Yoga outreach brings healing to all D.C. communities

Natalie Tomlin, special to

WASHINGTON – Yoga is doing more than improving the bodies and minds of those who belong to a local studio. Yoga outreach programs are extending their reach throughout the area, making the popular practice accessible to anyone who is interested.

Jasmine Chehrazi, founder of Yoga District and Yoga Activist, is one of many yoga instructors and enthusiasts in the area helping to combat yoga’s cookie-cutter image.

“The point of the practice for many is self-realization and understanding who you really are,” she says. “Everyone has that question — everyone. It doesn’t matter where you come from, how you look, whether you can touch your toes or not, what your cultural or economic or racial background is. We have to adapt the practice to make it relevant.”

She believes yoga is a practice that serves each individual in a unique way, and she is helping to spread the practice of yoga to a variety of communities throughout the area.

In 2006, Chehrazi founded Yoga District, which offers affordable yoga classes at six not-for-profit, community-run yoga studios in D.C. A seventh studio is currently being constructed in Anacostia and will open later this year.

At Yoga District, instructors teach classes of all skill levels for $11 or less.

Despite the affordability of Yoga District classes (compared to other class rates in the D.C. area, which hover around $18 a session), Chehrazi quickly noticed the practice was still restricted to the studio setting and was not reaching a wider demographic. So in 2008, she created Yoga Activist.

Supported largely by Yoga District, Yoga Activist focuses on partnering yoga instructors with social service organizations that offer yoga programs for their communities. From classroom management to trauma sensitivity, the nonprofit outreach program helps prepare teachers for instructing yoga to under-served communities.

Teachers at Yoga Activist can also set up their own outreach programs, bringing yoga instruction to churches, schools, halfway houses, mental health centers, prisons and other locations where the community members may not otherwise have exposure to yoga.

Yoga Activist volunteer Carrie Mumah has been teaching with yoga outreach programs for two years. She currently works with Petworth Library to coordinate free weekly yoga classes open to the public.

Mumah instructs about 25 individuals each week, from ages 6 to 95, but most of her students are between 50 and 70 years old and practice yoga despite having arthritis and other injuries.

“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s kind of awesome that it’s at a library because libraries are all about making things accessible and making information accessible to everyone in the community, so it’s great to make yoga a part of that,” Mumah says.

Her favorite yoga class she taught was at the mental health center, Green Door. Mumah facilitated a chair yoga class to the homeless and the recently homeless with severe mental illnesses.

Working with the mentally and physically impaired allowed Mumah to be creative and adapt the yoga practice to suit her students’ unique abilities.

Yoga Activist board member Anna-Maria Garza first became involved with Yoga District in 2009. She chose this specific yoga service because of its unique mission to serve the community at a grassroots level.

Her first outreach program was at N Street Village, a shelter and community of empowerment for homeless and low-income women in the District. Now she teaches amputees at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center under the direction of Daniel Hickman.

“There are so many different communities that don’t necessarily have access to yoga studios or don’t even know that they want access to a yoga program, but

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