Detroit Yoga Instructor Builds the Trap Studio Aimed at Inclusivity

Leandro Mortenegro
  • When I was lifting weights, I pulled a muscle in my back, and a friend recommended a yoga class.
  • Yoga helped my injury but it also helped me heal emotionally after losing both of my parents to cancer a few years before.
  • I became a teacher and wanted Trap Studio to be a place where everyone could learn and be themselves.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jamel Randall, a 36-year-old yoga instructor and owner of The Trap Yoga and Massage Studio, in Detroit, Michigan. This article has been edited for length and clarity.

I worked as a massage therapist for MGM Casinos, but I never wanted someone telling me what to do. I wanted to be my own boss.

My parents passed away from cancer in 2009 and 2010. I was trying to run from it, and started to work out to try and clear my mind. In 2013, while lifting weights, I pulled a muscle in my back. A friend recommended a yoga class. I tried it and I felt better, but I also ended up finding relief from dealing with my parents. I didn’t want to talk about it because it was too painful.

I decided I wanted to learn how to do yoga.

Learning to teach yoga and how to heal

I went through yoga teacher training from August to November 2013. I learned there that you can’t run from your thoughts. I sometimes would cry in class when sharing my stories or hearing others. I learned that those tears didn’t mean I was having a bad day; I just needed to express myself and I would feel lighter afterwards.

When I got into yoga, I was going into the Detroit suburbs and I was the only Black person in the class. Everybody would just speak to each other. Once I got into practicing, they started talking to me like I was one of them, but it shouldn’t be like that. Just because I can do a handstand or get into the pose, that shouldn’t make me worthy of your conversation.

I thought a lot of my friends who dealt with death should be going through yoga. But they didn’t feel comfortable going to Birmingham (a Detroit suburb) to do it. They said if I offered it, they would take a class from me. I decided to start my own studio.

From 2016 until 2019, in order to be able to teach, I gave massages from 9 to 5, five to six days a week, and taught yoga before and after. I eventually convinced many of my massage clients to come to yoga class. 

I want to take the elite factor out of yoga

I started The Trap Yoga and Massage Studio in 2016. The T stands for Trust. R is for reveal — revealing your authentic story. The A is for Accept, accepting what you see, and the P is for practice over perfection. I wanted to create a space where people like my cousins and friends would feel welcome. 

At my first event, a girl said, “Jamel, you have people with ankle monitors on in your class!” I looked at her and said, “That’s my cousin.” I want to take the elite factor out of yoga and make it a place where everyone feels welcome. 

Most of my clients are people of color but my classes are for anyone who just wants to be themselves. When you come in, you naturally feel at ease. They all know each other. They vibe with each other.

I’ve opened up a space where I get the glory of hearing people’s stories. And that keeps me grounded.

When I started, I taught out of a 400-square-foot suite that I was renting for massages. For six months, only two people took the classes, but after that, it really started multiplying. In 2017, I ended up renting an adjoining suite and knocking down the wall, so I had 800 square feet.

I now have 15 people working for me: three administrative staff, and the rest are yoga instructors and body workers who provide massages. I’ve also taught wellness classes for roughly 20 to 50 corporate clients.

Want to start a business? I say go for it

This year I started a nonprofit, Lil Trap Yogis, where we teach yoga to elementary schoolers in five schools in Detroit. They get a chance to experience mindfulness, yoga, healthy eating, and empathy with people who care.

I’d like to expand this to more schools.

For those who want to start this type of business, I say go for it. Take that step without hesitation because once you’re doing it for yourself, it gains life all by itself. 

My long-term goal is to make The Trap Studio where the teachers take over, and I can create training courses and different events to expose more people to yoga.

This fulfills me. When my students come in, and feel safe to cry on the mat and say, “I didn’t know I had this in me,” that’s the coolest thing that I get the chance to see on a regular basis. It’s freeing to me.

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