If you approached a stranger on the streets of Manhattan in 1999 and asked if they were interested in joining a hot yoga class, you’d likely receive a confused look. This is because hot yoga wasn’t common practice back then—until bodē nyc became the first hot yoga studio in the city.
Co-founded by Jen Lobo and her partner Donna Rubin, bodē currently has three locations in Manhattan. But it all started in Midtown: “We chose that somewhat random location because Donna, a former Broadway performer, knew the Broadway community in the area would benefit from our original hot yoga series,” explains Lobo.
As with anything new, Lobo and Rubin faced some apprehension from the yoga community. Yet, at the same time, people were curious about hot yoga. “We received features in Elle Magazine and the New York Times and soon became very busy,” says Lobo.
Looking back, the hesitation around hot yoga seems unlikely, given that almost every yoga studio offers heat nowadays. So, how did bodē create a dedicated community of 250,000 active clients around hot yoga? It started with purpose and grew with customer experience and community.
Creating a multi-faceted wellness culture
What’s in a name? As it turns out, quite a lot. The name bodē is based on the Sanskrit word “bodhi,” which means “enlightened one.” The “o” symbol of the brand’s logo represents a cairn—the stack of rocks placed along hiking trails to let travelers know they’re on the right path.
The significance of bodē is that you’re on your path to true enlightenment and radiant health,” explains Lobo. “We truly believe that your wellness journey starts on the mat—that’s where you learn to connect your body and your mind through breathwork.
While bodē started with a Hatha-style hot yoga series, the studio expanded its offerings in 2017 to embody all aspects of wellness. Now, bodē is a place where people can find everything for a healthy mind and body, including HIIT, vinyasa yoga, yin yoga, and meditation classes.
“During the pandemic, people are focused on mindfulness and maintaining a healthy mind,” says Lobo. “So many people are learning the importance of breathwork in wellness. It helps with anxiety and stress, which is so important right now. So we’re focusing on that in everything we do.”
All about the client experience
At bodē, inclusive wellness goes beyond the mat and class schedule, too. It seeps into every aspect of the experience. With over 20 years of business under its brand belt, the bodē name is synonymous with longevity, reliability, and expertise.
“We’re experts in heat,” says Lobos. “Many of our teachers and staff have been with us for the last two decades. They know about boilers, baseboard heaters, blow heaters, panels—you name it. And they know to help people with all kinds of injuries and anxieties.”
By defining a niche, owning their expertise, and designing a seamless customer experience, bodē has seen tremendous growth since it first opened. In 2001, bodē moved from a floppy disk software to Mindbody, making it one of the first east coast studios to use the online platform.
“Mindbody makes the entire client experience seamless—from purchasing and booking classes to tracking auto-renew memberships and member profiles,” says Lobos. “The check-in line can also get pretty long at the studio. Mindbody helps us streamline the process and give everyone an amazing personalized experience,” says Lobos.
For bodē, forward-thinking and advanced technology paid off big time. Not only did it support the client experience, but it also allowed bodē to focus on encouraging referrals and growing long-lasting client relationships.
“We have over 250,000 active clients in our database today, which speaks to the longevity of the business and the amazing community we’ve built,” shares Lobos. “When we first opened our doors, we had no idea the enthusiasm we’d see over the years. But people felt the benefits and kept coming back.”
As for continuing to grow the business, Lobos looks forward to harnessing the latest version of the studio’s branded app, which includes a new “invite a friend” feature during the booking flow. “We know that referrals are the bread and butter of getting new people in the door,” she says.
Building a diverse community
Through a culture of support and encouragement, bodē has successfully fostered a diverse community of all ages, colors, backgrounds, and fitness levels.
“People tend to have a lot of trepidation about their first class, especially with hot yoga. We make it our priority to ease those fears. From the moment someone walks in, we have a welcoming, warm, fuzzy staff member there to greet them,” explains Lobos. “We encourage students to do their best, rest when they need to, and go at their own pace.”
Many of those first-timers turn into loyal members. And some even find their lifelong partners through the Bodē community, report Lobos and Rubin, who’ve been guests to many member weddings.
“Seeing the community and the micro-communities that form here is so gratifying. People from very different backgrounds come here for the same reasons. They all believe in the importance of wellness—and that brings them together,” says Lobos. “That’s something we’re incredibly proud of.”
Of course, the pandemic greatly impacted the way community members interact. But for bodē, going virtual opened new doors and allowed for some unlikely connections with people beyond the New York City limits.
“We’ve retained a core group with auto-renews and annual memberships,” says Lobos. “Plus, we’ve met new people from around the world, including Germany, London, and two sisters split between Boston and Seattle. They miss each other terribly—but the virtual platform allows them to practice together.”
For Lobos and Rubin, live streaming wasn’t on the radar five years ago. But more recently, they started thinking about filming classes as a way to connect with people who’d moved away from New York. Then the pandemic hit, and bodē went virtual at lightning speed.
Staying true to the community, Lobos and Rubin made every effort to replicate the experience of their in-person classes online: “Teachers still connect with students by name, offer corrections and modifications, and encourage them throughout the class. Live-streaming makes all of this possible.”
If you ask Lobos if virtual is here to stay, her answer is yes. “Virtual has opened a lot of doors. It doesn’t replace being in the same room—but it’s an excellent supplement. Even when we re-open, we think the virtual option will enhance people’s wellness experience,” she concludes.