Prescription for Peace: Sky Yoga opens in downtown Eau Claire

by Lauren Fisher, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Shantel Welk, above, owner of Sky Yoga, instructs an aerial yoga class.  Welk focuses on ensuring her students find classes that are the right intensity and pace, crafting detailed class descriptions on their website so that newcomers know what’s in store.
Shantel Welk, above, owner of Sky Yoga, instructs an aerial yoga class. Welk focuses on ensuring her students find classes that are the right intensity and pace, crafting detailed class descriptions on their website so that newcomers know what’s in store.

Shantel Welk is a dancer and a gymnast. She has a passion for music and movement, and the emotion such things evoke. She is also a mother, a skydiver, and an optimist. Two years ago, the seventh doctor she saw for a chronic health problem wrote her a prescription. Scrawled in physician’s scratch on the slip was one word: yoga. She filled the prescription at a local studio, and has since added “instructor” and “business owner” to her résumé.

“If you shine your heart forward, it will shine back on you and it will build a better community.” – Shantel Welk, Sky Yoga

Welk’s studio, Sky Yoga, hosted its grand opening on Saturday, Nov. 4, after a gestation of only five months. The venue is easy to miss, its entrance tucked to the left of Houligan Steak & Seafood Pub on South Barstow Street, but a quick climb upstairs reveals an airy space for yogis and aerial artists of all skill levels.

The space, built more than 100 years ago, had been appointed as a storage area for unwanted items and furniture, but had primarily been left unmaintained for decades. Welk charged into the renovation, clearing out the rubble and finding contractors to build it into the space she envisioned. She changed the blueprints five times before she was satisfied.

Welk designed Sky Yoga to meet every need she saw in the local yoga community. She remembered skipping yoga classes because there was no place for her to shower before returning to work, so she included a shower room. She noticed that while there were specialty classes for children in yoga and aerials, there was no dedicated children’s studio. So she built one. She saw that the local aerial studios focus primarily on women, so she plans to host men’s aerial classes.

“I look at the yoga studio as a base from which to do bigger things,” Welk said. She wants to give back to Eau Claire by using the space to host support programs. Within the studio, she plans to organize a “freecycle” event where people can re-home unwanted items to people who need them. She is also considering hosting “Safe Space” nights on weekends for young people who want to avoid going to rambunctious parties and taking her instructing services to the Juvenile Detention Center, Bolton Refugee House, and senior centers.

“If you shine your heart forward, it will shine back on you and it will build a better community,” she said.

Sky Yoga was recently awarded an Honorable Mention in Downtown Eau Claire Inc.’s Jump-Start business plan competition. Welk recalled sharing her community service plans with the interview panel and how she had to rein in her enthusiasm in that department to explain the profit mechanism of the business.

Heather Rudd, who manages the studio, and Stephani Kivi, the childcare teacher, joke that Welk was born without the fear gene.

“I met her skydiving,” Kivi said. “When she came down from her first tandem jump, I saw her face and it was like sunshine.”

When Welk decided on the 2,500-square-foot space for her studio, people often questioned her ability to handle the project. She never doubted that the studio was meant to be. When Houligans denied her first budget proposal, she quit her job and began working on Sky Yoga full time to save money in contracting. Every obstacle calcified her resolve.

“In 20 years, you won’t regret what you did,” Welk said, thinking back to a quote that inspired her to begin her journey. “You’ll regret what you didn’t do.”

Sky Yoga, 415½ S. Barstow St., offers yoga, barre, flexibility, and aerial silks classes for people of all ages and skill levels. Single-class and membership pricing is available. Find out more at www.skyyoga.yoga.

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