Yoga can be good for more than the body and soul. Katie Gould, yogi/personal trainer/gym owner, believes it can also build community and spark positive change.
When Gould hosts a class, there’s always something extra. During the warmer months, she invites students to perform sun salutations under the actual sun on the roof of South Philadelphia’s Bok Building, giving a local nonprofit 70% of the $15 fee. During her monthly Yoga Breakfast Club events – you get a workout, bottomless mimosas, and pastries, all for $30 – she’ll give the floor to actors promoting shows, nonprofit leaders seeking volunteers, or locals who are overseeing charitable collections. Once there were even puppies from Morris Animal Refuge.
“If people have something going on that they want to spread the word about, this is a platform,” Gould said. “I have this opportunity to reach out to other people doing cool, good stuff and to showcase them.”
The Nov. 24 breakfast club is doubling as a canned-food drive for Philabundance. And on Thanksgiving morning, Gould is hosting a pay-what-you-want workout with donations going to Emily’s Entourage, a nonprofit that raises money for Cystic Fibrosis and is named after Philadelphia’s Emily Kramer-Golinkoff, who is battling an advanced stage of the genetic disease. Next month’s gathering, scheduled for Dec. 22, will include a White Elephant gift exchange. There’s always something.
“I believe in community and the power of community,” Gould said. “I’ve seen relationships grow, and then that energy moves beyond the class.”
Gould’s classes have supported organizations like Playworks PA, Mighty Writers, SEAMAAC (supporting refugees and immigrants), and the Alzheimer’s Association. She takes suggestions from her students to choose the nonprofits.
“It fosters a lot of engagement,” she noted.
In one Facebook poll that Gould hosted, her students chose the Ronald McDonald House as a charity to support. So before the next rooftop session, Ronald McDonald staffers talked about the organization’s mission. And a handful of employees past and present also did some yoga.
“Third-party events, no matter how big or small, are essential to keeping our operations going,” said Thomas Servello, director of communications for the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House. “Every amount counts, and the support of the community elevates everything we do. Any awareness that is raised is helpful, even if [people] don’t act right away.”
Last summer, Robin Morris, executive director of the Garces Foundation, addressed some of Gould’s yoga classes, sharing stories of the work her nonprofit does for the immigrant community. She calls Gould “extraordinary.”
“Katie is a force for good,” Morris said. “She’s one of those extraordinary people who does so much for the community.”
It all began about five years ago, when Gould purchased a home not far from Bok. Teaching classes at her own studio and working with private clients meant she had less time for yoga, both as a teacher and a student. She decided to invite friends over for some asana followed by a homemade breakfast.
“I thought it would be fun to offer something in my brand-new living room,” Gould said.
It was fun, and so the class began to grow. And grow. On one Sunday morning, more than 50 people showed up with yoga mats and growling stomachs.
“I made eggs for 56 people,” said Gould, noting the group finished off about 20 bottles of Champagne. “It was … intense. It was very intense.”
It was also a sign that she needed more space. She moved the classes to Bok, the former technical school at 1901 S. Ninth St. that’s been repurposed into a multipurpose space with offices, a day-care center, medical suites, art studios, salons, food-focused businesses -- and Gould’s boutique fitness studio, KG Strong.
Bok is itself a community builder: Built in the 1930s, it operated as a technical school until it closed in 2013. Now privately managed, the building houses about 150 tenant businesses and nonprofit organizations. It hosts neighborhood events including craft fairs and ESL classes.
The small businesses support one another. Gould partnered with a Bok-based business, Machine Shop Boulangerie, so she’d never have to make dozens upon dozens of eggs at one time again. She encourages rooftop yoga participants to stop and stay after class, perhaps even to order a beverage from Bok Bar.
Yoga student Rachel Waxman said the social element of Gould’s classes is one thing that sets them apart.
“When do you have a chance to talk to the other people who come to the gym?” she asked. “After class, there’s an immediate reason to sit around and chat to people. I went to one class with 25 [students] and another with 16, and I had a great time at both of those.”