A Calming State:Yoga at the Library Builds on Years of Commitment,Access for All Residents

By Seth Daniel

On most Mondays when the sun is out, a beautiful swath of sunlight shines into the event room on the second floor of the Charlestown Branch Library.

Sitting on the floor are several adults who have gathered there for a number of years.

But there aren’t any books.

There isn’t even a periodical in sight.

What is there is slow breathing, deep stretches and the peacefulness of an adult yoga class.

Instructor Kumiko Strauss, of the Hands to Heart Center, has been conducting adult yoga classes at 1:30 p.m. in the Library room for the past year, and the response has been very good – with about 15 or more regulars who show up during their lunch breaks or for some respite from a day at home. Even so, the adult yoga classes existed before Strauss even became the regular instructor – going back about six years or so.

Strauss just started a spring series of classes, which are free and open to all adults, that will take place every Monday at 1:30 p.m. through May 1.

“This program is done with the Hands to the Heart Center, which is a non-profit started by Susan Lovett of Dorchester,” said Strauss. “Our idea is yoga is for everybody. That’s very important so people have the opportunity to experience what it means to have the experience of a yoga class…This one is for beginning adults and people here have progressed a lot in the last year. Still, I keep it at a beginning level so it’s easier to understand the breathing and the mind-body connection that is central to yoga.”

On a recent Monday, walking through the door, one experiences the soothing smells of incense and the quiet peace of tranquil music being played on a speaker controlled by Strauss’s cell phone.

In a space that is usually dominated by children’s programs that can get loud and rambunctious with laughter and singing, the room becomes something different altogether and a place of refuge for one hour in the heart of the Town.

Participants focused on breathing and slowing down – a key to the class which takes place in the middle of the day and the workday – and performing the basic “poses.”

Chiara Frenquellucci has been a regular at the class for the past three years, coming by from her husband’s business nearby in Charlestown.

She said it’s something that the public library should do, filling the void of activities for adults.

“It’s a fine example of what a library should do within an adult library program,” she said. “Charlestown’s library certain, but also all of the Boston Public Libraries, are very enlightened in that way. They have so many different classes for so many age groups. Certainly the library is about books and reading, but it is also about community. I can definitely say this program brings people together and creates friendships and good health.”

Strauss said Hands to Heart is a very small non-profit, but has a very big mission of making yoga programs accessible to the general public and to specialized groups.

“The goal of Hands to Heart and my personal goal as well is to bring yoga to everyone and especially those who could not afford to pay for a class at a center,” she said. “A lot of people can’t afford to attend a yoga studio where they charge so much for a session.”

In addition to the adult program at the library, Hands to Heart also does classes for homeless people in shelters, those in the recovery community, low-income housing residents, senior citizens and trauma-informed yoga.

The program at the Charlestown Branch Library provides yoga mats for participants and lasts one hour every Monday at 1:30 p.m. The classes are free.


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