Yoga for All

Joanna Faso’s project in Landmark’s SELP program was to bringing yoga to underprivileged citizens of Chicago. Nancy Gerstein wrote a story about the project and the issue Faso is addressing.

Taking Yoga to the People

Chicago’s affluent areas are rife with yoga studios that offer exquisite bodies and stress- free, enlightened spirits. Just the thought of yoga practitioners brings to mind young, flexible women and men dressed in the latest athletic attire sitting in lotus position at these modern, minimalist, glossy wood-floored studios.

While these Zen-like cultures work well for many, yoga teacher Joanna Faso’s mission is to teach the forgotten yogis: the people in underserved communities— shelters, transitional houses, retirement homes, and prisons.

Faso recognizes that people who are ill or in low-income urban areas may have never witnessed yoga’s healing modalities. As a result, people who need yoga the most are the ones who have the least access to it.

“Yoga is another means of healing, both physically and emotionally, and everyone could benefit by it,” says Faso.

Faso’s first stop—Deborah’s Place on Jackson. Her weekly one hour classes began March 11 and will alternate volunteer teachers from week to week.

Juanita Brown, educational services program coordinator at Deborah’s Place, expects the residents will learn how to relax and become centered in their bodies. “We’re creating opportunities for residents who wouldn’t normally get the chance to enjoy the benefits of yoga,” she says.

The classes revolve around basic yoga postures and meditation with students concentrating on becoming more “mindful” of the moment. Faso asks her students to keep their eyes closed and to feel their breath.

Retirement home and Cancer Wellness Center yoga teacher Jayne Alenier agrees. “It gives these groups a sense of community and helps with loneliness. The movement itself helps their lift their moods.”

Aliener finds many of the retirement home students are open to the spiritual part of the classes. “They’re getting close to the end of their life and the practice calms them.”

She adds that yoga students undergoing cancer treatment enjoy yoga practice because it gives them a sense of empowerment. “They may not have control over their disease but they do have control over how they’re doing the posture. And by staying in the present they can let go of their fear of the future.”

With yoga and meditation, visualization is fundamental to healing. Students use the feeling and focus of the breath to create confidence, practice acceptance, and sense their own energy. From a physiological standpoint, meditation practice can improve respiration, blood pressure and heart rate.

Faso is asking other yoga teachers to donate their time to these communities and has 8 other volunteer teachers on board so far. If you’re a yoga teacher and would like to volunteer , contact Joanna Faso at

Ultimately what does Faso want to her students to learn? “I’d simply want them to get a sense of peacefulness, self-awareness and the knowledge that we all have sacred space within ourselves.”

Sounds likes something that could benefit everyone.

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