AUSTIN (KXAN) — For an hour on a recent Saturday morning, the gentle ripple of breathing and affirmations flow from Easley Boxing and Fitness in South Austin. Inside, instructor Frederika Easley leads a class of in-person and virtual women through a yoga flow, with dedicated time to chat and check their stress levels.
Easley’s class, Flow to Heal, is a program staffed entirely by black women of all ages and experience with yoga, launched in tandem with Dell Medical School as one of its community initiatives. Dell Med’s CDIs are designed to address systemic inequities while working with area residents on how to provide better healthcare solutions within their communities.
For Easley, her yoga experience previously involved being the only black woman in the studio. She wanted to create a space where black women could see themselves reflected in their fitness instructors and classmates, as well as focus on stress management resources that practitioners could adopt in their own lives.
“I’m a black woman and you know, my main concern was that we could have wellness practices and that we could build that community,” she said. “Especially as a mom too, often you don’t have a lot of opportunities to [practice wellness].”
The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Social Determinants of Health identified racism, discrimination, and income as three factors that have disproportionate effects on people’s health and quality of life. These can lead to chronic stress disparities which, among other health complications, can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, or other complications.
When creating Flow to Heal, Easley wanted to marry the physical benefits of yoga with a community-centered environment. She said she wanted women to feel connected and intertwined during the intimacies that come with yoga practices.
But to create this kind of common space, the women had to feel comfortable and have access to the table.
“Usually a yoga practice is a privilege practice — classes cost a decent amount of money,” she said. “So I really wanted to create a space where women could come as they are, feel comfortable in all their curves, in all their thickness, and be able to enjoy it.”
Some course participants have gone from being unable to climb stairs due to injuries and mobility issues to mastering yoga poses. Others cited classroom breathing as a tool they now use to deal with everyday stressors that previously inhibited them in their daily lives.
But a common thread among all participants was to be part of a community of women from all seasons of life. A trio of women KXAN spoke to afterward said that while it wasn’t their first introduction to yoga, Flow to Heal helped create a space where they could prioritize self-care. themselves and their health while feeling physically and spiritually connected to those in the room with them.
“Coming here and being able to find a space where you can be yourself unapologetically and just bond and talk after the sessions, and even during the sessions, about some of the challenges we face – that’s really uplifting for me, said contestant Sheila Jones.
Participant Sade Walker said yoga at KXAN was a way not only to build physical strength, but also to tap into the wisdom and life experiences of fellow classmates as part of a group setting.
“I love being in an environment where I see us all trying to step out of our comfort zone and do something different,” added participant Alexandria Robertson. “If you walk into a typical yoga studio, you don’t see us much. And so it’s a space where we get to come, we get to be comfortable. There is no judgment.
Flow to Heal officially launched in March as a free eight-week pilot program for participants. Now, Easley is working on analyzing data from participants’ stress assessments, as well as setting program goals, as Flow to Heal aims to receive ongoing funding. In the meantime, she continues to offer free weekend lessons to her students.
Flow to Heal is one of 15 community programs that Dell Medical School has helped fund since 2017.
Currently, the CDI program at Dell Medical School and Easley are identifying future funding opportunities, such as grants and sponsorships, to continue Flow to Heal. For more information on Dell Medical School’s CDI program, click here.