In 2013, Kacee Must founded Citizen Yoga in Detroit, MI. To fulfill its mission of empowering all people, this business and its founder are active leaders in the movement toward mental health. The implementation of this mission involves yoga instruction, access to wellness professionals and outreach programs, and a new On-Demand platform. To listen to the full interview with Kacee, tune in to Home Practice with Halle: Yoga Tools for Every Body on your favorite podcast platform. For more information on Kacee's work and Citizen Yoga Studio, follow @iamcitizenyoga and @citizenyoga on IG, listen to the podcast After Class by Citizen Yoga, or check out Citizen Yoga's On-Demand Platform.
Halle: Hi everyone. I am joined today by the founder of Citizen Yoga, Kacee Must. Kacee, welcome. You started Citizen Yoga in 2013 with one location, and since then your company has grown considerably. For the last nine months you have steered your business through a global pandemic. Take us through your journey a little bit.
Kacee: My journey has been windy, and truthfully, I never thought I would end up owning a yoga studio, and even less so thought I would be a yoga teacher. This was not in my playbook at all. I think that when I started my own seeking, it looked messy and probably didn’t make sense from the outside looking in. It’s sort of like, dharma grabs a hold of you by your shoulders and is like, “Go this way! Let me take you!” [laughs] Teaching my first yoga class felt like a breath of fresh air, like ‘this is what I was designed to do.’
Halle: What was your journey into becoming a yoga practitioner? How did you first find your practice?
Kacee: A lot of people that I know come into yoga at this Life Moment of like, “I don’t know who I am, I don’t know what I’m doing.” My journey was really different—I was sort of forced into class with my mom and my three sisters at the age of 10. There were seven people in the class, the room was carpeted, we were this weird family 26 years ago. We went as a family activity. Slowly, over time, it became this little rectangle of therapy. Like laying on your own lily pad and looking at the world and trying to digest the ups and downs of teenage life, of college life… that’s sort of how we stepped into yoga. Yoga became this little home wherever I was in the world.
Halle: How did you come to start a yoga business? What was the motivation to take that personal passion and make it something on a larger scale?
Kacee: You know, I think the worst reason to open a yoga studio is that you love teaching yoga [laughs]. These are two very different roles, very different hats. They’re not the same thing. The first reason I opened a yoga studio is because in Detroit, there was only flow-how-you-feel-yoga. The spiritual philosophy of yoga is measure up, find an objective higher ideal, think beyond yourself, align yourself with your mind, your body, your intellect. Think of how you fit the whole, not how you fit you, your preferences. So, teaching alignment-based yoga was one part. The other thing is, the mission for Citizen Yoga is Suicide Prevention and Mental Health. My sister passed away from suicide in 2007. I was already on a spiritual journey, but that really pushed me into a deeper investigation of, “Why do we all suffer so much? What is this suffering? And is there an opportunity to actually liberate from it, and what does that look like, and how do I do that?” We are living so disconnected. I went through a very dark period of my life. And one day, I don’t know. The thought came from the universe and I was like, “I need to open a studio.” I had a vision of a genuine community where people feel seen, and I know your name, and you’re not just a number in the room, and I’m not a yoga celebrity trying to make it in Yoga-Land. It’s just like, ‘I’m a real person, I’ve done a lot of study, I care about this practice, and I care a lot about you.’
Halle: Something I admire in your teaching is your ability to bring philosophical concepts down to the ground and anchor them, to move beyond the spiritual jargon and into the spiritual practice. What else can you share about that?
Kacee: Learn about your basic tools. You have a body that moves, a mind that reacts, and an intellect that directs. You don’t just have this black box on your head. In a lot of spiritual jargon, it goes “body-mind-spirit” and misses the intellect which, in traditional philosophy, is the vijnanamaya-kosha. It’s the closest to the causal body, which is like the seed of the Individual You. So, if you skip and you just think that you’re a mind, then all you are is the reaction instead of the direction. So, when we talk about an alignment-based practice at Citizen Yoga, we’re not just like, here are your hips, and here are your legs, and here are your arms, and it needs to be perfect… it’s not like that. It’s like, how well do you align your greater thought, with your heart, with your body? Do you measure up to what your higher ideal is? And the asana practice hopefully helps you assess that for yourself, and then adjust as needed.
Halle: In your On-Demand Yoga for Irritability Class (which I’ve taken approximately four dozen times, thanks) you said, “Irritability is caused by a lack of vision.” What are some tools you use to hone your vision, and your mission?
Kacee: I’m very growth-oriented, and 2020 really flipped me upside down. My vision felt stuck—what can I see out there for myself? What can I see to create as a bigger platform for Citizen Yoga, to share what we’ve been doing? 2020 has been a deep dive of how to recover vision in a very stressful time. To me, that is the journey of a spiritual seeker--reminding yourself within the ebb and flow of deep tidal waves to answer the question, “Why are you doing this?” It’s not just, “How do you better your business?” But, “Where do I fit in this world? What is my purpose? How do I align that with something that’s greater than just me?” Show up. The biggest lesson of entrepreneurship is accountability and the power of consistency. If you’re doing actions that align with your higher ideal, after the action is complete, no matter how much your mind throws a mental temper-tantrum, you will feel that breath of fresh air. I think that’s what I stood on this year. Show up, be consistent, and the vision will clear. (To experience a series of questions to help define and uncover your personal mission, listen starting at 33:55).
Halle: The yoga industry has gone through a lot of transformations this year. What have been some of the most significant reckonings at Citizen Yoga?
Kacee: Oooof. [pauses] There were a lot. In some ways, it’s hard for me to talk about. One thing that was profound was that this time kept the people who really believe in our mission, with us. People who teach with us because of our values, and what we stand for, not just because of our opportunity, stayed. Also, the resurgence of Black Lives Matter . . . as inclusive as Citizen Yoga was, there is work that we really had to do, and still have to do. In the yoga industry, it wasn’t about doing the right thing ‘in-that-moment,’ because I think that is what everybody did. It is about doing the right thing now, when all the dust has settled. What are you still doing? This is a reckoning that I still am reckoning. How do we deeply change Citizen? I think the answers are over time, and with a lot of conscious effort. And finally, there is an end to everything. We created an On-Demand platform in a time that we didn’t think we were going to create anything. There’s a quote I use often: “Faith is the bird who feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.” I think that is the quote that will describe 2020 in the best way.
Halle: Was your On-Demand platform a direct response to COVID, or was it something that you had been planning previously?
Kacee: It was 100% a response to COVID. I was against an On-Demand platform [laughs]. I hate even admitting that. Some business guy that was trying to partner with us a while ago was like, “Hey, you should really start an On-Demand platform.” And I was like, “No, we are a suicide prevention company. I need to see humans in front of me so I can impact their heart and remind them that they are important. We are not doing an On-Demand platform, thank you so much for your bad idea, see you later Sir.” Alright, foot in my mouth, if only we had done that! [laughs] Yoga is part of your mental health journey—it is not your entire mental health journey. On the platform, we have asana classes, mindfulness tools, breath-work, life-coaches, and recordings and discounts from therapists from BLND Health Group. Let me be the bridge! To me, our On-Demand platform closed the loop, allowing us to fulfill our mission of being a true mental health resource in a way that we weren’t before. I feel so hopeful again.
Halle: Kacee, I’ve loved getting to talk with you about your mission and your business. We are so grateful that you are an incredible Manduka studio partner. Is there anything you’d like to share in closing?
Kacee: I want to acknowledge what you did for us—during the earlier part of the pandemic, Manduka sponsored one of our yoga classes. 500 people pre-registered-- it was so fun. We gained regular students who take our classes and even our teacher trainings. That class was an amazing thing for our studio in a moment when we were in stress, with so much unknown and fear. It was amazing to have someone reach out and believe in us during that time.
By: Halle Miroglotta