Opening the Doors in Mke's Immigrant Community
I co-created a yoga and healing program for Spanish-speaking women on Milwaukee’s South Side. I chose this population because of my connections with organizations in the Mexican immigrant community, and the unique challenges that immigrant women face. Many of the women play caretaking roles in their households, so when they make the difficult journey from their home countries, find themselves in a foreign place, and don’t have English fluency, they can often remain more isolated than their partners and children because they are mostly at home. Many have experienced trauma, violence, and poverty and have not had access to supports to process those experiences.
Círculo de Mujeres (Women’s Circle) started by gathering a group of 5 Latina women leaders rooted in the community so that we could build a meaningful program. At first I wanted to offer yoga every week, but with their input we decided having more diversity could better serve our group. I learned that as I want to bring yoga into different spaces, that we must listen a lot and remember that yoga is a critical tool but not the only tool for embodied healing.
We ended up creating a weekly group offering yoga, Nia, meditation, art, and discussion for a committed group of about 12 women. The goal of the group was to create connections – internally with our own bodies, minds, and souls; as well as with each other. We wanted to support the weaving of relationships between the women in the group, knowing that their friendships would provide ongoing support that could reach beyond the capacity of our leaders or the duration of the program.
After one of our first Asana practices, a woman asked me whether Savasana always makes people cry. She had cried for the first time in a long time during her Savasana, and couldn’t quite articulate why but that she felt a great sense of relief. As she told me this other women gathered around and embraced her in a hug, and they continued talking as they left together.
Another powerful moment was after an Asana practice when we shared healing traditions from our families. I passed around an essential oil that one woman said reminded her of the scent of the lemons her father used to bring home. Another woman told us of her family’s use of the smoke of burning palo santo to cleanse the home and for healing rituals. Because of the openness the Asana practice created and the trust in the group, it was beautiful to be able to share and affirm healing traditions from the roots in the room and see women’s faces lighting up with memories of rituals and scents that reminded them of home.
I am proud that we were able to use yoga to build community and create more of a sense of home for these women, both in their bodies through yoga practice and in their community through the relationships and connections that have been formed. Thank you.
Kate Werning, OmTown grantee
In collaboration with:
Esperanza Magaña, 16th St. Community Health Clinic & volunteer
Daysi Jimenez, Social Worker, Carmen High School of Science and Technology
Note: The ripple effect from hosting our circle at Carmen High School is that I began to talk with the principal there about what we were doing. Carmen serves almost exclusively low income Latino students, over half of which are undocumented immigrants, and did not have any physical education program. As a result of our sharing Carmen decided to create a yoga program for their students to have exercise and stress management skills, and set aside money in the budget to hire a teacher for 5 days a week! Since I am moving I couldn’t do it, but I referred them to Pam Miller and she is now joyfully reaching all of those students with yoga as well. :) Pretty awesome!