Launching a business is no easy feat. Kasia Blackwell, founder of Yoga House, has been on a transformative journey. In February 2018 she opened her first yoga studio in Lee, fast-forward to February 2019 a new site has opened in the heart of Catford. It is the latest addition to the growth of Catford Shopping Centre’s offerings; a space for wellbeing, community and socialising. We visited the beautifully decorated studio to discuss raising three children, recovering from postnatal depression, becoming a teacher and running the business.
Can you tell us about how you got into yoga?
It started 10 years ago, my very first class was when I was pregnant with my first son. I did yoga for the duration of my pregnancy and it helped me on a physical level. It was mostly about maintaining my body, I hadn’t really thought about how it could do so much more than that.
So, I did classes with my son for a few months, then I stopped and went back to work. I worked for a newspaper group’s advertising team. I then got pregnant again with twins. I couldn’t practice yoga with them because I had a difficult pregnancy.
Two years later, I went back to work again and that’s when everything caught up with me. When you’ve just had your babies adrenaline keeps you going. When they went to nursery, I had time to settle down and the stress caught up with me. I started feeling depressed. Post-natal depression doesn’t necessarily have to be straight after you give birth, it can happen later. On paper everything was fine, but I just felt so depressed and I couldn’t shake it off. When you’re going through something like this it’s on a chemical level, you can’t just tell yourself to get over it.
I started doing yoga again and it very quickly changed me from being unhappy, to feeling extremely happy. Nothing otherwise had changed, everything was still the same. It was just like someone woke me up, and I was looking around at a new world. From that point, I was telling everyone that they have to do yoga because it’s life-changing.
That’s amazing, how then did you become a teacher?
At that point, I wasn’t thinking of being a teacher, I just wanted to practice. I’d thought about having a studio around four years ago, then I was made redundant in December 2015. They did me the biggest favour because when that happened, I started looking into becoming a teacher. I remember when they phoned me I said to my mum, ‘I hope one day I’m going to look at this and see it as a positive thing’. I signed up to my teacher training in September 2016, in December I graduated.
The next stage was opening your studio?
Yes, I had a few months at home with the boys. I was doing a food blog and trying to be creative. I’d been hiring small local studios, and inviting friends for classes. I was teaching like that for a year; gradually building a community.
This was in Lee?
Yes, I’ve always been in Lee. I’m from Poland originally. Building a studio seemed like something impossible to do, but I remember coming back from the holidays in September and the classes exploded. Every class was on a waiting list, so I started looking into having my own space.
Were there any yoga studios in the area at that time? Do you think the people of Lee were craving something like this?
I was definitely craving a local space to practice and teach. I wanted to do sound sessions and meditations, but the spaces I was hiring were too small. I had a vision of more people being able to experience this and I couldn’t do everything in one place. I was still doing workshops and kids yoga, but I always had to hire different places. There wasn’t anything like this in the area, I had to travel elsewhere myself.
How did you go about finding the space?
Leegate is a shopping centre like this one in Catford, except it’s not owned by the council. The space was big and the rent was affordable enough for us to try it out and say ‘if it doesn’t work out, it’s fine.’
When did you open?
I got the contract in December 2017, we opened in February 2018 it and started building up from there. We very quickly managed to build a community. I think people were craving a space like this.
What made you decide on Catford?
We were looking for another space in South East London. I wanted to be close to where I live, but still be able to grow a community separate from my Lee community. We’d been to the food market a few times, I always knew Catford was a vibrant place and people are really trying to do something different here. As we were signing, we also found out about the Catford Mews cinema and thought it was a great time to be here. This is the time to come and build the centre together.
What has the process of building both studios been like?
It has been quite organic. When you have a dream and you manifest it, if you’re on the right path and you’re aligned, it just happens. You’ll meet the right people. It’s the same with the staff, everyone who works here and the people volunteering as karma yogis are amazing. They all came to us. It’s been incredible and I haven’t felt like I had to force anything, it’s all happened in a very natural way.
Have there been any major obstacles?
The stressful part has been setting the studio up and getting it running. This is week two in Catford, we’re building from scratch again. Even though I live in South East London, Catford is still a fairly new community to me. I hope people will be open and interested in becoming a part of this.
What was the idea behind having the karma yogis who can practice for free, in exchange for helping to set up? I think it’s great for those who have never tried yoga or might want to but can’t afford it.
It was a combination of that and us needing help as well. The classes were becoming more popular and we needed extra hands. Karma yogis help us to set up the studio for classes, in exchange for free yoga.
It’s also great for those who are thinking of becoming teachers and want to be around the studio more. A few of our karma yogis have moved up to paid reception work as well.
For those who can’t afford the sessions, we not only have the karma yogi option but we also have charity classes where you can donate £5 or a few quid to take part and support local charities. We have already supported Lewisham Food Bank and Grace Aid, in May we’re raising money for the Ceilia Hammond Animal Trust.
What are you most proud of achieving so far?
Creating our community and having people experience what yoga can really do for them. It’s not about changing the way you look, but changing the way you see yourself and doing it with a kinder view. People email to share their stories with me, it’s the most amazing thing. It’s not easy going into it, running two studios, managing the classes, schedules, teachers and student enquiries... There is a lot of work, but when I get emails from people saying it changed their life it’s really worthwhile. When you come here, you spend a bit of time away from the constant thinking of the mind. Giving yourself that break can actually make all the difference.
How can yoga be beneficial for the whole family?
There are a lot of after-school clubs where we drop the kids off. In our family classes, you actually stay with your kids and have some time to bond whilst practising yoga.
What do you think is unique about Lee and Catford?
They’re a bit different but, it’s quite nice that there is a variety of people from different backgrounds. Everyone is welcoming and open-minded. We live in a big and busy city, but we still have these smaller communities of people who come together. There are a lot of positive things happening like the Catford Food Market, and there is a lot of support for small independent businesses.
People are helping each other out and promoting what they’re doing. When you go into the café you see the same people, even here people come into class and they know each other. Some people meet through the studio and go on to do other things together, which is really nice. We’ve started something that has spread out into other collaborations.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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This is the beginning of an exciting time for Catford Town Centre. The more people involved, the better the needs of the whole community will be reflected. Have your say via Commonplace, and share the project with people you know locally.