Yoga En Espanol by Lily Russo

The simple practice of moving body and breath in a mindful manner to reduce stress, develop a healthy body, and get in tune with one’s inner self is not difficult to attempt, yet in modern culture many people remain estranged from their own bodies and unaware of their breath. The wave of yoga and mindfulness practices in the West over the last few decades has opened up a broad spectrum of offerings that encourage people to get into their bodies and gain control of their thoughts. A recent estimate claims that 20 million people in America are practicing yoga, about 7% of the population.1 With its long list of benefits, including stress relief, weight loss, recovering from physical and emotional trauma, pain relief, alleviating depression, anxiety, fatigue and insomnia, reducing blood pressure and increasing metabolism, the question is, why aren’t more people engaging in this simple practice?

It is often assumed that yoga is reserved for middle-to-upper class white people. With many yoga classes costing more than a decent meal out, plus conjecture about who is able to “do” yoga, many people are put o by the idea of going into a yoga studio for the rst time. Add to this the large number of people who do not speak English as their rst language and you can begin to see how entire segments of the population are hindered from participating in a regular yoga practice. e backbone of society, our nation’s hard working class, has little to no access to healthcare, let alone access to alternative healthcare practices such as yoga. Yet this demographic would bene t greatly from this ancient practice, developed over centuries and re ned for our current culture.

According to the 2010 Census, 12% of Durango’s population is Latino or Hispanic, many of who do not speak English as their rst language.2 Because of the language barrier, cost, time restraints due to long working hours, and perhaps misperceptions about what yoga is and how it is bene cial, yoga has been largely unavailable to a substantial part of our city and county residents.

But four local women have come together with a mission to share the bene ts of yoga with people that speak only Spanish, as well as those who want to learn or practice Spanish as a second language. Katie Clancy, Lily Russo, Ivy Lau and Wendolyne Omaña, with cooperation and support from the owners of Yogadurango, have recently been o ering, by donation, a class led entirely in Spanish.

Beginning with only a few curious attendees, the class has grown in popularity and shown steady growth; classes regularly hold around 14 students. Yogadurango donates the proceeds from Yoga en Español to CIRC, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, of which Wendolyne Omaña is a board member. CIRC is a coalition of immigrant, youth, faith, labor and ally groups across the state that defend and uphold the rights of immigrants.

Regarding a recent class she led, Wendolyne shared, “Twelve students were Spanish-speaking people that work in the cleaning industry and are taking steps to take care of their bones, muscles, posture, health and energy. Two students were practicing their Español with their senses; touching, listening, seeing… what a way to practice!”

One of those students is Don Jorge Ortiz, a family man, originally from Mexico, who works at the Smiley Building as a janitor. He has been coming regularly with his wife and their three teenage children. “Decidimos venir, primero mi esposa y yo, y nos gustó mucho. Ni antes hacíamos ejercicios. Siempre estaba medio tenso, entonces he aprendido que el respirar me ayuda mucho. Antes sentía mis musculos muy tensos, ahora como que mis musculos están más flexibles. Translation: “We decided to come at first, just my wife and I, and we liked it. We hadn’t even exercised before this. I was always kind of tense. I learned that to breathe helps me a lot. Before I had really tense muscles, now they feel more flexible, more relaxed.”

The four instructors are local yoga teachers who speak Spanish fluently, and take turns leading the class each week. Wendolyne is the only native speaker, born in Mexico and living in Durango for the past 6 years. Lily, Katie and Ivy have all learned through study, practice and extended periods living in Spanish-speaking countries. All are passionate about the beautiful, colorful, vibrant culture and language of the Latin peoples, and excited about the cultural exchange that is occurring at this new Yoga en Español class. White and Latino cultures live side by side in our little town, but language and cultural barriers can sometimes limit opportunities for deep, meaningful interaction.

The backbone of society, our nation’s hard working class, has little to no access to healthcare, let alone access to alternative healthcare practices such as yoga. Yet this demographic would benefit greatly from this ancient practice…

In this unique weekly microcosm, those practicing yoga for the first time and those just learning to speak Spanish, gather together to move and breathe in unison. Katie Clancy, one of the rotating instructors, shares, “Sometimes I feel like Durango is a mono-cultural bubble, isolated and lacking diversity. But when I look deeper, I realize there is actually a beautiful mixture of many cultures and tribes. We offer Yoga en Español to bring together people of all walks of life; regardless of economic status or language. We have so many students who are bi-lingual; others do not know how to speak basic English; some are just learning Spanish. The class is a good way to level the proverbial playing field: native Spanish speakers learn their bodies, while English-speakers learn their bodies from a Spanish-language perspective.”

1 Yogi Times. community

2 2010 US Census

Lily Russo is a local yoga teacher and artist. Her yoga classes are a practice in focus and surrender, inspired by the elements, seasons, and sandhyas, or sacred junctures in time. She teaches at Yogadurango and the River Studio in Mancos. Her mosaics and other art are seen at

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