Bronx Yoga Studio Bends Over Backward To Survive

The facade of Sweet Water Dance & Yoga in the South Bronx.

Article and photo by Luz Blanco | January 28, 2022

Yosara Trujillo credits her Dominican aunt Eva for taking her to one of the oldest ashrams in New York City, Integral Yoga Institute. Soon after, she was visiting the Institute about three times a week.

“Yoga created the space in my soul to reflect and grow myself and my spiritual practice,” she said.

The Latina entrepreneur now owns Sweet Water Dance & Yoga in the South Bronx, one of the few yoga studios in Concourse Village. For the past seven years, it has offered yoga and dance classes and affordable prices to its South Bronx community. But according to Trujillo, its survival is uncertain in the face of the lingering pandemic, and the loss of such a space would be a blow to a part of the city already in dire need of more health and fitness resources.

The yoga studio was performing well after opening its doors in 2014, generating  $30,000 to $50,000 in revenue per month, but then the pandemic hit. The New York State Department of Health didn’t allow dance or yoga studios to resume operations until April 2021. The business has lost over $400,000 in revenue and taken on roughly $300,000 in debt in order to survive, Trujillo said.

Despite the struggle, Trujillo is determined to fight to continue serving the diverse community that has been home to her family for over forty years. After all, they have fought for her as well.

“My community showed up in droves to purchase anything from a virtual class they might never take to a stick of palo santo to a $3,500 yoga teacher training,” Trujillo said.

Compared with New York’s other boroughs, where yoga studios and other health and wellness spaces are more plentiful, the Bronx is the least healthy. Statistics by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps ranked the Bronx as having an average of 4.8 poor physical health days and 4.5 poor mental health days per person per month, compared to 3.6 for both physical and mental health in NYC as a whole. While the lockdown impacted everyone, a 2020 report by SAMHSA shows that Black and Hispanic people have a disproportionately lower access to mental health resources.

In the area around the studio, Hispanics make up 64.8 percent of the population, with the second largest group being Black Americans who make up 28.9 percent, according to the US Census Bureau.

Sweet Water Dance & Yoga aims to fill a crucial need in this neighborhood, offering classes at accessible prices. Virtual classes start at $10, with special discounts for seniors and students. The studio also partnered with Bronx Community Solutions to bring yoga and salsa to Boricua College Plaza in Washington Avenue last summer. The event, called Bronx en Vivo, was held to celebrate the resilience of the Bronx by reconnecting and engaging with local sources. They offered music, games and COVID-19 vaccines.

Trujillo says that making their services accessible to the entire community is their prime directive, but this dream to keep bringing wellness to Concourse Village, the South Bronx and all yoga enthusiasts is in jeopardy — even with the support and encouragement of community members and limited government relief. Despite receiving almost $50,000 in PPP loans, according to ProPublica, the studio is still in debt.

“We entered the pandemic with very little debt,” said Trujillo. “Post-pandemic, we did get access to disaster funding and took on a bunch of debt, but only enough to pay rent on a space we couldn’t use.”

Through the earliest months of the pandemic, Sweet Water Dance & Yoga made various efforts to continue providing classes to its clientele, from virtual courses to outdoor activities. And when it was able to reopen in April 2021, the studio focused on maintaining a clean environment for its guests with capacity limitations and vaccine mandates.

Eric Santiago, the studio manager, said their aim is to make guests feel safe coming to class.

“Folks must complete COVID assessments and show proof of vaccination when they arrive to take indoor classes,” Santiago said, adding that the studio has invested in UV lights to sanitize rooms after each class.

Regardless of precautions, the studio has not been able to achieve pre-pandemic attendance levels. For Sweet Water to stay open, Trujillo wants to expand into a “pandemic-proof” line of business and has zeroed in on something that working families sorely need right now.

“A childcare center,” Trujillo said, “in order to continue to operate with deep capacity limitations and in the midst of a vaccine mandate that prohibits the unvaccinated from attending classes.” 

Trujillo is currently holding a donation campaign through Ifundwomen where she hopes to raise funds to build a bigger facility to house her wellness programming and resources.

“Our challenge now is what to do with the dollars we have, and how to find our pandemic-proof sweet spot so we can survive and hopefully thrive tomorrow,” Trujillo said.