The spacious room underneath Frisco’s Red Drum Pottery has been through a number of transformations over the past few years.
After owners Wes Lassiter and Rhonda Bates purchased the property in 2014 and renovated the ground-level garage, it became a theater and stage where folks could pop in and listen to exceptional music, courtesy of the couple’s acclaimed bluegrass band, Banjo Island, as well as other performers from the island’s artistic scene.
Then, the room’s story took a turn for the worst. It became the site of a traffic accident when a pick-up truck barreled off N.C. Highway 12 and slammed into the center of the theater, (miraculously with no injuries), and it also became an unintentional lake when it was flooded by not one, but two hurricanes: 2016’s Matthew and 2019s Dorian.
Today, however, the space has a new aesthetic, and a new functionality.
New visitors to the long-suffering and former garage will notice dimmed and multi-colored lighting, candles, and a collection of sturdy blankets and yoga mats neatly arranged on the floor.
It’s an inviting space to be sure, but it’s designed that way so that visitors can fully enjoy Hatteras Island’s newest yoga studio, and future all-around health center, Community Yoga.
Rhonda and Wes initially opened their Community Yoga enterprise at a downtown Manteo location in 2021, as Rhonda was a longtime accredited yoga teacher, and the couple had been practicing yoga for more than eight years. But with the Coronavirus pandemic in full swing, (coupled with a long commute from their Frisco residence to Manteo for classes), it made sense to create a business that was closer to home.
But, arguably, the driving force behind the move from Manteo to Frisco was Wes and Rhonda’s local Hatteras Island community. Their neighbors and friends had helped out with clean-ups and renovations after numerous flooding events, and this local camaraderie played a big role in their decision to set up a Frisco home base for their yoga pursuits.
“Yoga came into my life, and it made such a big positive [change], that I wanted to be able to share it with others,” says Wes. “I wanted to be able to offer my little gift to the world, and especially in our home community.”
Nowadays, Wes is a gifted yoga instructor with an inherent desire to bring a little joy to the island he calls home, whether it’s by leading new yogis through the essentials of basic poses, or by long conversations with folks who stop by the couple’s upstairs gallery and pottery studio.
But like their transformed garage, Wes has had some unexpected damage of his own to recover from over the past few years.
He had a stent implanted in 2014, (which is a tiny tube that can help treat heart disease), and he suffered a heart attack five years later in May of 2019. “After that, I made a decision at that point just to do everything I can to better myself,” says Wes. “I lost 90 pounds, tried to live a healthy lifestyle, and since then, my life has been really good.”
While still operating the Red Drum Pottery gallery, Wes also used this turning point as an opportunity to pursue his own yoga-infused goals.
In the fall of 2021, around the time of his 65th birthday, Wes enrolled in a grueling 200-hour class to become a certified yoga instructor. Lasting 8-9 hours a day, from October through November, Wes was challenged as the informal “class elder,” but he was also invigorated with everything he learned, including both the physical and mental fundamentals of yoga practice. “Both Rhonda and I trained under Anne Howard, a local OBX yogi with OBX Yoga in Kitty Hawk. She’s now living in France, and returns each year to train new yogis,” says Wes. “We both feel so grateful to have been trained by her.”
“I actually plan to take my 300-hour course starting in November ,” he says. “That’s on top of the 200 hours I completed, but it brings you to a status where you can teach other people to be instructors.”
With Wes becoming an accredited yoga instructor alongside his wife, Rhonda, and with a generous Frisco space that had been renovated since the last major flooding event of 2019’s Dorian, all of the pieces naturally fell into place to create a cozy yoga studio where islanders could have an outlet to literally catch their breath.
Currently, Community Yoga has a lot to offer the island’s experienced yogis, but it’s also a fantastic destination for newcomers as well.
Familiar Vinyasa Flow classes are offered on Wednesday mornings, with lots of movement to get the blood flowing, but the yoga center also offers gentle Yin Flow and deep stretching classes on Wednesday nights – ideal for anyone who needs a mental vacation – as well as beginners’ classes on Monday evenings.
For newcomers, the Monday beginners’ classes are a solid place to start, because they lay the groundwork for folks who have never tried yoga before, but who may have heard rumors about the potential health benefits that can range from better flexibility to a happier day-to-day mood.
“If somebody has never taken a yoga class before, but has always been a little curious, our beginners’ yoga classes are great,” says Wes. “We study a pose each week, but we also talk about the brain and body connection, and we’ll do a little vinyasa flow, using those poses.”
Wes has a special talent for working with beginners. Since the new Frisco Community Yoga opened in February 2022, he has attracted many local students who have never tried yoga before. This can be attributed to the availability of beginners’ classes, to be sure, but it’s also due to Wes’ familiarity with how challenging yoga can be for newcomers, or anyone who is out of practice.
“I have been in that position before where I’m supposed to [be relaxed] but I’ve wondered ‘how long is this Downward Dog [pose] going to last?’ or ‘Please don’t make me squat for five minutes!’”
“But nobody told me that yoga was about facing your fears,” adds Wes. “I still struggle with [some poses], but I keep practicing, so I won’t fear it. I don’t fear falling on my face as much, or embarrassing myself, so you can gain a courage, and a confidence, through yoga, and that’s what I want to share with the community.”
The past two months have been a bit of a trial run for Frisco’s new Community Yoga, with students and friends attending classes on a donation-only basis. Wes admits that when it comes to making lots of money, offering yoga classes to Hatteras Island residents and visitors isn’t necessarily the best way forward. “It’s not something we expect to make a living by,” he says.
But there are big plans for the studio in the months and years ahead, and for the business in general. The class schedule will be expanded, special yoga-and-java sessions will be planned so attendees can meet and connect with neighbors after a class, and even health classes and cooking classes are in the works – which potentially includes classes on how to recreate Rhonda’s locally-famous sourdough bread.
Essentially, Community Yoga is in the early stages of becoming a fully-rounded health center, where islanders can have access to classes and sessions that coincide with a myriad of health concerns. These future offerings will focus on a variety of health-improving topics, from nutrition and weight loss, to dancing for the sheer fun of it, to exploring unique and hard-to-pronounce practices like pranayama or reiki.
But while waves of options are on the horizon for Hatteras Island’s newest yoga and health center, for now, prospective students can dip their toes into Community Yoga’s weekly classes, where the former garage in Frisco is now a refuge for anyone who needs to reset, rejuvenate, and take a well-deserved break from a busy island life.
“I love getting in touch with yourself, and focusing on your breathing. Those are the two most important [aspects of yoga],” says Wes. “If you just concentrate on the movement, that’s only one small part of it – That’s only the base of it.”
“It’s through communication – learning to train your brain to become aware of your body, and connect with your breath – that you’ll get the [most benefits.] And those are things that so many of us, including myself, have lost… And for me, being able to help somebody regain that ability, and that confidence, is so rewarding.”
For more information:
Folks can view the current class offerings and sign up for yoga classes online at https://obxcommunityyoga.com/, or can visit Community Yoga’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/obxcommunityyoga.