When Kathleen Knipp and Ken McRae moved to Columbia more than two years ago, they noticed something missing from downtown.
“Where is the yoga center?” Knipp recalls asking.
In Charlottesville, Va., a similarly sized college town, the couple ran one of the town’s four yoga studios downtown: Peace of Mind Center for Yoga & Meditation.
“Downtown is the heart of the city, and yoga is a practice that belongs in the heart,” said Knipp, who started teaching yoga in 1997.
After two years of space-hunting, Knipp and McRae found something with soul. In the alley next to Addison’s restaurant off Cherry Street and on the ground floor of the Tiger Hotel was a 1,186-square-foot space needing only minor renovations. They decided it was close to perfect.
The transformation of the space will be finished in late December, just in time for classes to begin Jan. 3. A grand opening is scheduled for Jan. 22.
With tasks such as choosing shades of paint and installing new windows, the couple is suffering from a case of “decision fatigue.”
“The quantity of decisions is overwhelming,” said McRae, who has been teaching yoga for 30 years.
Choosing a name, though, was easy. After they discovered two cats living in the alley outside, they dubbed the place AlleyCat Yoga and had graphic designers integrate the felines into their logo.
The pair has been teaching six to seven days a week in the multipurpose room they have rented since April 2003 from the Whole Health Wellness Center on Chapel Hill Road. They hope to bring many of their 90 students with them when they start teaching at the new studio.
“We are busting out of the seams at our current location,” Knipp said. “We just need more space.”
AlleyCat Yoga will be able to accommodate either 44 students for posture practice or 60 for seated meditation. Besides the practice room, there will a reception area, a bathroom and changing rooms. The studio will hold 90-minute daytime, evening and weekend classes ranging from $5 to $15 a session for all levels of experience.
Classes will range from beginner to advanced with additional meditation and chanting events. They will also offer scholarships for yoga students. Knipp and McRae are on the faculty of the Kripalu Center in Lenox, Mass., one of the largest yoga centers in North America.
The couple moved to Columbia to find a slower pace. They wanted to live in a college town where there was a high quality of life but a low cost of living.
They were pleasantly surprised by what they found. “We have never lived anywhere where people are so interested in us teaching yoga,” said Knipp, who produced three yoga CDs with McRae.
The couple’s customers range in age from the early 20s to senior citizens; about two-thirds are associated with MU in one way or another. Knipp seems proud of the fact that one of her classes is made up almost entirely of men.
“Anyone can do yoga, and everybody does,” Knipp said.
In addition to instructing, Knipp and McRae also direct Global Yoga Journeys, a travel agency for yoga retreats around the world, and publish Columbia’s Healthy Living Directory.
Awareness of yoga in the Midwest is growing, Knipp said. Although Knipp says the current yoga craze could wear off a bit, she thinks yoga is here to stay.
Lynn Maloney, 41, who will teach at the studio and is an acupuncturist, said AlleyCat will be a huge asset. “There hasn’t been a strong (yoga) community presence, and that is going to change,” said Maloney, who has been teaching since 1996 and in Columbia just more than a year.
“After people experience the physical benefits, they often become increasingly interested in the intellectual and spiritual dimensions of yoga,” she said.
“There are a lot of people practicing and not a central place for them to come together,” Knipp said. “We want to create a yoga community.”