Peoria’s Soulside Yoga Studio Trains Scholarship Recipients

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This is the sixth in a series of blogs celebrating the grant projects funded through our Clean Air Act settlement with the owners of the ED Edwards coal-fired power plant outside Peoria, Illinois. The settlement provides for the plant to close by the end of 2022 and makes $ 8.6 million available for local job training, lung-health, energy-efficiency, solar-energy, and bus-electrification projects. Each blog features the great work of one of the settlement grantees is doing to promote public health and quality of life in the Peoria, Illinois area.

Soulside Healing Arts in Peoria, Illinois, a trauma-informed nonprofit yoga studio with a pay-as-you-can structure, is currently training two new yoga instructors, April Foster and Taylor Hudson, with the help of a grant from the Edwards Settlement Fund. The studio’s Executive Director, Hannah Ramlo, founded the nonprofit in 2018 with the intention of sharing yoga, a foundational practice for her to manage stress, with the residents of Peoria.

One of Soulside’s scholarship recipients, April Foster, speaks to the lack of representation she’s experienced in yoga.

Soulside Healing Arts’s Instagram.

Taylor Hudson, one of Soulside’s scholarship recipients, reflects on some of the benefits of yoga.

Soulside Healing Arts’s Instagram.

The studio applied for an Edwards grant in an effort to share the health benefits of yoga with a broader population than Soulside had been able to reach so far. Through their Community Yoga Corps program, Soulside partners with local social service agencies and schools to supplement programming with regular scheduled yoga classes. Yoga can help improve lung function, regulate the nervous system, and mitigate anxiety, addiction, and depression associated with traumas such as poverty, job loss, or chronic health issues.

Yoga is an indispensable part of Hannah’s, April’s, and Taylor’s lives. Hannah describes yoga as a practice that has enabled her to experience the world from a centered place and hold onto presence in each moment. For April, mother of five, grandmother of three, and longtime community member, it helps her slow down and put things into perspective. Taylor, a plant lover and part-time student, appreciates that yoga’s benefits are both internal and external, allowing her to be in tune with herself. All three women note that the impact of yoga extends into all areas of their lives, changing the ways they react and bettering their relationships.

Unfortunately, the benefits of yoga are not widely available. Both April and Hannah have observed two main and interrelated barriers: cost and underrepresentation of people of color. Yoga studios are often only accessible to those with disposable income, and the average cost of Peoria-area classes is $ 15. For many people, especially in Peoria’s lower-income areas, that cost is a barrier to regular attendance. Soulside’s subsidized and flexible pay-as-you-can structure aims to alleviate the cost barrier by providing a range of price options, from $ 2 to $ 50 for one class.

An indoor view of Soulside’s studio.

In the global west, yoga is often associated with white women. April observes that there isn’t a lot of representation of BIPOC folks doing or instructing yoga and asks, without representation, why would people of color attend yoga classes? Hannah indicates that there is a preconceived notion about who should go to yoga. Soulside aims to ensure that their yoga instructors look like the students they teach, and the scholarship trainee program works toward that goal. Yoga’s benefits stretch beyond any demographic, and Soulside is hoping to reach as many Peorians as possible and reflect the demographics of the city in their classes.

We look forward to seeing how Taylor and April use their instruction to engage with the community. Taylor aims to reach people who never knew they needed yoga and guide them to better health and body awareness. April, who has extensive experience working in the community, is hoping to couple that with her yoga instructor training to work with children and seniors to support their mental health.

The other Edwards settlement-funded projects include a solar array on Peoria’s Romain Arts and Culture Community Center; the expansion of a job-assistance program run by Peoria’s Jubilee Ministries; the electric buses that two Peoria-area school districts have added to their fleets; an increased scholarship for PeoriaCorps’ Green Infrastructure training program; and the launch of a new all-electric bus for Peoria’s transit district. NRDC and its coplaintiffs chose the projects with the help of their community partners Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance, Illinois People’s Action, and the Peoria NAACP. For a full project list, visit EdwardsCleanAirSettlement.org.

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