It’s a quiet Monday night at the former Boyle Hotel in Boyle Heights as people of different ages and races make their way into the restored landmark to relax with an hour of yoga.
The classes, which are taught by certified yoga instructors Lauren Quan-Madrid and Leah Rose Gallegos, co-founders of People’s Yoga, exemplifies the steady-rising yoga interest in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles.
The collective says that their mission is to bring affordable yoga to Boyle Heights and East L.A,, and they have found a way to do it. “We partnered with community centers in places where everyday people can have access,” Gallegos said. “We offer classes in partnership with nonprofits, religious institutions and schools. We do ask for a $5 donation, but we don’t turn anyone away – it’s an open door policy.”
According to Gallegos, because they partner with places such as Boyle Heights’ Corazon del Pueblo and Esteban Torres High School in East L.A., yoga has become more accessible to the community.
Even though yoga instructor endy from East LA’s Tonalli Studio on Cesar Chavez Avenue agrees that yoga has become more accessible to the community, it’s not necessarily something new.
“If you talk to Chicanos from the ’60s and ’70s, many of them can share with you how yoga was integrated into things like danza,” said endy, who goes by one name. “Yoga has had a presence in East L.A. for a long time; maybe it hasn’t been verbalized or vocalized.”
In East L.A. and Boyle Heights, the majority of places where yoga is taught are make-shift studios, such the homes of teachers. According to endy, these make-shift studios may be informal, yet they are studios nonetheless.
“There are individuals and collectives that offer yoga classes and we’ve been inspired by those folks who have taken it into their hands to create these spaces in the Eastside. We’re kind of building off that movement,” Gallegos said.
Yoga instructor Juan Larios, who taught Quan-Madrid, has been teaching yoga for nearly 15 years in the Eastside. He has taught in city parks, such as Salazar Park in East L.A. as well as in gyms such as the Weingart East L.A. YMCA.
Larios, who originally wanted to become a nurse, decided to focus on yoga after using it to recover from a back injury and figuring out that yoga could be used to prevent illnesses. Yet, he says that in the beginning it was difficult to get people involved.
“It was very complicated to introduce people to yoga,” Larios said. “In the beginning, yoga wasn’t really trending in (East) L.A. I started offering my yoga classes in Spanish and it really opened up opportunities for people to do yoga.”
Through her work with Tonalli Studio, endy says that her goal is to uncover the roots that yoga has had in East L.A. “It’s important that I honor all the work that has been done before me. Only with those really nurtured roots can I grow and others can grow,” endy said.
In response to demand that People’s Yoga has received, they have started a campaign to try and raise funds to open a yoga studio in East L.A. in order to expose more people to the practice.
“When I started learning more about the philosophies – to have compassion for others, having self-compassion and self-love – it helped me become more secure about my passion, which has always revolved around helping my community,” Quan-Madrid said. “Yoga helped me be more honest with who I am and who I wanted to be.”
Erik Luna is a freelance writer based out of East Los Angeles.