meet natalie and andrea: practicing yoga and building community in chicago

Natalie and Andrea Pavela, People with Panache

Natalie (left); Andrea (right). The idea for Yoga+ really began in January 2014. Andrea had moved back to Chicago from NYC and was looking for a new yoga studio to call home. It was more challenging than she expected! So she and Natalie began organizing and hosting free classes every other week in their friends’ apartments. One night, over dinner at Pequod’s, the two girls realized what they could turn these free classes into—and Yoga+ was born.

Calling all yogis!

Yoga has become a big part of my life in the past year or so. Not only have I been taking more classes and learning about new types, I have two close friends who are now certified yoga instructors. I commend them—I haven’t yet honed the patience or meditative skills to go through those lengthy certifications. But I love practicing with them and getting tips on my techniques. (Although I’m not sure if I’ll ever master Crow pose.)

Recently, I discovered a business that blends two of my favorite things: yoga and learning. Sisters Natalie and Andrea Pavela created Yoga+ in Chicago, and they pair interactive educational workshops with meditative and restorative yoga practice. Andrea calls it the perfect friend date. Launched in May 2014 with their first event the next month, each Yoga+ session consists of a short Vinyasa yoga practice (taught by Andrea) followed by a workshop led by a local maker, company or small business. They’ve taught Chicagoans everything from mixology to watercolor painting, pasta to juice making, essential oil demonstrations and even classes on crafting French macarons with a certain je ne sais quoi. Each event is one-of-a-kind and sounds like so much fun that I can’t wait for Alysse and I to attend soon. I really can’t think of a better reason to stretch, center and eat sweet French cookies in yoga pants.

During the day, Andrea is a data analyst for LinkedIn, and Natalie is an event manager for Ivy Room. Andrea is also a yoga instructor at Yoga Six in Chicago and co-owns Yoga+ with Natalie. These girls are busy and bring their passions to every iteration of their careers.

People with Panache: What is most important to you in terms of each event?

Natalie Pavela: We really want them to be interactive, so guests are either making something with their hands, have a back-and-forth Q&A with the instructor or walk away with a finished product they either helped create or built on their own.

Andrea Pavela: There are two goals in my mind: one from the guest side, one from the business side. From the guest side, as a yoga teacher, my goal is to help create a space and community that allows people to get to know each other. Yoga classes often preach this yoga community, but it’s challenging to feel like you’re actually a part of it with no dialogue or personal connection to anyone else in class. So with the plus part, we’re taking yoga out of the studio so it can be more approachable to people who might not otherwise go to a yoga class. The second piece from the business side is creating a space to bring together people with a common interest.

Natalie Pavela, Yoga+ Chicago, PWP

Natalie is happiest when she is riding her bike. After having both of her bikes stolen last summer, she’s very happy to have recently gotten a new one. She says some people go to yoga or Soul Cycle to relieve stress, but biking for her is the most freeing thing. She also loves facilitating connections: “I’ve been told I’m a connector,” she says.

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this experience is the relationships we’ve built. I’ve even been surprised by the community we’ve built just from people attending workshops. I figured we’d build relationships with the businesses we partner with, but I think we’ve also established our own Yoga+ community of people who are drawn to come back.

PWP: How do you divide up your roles?

NP: We both collaborate on partner outreach and brainstorming topics that we think our clientele would be excited about, so depending on how frequently we’re doing events, we might divide and conquer. We’ve hit a steady pace of around one event a month. I might reach out to those partners, start the initial conversation, meet with them to see the space if it’s a venue. Then I’ll come back to the table with Andrea and we’ll brainstorm costs, more of the content and how we see the event flowing from start to finish. I do more of the social media aspect. Andrea is our playlist guru (“Which is a time-consuming part of the process,” says Andrea). She puts together a thoughtful, modern playlist to craft a class that is approachable to everyone that shows up to the event. She also does a lot of the bookkeeping and financial planning and sometimes graphic design. We’re still defining things, but it’s exciting as sisters to see our strengths and learn from each other.

AP: The flexibility is nice. There’s accountability, too, because one person isn’t assigned to anything; it’s a shared responsibility.

NP: We both have full-time jobs outside of this. Balancing everything, I think we’ve become great at communicating and being honest about what we can and can’t do.

Yoga+ Chicago,

Natalie’s favorite Yoga+ event they’ve had was building essential oil custom fragrance blends with The Collective Chicago. Andrea’s favorite was a watercolor painting class.

PWP: That’s something Alysse and I are really grateful for, too—doing this blog has allowed us to do something we love together, and we really work to do a good job balancing responsibilities with each other and the other parts of our lives. What do your guests love about your events?

NP: We’ve tapped into this clientele of women who would rather treat themselves to a Saturday or Sunday afternoon than an evening of just drinking all night. (Editor’s Note: Alysse says AMEN!) One of our guests told us that what we’re doing is very luxurious; it’s self-care. You get to work out, sweat—but not too much so you don’t feel gross—get a refreshment and learn something new.

PWP: What is your favorite thing about the concept you’ve created?

AP: Similar to building a community in yoga, when you’re out and about in Chicago going to restaurants, bars, juice places, shops, you’re going to have a completely different experience if you have some sort of personal connection. From the guest side, it definitely cultivates a better experience.

PWP: What’s it like growing this business with full-time jobs?

NP: One thing that makes Yoga+ interesting versus a full-time business is we both have other jobs so we’re not relying on income from these events to sustain us. We’ve been able to grow at a comfortable pace that feels manageable so we’re not overwhelmed.

PWP: Would you want this to be your full-time job?

AP: TBD. For me personally, there are so many different parts to my brain and my personality that I like having multiple outlets. So I’m a data analyst for LinkedIn during the day, and that satisfies that piece of my brain. Yoga+ is very creative and social and wellness/self-care- oriented, plus relationship building so that satisfies the other piece.

Andrea Pavela, Yoga+ Chicago, PWP

Andrea is happiest when she is learning. “I love yoga because I feel like it’s self-exploration,” she says. “I’m equally introverted and extroverted. I really need time for myself, and the shift in mentality before and after a yoga class is amazing.” My favorite fun fact about Andrea is that she studied chemical engineering in college. “I love figuring out how things work,” she says. “I was having a conversation about some sort of membrane process recently, and it was the most engaging conversation I’ve had in awhile.”

NP: We’ve thrown around ideas of expanding to other cities or planning retreats or all the exciting things we could do in the future. But at this point we’re focusing on Chicago and don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We put in a little money and got an accountant—a couple things that are important to us.

AP: I think it’s a cool thing to grow at an organic pace. So often I feel like it’s weird to think that we’re Chicago business owners and entrepreneurs, but we are! Alongside that title comes this pressure to quit your day job and make your business something it isn’t today—which is great, I love that passion and drive—but it’s also satisfying and not stressful and beautiful to watch it be what it is and grow.

PWP: What advice do you have for others?

AP: Remove the fear—take any small step in the right direction and it’s going to feel doable.

NP: Find somebody who has complementary strengths to partner with.

Alysse and I can attest to that advice! I also love how Andrea and Natalie are so ambitious but take such a calm approach. They’re growing their business at their own pace and I can’t wait to see where it takes them. Check out their next event: Yoga+ Makers shopping event at the Winchester on Monday, Dec. 14!


[Photos by Kate.]

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