Juici Yoga, a studio in Waterloo permanently closed its doors on Dec. 31, 2022.
Selam Debs, founder of the studio, said they faced a lot of retaliation for strictly maintaining COVID-19 regulations, especially from the white yoga community. For example, Debs made sure to employ the use of vaccine passports and social distancing in her studio.
Debs confirmed that her studio closed due to the onslaught of hateful and aggressive comments online directed toward herself and her staff. It increased as the Truckers’ Convoy took off.
“We actually received quite a bit of backlash at the beginning and harm of, majority white people in the yoga world who were angry about the fact that we had these practices and guidelines in place,” Debs said.
“I spoke out against [the convoy] as an anti-racism educator, and I immediately started to receive thousands of harmful, hateful, violent messages.”
False and negative reviews for the studio and death threats aimed towards Debs started coming in.
Debs constantly felt unsafe, especially within her studio.
She was wary on the day-to-day and had to remove the Juici Yoga decal on her car in order to feel emotionally and physically safe.
Debs opened her studio in 2013 while she was in the midst of a divorce and it remained open for seven years. Debs was willing to overcome the challenges COVID-19 posed.
“What I wasn’t willing to do though was sustain relentless racism and harm and put myself and my staff at risk in terms of our safety.”
Debs used the income she had from her job as an anti-racism educator and the community of clients that stayed with her through the pandemic, to keep the studio open despite the financial difficulty. The community in the studio helped support the studio by attending virtual classes.
“I was able [also] to compensate or overcompensate for losses with the other work that I do, the anti-racism work to be able to keep the studio alive.”
It was Debs’ dream to open a yoga studio. Yoga is historically from Black and Brown communities, and Debs wanted to bring her culture back into it. Yoga spaces in Canada are primarily white and generally lack people of colour.
“For Black and Brown people to see themselves represented is essential because we are often erased from these ancient modalities that are borne out of Black and Brown people’s communities and countries and lands,” Debs said.
“It’s ironic when all we see is whiteness in these spaces when the reality is these practices come from our communities,” she said.
As a Black woman, Debs ran her own business according to her culture, which she said is something people expect you to leave behind when running a business or working a job. She said that people forget that race and culture are a huge part of a person and shape every aspect of their lives.
“Oftentimes what happens…is that we as Black and Brown people are supposed to erase our identities and our experiences to assimilate into the white culture,” Debs said.
Debs was one of the first Black yoga studio owners across Ontario in 2015 and in 2023, there are still very few black-owned yoga studios especially since the closure of Juici yoga.
“It’s significant for me to bring my culture into the work that I do,” she said.
“We as Black people, Brown people, we don’t have that privilege to be able to move in the world as neutral, as not a race,” Debs said.
Debs created a safe, welcoming space for the community of people that came to her studio. “It’s been transforming to own this small business and to meet community, build relationships with community, creating a safe space where people can come to and feel seen,” she said.
Debs says that she will continue to teach yoga, meditations, wellness and healing practices; however, she is not entirely sure what that will look like.
She is grieving the closure of her studio and is looking forward to the future and what it will bring.
“I’ve experienced a lot of grief in the past couple of months,” she said, “I am looking forward towards what’s new and what’s possible.”