Urban Sanctuary, a yoga and reiki studio focused on access and healing, has landed a permanent home in Five Points after business owner Ali Duncan finally managed to purchase the building at 2745 Welton Street where it's operated for six years.
According to Duncan, a former Fort Collins police officer who's been practicing energy work and yoga for eighteen years, Urban Sanctuary is the only Black-owned yoga studio in Denver. It focuses on healing the mind and body as well as good workouts. “Not everyone connects with vinyasa,” Duncan says. “Healing takes different experiences for everyone.”
Along with more traditional yoga and reiki, the studio offers cannabis yoga classes (all BYO), aerial yoga, tantric classes, yoga with Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and naked yoga classes, as well as social justice storytelling events, yoga to R&B, and a “natural hot” yoga class on the studio’s back patio during the summer. Urban Sanctuary also offers a 200-hour teacher training program that weaves in social justice and astrology, and teaches Kemetic yoga, a practice from Africa that Duncan says pre-dates India’s yoga practices.
Urban Sanctuary hosts free BIPOC classes, too. “I don’t want to offer yoga that people from this community can’t afford,” Duncan says. “The BIPOC community is pushed out of these healing spaces.”
Duncan didn't set out to base her business in the heart of Denver's historic Black community. She was looking for a space to meet with clients for energy healing work when she saw a Welton Street storefront for rent on Craigslist. “I got full-body goosebumps,” she recalls. The building called to her, even before she learned that her father had a short history with the space.
Back in the ’50s and ’60s, the building held a bar and pool hall. When Duncan showed her father the storefront, he told her that when he and his buddies were stationed at Cheyenne’s Air Force base, they'd come to Five Points to party there. By the time Duncan took the place over in 2016, it had been empty for a number of years. She tore down the bar and built a five-room space for one-on-one healing and group classes.
By 2019, the business was going well enough that Duncan brought together a number of investors in hopes of buying the building. But then COVID hit, the studio had to close and the investors disappeared. So Duncan focused on restructuring the studio, knocking down the smaller rooms she'd used for energy work and developing the space into one large studio. She also launched a GoFundMe, but only brought in $13,665. “It’s funny how you have to have money to get money,” Duncan notes.
“It took me a while for it to sink in that I bought the building,” she says. “I feel lighter. I didn’t want to have to walk away from this space. It’s so special.”
She recognizes that the area around the building is special, too, despite ongoing concerns about the gentrification of Five Points and the challenges that other business owners have faced with their landlords, particularly the Flyfisher Group.
Duncan has focused on bringing healing energy to the area. She's served as president of the Heart of Five Points Neighborhood Association since September, and intends to bring more greenery to the alley and sidewalks along Welton Street. She's also hosting a yoga class in Sonny Lawson Park on Saturdays throughout the summer, alongside other local vendors like Mo’ Betta Green.
“I trust that however it is supposed to line up, it will,” Duncan says. “I put my energy into the studio and don’t put too much weight on anything else.”