Juana Corona’s favorite part of yoga class is the warrior pose: legs grounded, body pushed forward in a lunge, arms outstretched, palms open. “When I do that pose, it feels strong — like I’m a powerful woman,” she says.
Two months ago, Corona knew nothing about yoga — other than its reputation for being relaxing. That was enough to get her to sign up for Puente’s first-ever yoga class, which is for local mothers.
She loved it right away.
“It was hard some days to do some kinds of stretches, because I never did them before. But it feels good. I put my mind like in a different place. A place with a waterfall. And it relaxes me,” she says with a smile.
On Thursday mornings this spring, a group of Latina mothers tried their first downward facing dogs, bridges, trees, and plank poses in Puente’s childcare space. But this was no generic yoga class: it was part of the Madres project, a program supported by the Bella Vista Foundation to fight maternal depression by bringing women together in community rituals that foster a sense of connection.
Suzanne Hughes, a marriage and family therapist who has led several mental health workshops through Puente, is a licensed yoga instructor. She taught the class in Spanish and infused it with lessons around mindfulness and coping with stress — in words her students could recognize.
“It’s so important to have time to really be quiet and listen to what’s going on inside them, so they can explore what the landscape is like inside,” says Hughes. “They have so many pressures.”
Corona is a single mother with three children. So, feeling powerful and relaxed are two things she rarely has access to. When she talks about her challenges, she could easily be describing the feelings of other women in the yoga class, each of whom have their own daily struggles.
“I always have a lot of stress,” explains Corona. “I have little kids and I take care of other people’s kids too during the day. When I come to yoga, it’s only me and my mind and there’s nobody around, no screaming, no fighting.”
To Hughes, yoga integrates psychology and mindfulness in a unique way. As an instructor, she can offer concepts like how to practice being grounded and fight self-criticism through yoga poses that integrate those messages in a physical, tangible way. “You can really make some progress that way, without being too personal.”
In yoga, many beginners struggle with balance poses. So when Hughes guided students into a tree pose — which involves balancing on one leg while bringing the palms together in front of the heart — she invited them to find their sense of balance by bringing their attention to a focal point in front of them. Then she turned the pose into a lesson about persistence and inner fortitude.
“We talked about the concept of having a focal point so you don’t get pushed right or left. For some people, that might be focusing on God or on family. And keeping your priorities really clear. That’s what we do in yoga, but we should also do that in life,” says Hughes.
When students fall over in a yoga pose, that’s a lesson too: that even though things can be hard and you sometimes fall down, you can get back up and try again.
Hughes created take-home guides for students after each class to encourage further reflection on a particular theme. The handouts offer practical skills, such as special breathing techniques to reduce stress.
Hughes gave students a little massage as they relaxed on the ground at the end of the class. (“Oh my god, I loved that!” says Corona). Then Puente served them a healthy breakfast.
The yoga class grew out of conversations between Hughes, Clinical Director Joann Watkins, and Rita Mancera, Executive Director of Puente. It’s part of the Madres project, a longtime Puente program with funding from the Bella Vista Foundation. It engages local mothers in culturally-relevant art projects to combat isolation and depression, such as making art for the community’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration.
On the physical side, Puente’s Zumba program is already extremely popular in Pescadero, and some locals founded a Pescadero women’s walking group last year, which meets every morning, rain or shine. (Last summer, they ran their first 5K).
So the yoga class felt like a natural transition. Hughes also teaches yoga to students at Pescadero Middle and High School.
Corona was right about the benefits of yoga. She’s just sad the class has ended and there’s no other morning yoga class in Spanish anywhere near Pescadero. The women in her class have already asked Hughes to teach it again as soon as possible. In the meantime, Corona wants to hold on to the sense of equilibrium Hughes nurtured.
“Hopefully I can do it at home. I’m going to try,” she says.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH
The Bella Vista Foundation, for ongoing and generous support of Puente.
San Francisco yoga instructor Mark Morford, who facilitated the donations of mats, blocks and cushions—opening doors for other yoga-supply donations to Puente.
Yoga Tree Stanyan in San Francisco, for a generous donation of yoga mats, Yoga Tree Potrero Hill in San Francisco for a generous donation of cushions and blocks.
Thanks to all of you, our yoga program is a reality!
Want to help support Puente’s yoga program, Zumba, 5k Walk/Run, and other health programs?
You can! Please donate here today.