Carrington Kilgroe, who was born and raised in St. Petersburg but moved away for college and to start a career in marketing in Atlanta, returned to the Sunshine City in late 2019 to reinvent herself as the owner and operator of SunState Yoga. Burned out from too many 12- to 14-hour days, she drew respite from Baptiste yoga, a style of “power yoga” that eschews mirrors and an emphasis on perfect poses in favor of a faster paced, highly athletic, more intense approach to the practice.
“It’s still accessible to all levels and it just really clicked with me,” Kilgroe told the Catalyst. “The intention of the practice is less about forcing your body to look a certain way and more of a focus on how the pose feels in your body. It’s an exploration of your own power. When I would come home for the holidays to visit family, I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t already a power yoga studio in St. Pete.”
Kilgroe opened SunState Yoga in December 2019. Less than three months later, she was forced to shutter the business because of the Covid-19 crisis. The setback, she said, was “absolutely” a gut punch to her as a first-time business owner, but she quickly regrouped and began to offer yoga classes, for free, via Facebook Live. Much to her delight and surprise, participants happily donated money and bought SunState Yoga merchandise to help keep the business afloat. Also, many existing members chose to keep paying their dues even though Kilgroe had offered to pause membership plans until the studio could reopen.
“One of my value propositions has always been the sense of community that you get from stepping into our studio,” Kilgroe said. “And so it just didn’t feel right for me to charge people money to do yoga at home while watching videos.”
Kilgroe believes that her approach, while risky and counterintuitive, helped build brand loyalty for her nascent studio. “My thought process was that if I make it accessible to people in this hard time, when we get through this, people are going to remember that and want to continue to practice it.”
SunState Yoga is back to offering in-person classes at 75 percent capacity, Kilgroe said. Unlike some other gyms and fitness studios, she’s not requiring members to wear masks while doing yoga because doing so can restrict the breathing patterns that are essential to the practice. “We let people make their own decision about what they feel comfortable with,” she said.
Kilgroe, mindful of the good fortune that’s come her way, has decided to “pay it forward” by teaming up with REACH St. Pete, a nonprofit that works to prevent, alleviate and eliminate homelessness by bridging the gap between people and resources. While Kilgroe herself has never personally experienced homelessness, she said she’s cognizant of the economic toll the pandemic has taken on individuals and families who were already struggling to make ends meet.
“Not everyone has that place where they feel at home or where they feel secure,” she said. “I have known people who have been close to losing their homes, or have not known what their next move was. In general, anytime you have a lot of uncertainty in your life, it can be difficult to manage. That’s something that I really wanted to be able to help people with.”
SunState Yoga and REACH St. Pete’s partnership formally kicks off on Sunday, Feb. 28, with a free outdoor yoga class at Flora Wylie Park in downtown St. Pete starting at 4:30 p.m. Participants are asked to donate $10, which will go to REACH St. Pete. Donations of personal products such as deodorant, lotion, shampoo and conditioner and toothpaste are also encouraged and can be dropped off at SunState Yoga’s studio, located at 553 9th St. N. The series of outdoor yoga classes will continue on the last Sunday of every month. “We’ll be doing this all year long to raise money and resources for REACH St. Pete,” Kilgroe said.