My students reside in low-income parts of Brooklyn, NY, where options are limited and exposure to the arts is rudimentary, if it happens at all. The Executive Director of my school insisted that he wanted my students to have what the schools in Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights have in their schools. I have to admit that’s a tall order! We have neither the budget nor the staff, the infrastructure nor the support, so I was tasked with pulling a rabbit out of a hat to fulfill that lofty ideal.
Within my immediate school vicinity you’ll find the typical elements of a low-income community: homeless shelters, housing projects, bodegas, abandoned lots, auto repair shops, check cashing places, and fast food stores. You won’t find adequate greenspaces, bookstores, and organic food carts. I work in a community where daily survival—not pastimes afforded those with disposable income and carefree lifestyles—is what matters most. The commonly-accepted and easily-understood activities include basketball in the local park and dominoes on a flimsy card table. Yoga isn’t something the residents are accustomed to.
Fortunately, I had a large area of my classroom available that was purposely left empty. My original idea was to use that area for recreation: I was going to mount a basketball hoop to a wall, put up a table with board games, and have other activities there. Since I have to offer yoga now, I modified my plans and converted the area into a welcoming haven, a glorified “cozy corner” or “safe space.” I call it “The Lounge.”
Here are a few photos that show the development of The Lounge from its early stages to its current state. I’m still making adjustments based on the students’ needs.
Now the Lounge is a multipurpose space. We put cushions on the floor and have our Spanish classes there, put our yoga mats down for yoga, roll in the Smart TV/Whiteboard and arrange chairs to show movies, hold demonstrations there, and allow the children free use after homework is done to relax.
Converting the empty space into The Lounge required a few coats of paint, curtains and rods, soft pillows, plants, musical instruments, poly mats, a few yoga books, shelving, air fresheners, and a few odds and ends sourced from home, other classes, or creative discovery.
The only thing left to do now is begin offering yoga as an option. It may prove to be a hard sell and it may be easier than I imagine it will be. I’m confident in my ability to lead the children in basic yoga poses so the practical aspect of a yoga class is easy. Having them buy into it and apply the relaxation techniques is another story altogether…