[EDITOR'S NOTE — This story has been updated to correct attribution of quotes.]
[EDITOR'S NOTE — Each week, this feature section, “Movers and Makers,” will feature the stories of the movers, launchers, entrepreneurs and makers who contribute to the vitality of the Mahoning Valley. This section is supported by our first community partner, Farmers National Bank.]
BOARDMAN — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change “typical” daily life, many people suffer from pandemic-associated stress.
A local yoga studio, Yoga Element, believes it’s more important now than ever to bring people together in a socially distanced environment to actively relieve stress.
“I also believe we’re in the midst of a civil rights movement and yoga teaches us that we are all one. ‘Yoga’ means ‘union.’ Through the practice, we learn compassion for all beings. We learn to see ourselves in everyone. The community aspect of yoga grounds us and helps us realize we are all more alike than we are different,” Yoga Element co-owner Mandy Hinkle said.
Yoga Element has introduced a variety of class types amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including outdoor, online and intimate small group sessions.
Class sizes have reduced from 25 practitioners to eight per class, and due to limited class sizes, students must now pre-register for Yoga Element classes through a free app called Mindbody.
Additionally, during the lockdown Yoga Element created a donation-based YouTube channel, Yoga Element Youngstown, to encourage practicing yoga from home.
Now, every Tuesday and Wednesday at 6:45 p.m. Yoga Element hosts classes outside in Mill Creek Park.
“We are also offering monthly Ashtanga yoga classes. We’re hosting these the second Sunday of each month. All “flow yoga” and “power yoga” was born from the Ashtanga method, so we are very excited to be offering our students this traditional practice,” Hinkle said.
Yoga Element offers a variety of classes including power, yin, slow flow and yoga with weights and cardio.
Class drop-ins are $12 and $10 for students, seniors and veterans. Yoga practitioners can purchase a class pass which includes 10 classes for $100. Outdoor classes during the COVID-19 pandemic are $10.
“We want to host classes that can benefit everyone, even if they have physical restrictions,” Yoga Element co-owner Jenna Forte said. “We believe that Yoga Element offers at least one class for everyone.”
Forte first began practicing yoga in 2012 at Fred Astaire Youngstown. Once she was certified in 2015, she briefly taught at the studio before dedicating her time to the downtown community.
Forte then taught yoga at The Soap Gallery in 2015, which she called Soap Yoga. As she began teaching throughout the Mahoning Valley, Forte said she realized Youngstown was a central point for most of her clientele.
In 2017, she ended up back at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio when the studio became vacant.
“The owner reached out to me about renting out the space. It was fate as I have been looking for the perfect spot to relocate and call mine,” she added. Now, Forte has a new partner, co-owner Hinkle, who recently celebrated her first year teaching at Yoga Element.
“Jenna and I have a divine connection. It’s really magical and we balance each other out so perfectly,” Hinkle said. “We clicked right away. We’re both artists, so we see the world through similar eyes. Working together was a very natural progression. I saw what Jenna was creating with Yoga Element and her vision spoke to me on a deep level. I always say that Jenna lit my soul on fire.”
Yoga Element’s warm and dark studio aims to give new customers a blissful and immersive experience, as well as an immediate sense of connection.
“A new student can really find a home here. They will be welcomed as part of the family. We are a non-judgmental, safe place for anybody and everybody to explore yoga. You don’t need fancy yoga pants and you don’t have to be physically fit. You will find all different ages here. You will find different body types. We are a very diverse community. Also, we joke that Yoga Element is “the place where dudes practice” because we have a lot of men here too,” Hinkle said.
According to Forte, the teaching staff of Yoga Element has donated time for events, charities and people in need, as they believe in the healing properties of yoga and want to “help our communities in any way that we can.”