Featured Founder: Bria Hamlet, JustBriFree Yoga and Wellness

By Anna Befort

Bria Hamlet is the recipient of a Fueled by Purpose micro grant. Fueled by Purpose is the nonprofit sister company to My Founder Story and is dedicated to providing resources to female-identifying founders. Since 2018, more than $220,000 in grants and services have been donated to women business owners. To learn more and apply, visit our grants page.

Bria (“Bri”) Hamlet no longer felt at home in her own body. It was 2014, and the stress of her final year of college and a traumatic event had left her feeling like a stranger to herself. As someone who’d long enjoyed movement—including dance and track and field—she wondered if she might benefit from yoga. She had no idea she’d soon find herself sobbing her way through a class. At that studio in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, the teacher talked about a personal experience  and something broke open in Bri. She found herself weeping on her mat, feeling emotional but also empowered to begin her own healing journey.

That journey hasn’t been easy, though. While yoga helped Bri feel more at home in her own body and mind, feeling that way in the often homogenous world of American yoga proved more difficult. When she moved to San Diego in 2017, Bri was excited to check out the yoga scene and immerse herself further in this practice that had brought her so much healing, freedom, and self-love. But when she walked into her first studio, that excitement quickly turned to disappointment. The staff in the predominantly wealthy white neighborhood asked if she was lost. When she said she was there for yoga, they whispered among themselves. She stayed for class despite the discomfort but noticed that no one else looked like her, a darker-skinned queer Black woman. Even the teacher didn’t greet or acknowledge her. Bri left feeling like an outsider, unwelcome.

It wasn’t an isolated incident. Most studios weren’t used to seeing students who looked like Bri, even as they talked about unity and all people being welcome. That might have been enough to turn others off yoga, but for Bri it became an igniting force—fueling a growing desire to create spaces where other BIPOC and queer folks could feel at home. She wanted to make yoga accessible to people like her who could benefit greatly from it but weren’t sure where they fit in. So Bri enrolled in a 200-hour teacher training program, while continuing to work full-time in public health. Once again, she was the only Black person in the group, as well as one of only two queer trainees.

After becoming a registered yoga teacher in June 2018, Bri started reaching out to studios in San Diego to find teaching gigs. Again, she had a hard time feeling welcome. She had yet to meet any teachers in the area with her same identities, and she wondered how much those identities played into her not getting hired. Though she’d never intended to start her own business, Bri decided it was time to take things into her own hands. In April 2019, she launched JustBriFree Yoga and Wellness.

The venture started with her signature Soul Flow Sunday class, which combines Bri’s love of R&B and hip-hop with vinyasa flow yoga. While most of her classes are open to everyone, Bri’s main focus is on creating a safe space for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ individuals. Less than a year into her new business, the pandemic complicated her ability to offer in-person yoga, but Bri stayed flexible by offering live and recorded online classes, outdoor yoga, meditations for the Insight Timer app, and Black Yogi merchandise. She’s also expanded to offer health and wellness workshops, one-on-one lessons, and coaching to others looking to start their own yoga business. A lifelong learner, she recently signed up to do a 300-hour advanced teacher training, all while working full-time as a public health program planner.

Through it all, one of Bri’s favorite things to do is teach beginners. She remembers well what it felt like to be new to yoga herself—both the self-healing potential it offered and the struggle of feeling like the odd one out at studios. She hears a similar story from many of her new students: I’ve always wanted to try yoga, but I didn’t want to be the only Black person in the room. Now, Bri has created what she herself once longed to find: a space where she and other BIPOC and queer folks can feel welcome, safe, empowered—and, ultimately, at home in themselves.

“I want[ed] to create a space specifically for queer people of color to practice in peace … a space where we can discuss the perils of what we face in the world, then use our practice to alleviate that stress. ‘Yoga for everybody’ has turned into ‘I don’t see your color, your body shape, your lived experience.’ I am manifesting spaces that say, ‘I see you, I empathize with you, I want to heal with you.’”

To learn more about Bria’s business, visit justbrifree.com and follow @justbrifree on Instagram.

About the author: As a writer, editor, and yoga teacher, Anna believes strongly in the power of words to connect us. She is passionate about using that power to uplift women’s voices and create spaces where women can connect to their own innate wisdom, creativity, and wholeness.

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