“I hope this class is better than the last one, “ sighed a older man in a heavy blue zip up hoodie and jeans as he stepped into our practice space this evening. Another man of around same age, came in and slid himself down the wall looking in our general direction. “I might try for like 5 minutes, “ he said.
In a small corner within a local church, I moved couches and lights to create a space for our class. This yoga class was my offering to clients who were part of an up to 90 day placement for them as they sought to secure housing and employment. Technically, they were homeless.
Each week, for the past couple of months, I have followed the clients as they moved from one location to the next each week. While they had a place to stay at night and a hot meal, they have to leave each day by 8 am and be actively engaged in looking for housing and or employment.
When I started my yoga teacher training, I had two objectives. One was to deepen my own practice and two, inspired by a yoga teacher/friend/mentor of mine to take the lessons I had learned on the mat about learning how to breath, to be authentic, and serve off the mat and work with those who didn’t have readily available access to yoga.
In today’s yoga modern culture, it is very easy to get priced out of being able to practice at a studio. Sure you might get the first class free, and then they might offer you a intro class pass deal, but soon after that, it can cost north of $10 per class in order to practice. There might even be a free community class here and there, but nothing consistent. I understand that model, but I also believe that sometimes you have to meet people where they are at by stepping out into the community. Sometimes that means that your practice space isn’t a warmly, candlelit room, with the gentle sounds of a relaxation playlist in the background. Instead, it’s a cold floor in hallway, nursery, or a wherever they can simply find space.
“Would you like some help moving stuff around? “ asked the man who had slowly moved from sitting to standing.
“I am good, “ I say, “but you are going to want to take off your shoes at least before we start to practice.”
When I approached a local county homeless agency, I said that I would like to offer a yoga class and a mindfulness talk for clients and would be willing to travel around and provide mats for them. They were interested, but inquired about what would be the cost. Cost? Nothing, I said, I wanted to do this for free. My own practice and teaching my high school students had shown me the power of being able to step onto a mat. To consciously practice breathing and move in a manner that allowed me to lean into my discomfort and learn to relax. Those lessons learned on the mat, where the very ones that paid even bigger dividends when meeting real life head on off the mat. I guess the agency had a person reach out before and would do one class for free and then wanted to get paid for anything after that. Nope, I said, part of my service mindset would be that if I was offering it up for free, then that’s what it would be.
With the furniture moved around, I laid out mats that butted up against a wall, and instructed the two men and two women that eventually meandered in to start with their legs up the wall.
‘How long is the class? Is it going to be hard?” asked the man in the blue hoodie, grunting as he swung his legs up, bending them generously.
“ Probably about 30 minutes, “ I said glancing at my watch noticing that it was
nearly 8:15 pm already, well past the proposed 8 pm start. These classes never start on time. “And, my goal is to make it so that you relax and have a good night’s sleep.’ I continued. That has been the feedback from those that have showed up to practice. They have had some of their best nights of sleep after taking a class.
“Well, just so you know, it was taco night, “ chimed in the man who had said he was only going to stay for 5 minutes.
Slowly, I take them through some simple breathing exercises and guided poses that have them using the wall as support. Grunts and cracks rise from the group as muscles unwind and tension from where they are going to spend their day tomorrow, or are they going to get that loan to secure housing, slowly if even only for a few moments melts away.
It’s not an intense practice, but the ragged breaths that arise from the group cues me in that they are working hard. A cue, that it’s time, and by looking at my watch that it is time to wind the practice down.
Savasana. Final resting pose. With their legs stretched out in front of them to the wide corners of the mat, arms at their side, palms facing up, a few collective inhales and exhales through the mouth helps brings them to chance to rest for a few minutes. A few minutes with their eyes closed, and nothing to think about if they have followed the mindfulness cues I have given them then the rising and falling of their breath.
Our practice concludes with a Namaste, and the movement of furniture back to what the room originally looked like.
“Well, I said I was only going to stay for five minutes, but I guess that was pretty okay, “ said the one man as he yawned deeply rolling up his mat and putting his shoes on.
“Better than my first class, I will tell you that, “ said the man in the blue hoodie as he reached out to shake my hand with his right hand and began rooting around in his left pocket. “Well, thanks again. Off to work on my breathing technique,“ he said as he emerged with a cigarette and started to walk toward the exit door.