The musings of an academic geek yogi
I have been teaching introductory yoga classes at Bakersfield Yoga Space for more than 8 years. During this time I have never had the opportunity to work with a room full of raw beginners who were completely unfamiliar with yoga. I never had that chance before, that was until I quit teaching in our established studio and brought yoga to low-income outlying areas of my community. At the end of 2017 I had the opportunity to collaborate with Bakersfield College Delano and Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics (IYT) to bring yoga to one rural central California community
My day job is as a Communication community college instructor in the center of California, between the Northern coastal bay and urban areas of Los Angeles. The college campus where I teach is nestled in a tiny agricultural city named Delano California. The city was an epicenter for the United Farm Workers (UFW) labor movement and remains an agricultural powerhouse. Two hot topic issues plaguing this community are immigration and poverty; more than thirty percent of people in Delano are living in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016).
This month, February 2018, I recently started offering free Iyengar yoga classes again but the launch of this effort began between September and December of 2017 in partnership with Bakersfield College Delano campus and the Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics program.
When I started teaching in Delano I was surprised by the turnout. The age range of the students varied from 18 to 40 and the gender was divided with men as 33% of the registered students. Student that attended the yoga sessions self-identified as Black, Filipino, Mexican, Arab and Indian. It was a strange experience because the demographics of this Delano yoga program stood in stark contrast to the predominately white female clientele that frequent yoga businesses in neighboring cities.
In my grant report to Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics (IYT) I recounted my observation that hardship impedes people’s ability to understand and address physical and emotional pain. More than one in five people living in Delano did not have health insurance in 2016, which is more than double the national average (Thomas, 2017; U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). Many of the people I have encountered while conducting outreach through presentations, tabling and social media perceived yoga as a hobby of luxury not mechanism to better understand their own bodies.
My Experience Teaching Yoga in Delano: A Beginner’s Mind
As teachers, we are trained to observe students limits for their own safety while reminding them that they must also listen to their own bodies. At the start of the program when I inquired about previous or existing injuries not a single student indicated a problem. Even so, as they began to practice I watched as they struggled to come up from the floor or hunched while standing in tadasana (mountain pose).
After my third session, a few students volunteered to help me move the props back to the storage building across the campus and began to share more about their lives. One student flippantly remarked that, “I don’t have any injuries, my back just hurts all the time because I have worked in a packing house moving boxes for so many years.” This 18-year- old man had embraced discomfort as a financial necessity and had found a way to dismiss what his body might be trying to reveal.
In this moment, Pantanjali’s description of yoga in sutra 1.12 took on a broader meaning for me. That quieting fluxuations of the mind does not just heal the body because we are capable of gaining intelligence all the way down to our pinky toe nail. But yoga helps quiet the mind so that those who need to can build a bridge back to an entire body that they may have chosen to disconnect from.
Leaving my Home Studio
Throughout my yoga journey I have needed the same thing I am aiming to help my student find; a bridge back to a part of themselves they may have lost. I have received messages and calls about my choice to leave my lucrative studio schedule and dedicated following. In addition to my day-job, as a full-time college professor, my soul has lead me on a strange detour into teaching yoga at local non-profits and rural communities that otherwise would never experience the BKS Iyengar yoga tradition.
To my dedicated and beloved students please know that I have not abandoned or forsaken you but feel that I must follow my passion. Please be assured that in the near future I will continue to offer privates, workshops and substitute at my origin studio. However, I beg of my students to please be patient as I take the time to more deeply explore this facet of my teaching and community.
Thomas, L. (2017, April 11). Health Insurance: The number of Americans without health insurance rose in first quarter, 2017. Retrieved from Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC): https://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/11/the-number-of-americans-without-health- insurance-rose-in-first-quarter-2017.html
U.S. Census Bureau. (2016, July 1). Quickfacts: Delano City California . Retrieved from U.S. Census: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/delanocitycalifornia/PST045216