Breathe In, Breathe Out
Exhale Yoga studio brings a fresh take on yoga.
Writer / Shannon Siders
Photographer / Bee Buck Photography
Jessica Santos fell in love with yoga eight years ago, and she brought her passion to life in Jeffersontown last September with the opening of her own studio, Exhale Yoga.
“I opened Exhale Yoga to have a studio close to home,” says the J-Town resident. “I saw a need for yoga in this area.”
Santos, a mother of two with a third child on the way, grew frustrated with having a commute of 20-30 minutes to teach and take yoga classes over the last eight years. She dreamed of operating a yoga studio in Jeffersontown and jumped at the opportunity even quicker than she expected after finding a space she loved.
“I believe there is a need for more small businesses in Jeffersontown, and I’m happy to bring a yoga studio to this area,” Santos says. “I was truly inspired to open the studio after my friend Tony Thomas opened Recbar. I’ve known him for years and was so proud of him for taking a risk and opening something new near his home.”
Santos was born in Shively, but her family moved to Jeffersontown when she was in middle school. She graduated from Male High School before going on to the University of Louisville, where she was a member of the national champion Louisville Ladybirds Dance Team.
Due to some injuries caused by wear-and-tear from years of being active, Santos quit dancing in her early twenties. Around the same time, she went through a difficult relationship that ended, and it catapulted her into a downward spiral.
“I was addicted to prescription drugs, painkillers and opiates,” Santos says. “That was my coping mechanism. It was a very hard time in my life. I was disappointing my friends, disappointing myself, disappointing my family. I just felt bad externally and internally.”
After feeling sick for months and losing a lot of weight, Santos woke up one day to find the entire right side of her face was swollen. A visit to the hospital determined she had endocarditis, a staph infection of the heart. She spent two weeks in the hospital and had a PICC line in her arm for six months.
“It felt like a life and death experience,” Santos says. “I finally realized the importance of taking care of myself and being happy.”
When her doctor gave her the okay to start exercising again, Santos immediately jumped into practicing yoga. She started off taking hot yoga classes she found through Groupon promotions and began to experience the same feelings that dancing had brought her throughout her life.
“I really felt like I was sweating out my infection,” Santos says. “I thought it was flushing it out of me. On top of that, I started to feel so much better. My aches and pains were going away, and I was feeling better mentally and physically.”
Those benefits inspired Santos to enroll in teacher training for yoga, so she could help others find the same relief. She had lost her job and was at a crossroads, so she jumped right into training at Louisville’s Yoga East.
As she began teaching classes on her own, Santos relished the relationships she formed with her students. The personal aspect was important to her, and she wanted to begin forming those connections closer to home.
“I really wanted to bring yoga to J-Town and build a community with my students and friends here,” says Santos, whose mom, dad and aunt are regulars at Exhale Yoga. “I knew I’d see my students consistently and be able to have those relationships.”
Santos started out offering 10 classes each week and will be offering close to 20 classes a week in 2018. Exhale Yoga has had more than 1,500 new students since September, and Santos has evolved the class schedules to fit their wants and needs.
“Jeffersontown residents typically enjoy later class times, around 7:30-7:45 at night,” Santos says. “Parents like to have dinner with their family and treat themselves to a class afterward.”
Recognizing that yoga can be intimidating to beginners, Santos takes special care to ensure her classes are accessible to students of all abilities. She especially enjoys teaching beginners and helping former athletes find a new path to be active.
“People who grow up active want to continue to be active, but they don’t always know what to do,” says Santos, who was in a similar situation when she stopped dancing. “The beauty of yoga is you can do it until you’re 90 years old. You can practice yoga and love yoga, and that grows with you.”
Santos loves seeing the benefits of yoga she has experienced first-hand come to life in her students as they grow in their practice. Those benefits range from simply turning their mind off for an hour, or finding something else to focus on to get away from everyday stresses, to seeing how everyday stretching can transform and tone their body.
Exhale Yoga was carefully designed as a blank, inclusive space that eases beginners into the practice. Santos and her staff aim to provide a welcoming space that takes away the intimidation factor of yoga for those who have never tried it before, so students can put their focus solely on doing the best they can in class.
“I wanted a space that was a neutral playing field so people can come here and focus more on their breathing,” says Santos, who came up with the name Exhale Yoga because of this train of thought. “I believe so much in the breath behind yoga and finding that calmness in the mind.”
Santos and her fellow teachers keep classes light and fun and strive to make students feel like they are at home when at the studio.
“Yoga helped me so much, and Exhale Yoga is a no-judgement zone,” Santos says. “I want everyone to feel welcome here, no matter what they’re going through in their life.
The studio also hosts regular classes that are donation-based, with proceeds benefiting local organizations. To date, Exhale Yoga has raised more than $1,500 for local groups, including Christmas toy donations for children at Uspiritus, school fundraisers and needs for Jeffersontown residents.
“My goal with the donation-based classes is to help the community, and, most importantly, help the students of Exhale Yoga give back to charities and organizations they are passionate about,” says Santos, who operates under the mantra ‘breathe in, love out’. “If I can help others and encourage people to give back, I feel like I am making a difference.”
A donation class can be set up by contacting Santos at firstname.lastname@example.org. The classes take place outside of normally offered times, and attendees can invite their own networks to attend.
Looking to the future, Santos hopes to operate Exhale Yoga full-time one day, and is keeping options open for a second location. Until then, she balances running the studio while serving as Assistant Store Manager at luluelemon in Oxmoor Mall and teaching dance at The Vision Dance Center in Middletown.
She looks forward to the continued success of Exhale Yoga and encourages Jeffersontown residents to give it a try.
“I am grateful to the residents of J-Town for supporting the studio,” Santos says. “Especially in the first month, it was scary wondering if anyone would show up or if there was a want for yoga in this area.”
General class times and more information, including membership options, can be found at exhaleyogalouisville.com. The studio, located at the intersection of Taylorsville Road and Six Mile Lane, also posts regular news and promotions on Facebook and Instagram.