Born during pandemic shutdowns, Be Well Collective is looking beyond COVID for how it can help build community. | Photo by Ruta Smith

Katy Firth and Kristen King formed Charleston-based virtual wellness project Be Well Collective in April in response to a changing landscape in Charleston’s wellness community.

When COVID hit, many local yoga studios temporarily closed. Firth and King, who met seven years ago at Holy Cow Yoga Center, missed their sense of community, so the pair began taking regular walks together as a socially distanced activity.

The conversation would often turn to concern about the local wellness community, with many teachers displaced. Firth and King wanted to provide a solution for students who were missing their fellow yogis and to bring together teachers to share their gifts on one virtual platform.

 But the mission of Be Well Collective extends past yoga, aiming to meet the needs of the community through its mission of “movement, mindfulness and meaningful connection.” Offerings encourage connectivity with classes like Yoga for Self Care, Mindfulness 101 and Relax and Renew. 

“During the pandemic, people have gotten even more stressed and anxious,” Firth said. “So we want to provide a space for people to sit, breathe and figure out ways to calm ourselves. And that doesn’t have to just be physical movement.” 

 Firth moved from Boston and did yoga teacher training in 2013 at Holy Cow, where she established relationships that she and others missed during COVID shutdowns.

“There’s not that space where they see and talk to each other,” she said.

That in-person studio experience is what Firth focuses on replicating virtually with Be Well.

 Sarah Hogan teaches a beginner yoga class, which starts at just $5.

“I want to appeal to beginners and people who have been curious about yoga but have held themselves back out of fear — maybe they feel that they don’t belong or don’t fit a certain ideal of what a ‘yoga practitioner’ looks like,” she said.

Hogan invites her students to be comfortable in their own spaces, to turn off the camera if they want to — the virtual element may help to encourage those who haven’t felt comfortable or encouraged in an in-person studio, she believes.

King channels her background in nursing and health promotion into teaching a donation-based yoga class for cancer patients and survivors that can be done from the comfort of a chair. A class that’s specifically designed for a student’s needs can help them feel cared for “spiritually, physically and emotionally,” she said.

To transition virtual classes to in-person sessions, Be Well has collaborated with organizations to host events with the added element of connecting with nature. One class on Johns Island is hosted outdoors at Sea Island Savory Herb Farm.

Firth and King hope to expand Be Well’s scope, possibly adding Tai-Chi, Chi-Gong and maybe even cooking classes. The collective is also seeking diverse wellness practitioners and remains open to suggestions on what classes participants would like to see. The founders see potential for a physical studio but for now are focusing on growing their community.

 “There are so many great yoga studios in town and a big wellness community,” King said. “But we wanted to create a space where everybody feels welcome. So if you don’t like hot yoga, or power yoga — they’re great, but they’re not for everybody — we wanted to create a space for anybody who thought maybe they didn’t have a place in this community.” 

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