Mercy Corps Northwest supports a Yoga Refuge for East Portland

Yoga class in action
Kate Holly opened Yoga Refuge in East Portland with support from Mercy Corps Northwest.
April 16, 2018

Melinda was afraid of yoga. “I’m now a ‘senior’ in age,” she explained, “morbidly obese by western medical measures, and labeled ‘disabled.’” She’d decided yoga was no longer for her — until she met Kate Holly at Yoga Refuge. Mercy Corps Northwest’s programs have been vital to shaping and supporting Kate and Yoga Refuge.

“We do private yoga therapy, yoga teacher training and life coaching”. They teach yoga in a variety of styles, for both beginners and advanced practitioners, including Vinyasa, Hatha, Restorative, Yin and Gentle Yoga, all in a red brick building on the main drag of Portland’s Montavilla neighborhood. They have great views of the Douglas Fir trees on Mt. Tabor out the south-facing windows.

“There’s more of a sense of community out here,” Kate says. Yoga Refuge is one of the few studios serving Portlanders on the further reaches of its east side. It’s an environment of reflection, body positivity, creativity, and affordability, with sliding scale fees and a work-trade program.

Several people participating in a yoga class

Support from Mercy Corps Northwest

Kate Holly didn’t set out to run a retreat inside the city from the beginning. She found Mercy Corps Northwest while trying to drum up business as a freelance videographer and yoga instructor. She participated in our IDA program and started work on a business plan thinking it could make her a better freelancer.

“It never occurred to me that I could start something; I didn’t have a lot of money. Because of writing that business plan, I started to think bigger. Mercy Corps Northwest is good at helping you take yourself more seriously. They help you think creatively.”

At that point she’d been a yoga teacher for ten years. Yoga had changed her life but, she says, “I fell into teaching it. When I had my first child, in 2012, my yoga teaching schedule became much harder to maintain.”

Woman doing yoga in a yoga studio
What started as one person and an idea is now a community of women with small businesses all gathered in one brick building: life coaches, yoga teachers, and a massage therapist.

From one person to an entire community

The idea for a studio became real one day while Kate was surfing Craigslist; she scrolled up on the perfect space. “I still had no funding, but I had that business plan, so I went for it. I just started taking steps forward.” One of her steps forward was getting a Mercy Corps Northwest loan.

Kate, like most of our clients, opened on a small budget and cut costs wherever she could. “It’s been a constant journey of figuring out how to do things I’ve never done,” Kate said. “It’s a continuum starting at things you know, your zone of competence, and moving into the things you don’t know, your zone of incompetence. I spent a lot of time in my zone of incompetence. You learn that things don’t need to be perfect. It’s fine for them to just be good enough.”

This meant she did things like painting the space herself. Yoga Refuge has this long stairwell with a high ceiling. Right as she realized how impossible this would be, a curious man walked in. He was a local and wondered what was going on. It turned out that he worked in construction and knew where to get the kind of ladder she’d need to paint. He came back and painted the stairwell for free. Kate thought, “I guess the universe does want me to open this yoga studio.”

What started as one person and an idea is now a community of women with small businesses all gathered in one brick building: life coaches, yoga teachers, and a massage therapist. They enjoy the flexibility but Kate says, “Opening a business while parenting two children under the age of five has not been easy, but it has allowed me to set my own schedule around the needs of my family. We also have a lot of yoga teachers on our team who are parents of young children, and we try to create as much flexibility as we can to support them.”

A group of yoga students

An evolving story

Kate believes entrepreneurship is about having the right mindset. “We all have a set of beliefs about what’s possible,” she says. “This causes you to get in your own way. 

I’m realizing the majority of my work as a business owner is examining my limiting beliefs. I’ve always been optimistic and not risk averse, but much of the time the only thing in my way is just, ‘I just haven’t tried it yet.’”

Mercy Corps Northwest seminars have been important for Kate as her business has grown. “They’re great because they carve time out to think about important things. They’re at a great price point, the resources are great … I feel like they are on my side.”

Kate has been surprised to realize the story of Yoga Refuge no longer belongs to her. “I’ve found that many who are a part of this community want to share how it’s helped them. I realize I’m in service of this bigger thing.”

Kate has created a place where people like Melinda don’t need to be intimidated by yoga. “She helped me begin to recover a less restricted movement” Melinda said. “A more centered self in body and mind. This is a long road … that many of us walk. I cannot imagine a more sensitive, skilled, and deeply spirited guide to help me on this journey than Kate.”

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