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Bent9’s New Spin

Hannah Skiba (second from left) and Jess Whicker (second from right) during a trial spin class in Bent9’s new cycling space.
The hot yoga and fitness studio adds cycling to its mix

When Hannah Skiba took her first yoga class in college, she hated it. Skiba is now the owner of Bent9 Hot Yoga & Fitness, in Kalamazoo’s Vine neighborhood.

Skiba, 33, who is originally from Alpena, came to Kalamazoo in 2008 to attend Western Michigan University in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in premed. All premed students are required to declare a minor, so Skiba settled on a minor in holistic health, which led her to attend her first yoga class.

“I was like, ‘That was horrible,’” Skiba says with her signature lilt and a laugh.

Skiba explains that she grew up athletic and competitive, playing soccer and basketball, running track and doing competitive dance for a time. Yoga didn’t offer the competitive edge she was used to, but over time she realized that the practice offered an opportunity for internal competition, she says, and its mental and spiritual aspects made it that much more beneficial.

Yoga has its origins in Hinduism, the world’s oldest religion, according to the Hindu American Foundation. The yoga tradition has been in existence for at least 5,000 years as “a practice to control the senses and, ultimately, the mind,” says the foundation. This aspect was what Skiba began to fall in love with – the training of the mind and spirit, as well as the body.

While still in college, Skiba attained her 200-hour yoga teacher training certificate, the first accreditation level that allows someone to teach the practice. Next, she began to seek out teaching positions, eventually coming across a Craigslist post seeking certified yoga instructors for what would become the Bent9 yoga studio.

Bent9 opened its original location in May of 2015, on Burdick Street near the Arcadia Creek Festival Place, with founding owner Tatiana Otto at the helm and offering classes in hot yoga and barre. The barre classes weave ballet movements into a rigorous fitness workout. Skiba joined the studio as an inaugural teacher. In 2019, she says, Otto was ready to sell the studio and asked her if she wanted to take it on. Although it wasn’t a step she expected to take at the time, she says she loved the community she had come to know through the studio and wasn’t ready to give it up.

Skiba took over as owner of the studio in April 2019. At the time, Bent9 needed to find a different location and moved to a temporary space above Factory Coffee, on Frank Street. It wasn’t perfect, but it had a certain charm, Skiba says. In the winter, they used space heaters to warm up the loft.

By December of that year, Bent9 had found a new home on Westnedge Avenue across the street from Fourth Coast Coffee, Crow’s Nest and Martini’s, in the Vine neighborhood.

“It was slow and building, and I still was very nervous the whole time,” Skiba says, reflecting on the first six months in the new building. She says she frequently wondered, “‘What is this going to be like?’ because I had no baseline.”

“There was a work of love to get it ready,” says Jess Whicker, who began teaching yoga with Bent9 at the Burdick Street site and followed the studio’s moves to new locations. “It was a new building. It wasn’t anything before.

Skiba was able to build it out to best fit a fitness studio’s needs. When the bones of the studio were fleshed out, she began to add art by local artists throughout the studio, including hand-painted windows on the front of the building.

One of the hardest parts of owning a yoga studio, Skiba says, “is just getting people to get past that fear of initially walking in the door.”

A Google search for “yoga” will yield at least one row of photos that feature thin, extremely limber women in equally stretchable outfits, painting an intimidating picture for anyone whose resume doesn’t include model or contortionist

“There’s a big idea of ‘prohibitiveness’ about yoga that I think keeps people from trying it,” Whicker says. “Whenever I tell people that I do yoga, the first thing they say is, ‘I could never do that because I’m not flexible.’”

The need for flexibility to do yoga is a common misperception, Skiba agrees, but it can increase your flexibility, she says. Other reasons to practice yoga, she says, include building or sustaining joint health and mobility and deepening your spiritual and meditative practices. And she makes it a top priority to create a welcoming environment.

“I try to stress to (the staff) that it’s the most important thing: If you’re the first face that they’re seeing when they come in, I want them to feel like they belong there no matter what,” Skiba says.

But don’t be fooled by her welcoming ethos. Anyone who’s taken one of her 75-minute heated vinyasa yoga classes Sunday mornings will tell you that Skiba will kick your butt — and she’ll do it with a gleeful smile.

A month and a half after Bent9 opened at its current location, Covid-19 hit and the studio was yet again in a state of flux, pivoting to offer online classes and eventually, in the summer, outdoor classes.

By the end of 2022 and beginning of 2023, Skiba says, she was able to establish more consistent class schedules and offerings. While yoga and barre classes are Bent9’s bread and butter, Skiba has peppered in anatomy and alignment, meditation and other workshops as the schedule and her instructors allow, even offering a seven-day yoga retreat in Costa Rica in spring 2023.

“This last year has finally felt like my first year in business,” Skiba says. “I still feel like it’s brand new, and I still feel like there’s so much growth.

‘The trifecta’

Skiba is always looking to try new classes and offerings at the studio, she says. Seasonally, Bent9 has held classes centered on the summer and winter solstices, myofascial massage, and alignment and anatomy workshops, rendering the studio’s schedule a playful dance of interests on a solid foundation of weekly and daily classes.

Last November, Skiba and her faithful instructors ushered Bent9 into a new era — the “trifecta,” Skiba says — with the addition of spin classes. These intense cardio exercise classes utilize stationary bikes, colorful lighting and much the same music as you’d hear at a rave.

Last spring, Skiba began expanding her studio into the unused half of her current building. Over the summer, she says, she and several cycling trainers worked on developing the studio’s spin program, which suits the spirit of the studio as well as the needs of Kalamazoo’s cyclers, she says. The studio has 15 bikes and currently holds five to 10 classes each week.

“People that do cycling are very committed and they love it, and I want to make sure that we have an amazing space to offer,” Skiba says.

Bent9 instructor Whicker, who is trained to lead cycling classes as well as yoga classes, says, “I love cycling and I love yoga, so to me (the addition) feels very natural.”

For more information on Bent9 class schedules and pricing, visit bent9hotyoga.com/classes.

Jordan Bradley

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