Amy Perez stays leading the charge in providing free yoga access to Latinx, BIPOC communities in Philly
Leveraging the pandemic to reach a wider audience has helped Perez grow closer to communities she aims to help as the city opens up.
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From the moment Amy Perez first discovered yoga almost two decades ago, she started seeing its benefits.
With a fitness background involving jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts, the move to practice yoga was critical for both her physical and mental well-being.
Yoga became a path towards self-discovery and growth.
As a Latina who never had access to it growing up, Perez’s goal is to bring yoga and mindfulness into the Latino, BIPOC and communities that need it most.
When the pandemic happened, the switch to hosting virtual sessions through Zoom and social media proved difficult.
“It was new for everyone,” said Perez.
However, rather than letting the challenge overwhelm her, she used it as an opportunity to further promote yoga to those who lacked access or couldn’t afford it.
“For me, it’s really important to provide this for people who want to do it, have never tried it or are afraid of it,” said Perez, noting the stigma that often surrounds yoga being rich, white or looking a certain way.
Providing classes for free was the first step to removing that stigma.
Perez began networking and reaching out to different local community organizations during the early stages of the pandemic, one of which was Congreso.
At Congreso, Perez worked virtually with the staff “because they are the people who are providing services for our communities hands-on,” she said.
“I found it very important to work with educators, since they were working with kids throughout the year during the pandemic and are under a lot of stress as it is.”
As a former school teacher herself for well over a decade, Perez understood first-hand the stresses and pressures of being an educator.
Perez led virtual yoga sessions, along with wellness, mindfulness and stress management workshops for the staff as a way to teach them tools, strategies and practices that could be incorporated into their daily lives.
The goal was for those sessions to help the Congreso staff better serve the students, families and communities they work with by personally being their best selves, both physically and mentally.
More recently, Perez began working with Turning Points for Children, a nonprofit charitable organization that brings social and health services to the most vulnerable people through wellness, safety, diversity and collaboration.
“I lead a workshop for mothers who are at home with their kids during the pandemic and show them ways to kind of balance out work life and parenthood all in one,” said Perez.
In addition to those organizations, she has also worked with ADAC Youth & Services, The Wellness Collective, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC), and the Northern Liberties Civic Association over the past year.
Despite being unable to conduct her classes in-person, throughout the pandemic, Perez did a lot of reaching out to organizations and schools to let them know that her yoga services were still available for people of all ages, and at no cost to those who want or need them.
Now, as the city goes through the process of relaxing its Safer at Home restrictions, Perez has taken on the new challenge of helping others reintegrate themselves back into society through yoga.
In May, she began leading free outdoor yoga classes at Liberty Lands Park in North Liberties each Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m.
Soon, Perez will also be teaching yoga classes at the Community Center at Visitation in Kensington, working with the women housed in the women shelter nearby.
“When I go into these community spaces to lead classes and workshops, I’m going in as part of their community,” said Perez.
On June 20, the César Andreu Iglesias Community Garden will be hosting an all-day event filled with different events and workshops for community members.
Perez will be leading free yoga classes and mindfulness workshops there every Sunday, starting on that date, with the goal of continuing throughout the summer.
“This is what my mission was in the very beginning of the pandemic,” said Perez. “How can I reach people in the Latino, in the BIPOC communities and provide them with this thing that has helped me in my life?”
Dating back to her own experiences about not having access to yoga growing up, or as a younger adult, Perez often walked into spaces where she felt she didn’t belong and recalled never seeing another Latina in them.
It’s for that reason Perez has worked so hard to increase accessibility to yoga to communities most in need, and that approach is guided by her relatable experiences.
“In my belief, this is something that should be accessible to all bodies, all humans, all shapes, forms, colors, sexual orientation, everything,” she said.
As the city continues to open up, Perez will continue teaching virtual classes, in addition to in-person sessions, as a way to ensure that her reach goes as far as possible, and she can connect with the communities who can use the service the most.
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