Yoga with a charitable twist
By Cindy Mindell
WEST HARTFORD – Julie Starr never thought she would come back to her hometown of West Hartford. The graduate of Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford and Hall High School had left in 1996 to spend nearly a year in Jerusalem, volunteering with the Jewish National Fund and traveling through Europe on her return to the U.S. She studied midwifery as a pre-med student at Smith College, completing her degree at Hampshire College, earning certification as a doula and childbirth educator, and then went on to Boston University for a master’s in nutrition in 2005.
Starr always thought about making aliyah, but life took her elsewhere. She got married and settled outside Boston, had a daughter, and began a career in wellness. She worked as the national director of nutrition Exhale Spas and as a pediatric nutritionist at a community health center, and taught college-level nutrition courses. As a nutritionist, she built a practice of individual and corporate clients, and became certified to teach yoga and barre.
Then Starr got divorced, and realized that she had to simplify her work life in order to better meet her parenting role. Two years ago, she opened Starr Life Studio in the Boston suburb of Roslindale, where she and her staff teach yoga and barre and where Starr sees her nutrition clients.
In June, Starr opened her second Starr Yoga studio, on Park Road in West Hartford, where she teaches a couple of days a week.
“People ask me why I would open a studio two hours away from where I live,” she says. “My only answer is that it’s my hometown. I think it’s so incredible to have built a business by myself, as a single mom. To be able to take it to the place where my father and I both grew up means so much to me. I feel like I have gotten a big hug from the West Hartford community. It’s always been close to my heart and it’s been so incredible to reconnect with people I haven’t seen for years.”
Starr has seen her Boston studio become not just a business, but a community, a place where instructors know all students by name and where non-profit organizations are invited to hold fundraisers. The West Hartford studio has already begun to connect with the community by way of a food drive for the local food pantry, and a collaborative event for young professionals with Plan B Burger Bar next door. Twice a month in both locations, when regular classes are not meeting, Starr holds a special class for an outside organization at a discounted rate. In September, the Young Adult Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford came to the West Hartford studio for a Yoga & Schmooze event.
“I love doing collaborative events because there are so few opportunities for people to get together and have a social event that doesn’t necessarily involve going to a bar or a restaurant,” Starr says. “Sometimes you want to do something else, especially if you’re living in the suburbs, where it can be very hard to meet people. The studio provides an opportunity for people to do just that: to get together with a group of people they already know or just know via social media. I’m excited to show how there is so much of a social aspect that can be integrated in fitness, which gives people a platform to get healthier in a way that’s not so serious.”
Starr is now planning events in her studio for University of Hartford Hillel and Trinity College Hillel.
“I will collaborate with anyone,” she says. “My happy place is sharing yoga or barre or any type of fitness with a group. I love charity work; I encourage my teachers to let me know about any charity that they want to raise money for. This is why I have these studios, so that people can do something healthy together.”