Breathe. Learn to breathe. Inhale. Exhale. One. Two. Who would’ve said this was something you had to learn? Emma García González is 61 years old, but it’s only been in the last six months that she has learned to connect with her body in a way she never has before. She is a grandmother, and is also a new yoga practitioner.
García González had never practiced anything like yoga, in fact it mostly seemed somewhat annoying to her. Since she participated in the first yoga session at La Luz Center in April, she has changed her mind: “Before I thought yoga was boring and now I see it’s everything, in general. You work your mind, you work your body, you work your spirit… you work everything.”
She came to experience these Asian techniques of meditation in movement because of an invitation from a stranger, who approached her in an aisle at Sonoma Market. “She came to me and asked me if I wanted to do yoga. I didn’t really trust her.” But after listening to her explanation, González called La Luz Center and although the first session was full, she attended, participated and is now the longest participant in the class.
That enigmatic woman who came to invite her was Ivana Nedelchev, a Uruguayan who has practiced yoga for about 30 years, and who was contacted by the Healthcare Foundation to share her knowledge for a stress healing and relief program after the devastating fires of 2017.
These classes are a dream for Nedelchev, who wanted to teach yoga in Spanish since she came to California from Uruguay.
“My first language is Spanish, and being able to offer yoga classes in my first language is very important to me, it has a lot of value. Although I was not a survivor of the fires, I’ve had many traumas in my life and yoga showed me another way of understanding things, of communicating and when you do something that does so much good, you want to share it with others,” said Nedelchev.
“This yoga class is like no other in Sonoma Valley,” explained Angie Sánchez, Community Engagement Manager at La Luz Center. “Ivana brakes down the language barrier by offering the class in Spanish, it’s sensitive and culturally appropriate.”
Sanchez added that La Luz has been working to break stigma among Latinos about mental health issues, “so when Ivana presented her yoga proposal, we knew it was a beneficial partnership for the community.”
Healthcare Foundation, which is based in Healdsburg, has developed more than one stress relief program with yoga classes that are bilingual and bicultural, after the October 2017 fires. They have an online site mysonomastrong.com and an app Sonoma Rises (available on Android and Apple), which two years after the fires has impacted thousands in Northern California, according to its Executive Director, Debbie Mason.
“All of these services are free and the Latino population can access them without having to provide any documentation. If someone feels affected by what happened, they should seek out these services,” said Mason.
By creating an account on mysonomastrong.com, the user can search for self-help resources to relieve symptoms like depression, sadness or anxiety and even monitor the progress of their healing, Mason explained. “There are also options to obtain individual or group therapy consultations. There are also yoga and meditation sessions,” she added.
Regarding the yoga classes, she said they will expand the program in Spanish to two other cities in Sonoma County, while the classes in Sonoma Valley will continue for free until next year.
At La Luz Center yoga class, the eight female participants roll up their mats after doing breathing and stretching exercises, inside a hall with high vaults and with black and white portraits of men and women, who look like ghosts from another time.
Emma García González, the 61 year old grandma, recalled the fear she felt that day of the fires. How she felt “crazy” in the confusion of those hours of panic. Now, she says, she thinks she has learned to control her emotions. “I breathe calmly, with peace. I am continuing to learn my body, to see how far my body can work, topics that I didn’t know before.”
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