David "Simba" Wedderburn started taking yoga classes during his junior year at SUNY Buffalo State, but it wasn’t until his senior year that his practice really clicked. He credits Cheryl Erbacher, a Baptiste-style instructor who helped take the regional yoga community by storm five years ago when she co-created HEAL Bflo.
“She inspired me to be great,” said Wedderburn, a Bronx native who is among more than three dozen yoga students with ties to Buffalo State who regularly take three free weekly classes on campus. Most of them are young. Many, including Wedderburn, embrace the sessions as an hourlong opportunity to ease stress while they live in the moment, in their own space, and focus on the mind, body and spirit.
“We don’t consider yoga a workout, even though we sweat and bring towels,” he said. “It’s different.”
Erbacher and Jocelyn Kowalczyk aimed to cultivate such perspective when they started HEAL Bflo. The yogacentric promotions business was designed to make the ancient practice – with many new twists – more accessible to all in the region.
The duo will host their fifth annual yoga retreat Sunday at Templeton Landing, but their venture has become much more. Nearly 40 studios in the Buffalo area tout yoga classes on Google, more than half of which opened during the last five years – and the list doesn’t include several senior and community centers, big box fitness chains and small studios that offer them, too.
The founders of HEAL Bflo don’t take credit for that growth – just look to help channel it. They started yoga promotion in the region after approaching the leaders of three perennial studios – East Meets West, Evolation and Power Yoga Buffalo – about prospects for a daylong yoga retreat. They’ve since worked with about two dozen studios in some form or fashion, including helping to collaborate other classes, workshops and events.
“We keep trying to think outside the box because that’s who we are,” said Kowalczyk, 30, who also works full time in the marketing and promotions field. “We’re not run-of-the-mill everyday broads. We’re unique in our personalities and it reflects on what we do.”
HEAL stands for Health, Energy, Art and Love. Kowalczyk has spent the past five years of her related time on the promotional and social media end of things. Erbacher, 52, got married, got certified as a Baptiste yoga instructor and started teaching classes at Soma Cura Wellness Center on Grand Island.
Erbacher also has taught yoga in hospitals and for addictions programs, at schools and community centers, in the BikeorBar cycling studio, at the Elmwood Village Farmers Market, and summers at Canalside. She also helped secure yoga certification class scholarships for four of her students, including Wedderburn and two of his former Buffalo State schoolmates, identical twins Cory and Casey Sampson. The twins said they wished Canisius High School offered classes while they were there.
“What’s changing over the years are the health-related people who are involved with us,” said Erbacher, who works full time teaching computer skills classes as part of a University at Buffalo program. Sponsors for this weekend’s retreat include Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Osteopathic Wellness and The Fountain wellness centers, and What's Next mental health counseling center.
Last summer, they also began a HEAL Bflo Yoga Bar League, which they suspect might be the first of its kind across the U.S.
Kowalczyk came up with the idea after a volleyball bar league quickly went south.
“I wasn’t very good,” she said. “I probably missed every serve and volley, but I take yoga a couple of times a week. On the way home with my boyfriend, I said, ‘I really want do something with people that I love, something that I’m good at.’ ”
All three eight-week installments of the yoga bar league – which costs a total of $75 for two classes at four different studios – have filled easily. The next session starts in April; see healbflo.com for details.
Rachel Watt, 25, a physician assistant at Sisters of Charity Hospital, and her mother, Lise, 53, an occupational therapist at Stepping Stone Therapeutics on Grand Island, were among those on a stormy Wednesday night in the packed downtown Raw Renewal Yoga for the second-last class of the latest offering. They met Erbacher two years ago when they started taking Baptiste-style classes from her at Soma Cura.
“It’s a good excuse to get out on a Wednesday, meet new people, be social and have some mother-daughter bonding time,” Rachel Watt said.
“It’s also nice to get the opportunity to see different yoga studios,” said her mother, “because every yoga studio has a different style, different vibe.”
Both thought the Raw Renewal Buti yoga class – a primal mix of power yoga and cardio-intensive body sculpting – was the most different and dynamic they’ve experienced. As was the case with students, instructor Megan Castlevetere joined the group afterward at the nearby Whiskey Bar – for one drink.
“I’m back here to teach another class at 6 a.m.,” Castlevetere explained before leaving her studio, which opened in October 2017 at Pearl and Court streets, a year after she bought the historic space. It had sat empty for 16 years, after the closing of Peller & Mure, a high-end men’s clothing store.
The former professional dancer, who knows what it’s like to fall for yoga, praised HEAL Bflo for including ventures like hers in their events.
“They play a huge part in bringing everyone together, having a more traditional style of yoga right next to something that’s a little bit more modern,” Castlevetere said. “During events, everybody gets together in the same room and they can appreciate everybody else, all the different yoga lineages that are in the room. It’s been really cool.”
Fifth annual HEAL Bflo Yoga Retreat
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Templeton Landing Restaurant, 2 Templeton Terrace, near Erie Basin Marina
Classes: High-energy, tribal Buti yoga at 10 a.m. with Megan Castlevetere, owner of Raw Renewal Yoga; Candice Cinquino, from Power Yoga Buffalo, will teach a Baptiste class at 11:15 a.m.; John Murray, owner of Lyons Den in New York City, will teach another Baptiste power yoga class at 1:45 p.m.; and Michelle Gigante, owner of Shakti Yoga, will teach a gentler flow yoga class at 3:45 p.m. Live music or a DJ will be part of each class.
Lunch: Patrons can buy lunch on site, including at Lloyd Taco Truck, or nearby.
Bring: A yoga mat, water and BFF.
Cost: $65, which includes all classes and a goodie bag; learn more and register at healbflo.com. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter.
Free: The public is welcome to visit the vendor space, which includes health, fitness, nutrition and yoga related businesses, including clothing and beauty ventures and local artisans.
Sponsors: Include Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Osteopathic Wellness and The Fountain wellness centers, What's Next mental health counseling center, and Northtown Automotive Cos.