Bilingual yoga meets Latinos
Within the past few years, several yoga studios in the Mission District have begun offering classes en español in an effort to make yoga—the science of being in unity with daily living—more accessible to Latinos. However, low participation prompted some studios to discontinue those classes.
Among the possible reasons for the low participation rate include Latinos’ lack of time, limited disposable income and cultural preferences.
“Building a healthy community one class at a time,” is the motto at Mission Yoga. Steve and Juicy Sanchez, the yogi couple who own of Mission
Yoga, have introduced Spanish instruction at both of their studios: Bikram Yoga and The Sun Room, during the last three years.
“Being in the heart of the Mission, we wanted to make yoga accessible to people who live here,” said Steve Sanchez, a second-generation Mexican-American metal sculptor.
Mireia Negre, instructor at The Sun Room, trained to be a yoga teacher at Laughing Lotus Center on 16th Street. She recognizes that “culture is a barrier to yoga practice for Latinos,” as they often have multiple jobs and send money back home to help their families. “We do not have time to take care of ourselves,” Negre said.
Ubaldo Sanabria, a 29-year-old Mexican living in Lower Haight, began practicing yoga two months ago at the Sun Room with his twin sister, Goretti. He came to yoga to lose weight and find inner peace.
“I feel so comfortable because this class is bilingual,” Ubaldo said. “I hope that more Latinos like me come and try yoga, so that they can have their own judgment of how yoga makes a big difference in your life and also to those who are around you.”
While language and affordability may affect Latinos’ inclination to embrace yoga, it is the stylistic differences between Latin dancing and yogic gestures that Negre references as to why it is more typical for Latinos to pack Zumba classes than yoga.
Dancing and yoga are not necessarily mutually exclusive practices, as native San Franciscan Juanita Adams demonstrates by participating in both yoga and dance classes at the 30th Street Senior Center. In a full house of primarily Latino seniors, a smiling Adams said, “I enjoy speaking Spanish. I’m going to my [El Salvadoran] roots.”
Bikram Yoga instructor Oscar Alvarez informs new students that yoga is “not competitive,” unlike other forms of physical exercise. Thus, the style of yoga he teaches emphasizes keeping a “beginner’s mind,” and an openness to learning new things.
A former Mexican athlete, Alvarez began practicing yoga eight years ago, after doctors could not diagnose his chronic pain. Changing lifestyles and incorporating the series of 26 body-stretching postures and breathing exercises in a heated room have helped him become, according to Alvarez, “totally 99 percent better.”
Alvarez shares his personal stories with Latino students also suffering debilitating yet manageable health issues, such as obesity, knee and back pain, diabetes and heart-related illnesses.
Alvarez has also observed that once students have mastered the 26 postures, many take the English-instruction classes, improving their skill in both English and yoga alike.
Negre also highlights that under proper guidance pregnant women can join the practice, since mastering the breath and opening the hips facilitates healthier and easier deliveries.
Mission Yoga has started planning for children’s yoga classes, recognizing the physical, mental and academic benefits of yoga for children. Despite children having shorter attention spans, yoga “utilizes their energy to make them less hyper, more calm, better prepared for school because they gain more concentration and can focus on assignments,” explained Negre.
Fernando Ashoka, who teaches at the Integral Yoga Institute on Dolores Street, recounts how he worked as a volunteer for the Juvenile Justice System of California through Comunidad San Dimas, serving Spanish-speaking teens.
“I think that people in the U.S. who do not understand English would have a language limitation to practice yoga that is taught in English,” he said. “This should not be a reason not to practice, because yoga benefits everyone.”
Mission Yoga (www.missionyoga.com) offers sliding scale, donation-based yoga classes “en español”: Mireia Negre (www.yogimani.com) at The Sun Room on Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Wednesdays at 2:30 p.m.; and Fridays at 6p.m. with live music; and Oscar Alvarez at Bikram Yoga on Saturdays 4:30 p.m. For Fernando Ashoka’s “Stress Management Yoga” classes contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.