Free yoga aims to heal community

Yoga instructors Sarah Dandelions, Emily Davis, Laura Rivera, Jonathan Kinnersley, and Laura Tabachnick.

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BRATTLEBORO — Laura Tabachnick described her brainchild - Yoga Locally, a collective of yoga teachers teaching classes by donation and giving those collections to local organizations - as "healing ourselves, healing the community."

The idea for the project came to her when she realized she did not want to earn money teaching yoga. She had been running a program for residents at Morningside Shelter while she was getting certified. However, there came a time when no one at the shelter was interested in learning yoga so she wanted to offer it to anyone from the community.

Tabachnick started teaching classes at The Loft in 2015 when it was in the Cotton Mill. She shared space with Indian slide guitarist Joel "Veena" Eisenkramer, who would play free live music every Saturday during the classes.

Tabachnick said she was able to donate some money then but wanted to find a place where more people could attend. She ended up getting a reduced rate at 118 Elliot St. but donations were not always reliable for covering rent. It was especially helpful when someone would sponsor for a month; more money could go to the organizations. Businesses had been approached about providing the subsidy in exchange for free advertising as the classes would be publicized, but there were not many offers.

About two years ago, Tabachnick began collaborating with other yoga teachers. They formed a collective donating their time and energy to benefit the Brattleboro community.

"It's a beautiful thing," Tabachnick said.

Yoga Locally has now donated more than $5,000 to local social service organizations such as Groundworks Collaborative, Planned Parenthood of Brattleboro, Women's Freedom Center, Turning Point of Windham County and the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro. The group tends to rotate organizations every month.

Sarah Dandelions, a teacher in the collective, said she is living off a social service salary and has children but wants to give back to the community.

"I feel like this is something I have to offer," she said. "I have my time to offer."

Dandelions said she also feels this project allows her to teach yoga in a way that is culturally appropriate. She said she loves that the classes are made up of a diverse mix of people.

"It's safe, it's inclusive," she said, adding that she feels she can connect to and positively affect people through the classes.

Jamie Mohr, creative director for Epsilon Spires where the classes will be held, looks at the project as a "radical" way to give back to the community.

"We have the space, you have the skills you can offer," she said to the two teachers. "I think that's really beautiful."

Tabachnick's initial vision was to provide an opportunity for vulnerable individuals in the community to learn yoga. She said she feels "so lucky" to be achieving that goal.

"It turned into a beautiful person with a beautiful space who wants to give back to the community and a collective of teachers who want to donate their incredible skills and time," she said.

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Dandelions said local companies Tavernier Chocolates and Good Body Products have donated items to give out during classes.

'We got it all'

Starting the second week of January, classes will be held Epsilon Spires at 190 Main St. from 5 p.m to 7 p.m. Sundays, and from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays. Special classes occasionally will be held Saturdays.

Other teachers include Emily Davis, Laura Villafane Rivera and Jonathan Kinnersley. Participants are invited to enter through the side or the back of the building, which is wheelchair accessible.

Dandelions said mats, props and blankets will be provided as will relaxation and love.

"We got it all," she said.

Dandelions said "yoga consent cards" will be passed around because the teachers believe in people having autonomy over their bodies. If participants do not want an assist at any time, they can flip over their card to indicate that.

The idea is to be mindful about trauma people might be experiencing. Also, the teachers said there will be no judgment passed related to a person's level of participation or tardiness.

Mohr said she loves the project.

"I mean the mind-body connection, the consciousness connection, supporting nonprofits in the community," she said. "I think it's the perfect synthesis for what we're hoping to use this space for."

Mohr said she had been excited to be contacted about using the venue; many days of the week, the space would not have programming but now it will be "full of life."

"It's just extraordinary," she said. "It's a good opportunity for us to give what we can to support what you're doing."

Tabachnick thanked Mohr, saying "it feels very gracious and you're humble. It's a gift."

Yoga Locally can be found at yogalocally.org, and on Facebook and Instagram. Gift certificates are available.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.