By Jordan Gerard
Editor, The Caledonia Argus
It’s an iconic farm just south of Spring Grove, and it has several new purposes including yoga, retreat center and a bed and breakfast.
Big Raven Yoga is excited to have a new home on the former Stratford Farm. Owners Joleen Emery and Darin Warling moved from Minneapolis, bringing their yoga practice and custom yoga mat business with them.
The beauty of the Driftless Region and modern amenities of the farm drew them to the farm, Warling said, not to mention the location in between La Crosse, Wisconsin and Rochester, Minnesota.
“The view of our property ... we were really lucky,” Emery added. “We’ve been entrepreneurs for a long time and the thought of having to drive to a commercial space ... we wanted to work and live all in the same space.”
Emery is an E500-certified yoga teacher. She has been teaching for the past 10 years, and has 500 hours of teaching and training. There’s different levels from beginners to experienced, and Emery is able to assist with all levels.
“Some people when you ask them about yoga, they’ll talk to you about the poses and physical practice. That’s an important part of flexibility and strength,” Emery said. “It’s important because it helps us match our breath to our movement and helps us turn inwards.”
Emery teaches beginner slow flow yoga, ageless yoga, relaxation yoga, yoga flow and power yoga. Flow yoga is continuously moving from one pose to the next.
She also has two other teachers currently at the farm with her. Megan Peter leads prenatal yoga and Kriya yoga, which is a breathwork class that teaches techniques to release stress and provide an opportunity to drop into a deep meditation.
Ryan Hoefs is leading free DDP yoga classes as he works toward his instructor certificate. This type of exercise is easy on joints, but still gives a good cardio workout. Many of the classes are offered at least twice a week.
With a lot of classes offered, Big Raven Yoga also offers a range of price options. A single, drop-in class is $15, a monthly unlimited class pass is $79, a 10-class pass is $125, and a new member special is $197 that includes a personalized yoga mat, mala bracelet and 10-class pass. People can also work individually or in a small group with Emery for $200.
“There’s something every day ... Monday through Saturdays. Yoga is one part of three things we do,” Emery said. “Makers retreats for artists of any medium ... [and] an operational bed and breakfast.”
Though they’re not set up for pottery and clay mediums, artists can bring their supplies and projects while they stay at the farm. Weddings are still available to host at the farm. To stay, guests can book via the website at www.bigravenfarm.com or on AirBNB. Recently, the farm hosted guests for the Caledonia/Spring Grove Film Festival, including Daniel Baldwin and his daughters. Rooms also feature artwork by Emery.
“Darin is an engineer. He probably never thought he’d be a yoga mat maker and proprietor of a retreat center,” Emery said. “He makes so many things possible.”
“It’s definitely a collaboration between us. Joleen is the visionary,” he replied.
Furthermore, Emery and Warling brought their yoga mat printing business with them. As artistic director, Emery has about 300 different designs created by herself or someone from her team. There’s also 30 guest artists who have their work featured on the mats, and receive commission.
“Some of them have a strong social media following,” Emery said. “Their fans can’t afford original artwork, but they can do a yoga mat. They feel connected to the artists, and they get to use their mat every day.”
These also aren’t your typical yoga mats found in the average department store. Big Raven Yoga’s mats are made from natural rubber, giving them a weight of 7 lbs. In order to print many of the fantastic colors and designs on a yoga mat, a microfiber suede is printed and then fused to the rubber. The microfiber suede allows “really great color, won’t fade or chip or crack,” Emery explained. The ink is also water-based, sustainable and eco-friendly.
Warling added they can print the mats onsite and ship it out quickly. Or for more local orders, people can pick it up on the farm. They can even watch the process and lend a hand, if they wish.
In the interest of sustainability, Big Raven Yoga only prints mats that have sold previously. They also allow for customizations, such as names.
And if they can take their mats one step further, they do. Yoga mats typically have a company name tag attached to the mat, but instead of attaching tags, their name is cleverly hidden in the design.
“It’s being in the art, not on the art. You’ll find it on every one. It’s about the art,” Emery said.
The reason for creating a business with artistically-designed yoga mats comes from a “little thief” in the locker room, Emery says.
About five years ago, Emery was in a bad accident on her bicycle at night. She and Warling were riding their bikes and her tire got stuck in-between some railroad tracks and she landed on her shoulder and head.
That accident left her with a broken leg and compartment/compression syndrome (which pinches off blood supply to a limb) and four surgeries, along with two weeks in the hospital and screws and plates installed in her leg, and three months of Warling taking care of her. Emery was eventually able to get back to yoga after a year of not practicing.
While in the locker room, a yogi (yoga student) accidentally mistook Emery’s mat for her own because they looked exactly alike, though Emery’s was older and had more wear and tear. A Google search revealed that many yoga mats were black or purple and had similar designs.
“I turned to my husband and said we have to put my art on a yoga mat,” she said. “We have 300 designs and now we’re here. That little thief in the locker room, I love her.”
Big Raven Yoga has upcoming retreats in August and in October for Uffda Fest. Check out their website at www.bigravenyoga.com and www.bigravenfarm.com and on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The retreat center is located at 19315 Stratford Drive, Spring Grove. Keep watching this story online for more photos.