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Meet The Indie Yogini

Vivinne (Kala) Williams’ ideal client is someone who is ready to change—to feel better about themselves and to learn how to relax.

This desire to help those in need of healing—women, in particular, going through what she calls "thunderboltexperiences" like job loss, divorce and other life changes—is fueled by her personal experience.

Vivinne, a teacher of 20 years, has led a life journey that has taken her from the Bronx to the woods of Massachusetts and back; from emotional burnout to spiritual empowerment. And now, she returns to the yoga world as a teacher of private clients, launching a healing service, Namaste Concierge, that provides jobs for healers and connects those who need them with practitioners throughout NYC.

Vivinne’s first exposure to yoga was as a preteen, practicing along with Lilias Folan’s PBS series. That is, until her Jamaican mother saw her and asked what she was doing. “I enunciated with teenage pride—'I’m med–it-taaayy-ting.' This made no sense to her—she thought I’d lost my mind. Thus ended my practice.”

She returned to asana in the mid-90s, becoming a certified teacher and later opening Sattva Yoga and Wellness, a small studio in Midtown (now closed). She’s also an alum of Spirit Rock’s Mindfulness Yoga & Meditation program and a veteran of Vipasanna meditation. But it was her foray into traditional academia as an art professor that propelled her on a journey of reinvention.

“My first full-time job was as a college professor,” she explained. “I was thrilled about the money, but not about the work. And there was a battle for tenure.”

The experience quickly became brutal.

“I was the newbie, younger than everyone else,” she said. "I started getting bullied within the first semester, by people who had been there for 18-19 years and knew each other. Being left out of the loop of important things, overhearing things about my work quality.”

After obtaining tenure, Vivinne realized, for her own well-being, she had to get out.

“It was toxic. I was totally beaten down,” she said. “I spoke to a man, who happened to be African-American, who told me something like this had happened to him at a radio station. And what he said to me, was, ‘You threaten them. You were actually a success, and that threatened their network.’”

Vivinne decided it was time for a drastic change. “I was exhausted, it was basically a nervous breakdown,” she explains. “So I ended up packing up my little Hyundai. And I drove off for the woods of Massachusetts. I was homeless. I had enough money for about six months. I ended up housesitting at this little cottage in the woods for a woman, who was going to Canada to be with her lover."

For a girl who grew up in the Bronx, the adventure was transformative. “I was alone with no electricity. Couldn't watch TV, couldn't listen to the radio! I did have running water and a gas stove,” she said.

Then, a few months into her stay, near-disaster struck—in the form of an ice storm.

“When I went out the next morning, the trees were encased in ice; they looked like broccoli. There was no phone, you couldn’t call for help. There was a tree sitting on my Hyundai! I had to replace both windshields. The woman thanked me for staying with the cottage, and her insurance paid for the repairs.”

When the owner returned, Vivinne again found herself without a home.

She returned to her holistic roots. “I did a little bit of yoga and a little bit of massage, but I just wasn’t making enough money,” she explained. “Everyone in Western Mass. wanted to barter. Like, ‘Can I get ten massages if I build you a desk?’” she laughed. “So I realized I had to come back to New York.”

She returned, in 2013, to a very different landscape, following the skyrocket in popularity of yoga studios. It’s an age when training is at its most expensive, and sending out thousands of graduates a year into a world already saturated with teachers struggling for a place to hang their mats.

Vivinne doesn’t see herself returning to the studio system any time soon, wanting to succeed on her own terms.

“I'm just in a different place,” she said. “I don't really want to teach at a studio. Right now, all my focus is really on private and corporate yoga. I've always been an independent woman, and what I really want to teach is my own blend of yoga that mixes awareness and mindfulness, along with my studies in massage, where my specialty is shiatsu. I want to work with private clients, seeing where they’re stuck and customizing a practice for them. And corporate—working with companies to teach lunchtime yoga. Because they're not necessarily yoga people, just your average ‘Joes,’ like a tech guy whose shoulders are tight from being on the computer.”

And she’s paving the way for other independent teachers to do the same:

Namaste Concierge is a referral agency that will provide NYC with onsite services in the healing modalities of private/corporate yoga and adjunct modalities such as massage. Vivinne prescreens the teachers personally—all hailing from a variety of traditions and backgrounds—so each practitioner is perfectly matched with an instructor.

“I literally started my business on 14 dollars!” she laughed. And she’s also out there to help other women who’ve been stuck in her situation. She wants to bring her marketing knowledge and online savvy for practitioners who, like herself, are trying to make their faces and voices known in the crowded yogaverse.

Let’s all hope this new model works.

To learn more about Vivinne’s work go to her website.

—Jim Catapano

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