By Beth Lederer
A chalkboard easel stands outside of Purusha Yoga Studio in the Richmond District welcoming
Yoga students back. The beautiful penmanship demands attention: “Purusha OPEN, Happy New Year 2023, Welcome OM.”
Over the last few years during the pandemic, an empty storefront would have greeted a passerby.
Purusha is a holistic yoga studio and yoga training school on the Balboa Street shopping corridor in the Outer Richmond. Purusha closed in March 2020 when the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order was issued. To respond, the teachers immediately pivoted to teaching online.
The studio reopened on New Years Day, 2023, at the same location on Balboa between 38th and 39th avenues bringing smiles, relief and happiness to many former students and teachers who are part of the Purusha community.
Business co-owners and husband and wife team, Joy Ravelli and Eric Sparks expressed their gratitude to supporters.
“The reopening of Purusha Yoga Studio came about through much outpouring and support from the community, “they said.
“Everybody in the neighborhood kept saying, ‘Can you please reopen the studio?”’ For Ravelli it was really hard because it was such a painful end. “Yeah, it took a while for my heart to open again,” she said.
Ravelli opened the doors of Purusha in 2010 on Balboa Street. She had started Purusha in Massachusetts in 1999. The loss of Ravelli”s son Alex in 2009 was a powerful motivation to open the studio.
“I didn’t know what to do with my life after such a big loss,” Ravelli said.
”Purusha yoga studio is a great resource,” said Kathy Gehlken, a long time Ayurveda teacher and Sanskrit scholar.
“I was very sad when they had to close due to the Pandemic and am very excited that they have reopened,” she said. “What makes Purusha so special is their commitment to yoga accessible to everyone and to building a vibrant and loving community around yoga and service to others. I am deeply grateful to be part of that.”
Ravelli and Sparks faced many of the same challenges many business owners were forced to deal with.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was another factor that affected their decision to reopen. Both Ravelli and Sparks were the only two employees of Purusha. Everyone else were contractors.
“The PPP started to come through for other businesses, though it really didn’t come through for us,” Ravelli said.
Ravelli and Sparks had invested in building a brand-new yoga studio in Berkeley in 2018. They were only open for a few months when the pandemic hit.
“When the owners asked them if they were coming back, he told them they could not have in-person classes,” Sparks said.
Subsequently, the owners closed the Berkeley studio. Sparks and Ravelli walked away from their new studio, losing all their investments and deposits.
Ravelli and Sparks filed for personal bankruptcy, and they had to practice under their personal names for one year.
According to Ravelli, Purusha had a thriving school online for teachers to become yoga teachers, advanced yoga teachers and yoga therapists.
Purusha was able to keep its accreditation and students could find them on the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) of Yoga Alliance.
“We had about 300 students who went through the school,” Ravelli said. “A lot of yoga schools did that; many people got their yoga teacher training online. We now have students from all over the world – Spain, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico and all over the East Coast.”
In February, Purusha held at the studio their first training for yoga and advanced yoga teachers. They offered a hybrid session.
“It works well for absenteeism if people need to go to a wedding or have something personal, “ Sparks said.
Kari Marble joined the studio in February, teaching prenatal and postnatal yoga. Marble specializes in women’s health in childbearing years and beyond. The studio where she worked for 20 years permanently closed its physical locations as the whole yoga world was struggling.
In December, Marble saw a social media post that Purusha was reopening.
“Every cell of my body said ‘Yes. This is the one. This could be your new yoga home,”’ Marble said.
Ravelli believes in the commitment to service, rehabilitation and valuing humanity. In 2008 she started the Purusha Seva Project, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved and at-risk populations. They brought yoga to veterans, seniors, shelters and the jails.
“Purusha’s philosophy is to provide a safe, nurturing and healing environment for all our members, all our students,” said Ryan Bach, student admin and tech director. “Empower your true self and connect to the community.”
Ravelli lives by Purusha’s mission to make yoga accessible and to create a studio that is open to all socio-economic groups.
“Eric and I just want to serve the community,” Ravelli said.
Referring to the first months of operation, Ravelli said, “I have no expectations, I feel so much better in here than I ever imagined I would, I feel really good.”
To learn more, go to https://purushayoga.org/.