How Faith Hunter’s studio, Embrace DC, became a space to express freedom, growth and joy.
Up a staircase surrounded by vibrant blue walls to a second floor loft in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington D.C. lies Embrace DC, Faith Hunter’s yoga studio. Once inside, the walls are almost like snowflakes, where no two are the same — each its own bright pink, purple, yellow or green color.
Inside these walls, the people are just as spirited. Hunter explained that in a single day at Embrace DC you will see people with all skin colors, from all walks of life — and sometimes even her dog Sebastian — making their way around the studio.
“When you walk in you don’t see one type of person,” said Hunter. “You are going to see the guy that serves coffee next door, to the trash guy, to the lady who is an attorney walking in her suit with her ear buds on. We have such a beautiful and broad spectrum of the community that practices at our space. I think that is the one thing that makes us so unique in the DC area. If you go to another studio, you aren’t going to get that. It is this really beautiful and eclectic tribe of people that show up.”
Embrace DC turned six years old at the end of April. As it goes into its seventh year, a transition of sorts is beginning to happen, allowing the studio to have its own personality, rather than the reputation of Hunter preceding it.
“From the time I opened the studio until now, the studio is almost like a six-year-old, where it is taking on its own voice and really becoming a space where you are able to see the reflection of all my teachers instead of it just being Faith Hunter’s studio,” said Hunter. “It’s not all about me anymore, which is great. It’s about my teachers being able to grow and develop.”
However, to get to this point where Embrace DC could become its own separate entity outside of Hunter, she had to do a lot of work. For about a year before opening the studio, Hunter had been traveling around the city teaching various classes, not tied to one specific location.
Hunter had a deep passion for creating teacher training programs, and while she had previously taught them in a friend’s studio, she realized it was time to find a space of her own. She wanted to create a place where teachers could develop and grow their practice.
“I was walking around the neighborhood and looked up, which isn’t what a person normally does on a walk, and there was a ‘For Rent’ sign in a window,” recalled Hunter. “I wondered how big it was; the building looked kind of small. I called and went in and said, ‘Hmm, this could be an option.’”
Studio owners had been telling Hunter for quite some time to teach certain ways, or within different parameters, but Hunter knew she was too eclectic to fit into any one person’s boundaries. She knew there must be other teachers out there feeling this way, and she knew they would need a studio to teach their styles as well.
“I wanted this studio to be a space where teachers had the freedom to teach in the styles and ways that felt comfortable for them,” said Hunter. “But I also wanted it to be an opportunity for me to do my teacher training program and for students and teachers to grow and develop where they are in their practice.”
The schedule of these unique teachers at Embrace DC is handled by studio manager Holly Meyers, who first came to the studio as a student and then as a teacher. With a background of working with businesses as they go through transitions, first at the Discovery Channel followed by a period at Whole Foods Market, Meyers saw an opportunity to collaborate with Hunter on this phase of the business.
“When Faith first opened Embrace, it was very much a Faith Hunter brand,” said Meyers. “And what was happening in 2014 and 2015 was that it was transitioning to be a teacher-based brand, meaning a real community for the teachers as a whole and the students as a whole.”
Meyers’ focus at Embrace DC is on the operations side of the business, with an emphasis on staffing. She is in charge of the schedule and is who teachers go to if they are leaving or going out of town. The collaboration between Meyers and Hunter makes for a fluidity at Embrace DC like no other.
“We have a great amount of trust, honesty and transparency,” said Meyers. “To me, that is key. We have those same desires for the community that walks through our door, whether it’s a student, a teacher, a volunteer or someone who is coming to fix the door. The way that we approach things is very much in harmony. That makes it ideal and wonderful.”
Meyers came on, as fate would have it, when Hunter was searching for this exact style of person to fill the position. In Hunter’s eyes, she knew Meyers was consistently on-time, well organized and had clear communication. Hunter knew she couldn’t wear every hat at her studio and her trust needed to be placed in a person she knew could grow and thrive in the studio manager position.
“In terms of managing and creating really solid material for the studio, and also really developing community connections, are where Holly’s strengths lie,” said Hunter. “I definitely put my trust in her in those realms and let her do her job. Even when some of my teachers come to me and ask questions that I know are not mine to deal with, I say, ‘You need to talk to Holly about this. I know I am the owner and I am standing here right in front of your face, but talk to Holly.’”
Growth was a common theme discussed by both Meyers and Hunter. Growth of themselves, growth of the students and growth of the teachers. The duo often see devotion and spirit within the practice of a student, and encourage them to pursue the teacher training course and fill in at the studio.
“It’s a kind of development of who we have and not all the emphasis on the hiring,” said Meyers. “I spend a lot of time going to classes and giving teacher feedback. I was really lucky as a teacher to get incredible, constructive feedback from my mentors. It changed me and shaped me as a very confident teacher, and I like to offer that to our teachers.”
Hunter agreed feedback and additional support is always at the forefront of her mind. Hunter and Meyers work to develop their teachers in a way that not only grows their studio, but in the day and age of social media, markets them as well.
“I saw this teacher’s eyes brighten and light up when she taught a certain way during one of her classes, so I suggested we make an entire class based on this style,” said Hunter. “But they were like, ‘Um, I don’t know how to write a description.’ We are helping them and mentoring them not only when they are teaching and working with students on the mat, but helping them with their own entrepreneurial aspect of their own business as a contracted yoga teacher.”
As Embrace DC enters its seventh year, they have created a new mission statement to lead them into the future: “We are a community-minded, love-filled yoga studio that embraces your freedom, your growth and your joy.”
“What we wanted to think about was when people step into our yoga studio, what do we want them to feel?” said Hunter. “Not just students, but when teachers or guest presenters step into the studio, we want them to feel that sense of freedom and possibility to experience some sort of growth off the mat. When you come in, our job and mission is to bring some level of joy, even if we aren’t verbally saying that you should feel some sort of joy leaving here.”
More community connection is in the plans for the future of Embrace DC. They currently have a community partnership with the coffee shop next door, free community classes on Saturday mornings and plans are in the works for quarterly partnerships with non-profits.
Community is a passion that drives Embrace DC and giving back is something they highly value. These various passions — community, teaching, learning, growing — are what make up the personality that is found within Embrace DC.
“Embrace your flow in whatever aspect,” said Hunter. “You show up and if someone wants to meditate, that’s OK. If you want to get your flow on and get really intense, that’s sweet. When it comes to my teachers, I want them to embrace their way of teaching. It is really all about embracing what is right and feels best for you. You can utilize the tools on the mat and then go out into the world and embrace your own personal freedom.”