Free yoga classes in Little Village offer a way to care for the immigrant community and its mental health – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

Yoga was not something Teodora Patron thought she’d ever try, let alone ever like. The idea of yoga, she said, seemed foreign, almost like a luxury. In Little Village, there are no yoga studios, and in her more than 30 years living in the area, there have been few or no programs to enrich and foster a healthy lifestyle.

On Jan. 28, Patron, who likes to go by Lola, tried yoga for the first time at a free community event that took place in a spare room at the Self-Help Federal Credit Union near 26th Street and Pulaski Road. At first, she was nervous, looking around to make sure her positions mirrored the instructor’s. Her daughter and a few neighbors joined the class, which was greeted by a mariachi band.

Lola smiled during class. She was glad to experience something new so close to home.

“Here, we older adults need (the classes) to de-stress for even a little while,” she said in Spanish.

The instructor, Margarita Quiñones Peña, who was raised in Little Village, knew that. And it’s the reason why she looked for a way to offer yoga classes in the neighborhood. She wanted to provide an activity and a space for the immigrant community, which often has been stigmatized by its crime and underserved in mental health resources, she said.

George Salazar, top right, stretches during a yoga class at Self-Help Federal Credit Union in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood on Jan. 28, 2023. The class, sponsored by Urban Warriors, a youth safety and violence prevention organization, plans to hold yoga sessions every other weekend at the location.

Thanks to Urban Warriors, a nonprofit that focuses on youth safety and violence prevention, Quiñones Peña will teach a free bilingual yoga class at 12:30 p.m. every other weekend at the credit union as part of the organization’s mission to provide the community with free mental health resources.

Now members of the community will have access to the meditative and physical aspects of yoga as well as spiritual, personal and emotional growth through the practice, said Quiñones Peña.

The class will be first come, first served, and mats and other equipment will be provided.

For Lola, the news came as a pleasant surprise. Before the pandemic, she used to spend some of her free time doing Zumba classes, but most of the activities were closed off during the COVID-19 shutdown. During this class, she learned that yoga not only made her feel relaxed, it helped her reflect and meditate.

“I hope others in the neighborhood also try it,” she said. “It can benefit them all.”

Lola attended the class with her daughter Nancy Patron, 27. The two set their mats side by side and tried yoga for the first time.

Margarita Quiñones Peña, center, leads a yoga class at Self-Help Federal Credit Union in the Little Village neighborhood on Jan. 28, 2023.

Like Quiñones Peña, Nancy Patron was also raised in the neighborhood and though she loves its culture, she had few opportunities while growing up to attend extracurriculars, leisure activities or developmental programs because “there was nothing available in the area,” she said.

“We always kept to ourselves and I just went from school to home every day,” she said. The new program gives her hope that the neighborhood is changing for the better and now her three children, whom she’s raising in the area, can have access to experiences and opportunities she did not have.

The mother and daughter duo is the epitome of the strong family and cultural ties in the neighborhood and an example of why the area deserves investment to enrich their lives and promote mental health, Quiñones Peña said.

Quiñones Peña is an engineer by profession and a yoga instructor at CorePower Yoga, one of the largest chains of yoga studios in the country. She wants to ensure that other youths — particularly those in the immigrant community — have access to her classes.

It makes her proud yet emotional to see her immigrant family, friends and neighbors attend an activity that they once deemed too distant or exclusive. Quiñones Peña said she is grateful to have aligned with Urban Warriors to ensure that the classes are free and accessible for all.

She initially offered classes at Cook County Jail and also provided a class for students at Little Village Lawndale High School. She realized that outside of jail and school, the classes were not accessible.

Participants conclude a yoga session at Self-Help Federal Credit Union in the Little Village neighborhood on Jan. 28, 2023.

“We’re doing this for them and to ensure that the children of Little Village have a different experience growing up here,” Quiñones Peña said. “And being able to give back and bring it back to my community is an honor. We want this to be for us and by us.”

Ernesto Gonzalez, a co-founder of Urban Warriors, said one of its goals is to enrich the lives of Little Village residents and promote mental and physical health in Spanish and English. Yoga is just one of the programs it is implementing this year, Gonzalez said. He emphasized that the classes are bilingual, making sure that they cater to the older generation of Latinos in the area.

“People are eager to attend these types of events; we just don’t have enough,” Gonzalez said.

Lola and her daughter said they have their yoga mats ready to attend the next class.

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