When my husband accepted a job with the Alamo two years ago and relocation got real, there were a handful of research priorities at the top of my list. Right up there with safe school districts and proximity to IKEA was the need for a yoga studio that felt like home. Having practiced yoga for several years, I knew that there were places for a good workout, and then there were spaces that also offered the love and support of an extended family; for a myriad of reasons, I deeply needed the latter. A quick google search led me to Southtown Yoga Loft’s page and, clicking through the images, I knew immediately it was the space in which I wanted to build my personal practice.
Fast-forward a year, and I was leading the downtown studio’s owner, Kristal Cuevas, and a few others through a sample tryout class that began my teaching there. From that first meeting and through the last year I have been inspired by Kristal’s ability to welcome, encourage, and love each person who walks into her studio.
As we chatted in this interview, I mentioned a pet peeve of mine in reading other similar interviews: the alienating question (at least for myself as a reader) of “So how do you manage to have it all?!” That question, when I’ve heard or read it in the past, has always annoyed me; the idea that some women are capable of mastering every aspect of life with Donna Reed ease and perfection when I’m painfully aware that my own is more often than not a squashed and weary mess, grated on my nerves. However, Kristal’s response, in the form of relating the example of her independent, inspiring, and driven grandmother who managed to raise a beautiful family while refusing to abandon pursuit of her own passions, sparked an idea that maybe all of us manage to have “it all.” This all, however, is not the one-size-fits-all, social media ideal that has long-prompted me to close a magazine or web browser in disgust. Rather, it looks differently for each of us, tailored and hand-crafted and ours to create as individuals, mothers, and women empowered and empassioned by a myriad of unique pursuits and needs, adjusting our lives and energies accordingly. Being a fellow mom of littles, Kristal and I laughed and swapped stories of maternal chaos as only those living it truly can, and in that time I had the pleasure to learn from and become friends with an incredibly graceful, strong, and real sister in this maze of motherhood.
Molly: What inspired you to open Southtown Yoga Loft in the first place?
Kristal: It was before I had kids, Eddie and I had been married two years and, it’s a long story—I’ll make it as brief as I can. In the fall of 2010 I was working at another studio, and I was teaching and was so grateful to teach with very little experience. I got to know a student who had interest in opening a studio; she approached me and asked if I would ever be interested in partnering up to open a studio in the area and I jumped at the opportunity, thinking this was the ideal scenario—I didn’t think twice! I did a lot of networking because I’m from San Antonio, I’ve lived in this area so long and I’ve built relationships, as well as building the studio from the ground up. We hired teachers, we opened, and when classes started we were just so happy, but a few months in, we had a little headbutt and it was then that I saw an entirely different side of this person. It was a huge learning experience! Well, she approached me and gave me two options: to stay with the business as an assistant and teacher, or just walk away. I had left every teaching job I had to open this studio and—I don’t know—I felt that I had hit rock bottom because I was walking away from a business and where did I have to go?! Everyone I knew knew that I had given those jobs up to open this studio, so how was I going to face them and tell them what had happened?! I walked away, and that day I went home, crawled into bed in a little ball, and just bawled. And I thought, What just happened?! Eddie came home and was just like, “Breathe, everything’s gonna be OK.” I didn’t know what was going to happen. His parents felt really bad about what had happened, and they gave us a little loan to look for a space on our own. The day that they gave us that money I went in my car and I drove around downtown. I thought that eventually it would come around and that tourists or people who lived in the downtown area were going to want…this. You know, even seven years ago, there wasn’t anything offered down there. I saw a sign in the studio window that said “lease,” and I called that number, and I said, “Can I take a look?” And that day I signed the lease because I felt the energy of the space that everybody feels today. I felt that. It wasn’t like it looks right now, but I saw potential, and I knew what we needed and it was there. Everything I needed to do to open Southtown Yoga, I had just done a month prior. It was so fresh in my mind—everything from ordering mats and the props and building the community, all of that was so fresh because I had just done it with the other studio. So I signed the lease in October, and we opened SYL in November.
M: That sounds almost like a dress rehearsal! Were there any big question marks in your mind coming from such a huge and messy experience to starting your own business in such a short time?
K: Not really! It was almost like it was just the next step that I had to take. Of course I had no clue that all of that was going to go down, but opening the studio on our own—that, every step of the way, felt right. It felt like this is the way that it should have been from the get-go. Yeah, but I would never have done that on my own. Nothing would have pushed me hard enough, I think, to have the guts to just say, “I’m going to open up my own studio.” There’s so much fear in that, there’s so much risk involved, but I felt like, in a way, it was me getting back on my feet—like this “you’re not gonna stop me” aspect. And every time there’s an obstacle or I see or hear the phrase “don’t let anything get in your way,” for me it all goes back to that moment.
M: So fast-forwarding to the point where you decided to start a family…at that point SYL was taking off and becoming successful. How was it for you to merge those two worlds?
K: It was definitely merging two worlds. My passion, my heart, and all of my energy were invested in this new business, and I was afraid how it would be affected by the change, but yoga helped so much in just going with the flow and trusting that everything was going to be OK and not really stressing about things at all. When Maya was born, I took a little bit of time off, but mostly I was there. I remember very distinctly lugging the stroller and all of those heavy things up the stairs. I had a huge diaper bag and I didn’t need all of that stuff at all, but I was a new mom. (laughs)
M: And now that you’ve had your second baby, in what ways are you able to make space within that work for your family? What advice would you offer for other working moms?
K: Definitely prioritizing what makes you happy and makes you feel balanced in your life and not out of control or like you’re lacking or there’s a void anywhere. Figure out what makes you happiest because you need to be happy; in order for your family to find happiness, it comes from you first. I have definitely started to put family first and am trying to organize what needs to happen from there.
M: What ideals did your own mother or women in your family pass on to you that you hope to pass on to your own children?
K: Family first. I think that is probably where I get it from. Time flies so fast, and [our children] are not going to be babies or little kids forever, so embrace this time! My parents divorced when I was five, and my father was not present in a lot of my younger years, so I see how much he missed out on our growing up and how it affected him later on. He has told us that he missed out on a lot of stuff, so I don’t want to be the parent that’s not involved and not a real part of my child’s life.
M: Speaking of role models, who are three women you would have coffee with and why?
K: Ahhh—that’s a tough one!
M: How about one to start?
K: OK, well, one is Ellen Degeneres. (laughs) This woman, she has an amazing personality but is so extremely giving. As a celebrity, I feel like there is no one more humble and generous than she is, and not just from TV, but things that she does out and about; it seems that nothing she does is for her but it’s an offering to people in need. It’s probably hormones still, but I cry at all of these amazing things that she is giving away.
M: And that would probably be a coffee date where you would laugh a lot too!
K: Oh, definitely. Thinking of a second, I have always wanted to do an interview with my grandma, my mom’s mom. She is pretty much my inspiration for owning a business. I’ve always had these values in me of being independent and being driven and going for something big, not letting anything get in my way of pursuing a goal. My grandmother was an interior designer. She owned her own business all her life in San Antonio and had five kids, and she tells the story of my grandfather telling her, when she started having a family, that she wasn’t going to work anymore because she needed to be a mom and a wife and do all the things that moms and wives do—like cook dinner and wash clothes and maintain the household. And my grandma told him, “OK, yeah, I’m gonna do all of those things, but I’m also going to live out my passion and I’m not going to let that go.” Hearing that, for me as I juggle work and motherhood, is like, “OK, we can totally do this!” There’s a way to step into the role of a mom and be a good wife but not let go of what drives you as a person or an individual. She is—oh, let’s see—in her mid- to late-eighties and still traveling. She is a wild spirit. I mean, she does what she loves to do! She is just this fireball and a lot of her ways, her heart, and the way that she does things I see some of that in me. She is amazing in so many ways. Just beautiful.
M: What do you find is the hardest part of motherhood?
K: Let’s see…patience is there for sure, and being consistent in that patience! Letting go of things that you can’t control. For example, realizing that taking care of everyone means that maybe I don’t get to my [yoga] practice today, or that I feed them before I feed myself—which is hard, because sometimes I’m starving! (laughs) You know you just go so quickly from having your own life to it not just being your life anymore—you’re not in control anymore; they’re in control. And right now there’s so much influence from social media, it’s challenging to let go of the need to be perfect as a person, as a mom, as a family, and really absorb the truth of “this is how we’re going to make our perfect.”
M: Do you ever find yourself comparing yourself to other moms, and if (or when) that happens, how do you bring yourself back to a better place?
K: Breathing—I mean, most of that is going to be yoga and what I’ve learned through yoga. Breathing, not reacting so quickly, and definitely thinking before I act.
M: This one isn’t deep, but if we were playing Desert Island: The Mom Version, what’s the one item you couldn’t live without?
K: For sure wipes—wipes fix everything! Wipes, and a pacifier…and a glass of wine. (laughs) Make sure they’re clean, make sure they’re quiet, and then I can chill.
M: For you, what is the most rewarding part of motherhood?
K: Oh my gosh, you don’t realize how much happiness they will bring you! Being able to live life again through their eyes, seeing what they see, and the joy and amazement that it brings them while we’re thinking to ourselves, “It’s just a fan.” (laughs) But for them it’s amazing and it’s something huge! Before kids, you grow up and older and out of these playful tendencies, and having the chance to do it all again…it’s an opportunity that we need to jump on as moms.
Kristal Cuevas is mom, yoga teacher, and owner of Southtown Yoga Loft’s two locations in Downtown and Helotes. She currently does her best to bend and breathe and soaks up sweet family time with her husband, Eddie, daughter Maya (4), and son Benny (2 months).
Mention this article in either studio by July 31st to enjoy a free yoga class of your choice!