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Five days a week, in Rochester, New York, Yoga 4 A Good Hood’s volunteers hold donation-only yoga classes in the basement of a 150-year-old Lutheran church. Some students wear yoga pants; others come in jeans. Not everyone can make a donation or practice on a yoga mat, so chairs are provided. “Wellness is a civil right and should not be a luxury,” says founder Imani Olear, a yoga teacher and pastor. “You can come in as you are.”
Whenever Olear has experienced turmoil, she’s turned to yoga. Hardships such as the murder of her son’s father, sexual assault, and losing a job have brought her to her mat time and time again. She says yoga has calmed her inner storm and helped her to see the practice’s potential as a social justice tool—particularly for people of color and those struggling financially.
As a student and teacher trainee, Olear had always been one of the few people of color in her classes, and she recognized how that worked as a deterrent: When you don’t see yourself reflected in your classmates or teachers, how can you feel like you belong? Plus, the prohibitive cost to attend a studio class or teacher training was locking so many people out of something that had been so essential to her own healing.
“It takes just one person to notice what’s missing and fulfill it,” Olear says. And with that in mind, she founded Yoga 4 A Good Hood in May 2013. With a core teaching staff of four, the organization serves up to 140 people per week, depending on the season. The church basement is Yoga 4 A Good Hood’s primary location, but it also holds pop-up yoga sessions throughout Rochester.
On Monday nights, upward of 50 students cram into the basement of the church at the intersection of North Chestnut and Pleasant streets. It’s been a reliable home for Olear and her students for the past six years, but the church is running on a deficit now, and she’s looking for a new location to secure the future of Yoga 4 A Good Hood.
In 2018, the nonprofit held its first 200-hour teacher training. It was spread over six months to make it easier for people to participate while holding down jobs. The average annual salary of participants is about $16,000, and the trainings are valued at $2,500. Because the cost of teacher training is a barrier to entry for so many hopeful students, donations from the community and grants from certain companies, including Lululemon, cover the majority of the cost. Trainees typically pay anything from nothing to $300 to get their teaching certificates, and Olear coaches them on how to work with practitioners of differing physical abilities and emotional needs as they go along. Each Yoga 4 A Good Hood teacher, with the exception of Olear (who teaches for free) is paid $20 per class.
To the Yoga 4 A Good Hood family, Olear has become more than just its founder and yoga teacher; she’s become a leader and a trusted connection for those who need hope and support. She provides financial advice, food, and a safe place for students to be in connection with their bodies.
Yoga 4 A Good Hood
Founder: IMANI OLEAR
Teachers trained since 2018: 38
Average donations per week: $150
Average student donation per class: $4
To donate, go to yoga4agoodhood.org.