Social yoga and Bender: I dare you to bring on the diversity


February 19, 2016

Dear abuelita,


Have you ever heard of yoga socials?

La neta me neither.

Today, we have a speaker named Justin Henderson, owner of Bender.

According to Bender’s Events website, Bender is “an urban playground for body and soul that blends yoga, dance, fresh music, art, and culture”. Bender was founded in Chicago and has now expanded into LA.

I know what you are thinking about these yoga socials abuelita.

You might be thinking it’s a whole bunch of people coming together to do yoga and then they go out to have some drinks, a coffee or go clubbing.

Well, it’s kind of like that.

Justin Henderson says that yoga socials are, “An event where you go do yoga and afterwards it is some type of social hangout”.

Justin started Bender to try to attract the music community. The problem was that his events did not attract the music community as he hoped for. Because of that, he doesn’t focus on the music as much. He’s more focused on serving the communities that are attracted by his yoga socials, not necessarily a specific group.

So, how do yoga socials try to attract the diversity of different communities abuelita?

Well, they use two dimensions of value:

  • Variety
  • Accessibility

How do yoga socials use the first dimension, variety?

Easy, they offer a lot of different social events.

Don’t like to dance?

No worries, you can go have a drink after yoga class instead.

Don’t like to drink?

No worries, you can go eat a delicious cuisine after yoga class instead.

There’s many options for many different people.


One of these unique options is the Bender LA preview session: Yoga x Creative Culture.

Mary Beth LaRue leads a “playful and energizing vinyasa yoga class” at the Bergamot Station Arts Complex. During this vinyasa yoga class, Justin Henderson serves as DJ and he will also project photos of the street art and creativity happening in LA.

This is not just any yoga class abuelita. This is a yoga class that will help you gain an appreciation for the art in your city. People really learn to admire the street art that is around them.

There’s a lot of power in that, don’t you think abuelita?

We’re starting to see that same power in the Latino community in Pilsen, which arose similarly as a Bender social.

An article on about Pilsen, Little Village, and the near West Side called “Free Yoga Class Sunday at Thalia Hall” talks about the Pilsen Yoga Tribe.

The Pilsen Yoga Tribe offers a free yoga class that practices pranayama, asana and meditation in the neighborhood Sundays at Thalia Hall. The class is open to the community.

The Pilsen Yoga Tribe  is really a tight knit community united for Pilsen.

There is a beautiful combination of accessibility and diversity in their yoga because it’s free and it serves their community.

It seems like a great option, except one thing abuelita

It’s not in Spanish.

According to the Yoga Journal in the Huffpost Healthy Living, Latinos are the second largest ethnic group in the United States, making up 17.1 percent of the total population in 2013.  Now that we are in 2016, that percentage has increased.

What does that mean for the next big trend in the yoga world?

Spanish yoga classes.

Rina Jakubowicz, who is Cuban and Argentinean, was born in Venezuela, and immigrated to Miami at age 4, teaches a Spanish-language Vive Vinyasa Yoga class at one of her three Rina Yoga studios in Miami. She says that offering classes in Spanish is the first step in attracting more Latinos to the mat.

“[Yoga] hasn’t been presented to Latinos. They might feel like it is not accessible to them — there haven’t been a lot of Spanish yoga classes,” says Jakubowicz, “If you make it available, people will start doing it.”

Most of the population in Pilsen speaks Spanish. We need to make yoga available for all of those people by offering similar Spanish yoga classes.

Lauren Imparato, a NYC-based yoga teacher, led Spain’s first-ever public outdoor yoga class (in Spanish) in Barcelona in 2012. It sold out with 2,000 participants. Since then, she has led Spanish-language yoga classes for thousands in Panama, Ibiza, Madrid, Mexico, and Colombia. “There’s no need for language to be a barrier [to yoga],” Imparato says.

And that’s true abuelita

There’s no need for language to be a barrier in yoga, yet so many people are not offering Spanish classes.

Yoga socials use the two dimensions of variety and accessibility to attract diversity, but yet many of them don’t offer Spanish yoga classes as an option either.

One of the bigger criticisms that yoga socials get is that they are not “real yoga”.

The traditional practice is devalued by the big yoga social events that incorporate music and fancy venues. People are frustrated about the commercialization of yoga, using it as a profit-making opportunity instead of teaching its spirit. According to the critics, yoga socials do not respect the traditional.

The problem I see with that criticism abuelita is that the traditional practice of yoga actually devalues and sometimes oppresses diversity. It fails to accommodate the diversity that exists in yoga.

For instance, one way we can accommodate for diversity is by making specific yoga groups.

An LGBTQ yoga group is one of them.

In the video “Yoga & Diversity: Gender & Sexual Identity” uploaded by Decolonizing Yoga,

Heather Douglas, a yoga teacher in Toronto, says that overall, yoga studios are not welcoming for the LGBTQ community. People need a space where they can be themselves and do yoga, but they don’t have that.

Jacob Ballard, a yoga teacher in Brooklyn, said he came to practice yoga like anyone else seeking healing, but yet in that same place is where he experienced the greatest harm.

In the yoga studios he used to go to, people would tell him occasionally that he’s not in the right place.


That’s not accommodating. That’s oppressing abuelita.


So, why not have yoga specific classes for the LGBTQ community? Why not have classes for Spanish-speakers?

With this specificity in yoga classes, some people might think it is an exclusionary practice. In their mind, these kind of classes purposely exclude heterosexuals and non-Spanish speakers.

In an article titled, “When People of Color Say They Want Their Own Yoga, White People Should Listen”, Krista Lee Hanson, a yoga instructor in Seattle, writes about an incident where that’s exactly what happened.

A local radio personality in Seattle, Dori Monson, found out about a yoga class for People of Color and decided to attack the studio owner at Rainer Beach Yoga for exclusion of white people.

Monson said, “the fact is, this yoga class is every bit as racist as a bunch of white people who say they don’t want to be around somebody of color.”

Is Monson seriously complaining that a yoga class for people of color is racist, when the image of yoga is white people abuelita?

White people are welcome in thousands of yoga studios nationwide.

Krista Lee Hanson even says that if you do a google search, you’ll find that yoga images are 99% white people.

She says that, “I have often been concerned about the dominance of white people in yoga spaces, not the other way around.”

That’s my exact concern. That’s why we need diverse yoga classes.

Despite this fact, a lot of people in Seattle actually supported Monson.

The owner of the yoga studio got threatening phone calls.   Anyone who voiced support for the POC yoga class online was immediately attacked. The calls and threats to the studio escalated to the point that the studio owner felt forced to temporarily close the studio and cancel the class to ensure everyone’s physical safety.


Yeah abuelita, can you imagine?

All of those attacks…

For what?

For trying to incorporate people of color from a diverse area in Seattle into yoga?


If we do that in Chicago, do you think we will get a similar response abuelita?

Maybe we will, maybe we won’t.

But we won’t know until we try.

So, bring on the diverse specific yoga classes, Chicago.

Bring on the yoga classes for People of Color.

Bring on the diversity.




Mexicas Tiahui (Ahead Mexicas),




Works Cited


Bender. “Events.” VIBEUP The Mindful Community. Squarespace, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Creovisio. “VIBEUP | The Mindful Community.” VIBEUP | The Mindful Community. N.p., 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Hanson, Krista Lee. “When People of Color Say They Want Their Own Yoga, White People Should Listen.” Decolonizing Yoga. N.p., 21 Oct. 2015. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

Lulay, Stephanie. “Free Yoga Class Sunday at Thalia Hall.” DNAinfo Chicago. N.p., 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Moses, Jamie. “Did Weirdos Take Over America.” Artvoice RSS. N.p., 26 Feb. 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

“Yoga & Diversity: Gender & Sexual Identity.” Decolonizing Yoga. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

Yoga Journal. “The Future of Yoga Is In…Spanish.” Huffpost Healthy Living. N.p., 31 Aug. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2016.



Jane and Ganesha: body positive yoga and diversity & spirituality beyond

February 12, 2016

Dear abuelita,


I’ve been thinking a lot about different kinds of yoga classes that can incorporate diversity…

Spanish yoga.

Free yoga.

Yoga focused on the exercise.

Yoga focused on the spiritual.

But, have you ever though about body positive yoga abuelita?

Today, we had a speaker named Jane that has a studio in the neighborhood of North Center that focuses on that kind of yoga: Ganesha Yoga and Adventures and Fitness.

Yeah, according to City Data, the neighborhood is about 75% Caucasian.

But that doesn’t matter.

What matters is the HUGE impact Ganesha makes in its students…

“I meet students who are really old, I meet younger students, students with Multiple Sclerosis”.

Body positive yoga is building a class where everyone, regardless of body size, can feel successful and challenged.

It is important because it is accessible to all of those communities.

Jane and Ganesha want teachers that bring down the barriers and make every single student feel welcome.

According to the comments of some of Ganesha’s students on their website, these barriers are breaking down…

”Here is a short list of things I LOVE about Ganesha: Newbie friendly ..No judgement ..They sell plus size yoga clothes ..Small classes ..Honest, real, compassionate teachers ..THEY CARE ABOUT U I can’t recommend Ganesha enough.”

Jane believes that Ganesha needs to be the community that supports you. And Ganesha definitely is supporting this student.

But how do they do this abuelita?

For starters, they do something that not many yoga classes do: introduce students to each other. Out of the few yoga classes that I’ve attended, not one of them has emphasized creating a relationship with other fellow yoga students. That’s pretty cool, don’t you think abuelita?

Another thing that Ganesha does to build a community is offer yoga specific classes, including Ganesha Plus for bigger body types and Stiff Guy Yoga for men.

These yoga classes are very specific.

So, how specific should yoga go?

Jane thinks that yoga needs to “bring on the specificity” because some people need that to walk into class.

I think Jane is right abuelita. Community, specificity, and diversity seem to go hand in hand.

And maybe Chicago also needs to bring on the specificity in order for more diversity to walk into a yoga class.

So, what kind of culture specific classes does Chicago have?

An interesting yoga class offered is in the Japanese Cultural Center, which is an environment where people experience Japan’s cultural and marital arts. According to the center’s website, yoga is “the union of the mind, body, and spirit into one functioning entity”.

Cool enough, the Japanese Cultural Center offers a Yoga Program that emphasizes the importance of community development. The center believes that by practicing yoga together, members will develop a sense of community and transfer the skills and benefits of yoga to the greater Japanese community.

Similarly, the Quilombo Cultural Center aims to provide diverse art forms that can be shared and practiced with the aims of transforming Quilombo communities.

I have never heard about Quilombo communities.  Where do quilombos come from abuelita?

An article called “Quilombo: Brazilian Maroons during slavery” explains that a quilombo is a Brazilian settlement founded by people of African origin. Most of the inhabitants of quilombos were escaped slaves. Quilombos are identified as one of three basic forms of active resistance by slaves.

Wow, how powerful and beautiful are the Quilombo communities abuelita?

It is amazing that Chicago houses cultural center for such a specific culture.

It is even more amazing that the Quilombo Cultural Center offers Iyengar Yoga classes.

As noted in the Quilombo Cultural center website, the yoga teacher who teaches there is Patrina Dobish, a Certified Intermediate Junior 2 Iyengar Yoga Instructor. She teaches several 8 week courses at Quilombo Cultural Center- all levels welcome.

And that’s not all abuelita, there’s more…

Another cultural center that offers yoga classes is the South Shore Cultural Center.

The South Shore community is a family oriented neighborhood located just southeast of the University of Chicago. The community takes pride in its rich tradition of support for the arts.

Why does the South Shore community see yoga as an art and as a way to develop community?

Why would they even offer yoga?

In the center’s website, yoga teacher Jamila Onyeali offers yoga classes with aims to “increase the awareness of mind, body, spirit”.

Many of the yoga teachers that the cultural centers in Chicago offer seem to believe that yoga is important because it connects the mind, body, and spirit.

Even BKS Iyengar said that without mind and body, the “full benefits and fruition” of yoga cannot be enjoyed.

Why might it be necessary for a culture to experience both the mind and the body, and why precisely might they need spirituality in their practice?

Is the the spiritual aspect important in incorporating more diversity in yoga?

Jane thinks that it is “really helpful”, but people don’t have to embrace it…

“If someone wants to go down that path as a student, it can very very much affect their self-esteem and awareness”.

Spirituality helps the student gain a “greater understanding beyond asana”.

It is a mind-body connection that can be “so powerful”.

Jane and Ganesha work together to help students get a “greater understanding beyond asana”.

Jane offers meditation in her studio, but getting the mind-body connection goes beyond that.

She suggests a yoga practice with emphasis on the Yamas and Niyamas: ten ethical precepts that allow us to be at peace with ourselves, our family, and our community.

Deborah Adele, author of The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, says that the Yamas and Niyamas are “like a detailed map, telling you where you are and how to look for the next landmark”.

In her book, each Yama and Niyama has been given its own chapter in which the philosophy of the guideline is woven with practical examples and stories.


The Yamas include:

Ahimsa ~ Nonviolence

Satya ~ Truthfulness

Asteya ~ Nonstealing

Brahmacharya ~ Nonexcess

Aparigraha ~ Nonpossessiveness


In the book 21st Century Yoga, Nathan J. Thompson, author of the chapter “Bifurcated Spiritualities: Mind/Body Splits in the North American Yoga and Zen Communities”, breaks down Aparigraha ~ Nonpossessiveness: the achievement and competition that “drives our society”. It is realizing that yoga isn’t about getting the perfect poses, but about something much deeper than that.


The Niyamas include:

Saucha ~ Purity

Santosha ~ Contentment

Tapas ~ Self-discipline

Svadhyaya ~ Self-study

Ishvara Pranidhana ~ Surrender


Nathan J. Thompson also writes about the power in Ishvara Pranidhana ~ Surrender. This Niyama can apply to any class, where students come in and surrender their negative thoughts.

They surrender their egos.

They surrender negative vibes.

They might surrender to God.
Doesn’t that sound beautiful abuelita?

We should do it, together.

Juntas abuelita.

A new way of living.


Mexicas Tiahui (Ahead Mexicas),






Works Cited

Adele, Deborah. “The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice.” The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice. On-Word Bound Books LLC, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

Chicago Park District. “South Shore Cultural Center.” Programs. Chicago Park District, 2014. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.

Cultural Survival, Inc. “Quilombo: Brazilian Maroons during Slavery.” Cultural Survival. N.p., 28 Apr. 2010. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

Ganesha Yoga and Adventures in Fitness. “Why Ganesha?” Ganesha Yoga. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.

Horton, Carol A., and Roseanne Harvey. 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice. Chicago: Kleio, 2012. Print.

Japanese Cultural Center. “Yoga.” Japanese Culture Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

Urban Planning. “North Center Neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois (IL), 60613, 60618 Detailed Profile.” City Data. N.p., 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

Quilombo Cultural Center. “QUILOMBO – FICA – Back to Quilombo Center Homepage.” QUILOMBO – FICA – Back to Quilombo Center Homepage. Warp Theme Framework, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

Corepower: a clash between culture and spirituality

February 5, 2016

Dear abuelita,

The weather is beautiful this morning.

I woke up and I saw the small red solar-powered sunflower you gave me dancing.

Little did I know that I was going to do some of that dancing in yoga class later.


In order to get to Corepower, we had to take the redline train and the Jackson Park Express bus (number 6) to Hyde Park.

I’d tell you what kind of people I saw during the ride, but I don’t think that has to do with diversity.

It’s not about the people you see in the bus.

But about the people the yoga studio serves, the kind of people the yoga studio attracts.

That’s what’s important.

So, let’s take a look at Hyde Park:

According to City Data, the majority of the population in Hyde Park is 35% black alone, 35% white alone, and 15% Asian alone.

Steve Bogira, a senior writer for the Chicago Reader, who writes mostly about race and poverty, states that Hyde Park has been stably racially integrated for a long time. It was 3 percent black in 1950; that grew to 38 percent in 1960, and it’s remained between 30 and 40 percent black ever since.

This explains why we had the opportunity to meet three black yoga teachers at Corepower.

I was so happy to see so many people of color as teachers in the yoga community of Hyde Park abuelita.

However, would the simple fact of integrating a culture such as African Americans make yoga practices diverse?

Andrew Kinaci, an author from The Global Grid, which publishes local environmental design news and perspectives, brings up an interesting point on gentrification north of Hyde Park in the neighborhood of Bronzeville. Bronzeville is developing with non-white gentrification as middle-class blacks return to the neighborhood.

The middle-class blacks coming into Bronzeville are African American.

They can go to a yoga class in Corepower Hyde Park and that makes the class diverse.

Well, I don’t think so abuelita.

We have to consider people of all economic, social, cultural and self-identifying backgrounds.

The people moving into Bronzeville are middle-class. It is very likely that they can afford to attend a yoga class in Hyde Park. But we can’t ignore the African Americans who cannot afford to go to a class. They are a huge part of what can make yoga in Corepower Hyde Park diverse.

Alana Lo, who did a master’s degree studying Sanskrit, and teaches the philosophy of yoga and Sanskrit, says that accessibility has been one of the biggest challenges of yoga:

“The economic model that has evolved around yoga in North America [is deeply troubling] because I do think that it makes [it] inaccessible to people.”

And he’s speaking the truth. La verdad pura abuelita. No matter how much you know or want to practice yoga, if you cannot afford a class, how can you become a part of the yoga community?

This same idea was emphasized by one of the teachers at Corepower…

He explained how yoga should be free.

He dreams of a world where yoga does not include money as a requirement to practice.

Because the practice was a gift from a “supreme being” and humanity has no right to put a price tag on it.

But then you have the religion. Daniel Alonso, who considers himself a white settler in a colonial country, also called yoga “a gift” abuelita.

Is it the spirituality in yoga that makes it “a gift”? Without it, what would yoga be? An exercise?

In Mathew Remski’s chapter “Modern Yoga Will Not Form a Real Culture Until Every Studio Can Also Double As a Soup Kitchen, and other Observations from the Threshold Between Yoga and Activism” in the book 21st Century Yoga, he says, “I don’t need yoga to be a religion. I need it to provide community.”

How can we make this community that Mathew Remski is talking about when there are  critical problems of accessibility in yoga and the difficult integration of people from different backgrounds? How can we do this in a city like Chicago, a city with rich cultures but yet also a city that divides people of different backgrounds into different neighborhoods? You see that in Pilsen, a Mexican-American neighborhood, then in Austin, an African-American neighborhood. Both neighborhoods house people considered low-income. Marshawn is trying to make the different in Austin, but how can we tackle this issue in Chicago and nationwide?

In order to do this, Mathew Remski suggests that we move towards intersubjectivity: “In intersubjectivity, our lives are not ours alone, our experiences and resources are utterly shared, and social, political, and ecological conditions are our roots concerns”.

With intersubjectivity, we can create a truly strong diverse yoga community.

I hope we can get here abuelita. I really do…



No phones permitted in the studio, so I can’t show you what we did in there.

But I’ll describe it to you as best as I can abuelita

We were in a large hot room, 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Huge windows all around the room. We could see the sky, the train tracks, and some of the buildings around Hyde Park.

No religious images on the wall.

No deities.

It doesn’t seem like Corepower is associated with any religion or spirituality.

It reminds me of exercising. That idea is expressed even in Yogapower’s mission statement: “a fitness experience unlike any other”.

Not a typical traditional yoga class, which isn’t necessarily bad.

It’s just a different way of practicing yoga.

Alana Lo, who did a master’s degree studying Sanskrit, and teaches the philosophy of yoga and Sanskrit, says that, “In my opinion, any practice that provides people the supports they need to pay attention is being respectful of yoga traditions.”

This can be completely physical or completely spiritual. It depends on what exactly the student is paying attention to.

But that’s not what Daniel Alonso thinks abuelita

Daniel Alonso teaches and practice on un-ceded indigenous territories. He believes that as a result of a focus on the physical aspects of yoga practice, mainstream yoga has become “a commodified and often hypersexualized fitness regimen, rather than a complex, life-long spiritual practice.”

To Daniel Alonso, spirituality in yoga is important. It’s a fundamental part of what yoga was originally meant to be, and he encourages us to preserve that tradition.

His focus on tradition remind me a lot of Bhakti and Chi-Town Shakti. There is something so beautiful about yoga preserving its traditional meditative spirituality, its traditional mind and body connection.

In regards to body, a lot of the traditional poses from the excursion at Chi-Town Shakti were present in Corepower.

Downward dog.

Cradling baby.



I really wanted to feel the traditional spirituality in this practice, but I was having so much trouble concentrating. My mind is always busy. I felt my body tense.

I remembered Marshawn, and imagined him telling me like he told Tiffany: “Let it go, you’re too tense, just let it go…”

I didn’t want to let it go.

But something inside of me, something supreme within me, told me…

Dejate llevar. Go with the flow.

And I did. I let it all go and I went with the flow.

“Wave your arms and dance…”



I moved my arms, and I danced.

My body danced.

My soul danced.

My mind danced.

We all danced.

I experienced that spirituality that I was so convinced didn’t exist.

Yoga doesn’t work if you don’t believe.

You need to believe in it abuelita.

I’m believing in its power.

The supreme power of yoga.



Mexicas Tiahui (Ahead Mexicas),




Works Cited

Alonso, Daniel. “My Practice: Yoga & Cultural Appropriation. ~ Andrea MacDonald.” Elephant Journal. N.p., 18 Oct. 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2016.

Bogira, Steve. “Racial Integration Is Possible in Chicago.” Chicago Reader. Sun-Times Media, 22 Nov. 2012. Web.

City Data. “Hyde Park Neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois (IL), 60615, 60637 Detailed Profile.” Hyde Park Neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois (IL), 60615, 60637 Subdivision Profile. Urban Mapping, 2011. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.

CorePower Yoga. “Hyde Park.” CorePower Yoga. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.

Layne, Jodie. “Decolonizing Yoga.” The Manitoban. N.p., 18 Mar. 2013. Web. 8 Feb. 2016.

Kinaci, Andrew. “Hyde Park and Bronzeville: Gentrification on Chicago’s South Side – The Global Grid.” The Global Grid. N.p., 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 8 Feb. 2016.

MacDonald, Andrea. “My Practice: Yoga & Cultural Appropriation. ~ Andrea MacDonald.” Elephant Journal. N.p., 18 Oct. 2012. Web. 8 Feb. 2016.


Marshawn Feltus: from hitting in jail to hitting yoga

January 29, 2016

Dear abuelita,

No going out today. Instead, we are going to have a guest speaker: Marshawn Devon Feltus, from the West side of Chicago.

Marshawn isn’t like the average yoga teacher. He actually was incarcerated.

Si, incarcerated.

A tough guy who was convicted of a first degree murder practices yoga.

Si, he practices yoga abuelita.

But I don’t judge him. All of my life I’ve seen and experienced violence. In middle school, I constantly saw bloody fights when I walked to class. I saw the kids smoking marijuana and smoking cigarettes in the bathrooms and in the streets. I saw rival gangs confront each other. Beat each other. Shoot each other. I saw my friends in jail cells and funeral beds too soon.

I grew up in fear.

And maybe Marshawn did too.

So, I’m not going to judge him abuelita.

I’m going to hear his story…


When Marshawn walked in the class, he had on ordinary clothes. No yoga clothes. No fancy clothes. Just ordinary, like you and me abuelita.

You would think he would seem intimidating because he spent 18 years in jail. But he wasn’t.

So, what made him change his life?

“I was tired.” he said.

And that was a sufficient answer for me. He didn’t need to explain what he meant. I knew that feeling.

But, why yoga?


He said that after years of “testosterone weight lifting”, it took a toll on his joints.

In prison, people could not practice self-defense exercises such as Taekwondo.

When he saw someone do it, he thought he had clout in the prison.

But Marshawn was wrong because the man, nicknamed “Buddha”, was practicing yoga, not a self-defense exercise.

He wasn’t completely wrong though, because he did have clout that would shape Marshawn for the rest of his life…

When Buddha started teaching a yoga class in jail, Marshawn decided to go to in order to help him with his injured body.  The first class brought him,  “so much relief and comfort to my body. It was orgasmic”.

A couple of months later, Buddha was offered a top tier assignment in prison to work in the industry and he accepted. He told Marshawn that he had to take over the class. And that’s where his teaching began abuelita.

After serving his time, Sharon Steffenson, the editor and publisher of Yoga Chicago magazine, interviewed Marshawn and he told her that he began teaching yoga class at a local church and at community events.

But I remember Marshawn saying that when he went to church before he was incarcerated, he didn’t really take it all in because he was disconnected with his faith.

So why teach in the churches?

Does this mean that yoga helped Marshawn get in touch with religion?

“You cannot tell me that god doesn’t exist,” he said.

You see abuelita, you are both on the same side: a mutual belief in god.
In Tommy Rosen’s essay entitled “Yoga and the 12 Steps: Holistic Recovery from Addiction”, which appears in the book 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice, he stated that yoga is supposed to connect us to “something greater than ourselves”.

But what is exactly is “something greater than ourselves”?

Is it God?

Tommy Rosen also said, “I’ve never seen a person in acute addiction recover without two things: A spiritual path and a community to support it every single day.”

That’s what happened with Marshawn. He changed the way he was by having a spiritual path and being a part of the yoga community.


But spirituality is not a religion, it’s “a mental state of mind”. That’s why Marshawn focuses on the template of yoga, not the theory. He wants to implement the psychology of yoga to “let the guys find the true value of yoga”. This mental state of mind is different than religion. He is more connected to his faith because that was a personal decision that he made. He does not enforce religion in his yoga practice. His religion is personal. It is now a part of himself, not his yoga practice.

Sharon Steffensen also asked Marshawn why he had not tried yoga before, and he told her he was hesitant to try yoga because he considered it “white people exercises”.

Sounds familiar right abuelita? I remember thinking that not too long ago.

So, how does Marshawn deviate from “white people exercises”?

How does Marshawn create diversity in yoga within his studios?

In Chicago’s West side, Marshawn has two ACT Yoga studios. Both of them are in the Austin neighborhood.

According to Statistical Atlas, 86.1% of the population in the neighborhood of Austin is African-American. I live just north of Austin. I can’t picture the African American or the Latino community in Austin hyped up about yoga in the West side for the exact same reason Marshawn said: it’s “white people exercises”.

Our communities face a problem: “Our people’s ignorance is what keeps them from a lot of things,”

In order to attain diversity in terms of who practices yoga, education is fundamental. Our communities were never educated on what is yoga and what potential  benefits it can bring. We just tend to assume that it’s not for us, so we call it “white”.

Otra vez, how do you attract diversity to your studio when this preconceived notion of yoga is prevalent in the African American and Latino neighborhoods in Chicago?

“My style is different,” Marshawn said.

Many community members have told Marshawn that his class made them feel like they were talking to a friend rather than the typical skinny Caucasian yoga teacher with a soft voice that tells you….

“Place your toooeessssss, we are gonna go into Acapudakanasana”.

Marshawn’s down-to-earth personality attracts diversity, especially from the African American community who is not exposed to yoga.

Along with his personality, so does his teaching style.

Every teacher has to have a dress code, right abuelita?

Not Marshawn: “Whatever I put on in the morning, that’s pretty much what I will teach in”.

When he said this, I thought about Gabriel Halpern and his Beatles pajamas. For them, there is no yoga attire. Only you as an individual know what you are comfortable wearing, not your yoga teacher.

Marshawn also targets diversity just like how Chi-Town Shakti targets diversity: serving the people of the community.

When he teaches, there is a difference between teaching males, women, and co-ed.

“How to focus on what does he need even while she’s in the class and she’s in the class.” He is administering a service and a help collectively to each individual in his yoga class. He is so diverse in his practice that he offers 7 different types of meditation. Not a lot of yoga teachers do that, but Marshawn is willing to do that to serve his African American community well and fulfill their needs.

While Marshawn is bringing yoga to the African American community…

What’s going on with the Spanish-speaking Latino community? Who’s serving them abuelita?

The Instituto Cervantes, a public not-for-profit institution that promotes Spanish language teaching, offers a free 45-minute yoga class with Expert Spanish yoga teacher Evelyn Rodríguez, who will coach students on all aspects of beginner’s yoga.

This is in the same neighborhood as Yoga Circle: River North. According to City Data, more than 75% of the population in the neighborhood identify themselves as “White”.

Si, they offer yoga classes in Spanish.

Si, it is a “White” neighborhood.

But wait abuelita, there’s more…

Vishwa Nirmala Dharma is a group of people who have been impacted by Sahaja Meditation and now offer free programs and classes to Chicago communities, companies, social organizations, and schools. In the Southside of Chicago, classes are conducted in English and Spanish for free. The purpose of this class is to teach students how to progress with their meditation at home, maintain inner peace, satisfaction and happiness through Sahaja Yoga Meditation techniques. This class is taught at Back of the Yards, which according to City data, is more than a 60% Latino neighborhood.

Even though both of these studios have opposing ethnic communities, they both make me happy.

I’m happy that both of them are taking into consideration the fast-growing Spanish-speaking community.

I’m happy that yoga is extending its diversity through language.

I’m happy my Latino brothers and sisters can experience yoga.

Who knows, if I keep digging all of this yoga, maybe I’ll open my own Latino yoga studio one day.


Mexicas Tiahui (Ahead Mexicas),




Works Cited

Brown Paper Tickets. “FREE BEGINNER YOGA CLASSES IN SPANISH.” Brown Paper Tickets. Instituto Cervantes of Chicago, 2000. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.

Horton, Carol A., and Roseanne Harvey. 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice. Chicago: Kleio, 2012. Print.

City Data. “New City (Back of the Yards) Neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois (IL), 60609 Detailed Profile.” New City (Back of the Yards) Neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois (IL), 60609 Subdivision Profile. Urban Mapping, 2011. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.

John Paul Caponigro. “All Religions Practice Forms Of Meditation.” John Paul Caponigro – Digital Photography Workshops, DVDs, EBooks. N.p., 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.

Statistical Atlas. “Race and Ethnicity in Austin, Chicago, Illinois (Neighborhood).” Race and Ethnicity in Austin, Chicago, Illinois (Neighborhood). N.p., 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 01 Feb. 2016.

Steffenson, Sharon. “Marshawn Feltus – On a Mission to Inspire Inmates (and Many Others) With Yoga.” Yogachicagocom RSS. N.p., Feb. 2015. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.

Vishwa Nirmala Dharma. “Schedule of Classes and Events.” Sahaja Meditation in Chicago, IL. N.p., 2006. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.




Yoga Circle: “Turn on, tune in, and drop out”


January 22, 2016

Dear abuelita,

It’s really cold today, 25 degrees, and I decided to wear open shoes. I feel my socks wet and cold. Not a good way to start the day, pero bueno.

In order to arrive at our next excursion, Yoga Circle, we got on the brown line train to the Chicago stop. The train was going very slow. Not a lot of diversity in the bus. Besides the diversity of the class, there is a lot of Caucasians on the train.

There is an utter beauty and positivity with diversity in yoga studios. There seems to be less diversity in the train than in Chi-Town Shakti. Does that really reflect the neighborhood of River North, where Yoga Circle is located?



According to CityData, this is exactly right: About 75% of the people in the Yoga Circle neighborhood identify themselves as “White”. Will that pose a problem to the audience Yoga Circle attracts? How will Yoga Circle get diversity from the yoga community?

Pilsen, a predominantly Mexican-American community has yoga studios that seem to face this same problem.

One of them is called PFit Yoga, which offers residents Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Deep Focus yoga for $10 each walk-in. The question is whether the Mexican-Americans are actually attracted to the studio and if that price is reasonable for a neighborhood that has experienced growing gentrification and soaring housing rates. Many residents of Pilsen speak Spanish as well, but this yoga studio does not take that aspect of the Mexican-American or Latino culture into consideration. Even if you wanted to try yoga, you can’t do it here abuelita.

So, how do they serve the Latino community in Pilsen, and how do they demonstrate diversity? Is diversity based on the kind of people yoga serves or is it diversity on another level?



Roseanne, a blogger on activism and politics in yoga, says that members of the yoga community “need to unpack the terms “diversity” and “inclusivity”, and examine their usage”.

I didn’t really understand that there was more than one usage of the words “diversity” and “inclusivity” until I met Gabriel Halpern, the owner and teacher at Yoga Circle.

Gabriel Halpern walked into the room wearing Beatles pajamas.

Wait, what?

Neta abuelita. I am serious. That’s what he was wearing.

Then, he started singing.

He didn’t even have to say it. I knew he was part of the post World War II generation, the “counterculture” of the 60s.

“Our country was totally a lie. A mafia.” He said.

And how did people deal with it?

“Drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll,” (Excuse the language abuelita, I’m just repeating what he said).

That said, the point of doing drugs was not to seem cool. But to take people to a different transcendent level where people gained consciousness. People had to go inside this state of individuality and consciousness to find out what the truth was about. The deeper you go inside, the more you realize how it is about the world, not just you.

In the words of Timothy Leary: “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.”

When Gabriel spoke, he told us that yoga was a cognitive and participatory practice as described by the people that are masters of yoga. The purpose of emphasis on proper alignment is because it is symbolic of opening up.

Gabriel said that the excursion was divided in two parts:

  • Yoga will “kick your ass”
  • Meditation and relax

That’s exactly what happened. We performed a series of poses, said their names out loud, and held many of them for a minimum of 5 seconds. It was a lot like exercising. The best part of it was getting on the sling and being upside-down, my neurotransmitters moving all across my body. Once I got back on my feet, I really felt like I was in another level, another state of consciousness within myself: “Turn on, tune in, and drop out”.


According to Gabriel, diversity is not about the kind of people his studio serves or about the type of people who practice yoga in Chicago and the world, but its about having a global mindset.

India, the birthplace of yoga, he said, is just one very diverse country. No matter how different you may think you are, in India, you aren’t regarded as different because of its rich cultural diversity the people, the food, the religions, the nature, animals….

It’s all diversity.

But not necessarily does that mean India is the only country with immense diversity. There are many other countries that have beautiful traditions and diverse people, food, religions, nature, animals…

In order to have diversity, we need to respect other cultures. And how do we do that? How do we appreciate and honor our own culture and the culture of others?

Global mindset. Having a multicultural mindset is attaining diversity within one’s self. This is part of the gained consciousness and transcendent state that yoga is supposed to take you to. That’s the “tune in” Timothy Leary talked about. You positively use the power of yoga when you use your power on behalf of other people.

And that’s the beauty of yoga, abuelita.

I really like this understanding of diversity.

I really like this vibe.

It is very warm and relaxing.

Dimmed lights.

Props all over the place.

There was all kinds of blocks, slings, strings, towels, chairs, beanie bags, and other stuff that students could use as props.

You can tell that here, they emphasize on the proper alignment, unlike Chi-Town Shakti which emphasizes on meditation.

In Yoga Circle, the yogis practice Iyengar, a form of Hatha Yoga that has an emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama).

Does that mean that their focus is on the physical rather than the spiritual aspects of yoga? Does it make this kind of studio practice less religious?

This is where the religion issue of yoga arises: some practitioners indirectly enforce religion in their yoga classes.

In Julian Walker’s essay entitled “Enlightenment 2.0”, which appears in the book 21st Century Yoga, he writes about that many purists argue yoga is about “transcending attachments, stilling the mind”. 

He says it is about “withdrawing the senses from the world around us” and “attaining a personal realization of God beyond manifest realm”.

Is yoga a religion then?

Philip, an Interfaith Minister and author of a book on the impact of yogic teachings in America, says, “It depends.”

He says, “Specifically, it depends on how “yoga” is defined; how “religion” is defined; how “Hinduism” (the religion in question) is defined; what exactly is being taught; and how it is presented to the students.”.

Yoga Circle presented yoga as coming from the master, B.K.S. Iyengar. Many pictures of him were on the wall, who is credited with bringing the practice of yoga to Western culture. There might be spirituality linked to yoga, but not necessarily religion in Yoga Circle.

Do you think yoga is religious still abuelita? Because I might just be guilty of wanting to attain “a personal realization of God beyond manifest realm”, wanting to “tune in”.

But wait, it’s not over yet.

I walked to the closet to get my bag, jacket, and my shoes. As I struggled to put my white tight shoes on, I noticed something on the wall…


It was indigenous figures. I’m not sure from where, but I recognize indigenous representations when I see them. I have to admit, I was surprised to see such beautiful cultural forms in a Chicago yoga studio amidst a predominantly well-off Caucasian neighborhood.

But wait, there was more…


Cultura! Mexica art right here in front of my Chicana face. A beautiful colorful symbol of our Mexica and Aztec indigenous ancestors. I wish you would have seen it abuelita. It would have made you very happy.

Gabriel was right. It’s not about the people that come to your studio, or the neighborhood you’re from. It’s about that global mindset: “Turn on, tune in, and drop out”.

Mexicas Tiahui (Ahead Mexicas),






Works Cited

Choose Chicago. “About River North.” Chicago Neighborhoods. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.

Goldberg, Philip. “The Encinitas Yoga Case: Yoga Is Religious, Only It’s Not.” The Huffington Post., 20 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.

Horton, Carol A., and Roseanne Harvey. 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice. Chicago: Kleio, 2012. Print.

Pfit Yoga. “Pfit Yoga – Online : About.” PFit Yoga. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.

Roseanne. “The Problem with Diversity in Yoga.” It’s All Yoga, Baby. N.p., 19 Nov. 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.

Urban Mapping Inc. “River North Neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois (IL), 60606, 60610 Detailed Profile.” River North Neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois (IL), 60606, 60610 Subdivision Profile. N.p., 2011. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.






Chi Town Shakti: Tradition, religion and diversity meet



I am a Latina. I am Mexican-American. I am a Chican@. But am I a yoga practitioner?

My name is Karla Velasco and I am a first-year student at DePaul University double-majoring in Latin American and Latino Studies & Political Science. As a first-year student, I was required to take an Explore Chicago class, and with very few options, I had no other choice but to choose yoga as a topic.

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the word yoga was a white, skinny female with an athletic body wearing well-fitted hip yoga clothes. That has been the yoga image for such a long time in the United States that I did not know where I stood in yoga as a Latina. Yoga just did not seem like a part of my identity, and my abuelita assured me that.

With the typical notion that yoga targets “white, slim, young females”, I began to wonder: how do yoga studios attract and create diversity in their practice, and is it effective?


So, let’s explore the yoga scene in Chicago and find out abuelita.



January 15, 2015

Dear abuelita,

Remember how you told me about global warming? Well, it’s the middle of winter here in Chicago and its 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Crazy, huh?

image1 copy


Today, our yoga class is headed to Chi-Town Shakti (Chicago Green Map Project). In order to get there, we had to take the CTA red line, known as one of the busiest train lines in the city. When we got on the red line CTA train towards Howard, there was not a lot of people inside the train. I looked around me to see exactly what kind of people where there, which can hint at what kind of people live in the neighborhood that Chi-Town Shakti is located at.

In front of me, there was an African American man reading the Chicago Sun-Times, a local newspaper. Right next to him, there was a woman wearing a hijab and reading from a small black book. There was also a couple of Caucasians who were talking, listening to music, and texting on their phones.

The commute seems pretty diverse. But what about the neighborhood of Chi-Town Shakti?


Chi-Town Shakti is located in the neighborhood of Edgewater.  It is home to Assyrian, Middle Eastern, Lebanese, Swedish, Mexican and Korean Americans (Bopp). The coexistence of these people make Edgewater a diverse neighborhood within the city of Chicago, and Bhakti White, the co-owner of Chi-Town Shakti, assures it. Bhakti White has the highest yoga training certification available: E-RYT 500. She practices Yoga Acharya, which is an advanced yoga teacher and yoga therapist who hails from a long lineage of yogis and spiritual teachers.

One thing that makes Chi-Town Shakti different from other types of Chicago yoga is that all of the instructors here practice Shambhava Yoga™ Asana, one of the first yoga schools which has always emphasized that becoming a great teacher means becoming a great student: “You don’t just learn how to teach yoga here, you learn how to deepen your practice and grow” (Chi-Town Shakti). The teachers find their own relationship with yoga and they emphasize meditation, a more traditional type of yoga.

You might actually like this traditional yoga abuelita.

But what exactly makes Chi-Town Shakti’s yoga traditional?

Bhakti talked about how she started teaching yoga in the gyms of Chicago. Her students wanted yoga that emphasized on the physical, but she brought a lot more than that. A lot of people were attracted to her yoga classes because she did not target body builders. She targeted all different body types, students who were expecting out of a yoga class something more than just a fitness class. Because what is yoga without the spirituality and the meditation? A fitness class? A pilates class?


After Bhakti explained the connection between her and yoga, she told all of the students to sit in a comfortable position on the cushion with our legs crossed. We all closed our eyes…


You know what it reminded me of abuelita? I remembered the time we used to all kneel down and pray together when I was ten years old in the rancho with chickens running around all over the place. Does this mean that yoga is a religion?

“Regulate your breathing…”

“Don’t let your thoughts wander…”

“Think about your breathing as a pendulum, going left and right…”

“Your thoughts might begin to shift…but don’t think about that now, think about what is going on here, in the present…”

I felt a shivering feeling all over my back. It was as if I was experiencing Pantajali’s traditional yoga of overcoming of the mortal body and mind, as well as the natural world in order “to identify with my spiritual identity an overcome into full knowledge with God” (Horton 8).

I’m not sure of it was a God, but it definitely took me to another level of ascent.

It was very intense.

I started to observe my breathing.

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

Only two and a half minutes past, and my mind seemed to flow into a calm meditative state.

Then, we met Megan Peron in the second room. She told us to grab two prop bricks, a yoga mat, and a blanket. Once everyone was settled, Megan told us that the key to yoga was breathing. We performed all kinds of poses with a lot of body movement: stretching our calves, rotating our hips, and rocking our bodies like babies. The best pose that I liked was the surrendering pose, where we all just laid down on the floor, head to knee, arms stretched across the mat. It was symbolic of surrendering our negative thoughts and our tension.


And when I did that pose, that’s what I did. I surrendered. I’m always so busy with school, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and family that I don’t stop and think about the present peaceful moment and breathe. Who would have thought that a Latina, Mestiza, Mexican-American, Chicago-raised girl would have enjoyed yoga.


SI Exif


Chi-Town Shakti and Bhakti really do serve the people of Edgewater and its surrounding neighborhoods: an ethnically, socially, economically, diverse population. Chi-Town Shakti holds many specialty formats, including one for LGBQT students due to the growing gay community in the surrounding neighborhoods. Bhakti says that in her studio, many of her LGBQT students have told her they feel really at home.

Another specialty format is every body yoga, which does not adhere to an aesthetic body image. It embraces a diverse body culture, and you can see that with the teachers who have different body types.

Chi-Town Shakti also helps with finances as they offer Hatha yoga, which only requires a minimum of $5 to take. Students can also apply for work-study because it gives them the opportunity to work in the yoga studio and enjoy the benefit of free yoga classes.

This is similar to a charity event held in Chicago led by Yoga Circle director, Gabriel Halpern, for YogaCare, a nonprofit that brings the healing benefits of yoga to underserved communities (YogaChicago).


Without a doubt, the diversity of the target audience that Chi-Town Shakti embraces is the most beautiful aspect of its yoga. It is amazing that people from different social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds come together to practice yoga, whether it be here in Chi-Town Shakti or throughout the yoga world.

Amidst all of this diversity, where does tradition stand?

Today, there is more people doing yoga in California than there is in India. The yoga scene outside of the traditional, such as rave yoga, yoga boxing, voging, and rocket yoga.

Chi-Town Shakti does not pay attention to that scene because it does not fulfill their purpose: cultivate a meditative state through Asana (Chi-Town Shakti).

It is very ironic that Chi-Town Shakti chooses to integrate a diverse audience, but not a diverse yoga practice don’t you think abuelita?

Mexicas Tiahui (Ahead Mexicas),



Works Cited

Bopp, Nadine, and Art Institute Chicago. “Welcome to The Green Map Project at The School of the Art Institute.” Edgewater. Chicago Art Institute, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

Chi-Town Shakti. “Chi-Town Shakti.” Welcome to Chi-Town Shakti. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

Horton, Carol A., and Roseanne Harvey. 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice. Chicago: Kleio, 2012. Print.

YogaChicago. “Yoga News.” Yogachicagocom RSS. Aloha Moon Design, 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.