a l e x m a z e r o l l e a n d j i a n p a b l i c o -
t h e d i s t r i k t m o v e m e n t
Where to start with these guys? Alex Mazerolle and Jian Pablico are pioneers in fusing fitness with community and youth engagement...and their Friday night classes are known for fresh flowers and growlers of beer from Deep Cove Brewery. We bet you already have workout FOMO. These guys have stayed true to their intentions since opening up the studio just over a year ago and since then, have a loyal tribe of Vancouverites who frequent the studio. You walk in and feel like they're you're best friends. Sometimes you're doing yoga to Justin Timberlake's Cry Me a River and sometimes you're crushing a workout to the latest Drake album. One thing's for sure with these guys - community is everything. And really, that's the ONLY thing that matters.
How are your days going so far?
Alex: I’ve been so stressed but I’m better now. We led a studio retreat two weekends ago, Crush Hush, so a movement, co-ed, fitness, yoga, and party retreat. Then last weekend I was leading another retreat with LadyVan and Lululemon. I’ve just been playing catch up!
Jian: It’s onlyyyy the beginning (laughs). Same thing, I’ve just been holding down the studio. There’s a lot of people coming through lately. I thought it’d be really slow because of the awesome weather but people have been waiting until night when it’s cooler and then coming out.
So what’s a typical day for you guys?
Jian: We kind of switch off. I’ll be here in the morning and teach a class and then have some time, and come back in the afternoon. But then the next day Alex will be the one opening. There’s lots of time in between too to go off and workout on our own...sometimes (laughs).
Alex: Exactly. and it’s more balanced now. We’re a year and a half old and the earliest class is at 6:30am. We’re up really early but then there’s opportunity in the afternoons. Like after this I’ll go and leave to swim at the beach because that’s really important to me and that’s how I keep my balance. Jian will go for a run or workout or go hang out with his family. We have way more of a balance than we did a year ago. We get home late at night too so it’s nice to have that chunk of time in the afternoon to take.
Jian: I think it’s come down a lot too to trusting people to take care of our baby. Now we have a staff and they’re really integrated into our community whereas before it was like "We have to be there at all times and be the face and say hi to everybody and know everyone’s name". But now we can understand and trust the team if we need to be doing other things.
You guys both had different projects that you were doing before Distrikt came into fruition. What did you learn from those that has helped make your current endeavor so successful?
Alex: I started Girlvana Yoga in 2012 and it’s an initiative for teen girls to practice yoga and meditation in a retreat and camp-like experience where they get the tools but also have an opportunity to get really raw and have real conversations with mentors who they trust. And Girlvana exists in many different ways - now it’s after school here at the studio and there are lots of high school contracts. A lot of my teachers are out during the year teaching the Girlvana method and our retreats happen twice a year. I would say that I’m so happy I have that experience and have my first incorporated company under my belt and have gone through those first hiccups of what it is to own your own business. What I have learned through that is how grateful I am to have a partner in this. There’s someone to bounce ideas off of and hold it down - it’s so well balanced with us at this studio and we work so well together. Jian will speak to this more than me, but working with youth has informed so much of the way we approach our adults and our classes. It’s about having fun and knowing people’s names and making everyone feel included because so much about youth is that inclusion.
"Working with youth has informed so much of the way we approach our adults and our classes. It’s about having fun and knowing people’s names and making everyone feel included because so much about youth is that inclusion." - Alex
Jian: My background is in community work and youth work more specifically. I used to (and still do) train a lot of the youth workers in Vancouver and I created Varsity, which is kind of similar to Girlvana but with a fitness focus. And we do retreats as well. So we met together on that and now a lot of the philosophy of The Distrikt is based on that community and youth work that we both do. When I’m doing those youth work training workshops the reveal is always people asking questions like, “how do you work with teenagers and how do you treat them? How do you talk? What do you say?”. I’m like, you just treat them normally and stay real to who you are and support who they are. It’s about being conscious of everything that’s going around - whether it’s joking around or a serious moment. I’ve taken that whole foundation and just brought it to adults. There really is no difference.
We’re all human. Tell me more about what you’ve done to make the community that’s at The Distrikt.
Jian: I think it first started off as a youth community and just growing that fitness group of youth in the North Van and Deep Cove community. Once we realized the benefits that they were getting and how connected they were and how much better they felt after the retreats, we came to the realization that this shouldn’t just be for young people or be restricted to the teens that we work with. This is an experience that everyone should benefit from and we’re very much a piece of the village that it takes to grow a healthy community.
Alex: I think we set out to always be people first because that’s just who we are. I came from teaching at a big box yoga studio where everyone was just a number and it was super transactional. I wanted it to feel more human. Just the jump to knowing people’s names and knowing about them- their story. Then they bring a friend and we meet them, and they bring a friend. I look around now a year and a half later and we know every single person who walks through that door. We know their kids’ names because maybe their kids come to Varsity. We know their husband because he’s started coming after six months of wondering ‘what are you doing?’. Before you know it couples have to alternate mornings or drop their kids off with each other in the parking lot so the other can make a yoga class. It’s at a point where it feels full cycle. Everyone in this community is welcome here and we do a lot to make sure they know that. As soon as the walls were up here and we had a bathroom, we threw a party. We also do a lot outside of the studio like outdoor events or little random things to make people feel really appreciated. It’s not just the hour that you spend here. What’s of more value to us is the before and the after. The by-product is that you’re fit, healthy, and present. But it’s always been about the people. It’s that feeling that you belong because at the end of the day that’s all we’re really looking for - to feel like we belong somewhere and that you’re seen.
"But it’s always been about the people. It’s that feeling that you belong because at the end of the day that’s all we’re really looking for - to feel like we belong somewhere and that you’re seen." - Alex
You guys are also pretty active in contributing to the health and wellness community at large in Vancouver - can you paint that picture for me and talk about how you contribute to it?
Alex: For example, when The Juice Truck pulled up and opened on the street one block away from me, it was SO good. I was instantly friends with Zach and Ryan. And I knew Keighty Gallagher before she even started Tight Club and before I started Girlvana. I knew Christine before she started Culver City Salads - there was a really organic movement that started going on and we called ourselves the dream team. We’d go for breakfast at Whole Foods and talk about our businesses and our ideas. As I met Jian, I pulled him in and it turns out that he had coached Zach in high school basketball!
Jian: So random!
Alex: There were just all these connections. When you look at the wellness community and all of us who are at the forefront of it, it’s not like those connections grew because we liked each other’s businesses and wanted to partner. We just liked the people. It was like, “I love you and we’re friends and how do we elevate together”. We’ve all been really deliberate with our partnerships but it comes out of love because we lean in on each other when it comes to next steps or asking “Hey, how do you go about this?" or "What do you do when this happens?”. For us, it’s more of a support system than anything.
Jian: We have our Distrikt community, but we’re also part of this bigger tribe of people that all support each other. If we do a retreat, The Juice Truck guys are there and they’re promoting us, not even in a marketing way. They just genuinely want to be a part of this community and likewise, we make time to go over there and do events with them. We didn’t plan any of this to be a marketing strategy. We just want to rise up together because especially for us, there are so many big gyms around and what makes us different are the people that come here. Those other places are way cheaper, have a lot more equipment, and are probably easier to get to. They give you fresh towels as soon as you finish a workout, but we give you the community.
What are the keystones to creating a movement?
Alex: Practicing what you preach. I think that nothing works unless you’re right with yourself. If I’m going to teach yoga and be in the yoga community, I better be practicing yoga and meditation and have a spiritual teacher and have my shit together. Jian is the same way, if he’s going to be innovative with his workouts, he just works out like a fiend and is like, a ninja. It’s so important for people to believe in you and in order to be sure your work is authentic you have to be it. So when it comes to creating community, people will just relate to that. We know right away when someone walks in the door if they want to be here or not. We don’t have a huge ‘drop in, try it, never come back’ trend. You come, and then you never leave. It’s not a transaction, it’s like, you’re in. You belong. When it comes to creating ‘tribe’, it’s all about real sees real. When we talk about our bigger community (the boys, Keighty, and Christine), that was just us all poking our heads up at the same time and being like "Yes, I like what you’re doing".
Jian: I think a lot of people are into the studio because they know it’s a collective and authentic experience. We don’t have a lot of classes and they’re never the same. If you come to class, it will never happen like that again. We’ll never do the same check-in, it won’t be the same people, the songs don’t get put on repeat. Each class is it’s own experience so it’s not like you show up the next time and we’re say ‘ok, let’s just do it again!’.
"They give you fresh towels as soon as you finish a workout, but we give you the community." - Jian
Alex: We were really clear that we wanted to create experiences and that’s why we post all of our class pictures. It’s so that if you weren’t there, you look at the pictures and say “Ahh, so-and-so was there?”.
Alex: Exactly. you feel like you missed something. In every class you say your name and then you’re asked a question and that’s always different too. That’s how we’ve all gotten to know each other. We’ll ask anything from your favorite movie to the highlight of your weekend to your favorite gradeschool teacher. You’re telling little anecdotes about you’re life but you also just feel like you matter, that your voice is being heard, and that people are listening to you. That’s why we’ve chosen not to have another studio or expand because you can’t duplicate that. We never want to be in a place where we’re splitting ourselves up. We’re here because the high schools are so close to here and we want kids to be able to walk here if they want and share those experiences too.
Jian: Some of them even help run the studio and the front desk. Once they’ve graduated even, they still want to be a part of this place and whether or not they need financial support for class, we trust them. And they feel comfortable working out with adults in other classes. They’re so confident to crush a workout because they know Alex and I and they’ve taken so much class with us. Sometimes they’ll even take over the room and everyone else just thinks its cool. There’s not a mentality of classifying them as teenagers
Alex: There’s no age here. I feel like everyone feels like they’re fifteen.
Jian: Here especially they should feel so comfortable because we’re playing the music that we love, which also happens to be what they love. They almost move the studio forward.
Alex: It’s that youth mentality. The fact that teenagers proudly wear our hoodies to high school - that’s a big deal for us. Seeing a 16-year old boy walk down the street with it, or being tagged in our photos, shows that they want to be a part of it. For them to rock it and be proud of where they come and show up is huge. Kids could choose so many other things to do but instead they’re choosing to get healthy and that’s the biggest thing for us.
Jian: That’s always how we’ve looked at our philosophy. We look at how we can get people here that wouldn’t normally do this. That’s hard. You can get yogis to go to a new yoga studio because they already do yoga. But what about a teenage boy? To see him walk through the door and think it was cool is awesome. And similarly, to see lifelong passionate yogis crush a workout better than anyone - that’s something that maybe they’ve never felt before and they can still be true to themselves but also expand what they know they’re capable of.
Alex: We’ve built this place to be one that you’d come to as a twenty-something woman to take a class and then be like “My boyfriend would actually want to come here.” And then the boyfriend wants to bring his bros, you know what I mean? Even for something like CrushHush where Jian teaches half the class and I teach half the class, you get a workout and your yoga in. On Friday nights we go to the brewery and fill our growlers and drink beer while we do yoga and then hang out - it’s like block party vibes. You know that every Friday, you have something to show up to and you know that even if you’re new when you walk in the door, you’ll be part of the conversation.
Other than Crush Hush then, what’s your favorite class to take?
Alex: Ugly Sweaters. I love taking Jian’s class and before I met him, I was just a yogi that liked to hike (laughs). I come from a professional dance background but I kind of lost that part of it and I never knew that I could crush a workout like that or have that much power. It’s a great balance for me.
Jian: 6:30am, Thursday morning, Alex’s yoga class is usually my time. I normally say I don’t do yoga but that’s my time to just be quiet and just let my body recover. I also like working out with the teenagers. They’re so fun and I feed off their energy. Sometimes when 4:30pm rolls around and there’s a youth class but I’ve been teaching all day it’s just like... (long deep sigh). But after their workout I feel like I’m on top of the world because they have so much energy and they’re just dancing through the whole workout, giving it their all.
Do you guys have any rituals that are non-negotiable?
Alex: For me it’s nature. 100%. We’re so lucky to be in North Van because in any direction you have the ocean, the river, Quarry Rock, and so many incredible hikes. I grew up in North Vancouver and had kind of lost touch with that part of myself but our lives are really busy and we give so much in one way so for me it’s about being quiet and finding a time to be in nature every single day. And I sleep a lot - naps are non-negotiable (laughs). I’m kind of the opposite of Jian.
Jian: I’m the opposite. I normally get up before six and need to workout right away or else I feel super tired. Nature is all around and it’s definitely the backdrop but the most important thing is making sure that I see my family for at least an hour a day - seeing my son and playing with him. He slows me down, but it’s on purpose. You can’t be thinking about anything else. It’s definitely a moment to just get lost and we all need those. Those are the rituals that most of the time won’t get touched by anything else.
Who do you look up to?
Alex: I look up to my spiritual teacher who is in her 70s. We sit in her home once a month. She has so much integrity and is a woman who has devoted her life to being as present and open and self-understood as possible, more than anyone I’ve ever met. She’s a huge role model for me. And this might be backwards but I look up to our youth. On a daily basis they teach me so much. Paloma, who works at our front desk, just has things come out of her mouth that are so wise and she takes really good care of herself and knows when to slow down. She works really hard and I’m really inspired by her. I think it’s really important to see different generations and have this woman who is older than me and paving the way, but also looking at who is coming up behind me.
Jian: For me, it’s the youth that keeps my energy alive and young. I’m really inspired by small, mom-and-pop business owners who keep grinding. I’m inspired by music, it's always been the foundation of who I am. Obviously, I’m inspired to be a good dad too by the women who have surrounded me. A lot of women have shaped the man that I’ve become - my mother, my little sister. And Anita Roberts who is a huge feminist in the Vancouver landscape, has informed how I speak about how I want the world to be.
"So whether it’s a quote, or a post, or a song, or a party, we stay true to who we are." - Alex
What is your mantra?
Alex: Stay true. It’s written in the studio. We went through the first year and kept getting asked when we were going to expand or partner and we just looked at what we had created and the hype around it and at the time the most important thing was to stay true to why we’re doing what we’re doing. Staying true to the roots of who we are, to our youth. We always joke ‘lose followers’ on Instagram because we’re not trying to please anyone else, we’re posting things because we want to post them. So whether it’s a quote, or a post, or a song, or a party, we stay true to who we are.
Jian: Or some people will ask what gives us the right to chime in on social issues because we’re ‘just a yoga and fitness studio’ but that’s who we are. That’s my line of work and that’s who we want to be in this community and that’s our passion. It’s staying true to who we are and not changing for anybody whether it’s on social media or even the way we run our classes, we’re going to play the kind of music we like and do the workouts that we like. The wording, the copy of our website, is exactly how we speak and you can hear it right away. When people walk in the door they’re like ‘oh yeah, you wrote that copy’.
Alex: When people come into the studio they ask who designed the space or who did your branding and Instagram and we’re like “WHAT? You’re looking at it”. It’s us through and through. It’s on our t-shirts, it’s everywhere you can see it. We’re standing for people being as real and as true as possible in their lives.
Jian: And we vow to never forget who was there in the beginning too, which was the young people. They were the ones who gave us the confidence to say “We can get paid doing this with adults and with the whole community”. There’s lots of timeslots during the day, 3:30pm-6pm, that could potentially be really good time slots for adults to come workout or do yoga but we’ve always just said no, we’re keeping those times for youth.
Alex: We have those moments all the time when we’re like “Remember when this was just a warehouse and we had no idea what we were doing”. It’s not like we’re coming from business degrees and tons of investment - just heart. This whole space is just pure heart. It was the most intentional thing that came about in the most organic way. Our paths crossing to eventually work together was so serendipitous and I think that if you’re coming from a really pure place, the support just shows up and the right people show up. That’s why we’ve never put this in people’s faces, we just started an Instagram account and made a schedule and the rest is history. And we stayed true and that’s really been our recipe.