Juan Larios has been teaching yoga for over 10 years in East Los Angeles.
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Just beyond the clamor of the 101 freeway and Mariachi Plaza, a tiny room inside the Boyle Hotel ”“Cummings Block hosts an escape into peace.
A harmonic stillness takes over as people, young and old, stretch across yoga mats and focus on their breathing..
A year ago, 68-year-old María Delgado began taking yoga classes with The People’s Yoga LA, a group that brings yoga classes to Eastside communities. On the night after her first day of yoga, Delgado slept like never before, and she hasn’t missed a class since.
“I am more flexible, more relaxed in my mind and body. I feel really good,” says Delgado.
Although yoga has gained mainstream popularity in Los Angeles, it is not yet commonplace in Boyle Heights. However, several groups and individuals want to change that by offering classes in Eastside communities and making them accessible to the average resident.
“I thought that (yoga) was only for the young,” says Delgado. “But I needed to exercise for my health.”
Lauren Quan-Madrid, 30, a Boyle Heights native, co-founded The People’s Yoga LA in September 2012. She wanted to give community members a chance to try something new.
Before she began teaching yoga, Quan-Madrid said she had to drive to more affluent areas, such as Pasadena or Marina Del Rey, to take classes. “Looking around, I realized that no one in the room looked like me or my family. I thought, ‘something has to happen.’ ”
Suitable for everyone
Many people in Boyle Heights may think that yoga is not for them. But yoga enthusiasts say yoga is meant for anyone, not just for the affluent, flexible or slim. They want to dispel negative thoughts about it.
Juan Larios, a yoga instructor who began teaching at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA over 10 years ago, says it’s about educating the public.
“Most people don’t understand the discipline [of yoga]. Our culture is mostly Catholic or Evangelical Christian, so if you [tell] them to cross their legs and chant, it’s something very different.”
Today, many different types of yoga are practiced around the world, from a calm, restorative yoga to one requiring more vigorous exercise. Studies have linked yoga to better health and fitness, including improved posture, flexibility and energy, along with injury prevention and weight loss.
In some cases, people turn to yoga in hopes it can remove toxins, heal injuries and treat chronic disease.
Research has shown that yoga can help reduce inflammation that can result in some chronic diseases, but other health claims are still being studied.
Delgado said that before she began yoga, she was a borderline diabetic. She credits the practice with helping her avoid the disease.
“Three months after beginning yoga, I lowered my blood sugar and bad cholesterol,” she said. “The doctor was surprised. ‘What did you do?’ he said to me. I just did yoga.”
Psychological benefits, too
Danielle Román, a professor of sports medicine at the University of Southern California, says in addition to the physical benefits, yoga also helps psychologically.
“In our society, everybody is stressed,” she says. “Everybody is doing too much. If we can even take five, 10, 15 minutes to decompress, people would become more relaxed. Yoga enhances those feelings.”
Larios agrees. He says most of the students at his new home studio or at the classes he teaches in East L.A. suffer from stress.
“The main stressor in the community is money. People are losing jobs, and sometimes only one person is working,” he says.
Estella Carrillo, a student of Larios, works as a senior clerk at the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office. She described how demanding it was to sit for hours without getting a chance to stretch or take a break.
After stopping her workout regimen, Carrillo, 48, struggled with an irregular heartbeat and thyroid issues. She felt slower and was beginning to gain weight.
“One day, I saw a co-worker who was in a wheelchair, and I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be like that, I have to do something,’ “ says Carrillo.
That’s when she began taking Larios’ classes and noticing that she became calmer with every class. Carrillo says after two months of taking yoga, her doctor stopped her thyroid medication.
Stories like Carrillo’s motivate Larios and Quan-Madrid.
Although Quan-Madrid and Larios can teach yoga in more affluent areas and earn more money, they say it’s important to keep their practices in their hometown of Boyle Heights because they want to help residents experience something otherwise not available.
“The benefits go very far in helping people facing challenges, whatever they are,” comments Quan-Madrid. “They are too good for people in low-income communities not to have.”
People’s Yoga has raised over $10,000 towards opening a yoga studio in the East Los Angeles Area, which they hope to open during the summer of 2014.