Known for its rustic, red sandstone formations and eclectic art scene, Sedona, Arizona is a vacationer’s paradise. But mother-daughter duo Eboni and Peggy Howard weren’t drawn there solely by the breathtaking views—they were there for yoga. The pair attended a seven-day retreat, practicing baptiste power yoga for up to 16 hours each day. At the end of the experience, everyone wrote down an aspiration. Eboni and Peggy, unknowingly at the time, journaled the same goal: to open their own studio.
From that, Eb & Flow Yoga Studio was born. On the heels of the eight-year anniversary of their studio’s debut, we spoke with Eboni and Peggy about their vision to make yoga more accessible to diverse communities and how that became a reality.
How were you introduced to yoga?
Eboni: I used to play basketball on the college level and then did a lot of triathlons at a competitive and national level. In my late 20s to early 30s, I suffered several injuries, and the doctor said, you can’t run anymore, and you can’t jump anymore. Yoga became this thing to help with the physical.
Eventually, I realized it wasn’t just physical anymore—it was also mental. As soon as I did yoga, that kind of rebalanced me, and so there was this awareness of a connection of my yoga practice to balancing out my mental state as well as the added benefit of feeling in shape. My mother saw me transform into this yoga aspirational person and no longer stressed despite working crazy hours. So she was like, let me look into this yoga you’ve been talking about.
What motivated you to open a studio?
Eboni: Out of 160 people at this retreat in Arizona, me and my mother were one of four people of color. I was like, this has got to change. Why are we the only four? By the end of that retreat, you had to write down an aspiration or dream, where you wanted to go. I wrote that one day I would like to open a yoga studio where I could serve a greater number of people, particularly a diverse community. My mother wrote in her notebook, I’d like to help my daughter open a yoga studio. We had no idea at the time. This was a separate little exercise.
So that’s how it started. I just came out wanting yoga to be open to more people. And it’s been a very insular community. It’s changing, but historically in America, it has not been very open to a diverse group of people economically, racially, and culturally. We wanted to change that.
How did you come to find the studio space?
Eboni: There was a studio very close to my home, and I thought, why don’t I see if I can teach there? When I reached out, they told me they were actually closing. I was just like, that sucks.
My mom asked, what are they doing with their stuff? I contacted them, and they were planning to put it on Craigslist. That’s the time when we both came together, and I realized she was thinking about the studio. We went there, basically bought all their stuff, and walked out with: I think we’re opening a yoga studio? That was November 2012 where we accidentally came into all of this stuff. On Valentine’s Day 2013, we opened Eb & Flow Yoga Studio.
What makes your studio unique?
Peggy: I think one of the unique things is the love that Ebony and I, as mother and daughter, have for yoga—not just a practice of yoga in general but a practice of yoga that’s transformational. Because of our individual backgrounds—Eb’s a psychologist, and I’m a former social worker—we look into its ability to change the fabric of the human being, the way we look at the world in a more cohesive way.
When we began, we both approached it as if we were inviting people into our home. Eb & Flow was our yoga home. When you invite someone into your home, you keep it company ready—meaning it’s always clean. We clean the studio the way you clean your bathroom in your home right before the party, but we do that every day, multiple times a day. The other thing we do within that same framework is that all our teachers are trained to always welcome people to our home. You wouldn’t leave the door open and just let people come in. We have our teachers and front desk staff welcome everyone. The other thing is, never be the first person to leave your party. After you teach a class, you don’t run out. You wait until all your students have left and then you, the teacher, leave.
Another unique quality of our studio is that we believe yoga is for everybody, every B-O-D-Y. That’s our essence. That’s our brand. If you can breathe, you can do yoga. When we first opened, I was 61 and my daughter was younger. So we were from two different generations. The fact that there was an older person who was one of the owners and teaching a class—that was diversity right there. Then of course, we are African American. We never really flaunted our blackness, but we certainly didn’t hide it. I think that not only made African American people comfortable coming to our studio, but it also made others comfortable too because wow, it’s not a pretentious place. We’ve had customers say that when they come into the studio, it just feels different.
How have you been able to make yoga more accessible to different communities?
Peggy: One of the things we do to attract is word of mouth. We have yin yoga classes, which are mostly done on the mat. They’re lengthening and more therapeutic in nature and gentle. Then we have power flow yoga, which is aerobic, get your sweat on kind of thing. We try to have classes for everybody. Many times, a younger person will come and take a power class, I’ll be out front, and they’ll just be chatting with me. Then the next thing I know, they’re bringing their mother to the yoga class. Then the mom comes in, sees me, and thinks oh, well it must be okay because Eboni’s mother is teaching the class.
We’re located in a diverse community: Wicker Park, Chicago. We understand why yoga doesn’t attract the numbers of people of color that we would like, that represent what we know is there in the community. Yoga’s expensive. So we have $10 community classes twice a week, and right now we’re doing it all virtually. We have a variety of pricing packages, price points, and the traditional unlimited membership. If you combine that with some of the $10 classes, people who [before] couldn’t necessarily afford it—which many times it’s people of color, maybe it’s older people on fixed incomes, maybe it’s students—they can still come and get their Eb & Flow on.
How is it being in business as mother and daughter?
Eboni: It’s been wonderful to have my mother be my partner. Being a co-owner in a business, it’s very important to have good partners—partners you can trust, communicate with, and have a level of respect, even when you don’t agree on the same thing. We’re not a mother-daughter kind of relationship at the business—we really are business partners. We have the split of delegations and responsibilities. I’m all operations, and she does the back office and financials. I’m so grateful because owning a business is very hard, owning a small business is extremely more difficult, and owning a minority-owned business has an additional extra twinkle to it. I couldn’t think of a better partner.
I don’t think we would, neither one of us, think we would be where we are today, celebrating a small business in which we have completely invested in ourselves. And to be here even now through a pandemic, we’re still open.
Peggy: My daughter and I have been best friends our entire lives. We really understand divide and conquer. She has areas that are strong and those are her expertise, and I have my areas. We do consult each other to keep the business running, but we can defer to each other.
How has COVID-19 affected your business?
Eboni: The COVID-19 impact has been huge, and it’s huge for any place that relies on in-person services. The yoga business is based on a group fitness model—meaning the more people you have in that room, the better profit margins. With COVID, we can’t offer 40 people in our room. We can’t even offer 10 people in our room. You’re not even going to get 10 people in the room because they are uncomfortable. The business model doesn’t work.
Changing operations virtually helped slow down the leak, but it didn’t stop it. All small businesses are trying to figure out new hustles. We increased the number of corporate yoga classes we teach, so that’s helped.
Peggy: The pandemic has had a major impact on our business. Revenue has been reduced significantly. Clearly, for most of the year, we’re not even able to hold in-person classes in the studio, but our community’s been great. We’ve retained at least 80% of our membership, and we’re so grateful for that.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs or other business owners?
Eboni: First is make sure you have as much resources of your own as possible if you’re going to start your own business. It’s harder when you have investors because they’re going to have their own demands, requirements, and timeline of when they want to see a return of their money.
Other advice is just be very confident and strong at what you’re trying to do. Be very clear in your vision, then stay true to it. When you’re clear with your vision, make sure you know how to articulate that to other people because it can’t just happen and live only in your heart to make it come alive for a successful business. You’re going to have your staff and team be the mantra to carry it through.
Make sure you know what you are a “yes” for to make your business dreams come true and what you are a clear “no” for. You can’t be a “yes” for everything. People, your customers, may try to sway you, and you have to make sure what your customers are asking for is something you really want to do and that you can be fully invested in.
As lessons learned and what made it difficult for us as Black owners is the unwritten or informal prejudices that people have towards African Americans. Be very mindful of the judgements and perceptions that a majority culture may have on your business and how you’re going to mitigate those judgements.
What are you looking forward to?
Eboni: We’re really committed to getting through this pandemic. When we get through this and to the other side, it’s not going to be the same. But we do hope we still offer that same vision in which everybody is welcome, everybody feels supported, and where if nothing else is going on in your life, there’s a place like Eb & Flow where there are people who are kind, who are here to make sure that your health and well-being can be supported and treated. Whatever it takes us to do that.
My mother and I do not pay ourselves. We make sure we pay other people. We’ve always wanted to make sure that we can give to others and as long as Eb & Flow can pay its rent, taxes, and insurance, anything else just goes back into the community.
This interview has been edited and condensed.Photos from Eb & Flow Yoga Studio.