The Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx, a melting pot of Italian, Mexican, Albanian and Dominican immigrants, among others, has its share of cavatelli, tamales, kafe turke and merengue. Now there’s yoga, too.
Rex Hall, a turn-of-the-century Italian banquet hall that has been renovated into an arts venue near Arthur Avenue, recently christened its opening with yoga classes—something new to the community.
“There’s a little bit of a void,” said Adrienne McCallister, an osteopathic physician at nearby St. Barnabas Hospital who leads the weekly, donation-based classes. McCallister moved to the area a year ago and was frustrated by the lack of nearby yoga studios.
Despite extensive advertising throughout the neighborhood, organizers were disappointed at the turnout for the first yoga session.
“Yoga is something brand new for us Spanish people,” said Maribel Lopez, a participant at McCallister’s class. Lopez, who immigrated to Belmont from Mexico 21 years ago, discovered yoga after her teenage daughter persuaded Lopez to bring her to a class in Manhattan. Lopez liked it, but was unable to find an affordable class in her neighborhood.
“It’s not a part of us,” she said. “We don’t have time. We always think it’s very expensive. It’s better to go to the park on Sunday with the kids and play football.”
Dr. Sat Bir Sing Khalsa, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who has studied yoga in minority communities, said cultural disparities are to blame.
“First, perception is that it’s a hobby for rich people—thin, rich, middle-aged, in leotards—and that’s garbage,” Khalsa said.
Yoga practitioners are predominantly white, urban-dwelling females with yearly salaries over $35,000, according to a study published by The Journal for Internal Medicine. Belmont, in contrast, is more than half Hispanic, and the median annual income is around $20,000, according to census data.
But Yoga is beginning to catch on in other parts of the Bronx.
“People in the Bronx aren’t really yoga-aware, but more and more, you’re seeing more Latinas,” said Renee Rosa, a volunteer yoga instructor with Masa, a nonprofit advocacy group for the city’s underserved Mexican community in Mott Haven.
Rosa also said that yoga is misunderstood by some in the Latino community.
“I don’t have anybody who does yoga in my family. Because Latin Americans are such strong Catholics, yoga comes off as a religion,” she said.
The directors of Rex Hall did not intend to provide yoga. But they encountered setbacks in acquiring a required occupancy permit, and instead repurposed the space. Although they hope that larger events, such as art exhibits and off-Broadway plays, will eventually run at the venue, for now it’s yoga and DIY concerts organized by Fordham University students and McCallister’s classes are filling in for now.
“It would be great to have whomever interested to be a part of yoga that doesn’t know about it. It has something to offer for everyone,” said McCallister.
Lopez said she’d be back to class every week—as much as her schedule permits—with her yoga mat in hand. She planned to bring friends and family along, she added.
Lopez would also like to see classes in Spanish, but said that language barriers haven’t dissuaded her.
“It’s hard for me, but I need to try. Maybe I don’t understand too much, but I got to make my body move.”
Beyond the Story: Yoga en Espanol
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