Tucked in the shadow of Lansing's coal fired power plant, and across the street from that plant's replacement natural gas electricity generation station, is a small yoga studio. Its owner is Belinda Thurston, a former journalist and bisexual. She's turned her facility into a donation based program, supporting the LGBT and youth community. Between The Lines had a Between Ourselves moment with her.
You started in journalism, but are now running a yoga studio. How did that transition happen and what has it meant to your daily life?
Crazy ride! I had a 20-year journalism career doing everything from investigative journalism to content editing to multimedia and digital journalism. The transition to yoga was slow, gradual and unintentional.
Just B Yoga has class offerings for the LGBT community. Why is this necessary and what does it mean for your LGBT participants?
This class is very special to me because it was born of the request and demand of our students. One student in particular asked if we would consider a queer yoga class. We had several long conversations about the pros and cons. I didn't want to create a class that could be perceived as segregating or separatist. But after a lot of discussion I felt it was an important class toward creating a safe space for the LGBTQ community that can't be found elsewhere, particularly for the transgender community.
Being in a yoga class with everyone in tight outfits or skimpy outfits can be intimidating for anyone, but add in gender-fluidity or someone in varying stages of transition and you're not going to find many studios that feel inviting. Then add the language of the class. Some yoga studios talk about female or male poses. I don't believe in that. I try to honor neutral pronouns and the pronouns my students choose for themselves. I teach poses that can offer healing for those who may have had surgery or be suffering from side effects from hormones. We use the class as a way to connect with how we feel inside the skin we're in, not how society says we should feel. It has become a community and family for those who identify as LGBTQ and allies. This is NOT a hookup space.
What is the most important thing being an out bisexual running a yoga studio taught you about the community? Why is that important?
Thank you for asking. I identify as bisexual. I am in a same-sex partnership. Being open as a woman in a same-sex relationship has been good for me and my business. I have connected to so many layers of Lansing that may not have been open to yoga were I not to wave my own rainbow flag. I've taught a special class to an LGBTQ teen club, I've have the studio in the Pride parade, I helped connect a person starting transition from male to female to speak on a panel at MSU. It's important to live our truth. I tell my students that. I need to live it too. My status and the studio's reputation for being safe I believe are the reason I see a lot of same-sex couples come to our couples yoga workshops, our non-LGBTQ classes and our couples massage.
You also do a unique payment schedule — talk about that. How did you come up with that and why?
We are a completely donation-based studio. I wanted to make yoga and tai chi practice accessible and remove the monetary barrier. Unfortunately yoga has become a hobby of the affluent and I wanted people on the lower end of the socio-economic scale to find the benefits of practice. We offer a pay-it-forward program, Karma Ka$h, that created funds for students to draw from for workshops or classes. We have a work exchange. And we have donation-based available. I like to call it conscious commerce, meeting people where they are and accepting different types of "payment."