“We are doing this for our families, for our parents – for our mothers, sisters, cousins and fathers.” So says Lauren Quan-Madrid, co-founder of People’s Yoga, the first yoga studio to open in East Los Angeles this Sunday, June 8th. “We are creating the kind of world that we want to live in,” agrees co-founder and Las Cafeteras singer Leah Rose Gallegos.
In a city known for being health and beauty obsessed, neighborhoods like Silver Lake and Hollywood are saturated with yoga studios, but there are very few offerings in areas like Boyle Heights. “If you live on the East Side you, have to drive half an hour for a yoga class,” states Lauren. Both women believe it has much to do with the way that yoga is marketed toward young, Caucasian, single, medium income folks — a point that was driven home early this year when XO Jane published the controversial essay “It Happened to Me: There Are No Black People in My Yoga Class and I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It” that spawned a hundred outraged think pieces.
“Communities that are largely people of color or more low income generally, we’re not given the opportunity to know what yoga is,” says Leah. The two yogis met while deal-hopping yoga studios and bonded over a need they saw in their communities. According to Leah, “We did it out of our eagerness to share ourselves and to share the meaning we found in this practice.”
People’s Yoga started two years ago as an ambulant yoga studio. Leah and Lauren would fill their trunks with mats and blocks and drive to areas of the greater East Side and South LA to hold classes. They partnered with community centers, churches and schools in order to use their space and access their constituents. The class I took was in a spare room above Lauren’s chiropractor’s office in Downey (about 30 minutes south-east of LA). The classes are donation based; they put a jar up front and don’t look to see who has pays. “Our goal has always been to make yoga accessible and affordable to all people,” Leah says.
The classes are mostly people of color, from Mexican to Japanese, and range in age from grandmas to teens. The vibe is easygoing and atypical of many yoga studios where there is a focus on athleticism and specificity of form that can be incredibly intimidating for novices. Says Leah, “We are telling people that you already know the answer, you already know how to move, so this practice is just going to help you remember.” Having classes be primarily P.O.C. allows an air of familiarity for newcomers and eases them into trying something that they may have, in the past, associated with specific religious beliefs. “We know there are a lot of myths about yoga and we’re willing to listen and debunk them all,” continues Leah. People’s Yoga prides itself in adjusting and accommodating anyone who comes. When presented with the challenge of instructing Spanish speakers, Lauren rose to the occasion. “My family doesn’t speak Spanish anymore—it’s not my first language. But I learned. I learned how to say the poses in Spanish.”
After two years on the road from which they built a solid client base, and thanks to a successful Indiegogo campaign from which they were able to raise $10,000 for start-up costs, People’s Yoga has a home. They have spent the past few months renovating the space with the help of friends, family and band-mates. Check out their Instagram feed to witness the transformation. Like many LA gems, their new brick and mortar home rests on the second floor of a strip mall, a veritable lotus rising from the sun blasted concrete. So what’s the recipe to creating a cross-cultural yoga practice in an underserved community? According to Leah, it’s very simple: believe in yourself. “We are often told that our communities have a lack of resources but our communities are rich, they are full of vibrancy. And so rather than looking at ourselves as underserved, know that we have all the resources that we need to live full, wonderful lives.” All you have to do is practice.