s “Trappin’” class was transformative. But it’s not just about the music. Hip-hop yoga studios are all the rave these days. In New York and L.A., Sarah Larson Levey and her husband Mason opened Y7 WeFlowHard in 2013, which has since grown to 11 studios.
What makes Gabrielle’s classes so different is the culture and vibe – it’s a place where everyone – of all racial and social experiences – belongs and feels levitated. Gabrielle is familiar with this feeling. “I feel levitated, too! And my students are right there with me. After a few classes, one woman said, ‘I’m comin’ to get my soul snatched.’”
This comment later inspired the name of one of her classes, dubbed “Soul Snatching Saturdays.” This vibe is something that can’t quite be commodified or appropriated. Gabrielle hopes to bring this same vibe to 612 Jungle, saying it’ll be a garden of acceptance where people can “flow individually while vibing off of community.”
From the Mat to the Billboards: Becoming a Brand Ambassador & Entrepreneur
A year ago, a woman in one of her classes told Gabrielle she should consider becoming a brand ambassador for Athleta.
“At first, I didn’t take it too seriously. But then I looked up Athleta and saw women of color represented, women of all body types and sizes, and I knew I wanted to be associated with such an inclusive brand.”
She applied, and earlier this year, was selected to become an Athleta Brand Ambassador for the 50th & France store in Edina. Focusing on the #POWERofSHE, Gabrielle teaches classes at the store from time to time with other ambassadors.
The power of women has been a theme in Gabrielle’s experience. Her mother, a regular participant in her classes, helped brainstorm names and tagline for 612 Jungle (an earthly paradise of purity, happiness, and acceptance). And her friend, Kuwaiti-based yogi Sanàa Jaman (ladydork on Instagram), inspires and encourages her journey.
“Ladydork pushed me to use Instagram as a core marketing strategy and it’s been great. Instagram is not just for models and those who DM them,” she said with a joking sneer. “I’ve had nearly 500 signed up to get alerts via Instagram before the studio before even opened,” she said.
612 Jungle opened in August 2018 in Minneapolis and has capacity to serve 21-22 people per session. The environment is different from the larger gyms where it’s common to have 85 people. The cost is ~$10 a session, with student and monthly rates as well. The per session rate is critical for accessibility, particularly since some studios require expensive monthly memberships. As she cultivates this garden of acceptance, Gabrielle didn’t want money to deter participation.
For more on the Jungle, visit https://www.612jungle.com/
How to Get Your Soul Snatched: Yogabrielle’s Tips for Beginners
Be patient, give it a few classes.
Get out of your head. Don’t look outside. You feel more when you get outta your head.
Remember why you’re here, what you’re doing, and be open to learning.