NORFOLK, Va. — On a dreary Sunday morning, The Stockpot in Norfolk would have been a perfect place for some comfort food. But I drove there sleepy-eyed for something else.
A clue as to what? I brought my yoga mat.
As I set up in the restaurant's mezzanine area for a Sky's the Limit pop-up class, I heard the bustle of kitchen staff and smelled the early morning food prep rising up to us.
Danielle Collinsworth's positive, perky attitude woke me right up. She suggested a mantra of confidence to carry throughout our practice and the rest of our day. She even had us raise one leg into the air and trace the letters to spell "confidence" with our toes.
"It's OK if you don't remember how to spell it," she said because the intention is what matters in the practice of yoga.
Collinsworth's outlook has helped her get through the coronavirus pandemic while plans for her business crashed and new opportunities presented themselves.
Collinsworth had the idea of a coffee shop plus yoga studio in her mind for years before Sky's the Limit came to life in 2017.
"Normally inside a yoga studio, it's really quiet and I respect it, there's a reason for it. But a lot of times you leave the class and have to be quiet in the lobby area and then you don't get to know that person," she said. "Yoga brings (together) so many awesome people, and I wanted that community to grow off of the mat."
Both this idea and Collinsworth were born in Florida, where she worked a full-time corporate job while getting her bachelor's degree and working two part-time jobs.
"My strong work ethic is what has brought me to where I am today," she said.
Making the leap to full-time yogi was scary. "I decided to make the shift because I knew I had an awesome vision and room to grow and expand. It was probably the most terrifying thing I have ever done!"
She started in July 2017 with a pop-up yoga class at the now-closed brewery Bearded Bird in Norfolk and was working toward opening her own space.
Last year, Collinsworth was looking at studio places and locked in on the fifth one she'd investigated — just a few weeks before the coronavirus restrictions were announced.
She said she went back and forth with the rental company in a "let's touch base in a few weeks" mode until about June, when she gave up the space. She is still looking, "but I'm being very open and honest and just saying I would not open until we're at a better state in the pandemic."
So, the business model for Sky's the Limit has been pop-up classes in breweries and other businesses. In-person classes are being held monthly at Stockpot Norfolk, on the first and third Sundays; Coalescence Coffee in Norfolk, second and fourth Saturdays; Commonwealth Brewing, Virginia Beach, first and third Wednesdays; Maker's Craft Brewery, second and fourth Tuesdays; and Beachside Social, Virginia Beach, last Sunday or fourth Sunday.
Classes are offered virtually and in-person, and Collinsworth partners with the companies to get a free item for attendance.
In-person classes are generally limited to 10 people, but Stockpot has a smaller space that accommodates six.
Collinsworth is used to teaching dozens of people at a time, and her biggest class ever was close to 300 people. Norfolk venues like the pier surrounding the USS Wisconsin and the sprawling rooftop patio of the Grain were mat-to-mat full of yoga students before COVID.
"Whenever it's one of those bigger outdoor spaces, I normally have a DJ with me and they take care of all the music and also give me the microphone so that all the humans can hear me," she said.
At Veil Brewery back in the beginning of March 2020, she packed people onto all three floors for a class meant to be held on the third floor. That was supposed to be the first in a monthly series, but only one event followed before the virus lockdowns started.
"Once we shut down, I took one day to cry," Collinsworth said. She worried that she might have to go back to a corporate job, but said she snapped out of it with a plan.
As many yoga studios and other businesses have done, she launched her virtual program. She also began using her boyfriend Matthew Tally as the demo student. Tally is an athletic trainer and sports medicine teacher at Maury High School, so Collinsworth put him to work when schools shut down.
"It has been quite the journey," Tally said. "From little experience practicing yoga to then doing yoga six times a week was a change, but worth it. It's been great seeing my own progression from March to now!"
Collinsworth said of the online classes: "You're not getting the full zen-like effect, you're not getting the lovely lavender towel — there's so many things that you are not getting. At the same time, you have a dope place to hang out after!"
Since her Norfolk location fell through in June of 2020, she has relaunched a previous venture called Caffeinated Yogi, calling it "everything from yoga to fitness and mindfulness and nutrition."
"I work with people by writing fitness or mobility programming, and coaching nutrition. I approach all with a yoga mindfulness approach, which is what sets me apart from other nutrition coaches or personal trainers."
She also started a podcast called Yogi Talks and a meditation platform called Meditate Don't Hate.
"I'm such a believer that everything happens for a reason," Collinsworth said.