Yoga instructor Joanna Brooks strikes a pose at the Sherman Phoenix.

Growing up on Milwaukee’s Northwest Side, Joanna Brooks remembers watching yoga on PBS and practicing poses in her family’s living room. Fast forward a decade or two, and Brooks has her own studio, Embody Yoga, in the Sherman Phoenix, 3536 W. Fond du Lac Ave. It’s an inviting space where Brooks helps bring a sense of Zen to the community she loves.

What drew you to the Sherman Phoenix?

Embody Yoga’s mission is to share the practice of yoga with people of color, and I knew there would be a lot of other black-owned businesses in this building. The Sherman Phoenix is a gathering place for a lot of folks, not just people of color, but primarily people of color.

How has your business been received?

Even people who know yoga isn’t their thing will still refer us and recommend us. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see so many people showing up to class. People find a sense of community and they feel at home. There’s a lot of laughter and a lot of hugs.

How did you get hooked on yoga?

I started back in middle school and loved how it felt in my body. Yoga is not just a workout, it’s a work in. Because of yoga, I was able to let things roll off my back more easily.

What do people find in your studio that they don’t find elsewhere?

It’s rare to go to a yoga studio and see so many black and brown bodies and faces. My whole focus is on making sure people feel welcome. Our playlists are R&B, neo soul and hip-hop. That music is our way of seeing ourselves reflected in the practice. One of our most popular classes is Saturday morning – it’s an “Almost Hot” yoga class where we may have 20 people show up.

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Who is a typical student?

Most of our students are women, but we periodically do couples yoga. You can see that the men, at first, don’t want to be there, and at the end they’re having more fun than the women. We did a “Real Kings Do Yoga” class, and there were men there who want that type of experience every week.


“Body of Work” appears in the April 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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