I sit down with Alecs Donovan, ex-professional rugby player and Founder of YBL, the yoga and lifestyle hub you need to know about (really, it’s super special)
Alecs, there is so much I could say to introduce you, but I think it would be best coming from you – so if you wouldn’t mind letting us know a little more about you for those who don’t know?
Hi! Ahhhh I always find this so hard; but yes, I would probably describe myself as an ex international rugby player, Founder of YBL and the Yogability Yoga method and I own a Yoga studio in Cardiff. My biggest achievement to date is winning a Burger eating competition in NYC though!!
I love that last achievement – gotta celebrate it all right?! You founded YBL a few years ago, and have been adding value to it every year since – can you tell us a little bit more about the business?
So I hope I can shorten the 6 year story… so here we go!!
YBL, as it’s known as now actually started as ‘Yogability’. A Yoga method I created 6 years ago. I founded a new Yoga method because I ruptured my achilles playing netball and to help with rehab, I was recommended Yoga.
I couldn’t find a Yoga class that suited me. But the benefits outweighed how much I loved going. I then realised there was more than one style of Yoga (which I didn’t know at the time). I tried to find a Yoga class for athletes, or for people who are physically active and wanted more of the physical side of Yoga rather than the spiritual side.
I wanted to bridge the gap between Yoga and athletes and athletic performance.
I could find anything that hit that need, so I decided to create it myself.
Yoga mixed with mobility = Yogability.
I had been teaching for about 6 years; being within the Yoga industry made me realise that I wanted to open a Yoga studio in Cardiff. I wanted to create a Hub where people could come to affordable classes with lots of different styles. I called it The Yoga Hub.
We opened the studio 3 weeks before lockdown. Which as things turned out – was not the best timing!
Due to the uncertainty of Yoga during covid and uncertainty of life as we knew it; I didn’t actually need to get up for anything; it sounds dramatic but I had no work to get up for and couldn’t go anywhere, which in my opinion was a bit of a slippery slope.
A lot of my friends were in a similar situation. So I decided to put on Free Live Yogability classes on Instagram every day at 8am for my friends and my members and people from the public. At some points there were over 100 people that would join us.
I never considered that Yoga could be an online business before lockdown but it changed my entire business; forever. I ended up doing over 100 free Instagram lives.
Yogability turned into YBL when we were trying to create merch for people to buy; but it grew a lot more than the initial Yoga mixed with mobility method.
People I knew were struggling with mental health in lockdown that previously never had; I wanted to help. I also wanted to show people that Yoga is for everybody so I created methods from Yin YBL, Advanced YBL and Beginners YBL; I hired people to teach other methods too. I created 5/10/15/20 and 30 minute classes to show that everyone can fit it into their day. But the initial Yogability brand didn’t quite fit what it had turned into. It was more than one Yoga method.
I asked my members how you would describe YBL and a few of them came back with – YBL. Your Best Life. I couldn’t think of anything better. That’s what we stand for now – trying to give our members different tools for self-care, normalise any problems life brings them and focusing on the little things in life.
“Doing the little things to help you live your best life – whatever that means to you.”
I couldn’t agree more with that last sentence, life is all about the little things. I think we tend to only think of the massive achievements or moments in life but really, its all about the small stuff. So tell me, after this incredible journey, how did you discover yoga yourself? What has practising yoga everyday done for your life?
I was recommended Yoga by an Achilles specialist in the NHS – it was as a form of rehab initially.
I’m a totally different person now; I still have highs and lows but I consciously feel a lot more present. I’m physically more flexible, stronger and healthier. And I know the link between physical and mental health; so, it definitely links mentally; I’m mentally more flexible, stronger and healthier. I feel like a class can instantly change the way I feel. The brand makes me remember the important things in life is the little things. People sometimes chase the wrong things in life and Yoga has taught me to remember what’s actually important. And lastly, YBL probably has just re-emphasised the power of giving yourself 10 minutes. You don’t need a lot of time to change your life – you just need to prioritise yourself.
Oh, and self-care is never selfish.
Self-care is NEVER selfish. I think so many people need to hear that. There are lots of people who would like to start yoga but don’t, for whatever reason – what would you say to people to convince them to try it?
There’s a Yoga method out there for everyone… there’s an instructor out there for everyone. If you haven’t found it yet; keep looking.
I thought there was only one type initially and that’s why I didn’t do it – but I was so wrong.
You don’t need to be flexible to start; you don’t need to be zen. You sometimes feel like you’re not good enough –you’ll feel inadequate sometimes (well, I did) and you might feel like it isn’t working but have to be consistent, you have to be a beginner before you can be anything else… oh, and it’s harder than it looks so if you’re wondering if anyone else is finding it hard – they are! Yoga instructors make things look effortless which can actually be misleading.
I would try and make yourself do 4 sessions a week for a month – see how you feel. You have absolutely nothing to lose and so much to gain!
Absolutely, it is all about little habits building up. Personally, I am a different person when I do your classes! Going forward in 2022, what is one of the things you are most looking forward to?
I read shoe dog last year (the owner and founder of Nike) and it made me realise that every single person trying to run a business experience highs and experience lows; everyone has wobbles – so I’m trying to enjoy the ride; trying to enjoy the process – even the stressful days. I love my company so much – I would take the stress and the lows without question so I’m trying not to get so caught up in them when they happen.
I love quotes and two always stick with me when it comes to business:
“It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light.” You work so much some weeks but you know by putting in the work, it’ll show in your business. Sometimes it feels overwhelming but you don’t want to regret not giving it 100%.
“What if I fall?;”
“Oh, But my darling – What if you fly?”
If you don’t risk anything – you risk even more. When people ask me how I’m confident with risk when it comes to business and even personal life; I always say that I’m not overly confident (no one really knows how things will turn out) but if your worst-case scenario is being exactly where you are now – it’s not much of a risk. I never think what would happen if I fall; I try and only think of what would happen if I fly.
And lastly, where can people find you and YBL to find out more?
Thank you SO much for taking the time to talk to us today, we cannot wait to see what is in store for YBL in the future.