Q + A

the voice of Ali Duncan of Urban Sanctuary

If the prematurely decorated department stores weren’t enough of an indicator, the shorter days and longer nights are certainly proof that the year is coming to an end. Ready or not, here the holidays come. For many, this time of year is a joyous convergence of gratitude and connection; for others, holiday-induced stress and apprehension can crawl to the forefront of the mind.

In a season filled with gifting, hosting and socializing, we can often forget to prioritize our own mental health and wellness. Ali Duncan, owner of Urban Sanctuary empathizes with the need to set aside meaningful time for ourselves, especially during stressful times. By operating Denver’s first black and women-owned wellness studio, Ali offers her community a welcoming space and a myriad of wellness experiences for the holiday season and beyond.

How did you find your calling in wellness?

Over the past 17 years, I have harnessed tough life experiences — including growing up in poverty, having been the victim of abuse and assault, experiencing systemic racism and becoming a teen mom — to support and guide others on their individual spiritual paths. Prior to launching my career in wellness, I spent 10 years as a police officer. Notably, I was also the only Black woman in my unit. The police force was where I found Reiki, something that I often describe as my gateway to energy work and healing.

After completing my 300-hour yoga teacher training in India, I came back to the U.S., quit my job and began seeing clients for energy work and coaching. Having practiced yoga for more than 20 years, I was tired of being the only person of color in the yoga studios I attended. Seeking to challenge the lack of diversity and representation in yoga studios, I opened the doors at Urban Sanctuary in 2016. The studio provides wellness and yoga to marginalized communities, specifically people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, with a safe space to practice self-care.

How do you ensure a welcoming and inclusive environment at Urban Sanctuary?

At Urban Sanctuary, we welcome all shapes, sizes and cultures. We pride ourselves in not only providing a brave space for people to show up just as they are, but we also offer unique experiences, such as breathwork and healing practices. What makes us different from traditional yoga studios is that we specifically focus on energy and healing.

Because the majority of our teachers are BIPOC, including myself, we welcome a diverse group of humans to join our community.

How did design and architecture influence the space you have created at Urban Sanctuary?

Our building is rich in history. The building was once a one-story brick residence in the early 1890s. Esteemed Denver architect Merrill H. Hoyt, a design architect for institutions like the Denver Press Club and Steele Elementary School, designed the iconic facade in 1915; for the most part, the building has since been maintained its original architecture. In 1916, Lewis Douglass and Frederick Douglass Jr., sons of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, operated the Douglass Undertaking Company until the mid-1940s.  

Since then, an upholstery company, pool hall, bar and school have all been a part of the Douglass Undertaking Building’s story. In 2016, we moved in, marking the building’s latest evolution and notably, Denver’s first black, woman-run wellness studio. When you step inside our studio, you can see some of the original architecture that’s melded with our own touch.

“The success of Urban Sanctuary stems from what we practice off of our mats. We support marginalized communities. We speak up for equality and we stand against any racism of all forms. This is our foundation and our mission.”

What classes would you recommend for a very beginner at Urban Sanctuary? How about a seasoned wellness pro?

We have several different types of classes for our community. This includes:

  • Moon: More gentle classes that are great for beginners or those who would like a slower pace. This includes gentle yoga flows, Yin and Restorative yoga
  • Sun: Power classes that incorporate power flows and are geared to ramp up the day or close out your day by moving your body
  • Mars: These workout classes will get your heart rate up, move your body and help you detox
  • Flow: We have a variety of flow classes for those looking to deepen their practice, including Align and Flow, Animal Flow, Tarot and Flow and Kemetic Flow
  • Void: Our meditation classes consist of Yoga Nidra and breath work classes
  • We also have a few cannabis-supported classes such as Flower Power and Elevate

To what do you attribute the success of Urban Sanctuary?

The success of Urban Sanctuary stems from what we practice off of our mats. We support marginalized communities. We speak up for equality and we stand against any racism of all forms. This is our foundation and our mission. We not only have teachers that share this mindset but they are also a diverse group of unique individuals that make our students feel welcome.

Thinking of the upcoming busy holiday season, how can people ensure that their homes feel like their own sanctuary?

Our perception is everything. When we are in our own mental sanctuary, we tend to notice what needs a little bit of love and attention. For me, that includes cleansing the space with palo santo, softening the room with candles and most importantly, filling the room with plants. When you step inside our studio, you’ll notice that the space is an oasis for plants. I enjoy caring for them and even speaking to them. The holidays can be stressful so I encourage everyone to find things that bring them peace and comfort and fill the room with these pockets of joy.

During the holidays, some people may find themselves caught up in the stress of planning, traveling, and hosting. What techniques do you recommend for quickly grounding oneself?

During this busy time of year, overwhelm can take over. I recommend the following checklist:

  • Honor yourself by setting boundaries
  • Speak your truth unabashedly — and remember that truth is not the same as beliefs
  • Prioritize self-care. Set aside time for that mid-day bath, step onto the mat and make sure your “you” time is a priority
  • Be mindful of who you share your energy with
  • Limit your screen time
  • Listen to music that feeds your soul (it’s okay if it’s not holiday music)
  • Smile, because you’re worth it

Are there any products or physical tools you would recommend for creating a calming environment within the home?

Besides setting the mood with softer lighting, I encourage you to light candles to warm your space and create a soothing playlist — my favorite is Trevor Hall. Also, plants, plants and more plants.

Join Ali’s community-driven mission of health and wellness by booking a class at Urban Sanctuary. Fans of milehimodern can use the unique code “FREEFORUS” for a complimentary class.