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Spanish Yoga Class Alleviates Pressure During Stressful Times

A woman stands in front of yoga students in downward dog.
Kassidy Arena
Betty Garcia teaches her class earlier this month in Des Moines. She came to Good Vibes Movement with the idea to offer a yoga class in Spanish. "I actually had never really planned on teaching yoga. But one of the girls that I went to teacher training with, she was working at the [YMCA]. And they were looking for somebody that taught Spanish, yoga in Spanish. So she pulled me," Garcia said.

A year of living in a pandemic has brought lots of emotional and physical stress. And one woman is trying to alleviate some of that by leading yoga classes in Spanish.

The coronavirus pandemic has been with us for almost a year. It has created lots of economic and emotional stress for a lot of people. And during this time, yoga teacher Betty Garcia has started offering classes in Spanish. As far as she knows, she is currently the only one doing that in all of Iowa. Her class has opened a door for Iowa’s Spanish-speakers as well as English-speakers.

Garcia starts her yoga class by telling the four students to breathe.

"Manos a lado...relajamos los hombros...cerramos los ojos...empezaremos a respirar."

It is a Monday night and the roads are still covered in snow, so Garcia is happy with the turnout.

A quick internet search showed Garcia’s as the only current Spanish-language yoga class in Iowa. The other one that popped was from three years ago and in Sioux City. Other than that, it was hard to find a yoga class offered in Spanish.

"There's not. That's because there's not," Garcia said. "I think yoga to the Hispanic community is very new. And so maybe they have also a different perception."

Garcia listed some possible stereotypes of what some Latinos may think is a traditional yogi: tall, thin, white. And, English-speaking.

“It's definitely something out of their comfort zone. Let's put it that way," Garcia explained.

Kassidy Arena
Betty Garcia tells her yoga students to bring their hands together at the Spanish class in Des Moines. Garcia said it was important to her to start offering yoga in Spanish because "there's just nothing available. And everybody deserves to feel good."

The volunteer yoga teacher hosts her class at Good Vibes Movement, a nonprofit community center in Des Moines. Garcia said she actually taught a couple of Spanish yoga classes before the pandemic, but they were quickly shut down to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Now, the classes are starting up again with mats spread out.

She said it's possible yoga could be putting off some Latinos because of the spirituality side of it. But Garcia has some advice.

"Yoga is a science," Garcia said. "I'm here to help them stretch out, maybe deal with stress in a different way. If they're curious about the spirituality side of yoga, of course I will be able to help them, but my main goal is to get them just to move their bodies and just feel good in their bodies."

Giselle Sancen Valero stood on her mat by the wall before class started. She tried to bring her mom to class, but she told her she was too busy this week. Sancen Valero said she was one of the people who used to think yoga was only for “güeras.” Basically a slang word for white people.

“People with a lot of money, people that have peace and tranquility because they don’t have to worry about other things," Sancen Valero said.

Garcia said that belief is rooted in one of the reasons why it is so important for solely Spanish-speakers to do stress relief activities like yoga. It’s a way to check in with mental health during the time of an unprecedented virus, confusing medical guidance and new vaccinations. Most of which are being discussed primarily in English around the state.

“I really like watching the different changes in people. And when someone says this is exactly what I needed tonight. I don't know what they're going through," Garcia said. "I don't need to know. Just the fact that I was able to help or ease anything difficult that they're going through. That's rewarding, super rewarding.”

And for yoga student Sancen Valero, the class doesn’t just help with destressing, but also with other issues she says are prevalent within her family and in other Spanish-speaking homes. Before yoga, she said she sometimes felt bad about her body.

“In this community, you always hear names like skinny one, or fat one, things like that and then for me, I got accustomed to it," Sancen Valero said. "And it wasn’t until I got older that I realized these names my mom, grandma and aunt called me, really got to my head.”

This is the first time she has taken a Spanish yoga class.

"With yoga, I have found ways I can love and accept my body," Sancen Valero said.

But she does wish her mom could’ve made it.

Pienso nuestro comunidad lo que no tenemos muchos espacios tranquilidad.
Giselle Sancen Valero

She said her community doesn’t have a lot of outlets for relaxation, especially during the pandemic. And Garcia’s class isn’t just an outlet for Spanish speakers. Taylor Ross went to her class and he only took basic level Spanish classes back in school. He rose his hand at the beginning of class to let instructor Garcia know.

Kassidy Arena
Betty Garcia and Taylor Ross pose for a photo after their yoga class. Ross doesn't fluently speak Spanish, but he said he likes being around it."Betty is a good friend of mine and a great yoga teacher. And I also love [Good Vibes Movement proprieter] Ben and have followed the progress with the studio. I wanted to come check it out for all those reasons, get in a good class," Ross said.

"Yoga is a universal language. And so you know, just being here you can kind of catch on to what people are doing whether or not you know what someone's saying specifically," Ross said. "And so it's a new perspective, it's a fresh class for me, but I don't think in the long run at the heart of it, it matters too much with the language someone’s speaking when they’re teaching.”

He said it was a nice challenge, to practice yoga primarily in Spanish. And Garcia said when other English speakers like Ross take the class, it helps build perspective.

“It’s easy for somebody to just watch, and then do what they're doing. But you know, understanding it is completely different. And so which is nice, too, because it also makes other people aware of maybe what a non English speaker feels, not in their environment," Garcia said.

Sometimes yoga uses traditional Sanskrit words, which Garcia said there are no Spanish translations for.

"There's certain things that you just cannot translate no matter what, like, Chaturanga. You just cannot translate that. You just say, Chaturanga," Garcia emphasized the word in a Spanish accent. "You just got from there, and they'll mimic you."

When Garcia can manage a direct translation, for example silla instead of chair pose, she said it can be better for students.

"Yoga is something that you don't want it to be intimidating. And so if you can relate the words to them so that they can understand it better, instead of throwing, you know, a third language in there..." Garcia trailed off, and shrugged her shoulders.

She ended the class by instructing the students to bring their hands together, and to their heart center. She thanked them, and bowed her head,"Satnam."

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines