Namaste: Yoga comes to East L.A.

 Namaste: Yoga comes to East L.A.
Co-owner Lauren Quan-Madrid conducts a yoga class at People's Yoga on the Eastside. (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times)

Somewhere between the downward dog and the chaturanga, Reyna Flores left the funny talk behind and simply began mimicking her neighbor.

"My only goal was to keep up," she said in Spanish. "Who knows what that chatu-this and cobra-that stuff meant."


The 50-year-old joined dozens of Angelenos, most of them novices, at this week's opening of People's Yoga, the first studio east of the Los Angeles River dedicated entirely to the practice.

Located in a strip mall at the end of the Metro Gold Line, the small, no-frills center is hoping to grow a new crop of yogis: grandparents, working mothers and young adults — most of them Latino and from the surrounding neighborhood.

"We want people to learn and create their own experience," co-founder Leah Gallegos said. "It can be physical, spiritual, whatever feels good to them."

Gallegos and her friend Lauren Quan-Madrid launched the business with help from the community.

The certified yoga instructors used to travel to Echo Park and Silver Lake to take classes because options were so limited on the Eastside. A few years ago, they began to offer their own courses at centers and schools around Boyle Heights and East L.A.

"People were always very excited and welcoming," Quan-Madrid said. "We knew we needed to expand somehow."

The two started an online funding drive and raised $10,000 in two months. They leased a space upstairs from a hair salon and a check-cashing business. Family and friends helped knock down walls and install smooth Pergo flooring.

The women hired bilingual yoga teachers and filled the schedule with a mix of Spanish and English classes — some basic and others advanced.

But the success of the studio may depend on whether Latinos are ready to embrace the practice. Some consider the meditative Indian tradition too foreign. Others question whether yoga goes against Catholic and Christian beliefs.

"They'll think it's some kind of sect or that it's satanic," said Alejandro Larios, an instructor at the center who has taught yoga in Boyle Heights for 14 years. "But it's a lack of information."

Flores commutes two hours round-trip each day to her job at a toy factory in the San Fernando Valley. By the time she gets home, her entire body aches.

"My doctor told me I'm too stressed and I need to do some yoga," the mother of two said. "But where am I going to find yoga around here?"

For a while, she tried Zumba, the fast-paced fitness craze inspired by Latin dance that's taught in dance halls, grocery stores and people's homes across the Eastside.

But she wanted something more relaxing. When her daughter told her about the opening of People's Yoga, Flores jumped at the chance.


"I came home from class and didn't have pain for the first time in a long time," she said.

Flores said she plans to go six times a week — and hopes to convince a friend to join her.

At a recent morning class called yoga y luz, (yoga and light), Larios led a class of 20 people through an hour of stretches, twists and turns.

He talked often about nutrition and its connection to developing diabetes. He advised his students to lay off the burritos, tacos and fast food.

Among those in the studio were Connie Chang, a storekeeper in her 50s who owns the tobacco shop downstairs; Gina Gonzales, 21, an herbalist in training from Montebello; and Isaac Rojas, 8, from East L.A.

Rojas showed up in gym clothes with his mother, father and sister, but he seemed none too pleased once Larios began moving through the poses.

"Daaaad!" he whispered. "Why do I have to do this? I don't like it."

"Because it's good for you," Lauro Rojas told him. "It's going to make you strong."

Twitter: @LATbermudez