City yoga studio for all
Boston-born businesswoman expands Bikram brand
It’s Monday morning and Kendra Blackett-Dibinga just finished teaching a 6 a.m. Bikram yoga class. With a towel, she wipes off her hard work and greets clients coming into the studio as she prepares to teach her next class at 9 a.m.
For Blackett-Dibinga, BikramYogaWorks isn’t just a yoga business she owns and created with her husband Omekongo Dibinga — it’s her lifestyle.
“Whenever I get on the mat, I find my balance,” she says. “When I first tried Bikram yoga, I took it for seven days straight and cancelled my gym membership.”
Bikram yoga, the main experience the studio offers, is traditionally practiced in a room heated to at least 105 degrees Fahrenheit and at 40 percent humidity. Participants then stretch and sweat their way through 26 poses.
“It’s good for beginners because the routine is the same no matter where you go, which allows people to go deeper into their poses through repeated practice,” says Blackett-Dibinga.
Previously a weight-training and track athlete, Blackett-Dibinga used Bikram yoga to strengthen and heal her chronic knee pain and to manage stress on a daily basis. She has been practicing yoga for 15 years and Bikram yoga for 10.
The entrepreneur grew up in Dorchester and has been living in Washington, D.C. with Omekongo since 2005. Before the couple opened their own yoga studio, Blackett-Dibinga was a senior director at an international organization focused on assisting children with HIV and AIDS in East and South Africa. Her job consisted of traveling back and forth between the two continents, something that grew increasingly difficult after she had her own kids.
“I didn’t want to keep traveling anymore, I wanted to stay close to my kids. Opening a yoga studio was an opportunity for me to create a lifestyle I wanted,” says Blackett-Dibinga.
The Dibingas opened their first BikramYogaWorks studio in 2014 in Riverdale Park, Maryland where Omekongo was studying for his doctoral degree in International Education Policy at the University of Maryland.
“It was difficult finding a good contractor,” says Blackett-Dibinga, recalling her early business challenges. “They could tell we had no idea what we were doing and so they screwed us over. I had sunk all my savings in opening the first studio.”
Thankfully, the owner of the building helped the couple complete the first studio buildout.
Since then, the BikramYogaWorks network has quickly expanded. There are four other studios, in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Boston, and a second one in Maryland. The Boston studio, located at 561 Boylston St. in Copley Square, opened Oct. 1 and the newest one, in Baltimore, opened Oct. 27.
As a business strategy, the couple seeks partnerships with mixed-used developers who are open to including a yoga studio in their office, commercial or residential buildings. “They see that we have a valuable amenity and quality service,” says Blackett-Dibinga.
Although each studio carries the BikramYogaWorks name, each location is its own independent business entity, in order to decrease liabilities for the owners.
Blackett-Dibinga tells the Banner that it was her goal to open a studio here in her hometown. She visits Boston often and teaches classes at the studio with Maudi and Shaumba-Yandje Dibinga.
Prior to opening a Boston location, the Dibingas would practice yoga at other studios while visiting Boston, and were often the only people of color in the room.
“It made me think, does the wellness industry target people of color enough?” says Blackett-Dibinga.
“We want to let people know that Bikram is for everyone and can benefit anyone,” she says. “It’s going to help you, no matter who you are and what issue you may have. It helps with range of motion, flexibility, pain and even your sense of self.”
They make their studios accessible, she says, by offering a $49 month-long trial of all their classes and services. If a client then chooses to become a member, it costs $135 a month and includes all Bikram, Pilates, and LifeStretch classes, two posture workshops a month, free mat rental and two free guest passes per month.
BikramYogaWorks doesn’t just offer yoga classes, it creates a sense of community and provides the tools for an enriching life. “We want people to come here to connect and meet other like-minded individuals because they might not connect enough with others in their jobs, driving in their cars or through their phone screens,” says Blackett-Dibinga.
Along with yoga and Pilates classes, the studio also offers in-house services such as fascial stretch therapy, cryotherapy, educational workshops, inspirational talks, often led by Omekongo, and organized wellness retreats to places like Bali. “We want to create a total body, mind, and spirit experience,” says Blackett-Dibinga.
To further foster community, they offer a simple but nutritious treat of pineapple slices after class on weekends to give clients a chance to sit and engage with others, instead of hurrying off to the next part of their day.
The Dibingas employ two core staff members and eight to 10 instructors per location.
“We look for energy and customer focus among our staff members and instructors. We care more about how you treat the client than your teaching abilities,” says Blackett-Dibinga.
They aim to host at least 20 people in each class and have 2,500 members at each studio. “Our goal is to increase membership because the clients save money on classes and we receive a steady stream of revenue in order to stay afloat,” says Blackett-Dibinga.
Yogini and businesswoman Blackett-Dibinga recognizes the bravery and hope it takes for people to walk into a Bikram yoga class for the first time. Many times they have tried other strategies to cope with their physical ailments, whether it’s with medication or surgery, but are hoping that stretching, posing, and sweating will work for them.
“We give people kick-ass workouts because that’s what they’re looking for. They’re looking to challenge themselves,” says Blackett-Dibinga. “We want people to leave everything they have on the mat.”