Earlier this year, XOJane published a piece by a white woman who attended the same yoga class as a fat black woman. The piece centered on how worried she was for the poor black woman, who–she assumed–must have felt horribly uncomfortable and unskilled as she attempted to perform the poses the yoga instructor described. It was a patronizing and racist, and an unfortunate reminder that yoga studios are often set up to serve very thin, white, wealthy, and heteronormative people. Sesali wrote about the piece, noting that “being fat in spaces that are created to bring attention to the body can seem like breeding grounds for microaggressions and hurt feelings.”
Now imagine a yoga studio that explicitly welcomes people of all sizes, colors, and backgrounds, one that works hard to offer classes at an accessible price, and is meant for people to enjoy their bodies and explore their diverse abilities in a safe space.
Welcome to People’s Yoga.
This studio in East LA offers classes like Radical Self Care, Yoga en Asiento (Seated Yoga), or Yoga Seeds, a class for parents and children. Classes are “inclusive and accommodating,” focusing on self-care and empowerment – not athleticism or strict adherence to form.
People’s Yoga was founded almost two years ago by Leah Gallegos and Lauren Quan-Madrid, who traveled throughout Los Angeles offering donation-based mobile yoga classes in schools, community centers, and churches. The point was to make it accessible to communities who are not often found “on the mat.” Today, they run one of the only yoga studios to serve residents of East Los Angeles, most of whom are of color and low-income.
The most exciting part of People’s Yoga is not only that it serves communities of color, but that it works to empower them. Woven throughout their website, you’ll find the line “Welcome to the mat, you are all that you’ve been waiting for.” Unlike the author of the XOJane article, People’s Yoga acknowledges that self-care and creative movement are not new to people of color. (Who invented yoga again? Not white people!)
One of the studio’s founders, Leah Gallegos, is also part of the popular musical group Las Cafeteras, which describes itself as a band “who is looking for love and fights for justice in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles” by playing Afro-Mexican influenced music. They are perhaps best known for their political take on the old classic “La Bamba,” re-titled “La Bamba Rebelde,” and have also spoken out against deportations and in support of vegetarianism. The band even purposefully left their name as Las Cafeteras (as opposed to los) to challenge masculinity as the default in the Spanish language.
Clearly, Las Cafeteras and People’s Yoga are doing incredible work to root the movement for social justice in creativity and wellness. Speaking with Leah, she described the success of the studio for me:
“We’ve made it accessible because we’ve rooted in our community. We use language that is accessible as far as letting people know that they are the masters of their own bodies and that they already know a lot of this wisdom. We remind people to listen to themselves and be expressive and creative and unique. I think we provide a space that is very relevant to a lot of different people.”
Someday, I will take a trip down to LA and take a class at People’s Yoga. Afterwards, I’ll write an article titled “It Happened To Me: I Took a Yoga Class and Left Feeling Empowered and Ready for the Revolution.” I hope it goes viral.
Juliana‘s favorite yoga position is Warrior Pose.