Stephany McMillan doesn’t use Sanskrit when she teaches yoga.
Instead, she tries to speak to her students in simple terms that anyone can relate to.
“I don’t use a lot of yoga terminology like you would see in a normal, traditional yoga class,” says McMillan, the owner of Rise and Flow yoga studio in Greensboro. “It’s very criss-cross apple sauce, like get there how you can — fun, free flow.”
McMillan began practicing yoga in 2012 when her neurologist recommended she try it out. She had suffered a concussion her senior year of high school and was still recovering from the trauma. She had always been active, playing volleyball, basketball and soccer, but she says yoga is different from other sports she’s practiced in the past.
“Most people when they start yoga, they may hate it, but I loved it because I’m a big believer in self-discovery and self-reflection,” McMillan says. “For me to find an actual exercise that focused on that self-discovery was just mind-blowing to me.”
And that’s the mission of Rise and Flow, which opened in November 2018. She says she wants her students to focus on mindfulness and bodily awareness.
Tucked into a small strip mall off Coliseum Boulevard, the Rise and Flow studio is easy to miss. But inside, hues of blue and green from a patterned rug to a piece of wall art interrupt the brick wall and cement floors, welcoming visitors who walk through the doors. Sapphire-blue exercise balls and rolled-up yoga mats sit in the back of the studio behind a curtain where the classes are taught. Jhene Aiko’s song fills the room as students trickle in from the gray autumn evening outside.
“I noticed how yoga could apply to life,” McMillan says. “I wanted a space where people could do yoga but not just do yoga, where they could learn what yoga really is. I wanted to have a space where people could come in and brave whatever they’re dealing with and not have to worry about what everyone is saying.”
Having practiced yoga for the past seven years, McMillan says she’s pretty familiar with yoga culture in Greensboro and beyond. As a black woman, she understands that she doesn’t look like the majority of other yoga teachers. When she opened her own studio, McMillan says she thought a lot about diversity and inclusion and intentionality.
“Not to say that there’s not a space for everyone but I don’t think there’s one like Rise and Flow,” she says. “Acceptance is an easy thing to say but it’s not an easy thing to do. When I say, ‘I accept you as you are and wherever you are,’ that’s exactly what I mean. Sometimes people can say it but not really mean it.”
Marli Bennett, who has been practicing yoga for about five years, says she’s been coming to Rise and Flow for about six months. For her, attending a yoga class taught by a woman who looked like her was important.
“I wanted to find a space that I could be myself,” Bennett says. “I don’t have to put on or code-switch. We have to do that so much of our lives. I wanted to find a community of people with similar values, somewhere I can be my true and genuine self.”
In addition to teaching without Sanskrit or popular sun-salutation sequences, McMillan focuses on helping students get in touch with their bodies and to not push themselves too hard. She talks about the ways in which simple movements flow into each other without rushing the process or making students feel hurried.
“I always talk to different struggles that we all may be going through or that we all can relate to,” she says. “Yoga is not just standing on your head, or it’s not a perfect thing. Some days you may hate it and some days you may not want to practice yoga, and that is totally fine.”
Bennett says she was really drawn to McMillan’s relaxed style of teaching.
“Other studios pressure you to be at a certain place in your practice,” she says. “I felt like I had to be something that I’m not. I feel like I had to conform to what that studio wanted. There’s always a stigma that yoga teachers are intense but it’s not like that here. Here, I can be comfortable with where I am today.”
In addition to yoga classes taught by her and one other yoga teacher, Rise and Flow also offers dance classes, massage therapy, live concerts and classes for kids. McMillan also offers pre- and postnatal yoga classes. McMillan says anatomy and mind-body awareness is important to her as a yoga teacher. She admits to spending a lot of time researching psychology and the way the brain interacts with exercise to inform her style of yoga.
“With technology and social media and the amount of things that are catching our attention right now, we are overwhelming the mind,” McMillan says. “The mind is something people forget we have to nourish and protect. I love that even when we are doing yoga, we are healing the mind and the brain.”
As she comes up on her first year in business, McMillan says she’s just excited to continue building community.
“Sometimes all you need is someone that’s just like, ‘Girl, I understand,’ or, ‘Boy, I understand,’” she says. “That’s the future I’m focusing on. The more I focus on building that, everything else will just fall into place the way it’s supposed to.”